August September 2016 Issue – Irish America Irish America Magazine Thu, 18 Jul 2019 14:56:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 82361074 A Reflection on Simplicity Wed, 10 Aug 2016 06:59:21 +0000 Read more..]]>  The Irish-born biologist and parasitologist William Cecil Campbell, who was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine, talks to Patricia Harty.


For those of us fortunate enough to turn a simple tap to take a nice relaxing bath or long hot shower, it’s hard to imagine risking the loss of your eyesight for a single bucket of water. But for centuries, onchocerciasis, commonly known as river blindness, had plagued remote communities in Africa, Latin America, and Yemen. Lifelines for villagers, the rivers are breeding grounds for black flies that, infected with a parasite worm, transmit the disease through repeated biting. In return, those infected transfer the disease to uninfected flies who bite them, resulting in a plague characterized by extreme itching and eventual blindness.

That the simple chore of getting water in these communities is no longer as much of a danger as it had been for generations is due to William “Bill” Campbell, an Irish-born scientist who, with his colleagues at Merck Research Laboratories, discovered a novel therapy for treating the disease. In 2015, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, sharing it with Satoshi Ōmura of Japan.

One wonders why it took so long.

It was in the late 1970s when, working with a batch of microbe strains that Ōmura sent over for evaluation, Campbell, born June 28, 1930, developed a drug using ivermectin (later named Mectizan) and suggested it would work for river blindness in humans. Not only did the drug work, it also proved effective against the parasite that causes elephantiasis (so-called because of the elephant-like appearance of swollen limbs in severely affected cases), which co-exists with river blindness in many places.

William C. Campbell beside his wife, Mary at the Nobel Banquet table of honor.

William C. Campbell beside his wife, Mary at the Nobel Banquet table of honor. (Copyright © Nobel Media AB 2015
. Photo: Alexander Mahmoud)

More than 25 years later, since Merck made the drug free in those countries most affected, treating 250 million annually, the results speak for themselves. Several countries in Africa are making significant progress towards eliminating both diseases. In Latin America, three countries – Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico – have effectively eliminated river blindness.

Campbell, who at 86, is fit and trim with twinkling eyes, a keen mind, and self-effacing wit, is also decidedly modest about his Nobel Prize.

Campbell delivering his speech at the Nobel Banquet on 12/10/2015. (Copyright © Nobel Media AB 2015 Photo: Dan Lepp)

Campbell delivering his speech at the Nobel Banquet on 12/10/2015. (Copyright © Nobel Media AB 2015 Photo: Dan Lepp)

“I think of it as an award in which I’m the representative of the Merck company’s research teams,” he said in one of several phone conversations that I had with him over the summer, prior to a meet up in Cape Cod, where he and his wife, Mary, children (two daughters and a son), and five grandchildren had gathered for a vacation in early August.

The respite is a welcome break from all the attention that being a Nobel laureate has brought. He had settled into retirement in North Andover, MA, enjoying time with Mary (they met at a church function in Elizabeth, NJ over 50 years ago), his three-times weekly doubles ping pong games, solitary kayak trips in early morning, an occasional hike up nearby half-mile hill, and painting and writing poetry that reflects his passion for roundworms and other kinds of parasitic worms.

William C. Campbell receiving his Nobel Prize from H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden at the Stockholm Concert Hall, December 10, 2015.

William C. Campbell receiving his Nobel Prize from H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden at the Stockholm Concert Hall, December 10, 2015. (Copyright © Nobel Media AB 2015 Photo: Pi Frisk)

A true Renaissance man who can turn his hand to any number of things, Campbell likes to keep it simple. In fact, the title of his Nobel Lecture, “Ivermectin: A Reflection on Simplicity,”could serve as a mantra for the man himself. More than anything, the now world-famous biologist and zoologist, is a naturalist who espouses nature-based remedies for curing diseases. He told Adam Smith, the chief scientific officer of Nobel Media, “there is a certain amount of hubris in humans thinking that they can create molecules as well as nature can create molecules in terms of the diversity of molecules, because nature consistently produces molecules that have not been thought of by humans.”

Campbell’s appreciation of nature is rooted in his childhood. He grew up in Ramelton, a small farming town in County Donegal, with two older brothers and a younger sister. The town is situated on mouth of the River Lennon, in one of the most beautiful and remote spots in Ireland. His parents, Sarah Jane Campbell (née Patterson) of Dunfanaghy, and R.J. Campbell of Fanad, ran a general store, supplying farmers. His father also farmed, raising shorthorn dairy cattle that won prizes at agricultural shows. And it was at an agricultural show that 14-year-old Campbell picked up a leaflet on fluke worms in sheep that, in hindsight, may have influenced his interest in becoming a scientist.

