Wednesday 16 January 2019

At a launch event yesterday in Dublin, SFI revealed twenty projects are set to be funded by their Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG) in 2019. The prestigious grant for early career researchers supports postdoctoral scientists as they develop the necessary skills and experience required for a fully independent research career.

Two INFANT and UCC researchers were worthy recipients in the areas of maternal and infant nutrition and novel therapies for premature babies.

INFANT researcher Dr Aine Hennessy was awarded €424,898 over four years to develop her project “An exploration of the suitability of thyroid hormones in measuring iodine deficiency during pregnancy and its impact on infant brain development”.

The nutrient iodine plays a central role in the production of thyroid hormones. During pregnancy, iodine deficiency can result in severe and long-lasting consequences for an infant’s developing brain. In Ireland, three-quarters of women have inadequate iodine intake. However, the magnitude of this impact on the brain development of Irish infants is unknown. As there is no reliable measure of individual iodine status, this proposal will test the suitability of thyroid hormones to be used as a proxy measure. The data from previous studies will be used to describe the impact of maternal iodine deficiency on the neurodevelopment of infants.

This funding will allow Aine to continue her research at INFANT, supervise a postgraduate student associated with the project and provide an opportunity for her to work with her mentor, INFANT Principal Investigator Prof Mairead Kiely.

Pictured: Prof Mark Ferguson SFI Director, Dr Fiona McDonald and Minister Pat Breen TD.

INFANT associate Dr Fiona McDonald was awarded a total of €424,913 for the duration of her four year project “A study on the health of premature babies, exploring the development of therapies using a novel protective dietary antioxidant intervention”.

Immature development of breathing in preterm babies and the necessary interventional treatment in the intensive care unit results in improper unstable oxygen status, which can impact on health even into adulthood. Late onset hospital acquired infection in preterm babies is an urgent unmet clinical need with up to 20% fatality. The combined effects of impaired oxygen status due to immaturity and acquired infection on physiological health will be examined throughout the project. Consequently, a novel protective dietary antioxidant intervention will be explored with a view to the development of therapies for preterm babies into the future.

As a result of the SIRG award, Fiona will now be working collaboratively with the team at INFANT under the guidance of her mentors, INFANT Principal Investigator Prof Eugene Dempsey and UCC INFANT associated investigator and Chair of Physiology, Prof Ken O’ Halloran.

Prof Geraldine Boylan, Director of INFANT commented “The SIRG awards are highly competitive and sought after awards for the next wave of early career post-doctoral researchers. We offer warm congratulations to Aine and Fiona in their success in winning these awards. INFANT are delighted to be partners in supporting this research and these projects. They are both addressing key questions of maternal and early infant health. UCC should be very proud of this emerging talent and we look forward to developing their research and research careers within the INFANT community”.

Congratulation to both Aine and Fiona, we look forward to the impact your research will have in the coming years.