An NUI academic has secured funding to the value of €3.9 million to train European researchers to develop new treatments for multiple sclerosis.
Dr Una FitzGerald, the principal investigator of the Multiple Sclerosis Research Laboratory and the director of the Galway Neuroscience Centre at NUI Galway, in collaboration with CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Research in Medical Devices, obtained the EU funding which will be used to lead a consortium of European researchers.
The project aims to develop novel devices and treatments for multiple sclerosis and involves researchers from Denmark, Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, and the Czech Republic.
It is the most common neurological condition to affect young adults and there are currently approximately 8,000 people in Ireland with the disorder.
The disease usually has two phases, an early "relapsing remitting" phase, during which sufferers undergo impairment, such as double-vision or limb weakness, followed by symptom dissipation for a period.
The second phase, termed "progressive MS" is degenerative with individuals experiencing deteriorating symptoms, frequently resulting in much-reduced mobility, increased fatigue, and cognitive challenges.
These worsening symptoms impair quality of life significantly, and in some cases, can lead to an inability to continue in full-time employment or to work at all.
There are numerous treatments or disease-modifying therapies which can help treat the many debilitating symptoms of MS during the earlier part of the disease. There is only one disease modifying therapy, Ocrelubzimab, which is approved for treating the progressive and degenerative phase but it is only suitable for a subset of patients.
The research programme will combine expertise in biomaterials, neuroimmunology, stem cell biology, neurological disease, biomarkers, computer modelling of cerebrospinal fluid flow and medical device design.
The consortium, co-ordinated from NUI Galway, aims to develop much-needed treatments for the progressive phase of multiple sclerosis.
Part of the EU Initial Training Network (ITN ), the programme will fund 15 PhD students in Europe, five of whom will be based at NUI Galway under the supervision of Dr Fitzgerald and her co-awardees Professor Abhay Pandit, the scientific director at CÚRAM and Dr Nathan Quinlan from the College of Engineering and Informatics at NUI Galway. Professor Pandit will contribute expertise for the development of biomaterials for drug release and Dr Quinlan will generate in silico models of biological systems integral to the development of medical devices.
Together with Dr Fitzgerald’s experience in the field of neuroscience and pathology, this will prove an exciting opportunity for students to train as scientists, as well as developing a novel medical device.
Dr Una Fitzgerald described the award as a major boost to MS research at NUI Galway.
"By combining our university's expertise in MS, biomaterials, medical devices and fluid dynamics and computer modelling with that of our partners across Europe, this project could yield PhD graduates who are MS experts and who have helped pioneer a new medical device that could eventually help those suffering from the later stages of MS."
Professor Abhay Pandit said partnering in this unique consortium provided CÚRAM with the opportunity to combine its unique areas of research excellence to produce real solutions for those who urgently need it.
"That, combined with the training of PhD graduates with expertise and experience, makes this funding a very exciting award and is testament to Dr Fitzgerald's excellence in the field of MS research."
The project has been funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 Programme under the Marie Skodowska Curie Initial Training Network and Grant Agreement.