NUI Galway researcher wins inaugural Allergan Innovation award

Pictured at the Allergan Innovation Awards Ceremony were l-r: Paul McGuire, executive director of Zeltiq, the Galway Allergan facility, award recipient, Dr Niamh O’Halloran, NUI Galway and Alan Flannery, finance director, Allergan, Westport. Photo: Aengus McMahon

Pictured at the Allergan Innovation Awards Ceremony were l-r: Paul McGuire, executive director of Zeltiq, the Galway Allergan facility, award recipient, Dr Niamh O’Halloran, NUI Galway and Alan Flannery, finance director, Allergan, Westport. Photo: Aengus McMahon

An innovative approach to help breast cancer patients post-mastectomy has been awarded the Inaugural Allergan Innovation Award at NUI Galway. Dr Niamh O'Halloran, a researcher with the School of Medicine at NUI Galway, received the award for her project which seeks to use the body's own cells to avoid complications wih implants.

The Allergan Award for Innovation, valued at €6,000 provides funding to accomplished scholars who wish to advance their innovative research studies in the field of Life Sciences. The winner was chosen from a competitive field of applicants among the postgraduate and PhD student community at NUI Galway.

Allergan, headquatered in Dublin, is a global pharmaceutical company and a leader in a new industry model, Growth Pharma. The company with commercial operations in 100 countries worldwide, is focused on developing, manufacturing and commercialising branded pharmaceuticals, devices and biologic products for patients around the world. Allergan operates four facilities in Ireland, employing 1,800 people, two manufacturing operations, one in Westport, Co. Mayo and one in Clonshaugh, Co. Dublin, a medical technology company ZELTIQ Aesthetics in Galway, and an international supply chain office in Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin.

Speaking about the award, Paul Coffey, Vice President and Plant Manager of Allergan, Ireland, said: "We are delighted to be partnering with NUI Galway for this year's Allergan Innovation Award and congratulations to Dr Niamh O'Halloran. To mark 40 successful years of business in Ireland, we wanted to build on our longstanding relationships with communities through providing educational support to universities and colleges around the country, by reaffirming our commitment to the future of Life Sciences. We wanted to recognise and support scholars who have excelled through innovation research in this field. We hope that this Innovation Award will inspire more students who wish to establish themselves within the field. Collaborating with a prestigious university, such as NUI Galway is an exciting initiative for all involved, and we look forward to the positive results and experiences it will bring for students and for our industry."

Breast cancer is a global pandemic, with the National Cancer Registry predicting that by 2020 there will be approximately 5,000 new cases in Ireland per annum. Despite advances in oncology and the dawn of the molecular era in cancer diagnosis and treatment, an estimated forty per cent of breast cancer patients require mastectomy.

Immediate breast reconstruction has become an integral part of breast cancer care, affording phsycosocial and aesthetic benefits. However, implants are not without their limitations and the response of the immune system to foreign materials in the human bodies can lead to complications.

Dr Niamh O'Halloran from the School of Medicine at NUI Galway, said: "We want to develop a method of coating implants with a gel biomaterial which incorporates elements of the patient's own fat tissue. The hydrogel is based on hyaluronic acid, most commonly seen these days in skin creams and beauty products. The patients's own cells will grow on the gel, thus reducing scar tissue formation which leads to implant related complications."

"The aim is to develop biocompatible prosthetic implants preventing complications such as capsular contracture, implant extrusion and implant rupture and will negate the requirement of regular implant exchange. We hope this will reduce patient morbidity and operation costs significantly over time. A biocompatible implant coated with cellular tissue will also result in improved cosmetic outcomes for the patient, giving the patient a better quality of life", added Dr O'Halloran.

Professor Lokesh Joshi, Vice-President for Research at NUI Galway, commented: "Allergan are supporting a truly innovative concept here, which altough at early stages of development, holds out real hope for patients. The calibre of applications for this award was very high, and I congratulate Dr O'Halloran on her success."

Dr Niamh O"Halloran graduated from the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at NUI Galway in 2014 and took up a research post with the University's School of Medicine in 2015. She has also been awarded the Future Projects Prize at the 2017 Society of Academic and Research Surgery Annual Meeting for her work on the use of tissue engineering strategies in breast reconstruction post-mastectomy.

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