The Swedish Royal Family receives the laureates and their significant others in the Prince’s Gallery. From left: Satoshi Ōmura and his daughter Ikuyo Ōmura, Queen Silvia and King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, William C. Campbell and his wife, Mary. (Copyright © Nobel Media AB 2015
Photo: Alexander Mahmoud)

The Swedish Royal Family receives the laureates and their significant others in the Prince’s Gallery. From left: Satoshi Ōmura and his daughter Ikuyo Ōmura, Queen Silvia and King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, William C. Campbell and his wife, Mary. (Copyright © Nobel Media AB 2015
Photo: Alexander Mahmoud)

But then Campbell could just as easily have become a writer, an artist or a historian. His teacher during his formative years, Miss Martin, “instilled a love of learning, not in the sense of a chore to be mastered, but getting the satisfaction of knowing something, and remembering something. She had a tremendous influence on me,” he says.

Desmond Smyth, the renowned parasitologist, who was Campbell’s science professor at Trinity College, was another key influencer. “He changed my life by developing my interest in parasitic worms,” he says.

After graduating with first class honors in zoology from Trinity, Campbell went on to the University of Wisconsin–Madison where he earned a Ph.D. in 1957 for work on liver fluke in deer.

Headhunted by Merck out of school, he stayed with the company for over 30 years developing many significant drugs, including a treatment for trichinosis.

William C. Campbell and his wife, Mary, showing the Nobel Medal during their visit to the Nobel Foundation on December 12, 2015. (Copyright © Nobel Media AB 2015
Photo: Alexander Mahmoud)

William C. Campbell and his wife, Mary, showing the Nobel Medal during their visit to the Nobel Foundation on December 12, 2015. (Copyright © Nobel Media AB 2015
Photo: Alexander Mahmoud)

After his retirement from Merck, Campbell taught undergraduate biology and graduate history at Drew University until 2012.

Nowadays, he often begins lectures by showing a picture of his ­father’s cows. “Of course it has ­absolutely nothing to do with the lecture, but I like to tell people where I’m from because it is such a part of me,” he says. When I remark that he still has a hint of an Irish accent after all this time in America, he laughs. “After about three days in Donegal with my family, Mary says it comes back.”

And that will be soon. In September, Campbell will be honored by IT Sligo and then go home to Ramelton for a town reception. “My brother, Bert, said he’ll make sure that there will be time for family picnics on Marble Hill beach,” Campbell, his eyes lighting up at the prospect, says. “His lovely mother used to put together such wonderful picnics for us,” Mary adds. Campbell agrees. “I was very lucky to have a great mother and a great father.” He pauses for a moment, verklempt. “That’s one of those things about the Prize – you wish they were around.”


You have lived here a long time. Do you feel more American than Irish as the years go by?

Well, I feel both and that may seem strange. I never ceased to feel Irish but I also feel American. I am proud to be American and I am proud to be Irish and proud to be a citizen of the U.K.

Tell me about growing up in Donegal?

My father started with a little grocery shop and built it up over his lifetime into a general merchant store selling farm equipment, hardware, kitchen utensils, and chinaware – just about everything. Sometimes the farmers would come in at lunch time when the shop would be closed but my father would always get up, much to my mother’s distress, and go out and talk to farmers. It wouldn’t have occurred to him not to open the shop for some farmer who had maybe come in from a long distance. He was a natural entrepreneur and businessman.

He also farmed. He just loved to do that.

He grew a lot of potatoes and oats, and raised dairy cattle. He used to take his purebred dairy shorthorns to shows.

One thing that sort of typified my father, was that he brought electricity to the town. He hired people to set up the poles and the wires to bring electricity to the whole town.

He bought this big generator – the engine room that housed it was behind our house. When we were in bed, we could hear this generator going through its paces before it settled down into a steady rhythm. People in those days who had battery-powered radios would bring them to my father’s shop to get them charged. Then after the war, he bought three or four smaller diesel-fueled generators.

I had wonderful parents. My mother was saintly. I don’t use “saintly” in a religious or liturgical sense, though she was devout, but rather to convey a sense of her profound goodness. She was very caring. I never heard her say a bad thing about anyone.

Campbell and his wife, Mary, pictured with their daughter, Betsy, her husband, Adam Learner, and their children, Jackson, Keira (in front of her mother), and Maya. (Photo: Kit DeFever)

Campbell and his wife, Mary, pictured with their daughter, Betsy, her husband, Adam Learner, and their children, Jackson, Keira (in front of her mother), and Maya. (Photo: Kit DeFever)

Has your life changed since the Nobel Prize?

There is no way you can stop it from changing your life because there is just a constant barrage of invitations and letters and emails and requests. And while they are all wonderful to have, there are just so many of them and I am now very ancient and have no secretary or manpower or secretarial skills, it is stressful for me. Whether I say yes or no, it is just a constant preoccupation, especially if the invitation is from someone I know, and I have a lot of speeches to give and lectures to write.

