Soapbox Science

Soapbox Science returned to the streets of Dublin on June 30th when 12 female scientists stepped onto their soapboxes to talk about their research in areas of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. RCSI was represented by Dr Joan Ní Gabhann from the Ocular Immunology Research Group (OIRG) and Remsha Afzal from the Mc Coy lab.

Soapbox Science is a global public outreach platform for promoting women scientists and the science they do. Its aim is to bring scientists to the streets to interact with the public and increase the visibility of women working in science. It follows the format of Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, London which is historically an arena for public debate.

Since it was established in 2011, Soapbox Science has grown from one event in London, to dozens of annual events around the world. Nearly 1,000 scientists have taken part and 140,000 members of the public have attended Soapbox Science events to date. This year over 40 Soapbox Science events, including the Dublin event, are planned across 13 countries.

Soapbox Science Dublin is supported by University College Dublin (UCD), through a UCD Research and Innovation seed funding programme, and is being organised by Dr Dara Stanley, UCD and Dr Jessamyn Fairfield, NUI Galway.

Speaking in advance of the event, Dr Dara Stanley, UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science, said, “Many people have not met a scientist before so Soapbox Science brings scientists to the city streets to interact with people going about their daily lives. As women, in particular, are under-represented at many career stages in STEMM subjects, Soapbox Science aims to break down stereotypes around who scientists are by featuring a number of female scientists speaking on a number of diverse topics.”

She added, “Soapbox Science Dublin is free to attend and is great fun so please do come along and hear about some amazing science being carried out by twelve fantastic female scientists.”

Remsha Afzal’s session was entitled “Those big eaters do damage.” During her presentation, Remsha spoke about the research being conducted in the Mc Coy lab which is part of a concerted global effort to identify novel therapeutics for multiple sclerosis (MS) which can both limit inflammation but more importantly promote repair and regeneration of the damaged neurons. Remsha used a PACMAN inspired prop to demonstrate the group’s research with nanoparticles that ‘flip the switch’ in inflammatory (M1) macrophages to turn them into tissue repairing anti-inflammatory (M2) phenotype macrophages.

Joan Ní Gabhanns session was entitled “Eye opening look at the role our immune system in dry eye disease.” During her presentation Joan spoke about the research being conducted in the OIRG which currently focuses on identifying novel regulators of inflammatory responses, particularly in the field of autoimmunity and Sjogren Syndrome (SS) related dry eye disease, as there are no diagnostic tests or effective therapies for SS. Joan used props constructed to demonstrate a functioning healthy eye and a model of autoimmune-mediated dry eye disease. She described the research the group is undertaking in novel microRNA (miR) based therapeutics that function like a ‘message in a bottle’ to change how cells communicate in autoimmune conditions to put the ‘brakes on’ the inflammatory process and restore normal immune function.

Joan Ní Gabhann

International Secondment Award for Remsha Afzal

I haven’t started my secondment yet but plan on going in September 2019, when I’ll be travelling to University Hospital Basel to work in the lab of Prof. Christoph Hess (Department of Biomedicine) for 3 months, using the secondment award totalling 3000 euro.

I feel fortunate to go work in his lab because he is an expert in the field of immunometabolism and has published over 100 papers, including in high-ranking journals such as Cell Metabolism and Nature Immunology. He was also the convener of Cell’s Translational Immunometabolism Symposium in June 2018, which I attended last year.

Since the Hess lab is well-versed in studying mechanisms of immune cell function, I hope to acquire some valuable skills used to study immune cell metabolism, such as Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry and Proximity Ligation assays. Their department also has access to state-of-the-art core facilities, where I will observe and gain experience in the use of Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) and the Nanolive® Holotomographic microscope, two instruments that have allowed the Hess team to pursue innovative investigations.

Remsha Afzal

New Teaching and Research Opportunities At Soochow University, China

Just back from a very successful trip to Soochow University, China. We visited our colleagues/collaborators at the College of Pharmaceutical Sciences as well as the CAM-SU Genomic Resource Centre, Hematology Centre and the College of Nanoscience and Technology/FUNSOM centre to discuss a joint PhD programme. We were super impressed by the research and fabulous facilities.

