HRB health research award for NUI Galway researcher

Dr Emer McGrath of NUI Galway has been awarded a clinician scientist fellowship as part of the Health Research Board (HRB ) €3.7 million investment in 12 new health research fellowships. Dr McGrath was awarded €655,524 for her research into blood-based biomarkers for early detection of preclinical neurocognitive disorders.

These fellowships are designed to support health and care practitioners as they transition towards research leadership, while balancing their clinical commitments. The award to Dr McGrath will fund a new academic consultant neurologist post based at NUI Galway and Galway University Hospital. Dr McGrath will lead a large, international, cross-collaborative, research study involving a team of investigators based at the HRB-CRFG, NUI Galway, the Framingham Heart Study, Boston University, the Population Health Research Institute, McMaster University, Canada, Trinity College Dublin, and the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of Texas San Antonio.

“Dementia is a major health problem and a significant contributor to death and dependence worldwide," Dr McGrath said. "Often by the time a person shows signs of the disease, irreversible brain injury has already occurred and the opportunity for early disease modification has been missed. If we could identify people at high risk of developing dementia at an early, preclinical stage, eg, by detecting elevated levels of proteins or biomarkers in the blood, we would have the greatest opportunity to prevent this disease.”

The research team will investigate selected blood-based biomarkers and determine whether these biomarkers vary in people with and without features of early stage dementia on specialised brain scans, and whether these biomarkers can predict who will develop dementia in the future. The results of this research will be used to develop a risk score for predicting an individual’s risk of developing dementia in the future.

The results of this research are expected to have important public health benefits including the development of a risk score for dementia; tailoring approaches to treatment based on an individual’s biomarker signature; and improving the ability to find new treatments for dementia, by allowing better selection of individuals for clinical trials.

Dr Annalisa Montesanti, programme manager, HRB, said: “These postdoctoral awardees have come through a very competitive process and represent the very best of the new crop of health researchers working in the Irish health research system. The standard was so high that the international review panels for each fellowship scheme could have recommended more applications for funding if budget had been available. These are significant achievements in these researchers’ careers.”


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