The Nobel experience itself was just out of this world, and then to meet the President of the United States was a great honor. I think the main positive is being contacted by people you haven’t been in touch with for many, many years and to know that people still remember you. In fact, the most positive thing is that people actually enjoy hearing about it. They actually get pleasure out of talking to someone who had [the Nobel] experience.

I understand that as a boy, you became interested in science after picking up a leaflet on Fluke worms in sheep at an agricultural show.

One of the things that has happened with the prize, it is that I find myself telling the same story and even writing it. Only in retrospect, did I find it intriguing that I only remembered one thing about that show, and that happened to be a leaflet about a parasitic worm that I took home with me. I didn’t think, “Aha! This is what I want to study.” The decision came gradually, and it all really stemmed from Desmond Smyth, my professor at Trinity College. He was a fantastic man, the sort of teacher who changes people’s lives. He was very encouraging and engaged me in the study of parasitic worms.

How did the decision to go to Trinity College come about?

At that time and place, if you were a Protestant you went to Trinity, or perhaps to Queen’s University Belfast. If you were a Roman Catholic you tended to go to University College Dublin, or University College Galway or Cork. That is the reality of how it was at the time. One of the things I liked when I came to this country was what I naïvely perceived to be a lack of prejudice because people didn’t seem to know by looking at me whether I was Protestant or Catholic. Whereas in Ramelton, if a new person moved to town, everyone knew, before they even got there, whether they were Protestant or Catholic. It was ridiculous, but that is the way it was.

How did you end up at the University of Wisconsin?

As I was nearing graduation, a professor at the University of Wisconsin wrote to Smyth in Dublin. They knew each other’s work, and as a result of this contact, I applied to do research and graduate studies at Wisconsin. When I got there, my professor had a project on liver fluke that he and his department were working on. This was the giant liver fluke that is very pathogenic in deer and sheep, so it turned out to be the perfect spot for me.

And this led to a job at Merck?

Yes. The head of parasitology at Merck wrote to my professor at Wisconsin to see if there was anybody just finishing their PhD that he might recommend. I looked at the map of northern New Jersey and decided (unfairly, of course) that it didn’t look appealing. But my professor said, “Just go there and have the experience and stay in New York.” So that is what I did.

It turned out that seeing the work being done at Merck, and meeting the people there, intrigued and impressed me. When I got back to Wisconsin, there was a letter offering me a job.

Ivermectin, as well has having a huge impact on human diseases, has also made a difference in veterinary practice. How did it come about?

Yes. I meet a lot of veterinary practitioners who tell me that. [The discovery] was a long process of finding a drug that worked against some worms, and then testing it against other worms, and following up with more testing, and more experiments. That involved a lot of hard work and a lot of persistence. Knowing enough about worms to draw analogies between the different types, and where they live and what they do, was a key factor.

Parasite Window, 1992, featured in Campbell’s book, Poem, Paint and Pathogen.

Parasite Window, 1992, featured in Campbell’s book, Poem, Paint and Pathogen.

Was it a huge eureka moment when you realized that the treatment for parasites in horses might be used to treat humans?

No, it wasn’t. I was very conscious of human worm diseases. While still at Merck, I was lecturing at New York Medical College on human parasitic worms. And I had been in South America on an Inter-American Fellowship in Tropical Medicine. So there was never a eureka moment for me. When you discover something active, you have a sort of subdued excitement because the chances are overwhelming that it is going to fall by the wayside. The vast majority turn out to be too toxic or too unstable or too stinky… But, on the other hand, there certainly were moments that were more important than others, some things that would shift the trajectory a bit, and therefore we might call them inflection points; certainly I am thinking about the horses here.

Can you talk about the river blindness trials? I read that you persuaded Merck to make the drug available for free in poor countries.

First of all, let me say that the trials were carefully done by the Merck medical people working with French tropical medicine experts in Africa. Any trial that is a first trial in humans has to be very cautious but this was out of the ordinary in terms of being cautious. And when it worked, there was some serious skepticism on the part of leading authorities that had do with people being susceptible to particular drugs and particular life stages being more dangerous to treat than other life stages, in terms of hypersensitivity, reactions and so on. But Merck decided to go ahead despite the skepticism and set up its own trials and not rely on some big international agency. And again, it worked just wonderfully well and the question then was what to do with it. As a pharmaceutical company, it would have been nice to sell it at a profit, but those most affected lived in poor countries, so there was no way people were going to get it unless it was donated.

And this decision was decided by the chairman and CEO of the company in collusion with a handful of three or four top associates, and I was not one of them. To my mind, they are the ones, and the only ones, who deserve credit for that donation.

What else have you worked on?

As a parasitologist, I have had the privilege of interfacing with both human and veterinary medicine because parasites are so important to both. There is one particular disease that I spent an enormous amount of time on and that is trichinosis, the one you get from eating under-cooked pork. I gave a talk at George Washington University, in D.C., in March and at the end of the lecture, a young fellow put up his hand and said, “I heard that you once gave Scotch whiskey to pigs. Can you confirm that?” And I said, “I never in my entire life gave Scotch whiskey to pigs. I gave them Irish whiskey!”