Thanks to Darran O’Connor and John Waddington for organising. Some photos of the trip, with a little sightseeing thrown in at the end….

Tracy Robson

RCSI Lung Health Symposium 2019

8.45 COFFEE

Albert Theatre Foyer/Albert Lecture Theatre

9.00 Prof. Raymond Stallings Welcome

9.10 -10.50pm RESPIRATORY BASIC & CLINICAL RESEARCH: SESSION 1

9.10 Prof. Gerry McElvaney New therapies for alpha-1 anti-trypsin deficiency.
9.30 Dr. Emer Reeves Anti-inflammatory properties of alpha1-PI augmentation therapy.
9.50 Prof. Catherine Greene Non-coding RNA studies in the lung
10.10 Dr. Judith Coppinger Extracellular vesicles as mediators of inflammation in Cystic Fibrosis
10.30 Prof. Richard Costello Do I need to take all this stuff?
10.50 COFFEE BREAK

11.10-12.30 RESPIRATORY BASIC & CLINICAL RESEARCH: SESSION 2

11.10 Prof. Paul McNally Evolution of the lower airway microbiome in preschool children
11.30 Dr. Killian Hurley Modeling lung disease using patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells
11.50 Prof. Brian Harvey The Microbiology of the CF Gender Gap: Estrogen modulation of Pseudomonas aeruginosa virulence
12.10 Prof. Sally Ann Cryan Harnessing materials for the development of advanced respiratory therapeutics
12.30 Dr. Cian O Leary Bioengineered co-culture models of the airways: towards disease models in the upper and lower respiratory tract
12.50 LUNCH & POSTER SESSION

1.45-4.00 EXTERNAL SPEAKERS (National & International)

1.45 Prof. Edward McKone Beyond FEV1: Acute and long-term effects of CFTR restoration on the CF lung
2.15 Prof. Sarah Gilpin Milestones and challenges toward engineering functional lung tissue for transplantation
2.45 Dr. Jasper Mullenders Human colon organoids for cystic fibrosis research and personalized medicine
3.15-4.00 Prof Pradeep Singh Genetic Diversity of Cystic Fibrosis Infections: Barking Up Two Trees

4pm End of Symposium

Sponsored by: Vertex Pharmaceuticals Medical Education Grant, Molecular Cellular Therapeutics, National Children’s Research Centre

Please register by following the link:

 

Fantastic achievements of Lisa Dwane and Lauren Fagan

Dr. Lisa Dwane post doc with Prof. Darran O’Connor’s group, is Irish Cancer Society’s PhD Scholar of the Year 2019. She presenting her research in layman’s terms to compete for the prize at the ICS Research Awards held on Friday 15th February, at the House of Lords, Bank of Ireland College Green, Dublin 2.

Lisa also received the EACR Young Scientist Award, in the Junior category, for her research in cancer research. This Young Scientist award is granted to the two applicants with the highest scoring abstracts. This year, both recipients are RCSI researchers; the second applicant Dr. Sara Charmsaz, Dept. of Surgery, received the Senior award. Awards will be presented at the IACR Annual Conference, on Friday 22nd February, in Belfast.

Lauren Fagan (co-supervised by Dr. Oran Kennedy and Dr. Annie Curtis) was awarded Best Musculoskeletal Research Oral Presentation – Early Researcher Category for her early stage work on the chondrocyte clock and post-traumatic osteoarthritis at the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland Section of Bioengineering 25th Annual Conference (BinI 2019), UL, 18th – 19thJanuary 2019.

MCT Research Forum – Friday 25th January at 3.00pm

Professor David Ray

“Circadian control of inflammation; stories from the lung”

David trained in general internal medicine in North West England, and obtained a PhD from the University of Manchester. He was a research fellow at UCLA for two years, working on neuroendocrine-immune interaction, before returning to the UK, and obtaining a GSK fellowship to work on glucocorticoid action, and sensitivity in inflammatory disease. He was promoted to Professor of Medicine at the University of Manchester in 2005, and went on to study nuclear receptor and circadian biology in inflammation, and energy metabolism. This work attracted Wellcome Investigator and MRC programme grant support. David is a passionate advocate of research training, serving on the MRC clinical fellowship panel for seven years, three as deputy chair.

