European Research Council Funds ‘blue-sky’ NUI Galway biomedical research projects

The European Research Council (ERC ) has awarded two NUI Galway researchers €4.4 million to pursue ‘blue-sky’ biomedical research. With this support, Professor Laoise McNamara and Dr Dimitrios Zeugolis, will pursue frontier research to achieve far-reaching impact on improving human health.

Professor McNamara and Dr Zeugolis were winners in the prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant competition which saw 301 top scholars and scientists from across Europe receive awards, following a review of 2,453 proposals.

Professor Lokesh Joshi, Vice-President for Research at NUI Galway, said these awards are among the most prestigious and competitive in Europe.

“Myself and the entire NUI Galway research community are delighted for both Laoise and Dimitrios who have demonstrated their excellence and leadership in research.”

Professor Laoise McNamara, who was recently announced as the Irish Research Council Researcher of the Year 2019, will lead the MEMETic project which will focus on bone disease.

According to Professor McNamara of the Biomechanics Research Centre, and CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Research in Medical Devices at NUI Galway, her research is in the field of mechanobiology, which is at the interface between engineering and biology.

“Our work seeks to understand the biological mechanisms by which bone cells sense and respond to the forces they experience during every day physical activity, and how these are affected by osteoporosis,” she said.

Despite immense efforts to develop therapies for osteoporosis, conventional drugs that target bone loss only prevent osteoporotic fractures in 50% of sufferers, and the worldwide economic burden of treatment is projected to reach $132 billion by 2050.

“In this project we will develop advanced models to allow us to investigate how our bones react to changes in the physical environment, from a cellular level right the way up. We will use these models to increase understanding of bone disease and our ultimate aim is to apply these models to improve the success rates of therapies for osteoporosis,” she added.

Dr Dimitrios Zeugolis, Director of REMODEL and Investigator at CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Research in Medical Devices at NUI Galway, will lead the ACHIEVE project. The aim is to bring new advances to cell culture methods and address major bottlenecks in regenerative medicine, drug discovery and cellular agriculture.

According to Dr Zeugolis, Currently, the development of cellular products, products made from cells cultured in the lab, is hampered by the lengthy culture periods taken when the cells are removed from their natural environment: the human or animal body. This time factor is responsible for the cells losing their normal function, resulting in suboptimal cellular products.

“With this project, we want to engineer culture environments that imitate the tissue from which the cells were extracted, thus maintaining their physiological function during experimental culture and significantly reducing the culture period.

“We believe the work will lead to a paradigm shift in cell culture methods with ground-breaking impacts across diverse fields, such as regenerative medicine, drug discovery and cellular agriculture,” he concluded.

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