I fed the pigs seven-year-old John Jameson whiskey because of reports that alcoholic beverages would prevent trichinosis, and published a paper on it.

And did it work?

Yes, but you would have to drink an awful lot of it. It would be a very expensive and hazardous cure. Humans affected with trichinosis get tremendous fever and pain – pigs don’t get either. You can give them enough [trichinosis] to eventually kill them with infection, but they never get the fever.

What are your thoughts on using animals in research?

I don’t dismiss it lightly. In biomedical research we say that it is justified because it is to benefit humans. I realize for some people that is not enough. I can certainly respect the difficulty that people have with it. A number of years ago a British member of parliament tried to get a bill passed that all medicines in which animals were used in the research would have to carry a label saying, “Animals were used in developing this product.” The bill never got passed but I think it would have made people stop and think, “Okay, I’m against the use of animals in research. Do I take the drug or be noble and say ‘no,’ even if it’s going to cure me?”

There is a big focus now on using one’s own autoimmune system to target disease.

Yes, and some of it has to do with worms. There is a connection between early childhood worm infections and a stronger immunity. You can cure some diseases by infecting the person with worms. In Mexico, for a couple of hundred dollars you can become infected with worms as a cure for irritable bowel syndrome. You can get the treatment in London. It hasn’t caught on here because people are put off by the idea of worms. Most of the research is being done on the fringe. Established researchers won’t touch it.

You have spent your whole career developing chemical answers to disease — but you’ve said that we need to look to nature for cures.

Yes, absolutely. I believe that. We need to look at the immunological response and other biological approaches rather than chemical contrivances. We need to continue to work on other ways of interrupting life cycles and disrupting transmission of disease. One would hope that eventually [chemicals] would be replaced but certainly we are not anywhere near that yet, except in certain cases such as virus diseases.

In terms of the Prize, you like to give credit to others, saying the discovery was a team effort.

Right, that is really important. I’m a representative of the Merck company’s “team of teams” – parasitologists, chemists, microbiologists, and toxicologists. If there was a problem or an obstacle in one department, somehow it was solved. As obstacles arose, they got resolved. And of course, there was a lot of good fortune…things went better than one had any right to expect.

How do you stay fit and mentally alert?

The thing that I cling to, no matter how busy I get, is playing doubles ping-pong three times a week. It is very energetic and requires a lot of mental focus. I also kayak early in the morning. I love the serene atmosphere. When you have the lake all to yourself, it is such a source of refreshment. And of course, it’s good physical exercise as well. Also, I paint and write poetry. Those are things that you can keep on doing. Well, the painting you can keep doing. The poetry seems to be something that is either there or not there.

From your paintings and your poetry, I have come to the conclusion that you love worms.­­­­

Yes. I consider them beautiful. They are just doing their own thing and not meaning to be destructive. And I have said in some recent papers that the objective is not to get rid of parasitic worms, the objective is to get rid of parasitic diseases.

One of your worm paintings actually looks like a stained- glass window.

Yes. Several of them do. It is always the same stained glass window.

One last question — as a scientist and as a person, do you believe in the afterlife?

Ah. I cannot answer that.

I have a very fuzzy but very important religious faith – you know, from growing up in a Christian household. When I say I can’t answer that, it is not just that I don’t want to (although I don’t want to) but it is because I don’t have an answer that satisfies me.

I don’t believe in heaven with a big-bearded God and Saint Peter with a big keys at the gate and stuff. I am not a literalist in terms of religious faith. I am very liberal. In fact, I am a very fuzzy-minded person when it comes to those things… But I can’t let go of the belief that there’s something there.

Thank you, Dr. Campbell. ♦

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Healthcare and Life Sciences 50 Wed, 10 Aug 2016 06:58:22 +0000 Read more..]]> The 2016 Irish America Healthcare and Life Sciences 50 list celebrates Irish innovators who are leading the way in diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. The work of these Irish-American and Irish-born medical professionals contributes everyday to the health and wellness of our communities, from pharmaceuticals, medical devices and biotechnology to research and development and medical care.

Co-presented by ICON, plc., on September 25th, Irish America will celebrate the honorees in New York city with Keynote Speaker Dr. Barbara Murphy, chair of medicine at Mount Sinai Health System.

Congratulations to all our honorees. Click here for the complete 2016 list♦

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First Word: Climb Every Mountain Wed, 10 Aug 2016 06:57:36 +0000 Read more..]]> When I was a kid my father would take us for drives to County Clare, or as he called it, “Biddy Early country.” We’d drive the back road, so narrow that the trees on either side reached across to each other, pass through the tiny village of Portroe, and stop at the top of a hill at a place called the Lookout to take in the view across Lough Derg to County Clare on the far shore. It was really something to see from so high up. The Shane MacGowan song, “The Broad Majestic Shannon” comes to mind as I write this, and I’m struck with a pang of something akin to homesickness. (After 40 years in America, our farm in Tipperary is still home.) My fit of nostalgia has been brought on by Rosemary Rogers’s “Wild Irish Women” piece in this magazine.