Circadian mechanisms regulate most mammalian physiology, with particular importance in the regulation of innate immunity, through the macrophage in particular, and energy metabolism, regulating liver, adipose and muscle. These circuits are also regulated by a number of nuclear receptors, which show a striking interdependency on the circadian machinery; some having ligand availability regulated by the clock, others varying in expression level through the day. We have employed a range of approaches to address the physiological importance of the circadian: nuclear receptor system, ranging from population genetics, experimental medicine studies, CRISPR engineered mice, and cell biology. These approaches have discovered how the important dimension of time regulates metabolism, and coordinates diverse tissues to deliver optimal organismal performance. Importantly, we are identifying how external stressors can decouple these systems, with deleterious effects.

Dr. Judith Coppinger

“Increased extracellular vesicles mediate inflammatory signalling in Cystic Fibrosis”

Judith obtained her PhD from Department of Clinical Pharmacology, RCSI in 2004 before undertaking postdoctoral training at the Scripps Research Institute, San Diego, on new folding mechanisms in Cystic Fibrosis. In 2011, she joined the University of California, San Diego as a faculty member before receiving an SFI award and returning to Ireland. In 2013 she became a principal investigator at University College Dublin where she set up basic/translational research programs in Cystic Fibrosis and Cancer (lung/breast). Judith’s overall research has focused on using omics-based approaches to decipher protein interaction networks dysregulated in disease and identify new therapeutics to target these pathways. Her research projects include examining the therapeutic restoration of CFTR using kinase inhibitors in Cystic Fibrosis and examining exosomes in regulating inflammatory signalling in Cystic Fibrosis at the National Children’s Research Centre. Other projects include investigating BAG3 as a therapeutic target regulating signalling transduction pathways in breast/lung cancer subtypes. Dr. Coppinger is a senior lecturer at the RCSI and a principal investigator at National Children’s Research Centre since 2017.

George Timmons

“Mitochondria – A link between innate immunity, metabolism, and the clock”

George Timmons is a PhD student of the Curtis Clock Lab, led by Dr. Annie Curtis and is part of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Therapeutics and Tissue Engineering Research Group at RCSI. George began his PhD in October 2016 and is now in the 3rd year of his studies. The Curtis Clock Lab focuses on circadian immunometabolism – a new field which looks into the relationship between the molecular clock, cellular metabolism, and immune responses. Specifically, George’s project is investigating how the core clock gene Bmal1 impacts upon mitochondrial metabolism and how these metabolic changes can impact upon the inflammatory response of macrophages.

When: January 25th 2019 at 3.00pm – 4.30pm

Where: Cheyne Lecture Theatre

Tea Coffee and Cookies sponsored by Biosciences will be at 2.30pm

Congratulations to Remsha Afzal!

The Molecular & Computational Biology Symposium 2018 was held at the Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research in University College Dublin (UCD). This symposium is jointly organised annually by UCD PhD students from the Systems Biology and Infection Biology programs.

This event showcased the thriving local research and scientific community that is present at UCD and in Dublin to Irish and international academic researchers as well as industrial companies. It also featured internationally renowned keynote speakers from a wide range of fields within the sphere of computational and molecular biology to present their research.

Remsha Afzal from Dr. Claire McCoy’s lab was selected to be a speaker at this year’s symposium where she won a prize for best presentation for her topic “The role of IL-10 and arginase in immunometabolism”

See more about the symposium at: http://compmolbiosymp.ucd.ie/

PhD student elevator pitch session

Chairs: Thomas Frawley and Orla Fox

Venue: Houston Lecture Theatre

Date: December, 3d 2018

Time: 12.00

Presenters: 

Rebecca Watkin

George Timmons

Aisling Rehill

Hannah Rushe

Remsha Afzal

Conor Duffy

Martin Kenny

Frances Nally

Sean Patmore

James O’Siorain

Shannon Cox

Lauren Fagan

A light lunch will be served after the talks. Sponsored by Biosciences Ltd.

