Wednesday 04 November 2015

Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation, Damien English TD, announced Professor Geraldine Boylan and Professor Louise Kenny as the Science Foundation Ireland Joint Researchers of the Year 2015 at the SFI Science Summit in recognition of their global leadership in reducing the burden of disease and disability associated with the period just before and after birth. The SFI Researcher of the Year award “recognises the accomplishments of an SFI funded researcher who has contributed significantly to the Irish research community in their career and/or who has achieved exceptional research outputs in the last 12 months”.

This award was a first in two respects: the first time it has been given as a duo, but also the first time it has ever been award to a woman. Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, added: “It is particularly apt that they are the first female recipients; INFANT is unique in that it’s being led by two women and encouraging junior female faculty at the centre is a priority for both of them.”

Presenting the award to the Professors, Minister English said: “Professors Boylan and Kenny are leading the way in perinatal care and research and they thoroughly deserve to receive this award for the outstanding work they have done and continue to do.  The Professors and their team at the INFANT Centre in Cork are developing solutions to address some of the most commonplace complications of pregnancy and the most significant problems for new-born babies.  Both of the Professors bring insights from their clinical practice to research, translate scientific advances to the bedside and cotside and are opening up markets for companies who now appreciate the scale of unmet clinical need.”  

Accepting the award, Professor Geraldine Boylan and Professor Louise Kenny said: “Every single day, somewhere in the world over 800 young women die as a direct result of pregnancy or childbirth, and in the same 24 hour period over 15,000 babies will be stillborn or will die within days of birth. Many millions more who survive will live with long-term disability. Perinatal research has lagged behind other research areas both in terms of investment and consequently in terms of progress. The support of Science Foundation Ireland, University College Cork, and the Irish government is helping our outstanding team at INFANT to reverse this trend.  It is hugely satisfying to see the results of our work making a difference to real women and babies’ lives on a daily basis.”

The Professors paid credit to the SFI for ‘bucking the trend’ and supporting INFANT. Thanking the INFANT team, the professors noted that, “Babies are born anytime day or night, on holidays, weekends, birthdays,” she said. “It is very likely that at this very moment one of our team is in the maternity hospital, maybe talking to a parent, possibly getting some consent for research, possibly taking [a blood sample] from a baby who has been delivered and is in a critical condition.” In tandem with this, they both paid special thanks to the parents of babies who take part in studies: “their altruism and selflessness is inspiring and deeply humbling for us”.

Both Louise and Geraldine are passionate about attracting women to science and hope that their success will  inspire young women contemplating a career in science or medicine. Kenny highlighted the benefits of working together with Boylan to run INFANT. They have been close friends and colleagues for nearly a decade and have co-directed for the last two years. “Directing a research centre can be very challenging and can occasionally be very lonely,” Prof Kenny said, “I am blessed every day by being able to manage the INFANT centre with one of my closest friends and colleagues. I can say it is often challenging but never lonely”.