Appropriate for our annual health issue, Rosemary has chosen County Clare’s own Biddy Early as the subject of her column, thus stirring up memories of my father and half remembered stories of Biddy, who as children we were led to believe was a witch who would cast a spell on you if you didn’t behave. Not true. As Rosemary explains, back in the day, many wise women, healers and herbalists such as Biddy, were branded as witches by the church and local authorities who feared they would conjure up evil spirits.

Fast-forward to today, where the modern pharmaceutical industry is built largely on natural remedies. Indeed, in our cover story, the biologist William “Bill” Campbell, who received the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine, advises a return to nature when looking for medical cures, “because nature consistently produces molecules that have not been thought of by humans,” he says.

It was a great pleasure for me to spend time with Dr. Campbell and his lovely wife, Mary, at their summer home in Cape Cod in early August. (It was also great to be out of the city and surrounded by nature). As we talked about his childhood in the wilds of Donegal and his upcoming trip to Ireland in September, mention was made of a visit to W.B. Yeats’s grave in Sligo. One of my favorite poems is “Lake Isle of Innisfree,” and as it turns out it’s also Campbell’s. I offered up the opening line, “I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,” and Campbell picks it up: “And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made.” He recites the poem from beginning to end. “Yeats wrote the poem when he was a young Irish person living in London, but he clearly wanted to be back in Ireland,” Campbell says, and we talk a little about the nostalgia that as immigrants we feel from time to time. The last stanza of this three-stanza poem in particular touches a chord: “I will arise and go now, for always night and day / I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; / While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, / I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”

W.B., as Rosemary explains, revered Biddy Early “as the wisest of the wise women” and honored her in his poem “The Shadowy Water.” And were he around today, he would surely be inspired by the Healthcare and Life Sciences honorees profiled in this issue. They are leading the way in diagnosis, treatment and disease prevention. Not least among them is Campbell, whose novel therapy for targeting river blindness has changed the lives of millions, and physician-scientist Barbara Murphy, whose work in transplant immunology research is giving people a second chance at a normal life.

In this issue too, we check in with Irish universities and find that they are doing outstanding work in medical research and life sciences. We return to nature as Sharon Ní Chonchúir takes us on a climb of Ireland’s holy mountain (inspiring me to put Croagh Patrick on my bucket list). And in a wonderful story by Adam Farley that will fill you with a sense of adventure, Colin O’Brady talks about the challenge of climbing seven of the world’s tallest mountain peaks in a record-breaking 139 days. And he’s not done yet. Through his charity Beyond 7/2, O’Brady aims to raise $1million to battle childhood obesity, and inspire kids to lead healthy, active lifestyles.

Now that’s something to cheer about. ♦

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Medical Breakthroughs that Matter Wed, 10 Aug 2016 06:56:24 +0000 Read more..]]> Irish universities are leading the way in breakthrough medical science. 


Testing Breakthroughs at QUB

Queen’s University Belfast is leading the world’s first ever trial of a new combination of treatments for those with advanced prostate cancer. The trial, titled ADRRAD, recently began at the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre, and is funded by Friends of the Cancer Centre and Bayer Pharmaceuticals. It is led by Professor Joe O’Sullivan of the Queen’s University Center for Cancer Research.

Over the next 18 months, 30 patients will undergo a fusion of two separate kinds of radiotherapy.

Volume-Modulated Arc Therapy will target the prostate cancer cells located in the patient’s pelvis, and Radium 223 will target the disease which has spread to the bones in the cancer’s advanced state.

If the trial is successful, it will greatly extend the life expectancy of patients whose illness is at a highly developed stage. Full results from the trial are expected within two years.

Elsewhere at Queen’s, researchers have begun a £2 million research program to investigate reversing the damage caused by Multiple Sclerosis, making it currently the biggest MS research study being done in Northern Ireland. The program, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust and BBSRC, aims to understand how myelin, the insulating layer that surrounds nerves in the central nervous system, can be repaired.

Speaking about the research, Dr. Denise Fitzgerald from the Centre for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s, said the program would allow researchers to focus on the “holy grail” of MS studies – reversing the effects of the disease, rather than merely limiting the number of relapses. Today, there is still no cure for MS.

“Research into myelin repair will be welcome news to the 100,000 people across the UK living with MS,” Patricia Gordon, director of the MS Society Northern Ireland, said.

“With bright minds, investments like this and continued collaboration between all of us involved in such research, together we can beat MS.”