All Welcome!

 

Omics in Disease Diagnosis and Therapy

Our new ‘thematic’ MCT Research Seminar Series was launched on November 8th with the opening talks on ‘Omics in Disease Diagnosis and Therapy’. The aim of the new format, with presentations spanning several research groups and diseases to facilitate knowledge exchange and foster cross-collaboration.

Dr Sudipto Das – Genomic and epigenomic approaches as a vital discovery platform

The talk broadly focused on various genomic and epigenomic platforms that have been established in the lab enabling us to interrogate the various alterations that underpin disease-associated features. Using specific clinical case examples, the talk demonstrated how the whole genome, exome and shallow sequencing have allowed us to further our understanding about atypical clinical presentation of known cancer types. Furthermore, the application of targeted methylation sequencing on FFPE tissue and it’s further utilization to stratify metastatic colorectal and heart failure patients using deep learning approaches was also explained.

Dr Katie Benson – Integrating Genomics into the Clinical Care Pathway

Next-generation sequencing is quickly replacing single gene tests in clinical practice. The integration of these genomic tests has been slow as a result of barriers including data processing and interpretation, handling of incidental findings, storage of data and access to genetics services and clinical geneticists. The Epilepsy Lighthouse project, building on the success of the epilepsy electronic patient record (EPR), has used eHealth technologies to facilitate the integration of genomics results into the epilepsy clinic. This has facilitated multidisciplinary team discussions of patients and their genomics results. As part of this project, we have sequenced 97 adult and paediatric Irish epilepsy patients and successfully provided a genetic diagnosis in 24% of cases.

Dr Chiara DeSanti – MicroRNA function in health and disease

Since the sequencing of the human genome back in 2001, non-coding RNAs have been shown to play a critical role in regulating gene expression at a transcriptional, post-transcriptional and translational level. Among the several classes of non-coding RNAs, our group is interested in microRNAs (miRNAs), small non-coding RNA molecules (18-25 nt in length) firstly discovered in C.elegans as negative regulator of gene expression through binding to the 3’untranslated region (UTR) of a target mRNA and inhibiting its translation and/or leading to mRNA degradation. MiRNAs expression was found altered in all human diseases so far, where they have been proposed as diagnostic/prognostic biomarkers and as key players in the pathogenic process itself due to their pleiotropic ability to bind hundreds of mRNAs simultaneously. Therefore, it’s hugely important to define true miRNAs::mRNAs interactions to understand their biological role and the pathways that they affect, in the overall aim of designing therapeutic strategies to enhance or block miRNAs. In order to do so, online target predictions is usually the first step, but experimental validation is needed to verify the in silico-predicted interaction. Several methods have been developed to address this issue, and they can be indirect (i.e. transcriptomic and proteomic changes are measured after over-expression/depletion of a miRNA), or direct (i.e. miRNA::mRNA complexes are captured and physical interactions are assessed, including the RCSI-developed method called miR-CATCH). Gold standard for the validation of high-throughput screening is the luciferase assay, again routinely used in several laboratories across the College. In our group, we are focussing on the role of miR-155 in macrophage polarisation in the context of multiple sclerosis (MS), a neurodegenerative disease where proinflammatory macrophages infiltrate the central nervous system and promote chronic inflammation and damage to myelin sheath. Our hypothesis, supported by preliminary data by our PI Dr MCoy and other researchers, is that miR-155 is promoting the proinflammatory state in macrophages and therefore blocking it would reduce inflammation and alleviate disease progression. Although proof of concepts for antimiR-155 therapy have been attempted in a mouse model of MS (EAE model), we are hoping to boost its efficacy by improving the delivery to macrophages of more stable versions of antimiR-155 or target-site blockers that minimise off-targets effects.