 NUI Galway Student Wins Breast Cancer Study Technology Grant
NUI Galway's Una McVeigh.

NUI Galway’s Una McVeigh.

Úna McVeigh, a PhD student from National University of Ireland Galway, has been chosen as a winner of the “Go Mini Scientific Research Program,” sponsored by genetic research company Illumia to highlight the versatility of their MiniSeq system, a new sequencing system aimed at increasing the accessibility of performing genetic research. The $4,500 prize attracted over 1,100 submissions internationally.

McVeigh, a native of Co. Sligo, said that she and her colleagues “hope [their] research can begin to identify new genetic drivers of breast cancer, so that one day better patient screening can improve health outcomes for populations with a genetic predisposition to the disease.”


Country’s First Traffic Medicine Grant Goes to TCD
Desmond O'Neill. (Photo: Twitter)

Desmond O’Neill. (Photo: Twitter)

A research group based in Trinity College Dublin has received Ireland’s first ever research grant in traffic medicine. Traffic medicine is the practice aimed at reducing the harm inflicted on human beings by traffic crashes on land, sea, and air.

National Program Director for Traffic Medicine Desmond O’Neill said that this development should “further highlight the concept of traffic medicine as an important aspect of healthcare to Irish clinicians and academics.”

The grant, announced by the Road Safety Authority and National Programme Office for Traffic Medicine, will support studies in three main areas: medical assessment of driver health, domestic and global medical policies on operating a motor vehicle, and promotion of public awareness of how health conditions can affect one’s ability to drive.


MU’s “Brain-Computer Interface” Counters Stroke Effects

For years, many medical professionals believed stroke damage to be entirely irreversible. However, Darren Leamy and Thomas Ward of the electronic engineering department at Maynooth University are developing the “Brain-Computer Interface,” which reads signals from the brain to allow stroke patients to operate a robotic arm.

The project is rooted in the study of neuroplasticity, the concept that the human brain is capable of regaining functions it had previously lost. Research is now being conducted on whether the “bio-feedback loop” created between the patient’s brain and the synthetic arm can lead to an increase in neuroplasticity. Given repeated attempts and repeated movement signals, Leamy and Ward believe, the brain should rewire its connections to bypass stroke-affected areas.


Biomaterial Lets “Beyoncé the Horse” Jump Again
Tanya Levingstone beyonce horse.twitter

Dr. Tanya Levingstone from the Royal College of Surgeons with Beyoncé.


A newly-discovered biomaterial has been used by researchers at Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland to repair the damaged knee cartilage of Beyoncé, a thoroughbred filly. After she developed a joint disorder, it was thought that Beyoncé’s career in competitive show-jumping was at an end; however, the biomaterial, ChondroColl, rescued her from a situation that may have otherwise ended in euthanasia.

The paper, which details the case study of Beyoncé’s recovery, is the third of its kind issued by the RCSI Tissue Engineering Research group. Among the study authors was Dr. Tanya Levingstone, who said the project “has shown the potential of the biomaterial to heal different sized injuries in patients.” The ChondroColl research group plan to advance to human trials in the coming months.


UCD Tracks Genetic Factors and Kidney Failure

Professor Catherine Godson, University College Dublin School of Medicine and Diabetes Complications Research Centre, will lead UCD’s involvement in a five-year project to find genetic factors that lead to greater risk of developing kidney failure.

DNA samples from 20,000 people with diabetes will be examined by an international research project that is part of a new £3.7 million U.S.-Ireland research partnership that brings together world-leading experts in diabetes and genetics research at Queen’s University Belfast, University College Dublin, University of Helsinki in Finland and the Broad Institute, Boston.

The partner agencies in the Republic of Ireland are Science Foundation Ireland and the Health Research Board.


UCC study on Vitamin D and Pregnancy

Seventeen percent of pregnant women have a vitamin D deficiency, according to a survey of mothers at Cork University Maternity Hospital.

Researchers at University College Cork (UCC) have reported that high vitamin D status is associated with lower risk of pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia and small-for-gestational age (SGA) birth.

The findings, published in July in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, come from analysis of vitamin D status in the SCOPE (Screening for Pregnancy Endpoints) Ireland study.

Currently in Ireland, there are no pregnancy-specific guidelines for vitamin D intake. Prof. Louise Kenny, director of the INFANT Centre, explained that the research “is about helping mothers and their babies: our goal here is to look at the data and what we can learn to help mums have safe pregnancies and deliver healthy babies.”


Improving Vision
John Nolan. (Photo: Waterford Institute of Technology)

John Nolan. (Photo: Waterford Institute of Technology)

A study entitled CREST (Central Retinal Enrichment Supplementation Trials) was conducted by the Macular Pigment Research Group at Nutrition Research Centre Ireland (NRCI), which is part of the School of Health Sciences at Waterford Institute of Technology.

The first rigidly-designed study of its kind, it involved 105 volunteers undergoing complex tests of vision over a 12-month period. Of the 105 subjects, 53 received daily supplements while 52 received a placebo (the control group). The outcome unequivocally demonstrated that those receiving macular carotenoids – lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin – enjoyed meaningful benefits to their visual function. The improvement recorded was primarily in people’s contrast sensitivity – how much contrast a person needs to see a target (i.e. how faint an object can one see). Prof. John Nolan, principal investigator for the CREST study and founder of the NRCI, said: “All of us involved in this research are tremendously excited about the outcome – not only from a scientific perspective but also because of the significant benefits it will have for a wide range of people. Many people may already consider themselves to have ‘good’ eyesight, but now we know that many of these would benefit from appropriate supplementation.”


University of Limerick Identifies New Genetic Biomarkers
UCC Professor Calvin Coffey.

UCC Professor Calvin Coffey.

Researchers at University of Limerick and University Hospital Limerick have identified several new genetic biomarkers that better predict outcomes for patients with bowel/colorectal cancer. The research team identified genes that are predictors of cancer recurrence and can also help to identify a patients’ suitability to specific types of chemotherapy.

Professor J. Calvin Coffey, colorectal surgeon at the Graduate Entry Medical School and University Hospital Limerick, explains: “One of the key early events in bowel/colorectal is its spread to the lymph glands that drain the colon. The identification of tumors that will spread to the glands is a key challenge for clinicians as these are the patients most likely to benefit from chemotherapy. The ability to avoid harmful chemotherapeutic side effects is a clinical need that has yet to be met by the diagnostic tools available to clinicians. In Ireland colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer with 2,435 new cases diagnosed each year. This diagnostic instrument that we have developed, and this research in general, will impact on patients globally as we can now pin-point precisely patients who will develop spread to glands, and thus benefit from chemotherapy.” ♦

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HIV on the Rise in Ireland Wed, 10 Aug 2016 06:55:46 +0000 Read more..]]> Recent figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, Ireland’s specialist agency for the surveillance of communicable diseases, show a 30 percent increase in HIV cases in Ireland. To combat this, the Union of Students in Ireland teamed up with Operation Zero in June for Irish AIDS Days at nonprofit HIV Ireland, to spread their message: “no shame, no judgment, just support!” in hopes of encouraging students to get tested.

“USI is encouraging students across Ireland to regularly get tested,” Kevin Donoghue, USI President says. “STI screenings are available in health clinics across campuses and from local GPs. There are also free rapid HIV testing in locations such as Panti Bar in Dublin; GOSHH in Limerick, Chambers nightclub in Cork and a walk-in clinic in UCH Galway. STI screenings only take five minutes and are essential for a healthy sex life.”

Speaking at the Irish AIDS day launch, the lord Mayor of Dublin, Críona Ní Dhálaigh, highlighted other aspects of Ireland’s upward trend in HIV diagnoses. “New HIV diagnoses in Ireland have increased to their highest level on record in 2015. Provisional data published by the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre shows that a total of 491 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2015 – a 30 percent increase over 2014 figures,” the Lord Mayor said. “Data also shows a significant increase in HIV diagnoses amongst people who inject drugs with a 67 percent increase in 2015, many of whom are people who are homeless in Dublin.”

Many of those diagnosed with HIV are at the later stage of the infection and USI is emphasizing that the sooner the diagnosis has been confirmed, the sooner a medical plan can be established. ♦

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New Cancer Drug May Skip Ireland Wed, 10 Aug 2016 06:54:21 +0000 Read more..]]> A groundbreaking new melanoma treatment is being rolled out to patients in the U.K., but may never reach those in Ireland. The National Pharmacoeconomics Centre (NCPE), an independent medicine cost advisory board, has recommended that the HSE does not make the Opdivo drug available through the public system due to uncertainty about its financial sustainability.

Research has proven that melanoma patients have a substantially longer life expectancy when taking Opdivo, which, unlike conventional chemotherapy, is administered by a drip. The drug was developed by Bristol Myers Squib, who told the NCPE that Opdivo’s net cost over the first five years will come to €17.6 million. This estimation is based on the drug’s usage being capped at a maximum of two years. However, the NCPE review group found insufficient evidence that the projected discontinuation point would hold true. Even following a revised gross budget submission from Bristol Myers Squib in 2015, the NCPE did not consider Opdivo cost-effective.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said that it was required to manage financial provisions for new medicines in a fair manner, with access being made available to as wide a range of new drugs as sustainably possible.

Opdivo will be reviewed by the National Cancer Control Program Technology Review Committee. If given a positive recommendation, it will be sent to the HSE Drugs Committee for the ultimate ruling on its funding. ♦

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UCD Honors Medicine Alumnus and U.N. Peacekeeper Wed, 10 Aug 2016 06:53:43 +0000 Read more..]]> Dr. Patrick Kelly (pictured above with Jamie Merisotis​,​ president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation) received an Alumni Honors Award from University College Dublin in June for his services to public peacekeeping and the medical field. Kelly, 31, graduated with a bachelor’s in medicine, surgery and gynecology in 2008, a master’s degree in sports and exercise medicine in 2010. He currently serves as a medical officer in the Irish Defense Forces. Also known as Captain Kelly, the Waterford City native was commended at the European Access Network 25th Annual Conference for excellence in international peacekeeping and a career dedicated to the care of those who are sick and unprotected.

Thomas McGrath, CEO of advanced analytics firm Elutins Inc. and one of the award judges, said that Kelly stood out because “he made the care and wellbeing of the poor and most vulnerable a priority in his work.”

While acting as a volunteer with the Order of Malta in 2008, Kelly was one of those responsible for the establishment of Ireland’s first mobile medical clinic for homeless individuals. In 2015, he was deployed to Sierra Leone, where he worked in a treatment facility for the Ebola virus at the peak of its outbreak. There, he received the British Army Force Commander’s Commendation for his help in setting up a cardiac first responders scheme in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Assisting him was the UCD Center for Emergency Medical Service.

Today, Kelly is deployed as a peacekeeper in the 52nd Infantry Group Quick Reaction Force with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights, a region of intense conflict on the border of Israel and Syria. ♦

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Digital Ocean Launches Ireland’s First Undersea Observatory Wed, 10 Aug 2016 06:52:33 +0000 Read more..]]> Ireland’s first undersea observatory was launched in June as part of an event for the Digital Ocean, a data resource of the Irish Marine Institute. The Digital Ocean represents Ireland’s opportunity to establish itself as a leading innovator in marine data for research, economic improvement, and social growth. The new SmartBay observatory is located in Galway Bay, near Spiddal. Researchers expect it to boost the productivity levels of Ireland’s national marine infrastructure.

At a two-day marine conference in July, Galway businessman John Kileen drew attention to the legacy of Ireland’s “blue” economy and praised the project, saying its contributions would offer “plenty of opportunity to see how life works at sea.”

The observatory will feed data directly from the ocean floor to the surface, enhancing field experts’ understanding of the ocean, weather patterns, climate change, and the reactions of man-made products with the world’s water supply. It will also provide a testing space for business enterprises based in marine space, such as Cathx Ocean, the Co. Kildare-based maker of the submarine camera and lighting system which was instrumental in the discovery of the Titanic site, and Technology from Ideas, a Galway company that runs tests on their mooring devices to enhance the reliability and durability at different depth levels.

The technology has already been implemented off the coast of Galway to monitor the movements of whales and other deep sea creatures without disturbing their natural habitat with excessive light and sound. ♦

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Ireland Celebrates 25 Years Online Wed, 10 Aug 2016 06:51:31 +0000 Read more..]]> As of June 17th, Ireland has officially been connected to the internet for 25 years. On the same day in 1991, Trinity College Dublin became the first organization in the country to connect to the world wide web. The link was shared with campus-based start-up company IEunet, run by entrepreneurs Cormac Callanan and Michael Nowlan. “From that day you could actually, physically connect to another computer on the other side of the world from Trinity College or any of our connected organizations,” Nowlan told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland. In the weeks that followed, University College Dublin also went online.

In celebration of this anniversary, technology writer John Sterne has introduced an online repository of documents, timelines, and personal testimonies of how the Irish technology industry has developed since the country hit this milestone (accessible at Google engineer Niall Murphy also marked the occasion by publishing The History of the Irish Internet, a review of the emergence and effects of the web in Irish society.

Today, 85 percent of Irish households have access to the internet, and 78 percent of the population consider themselves “regular internet users,” according to E.U. data. Every one of the world’s top ten “born on the internet” companies (including Google, Facebook, and PayPal) have a base in Ireland.

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Irish Agriculture “Not So Green” Wed, 10 Aug 2016 06:50:31 +0000 Read more..]]> Ireland’s current agricultural practices are unsustainable, say N.G.O. coalitions Stop Climate Chaos and the Environmental Pillar in their new report, “Not So Green: Debunking the Myths Around Irish Agriculture.” The report explicitly counters government and industry discourses that portray Ireland’s farming and land-use strategies as environmentally sound.

The study shows that methane production per head of Irish cattle has increased since 1990. The amount of methane emitted per calorie of bovine food produced in Ireland comes in at over two tons a year; a significantly high figure compared to the European average of approximately 1.75.

“Due to increasing emissions, the livestock sector is actively contributing to increased climate pollution and global food insecurity, putting the lives and livelihoods of some of the world’s poorest populations at risk,” Catherine Devitt, spokesperson for Stop Climate Chaos, says.

Ireland’s current goals for expansion of the livestock sector indicate that it will fail to meet its targets for the Paris Agreement, an agreement signed by 178 parties in April aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions. ♦

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