Director of REMEDI, Professor Timothy O’Brien, is Head of Medicine at NUI Galway and a consultant endocrinologist at Galway University Hospital. REMEDI is one of Ireland’s top biomedical research institutes.
Researchers at REMEDI are using regenerative medicine techniques to create new treatments for human diseases. Professor O’Brien studied medicine in UCC and was a junior doctor in Cork University Hospital for four years after his graduation.
He later studied and worked in the US for 13 years in the Mayo Clinic and the University of California, San Francisco. To date Professor O’Brien has written and published 133 scientific papers and 62 review articles.
Professor O’Brien’s main interest and current research project involves the area of Critical Limb Ischemia (CLI ). CLI is a serious condition that refers to a severe blockage of the arteries and veins in the lower limbs that considerably reduces blood flow to those areas. This can then develop into skin ulcers and gangrene.
If this condition is left untreated amputation of the limb may be necessary. The highest rate of CLI usually occurs in smokers, older people and people with diabetes who do not regulate their condition. With obesity on the rise and diabetes mellitus now almost at global pandemic levels there has been a tremendous rise in the instances of CLI.
The main treatment for many patients who have this debilitating condition is to restore blood supply to the affected area by either by-passing the damaged area or by angioplasty (that is by placing a balloon-like catheter into the vessel to unblock it ). In many patients this approach does not work and in severe cases amputation is their only option. REMEDI is working to create new treatments for CLI patients using stem cell biology approaches.
Researchers are currently developing methods to stimulate the growth of new blood vessels using the patient’s own endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs ). EPCs are found in the blood stream and have the ability to grow into the endothelial cells that make up the lining of new blood vessels. Scientists at REMEDI have also recently discovered that a biological factor vital for new blood vessel formation is missing in people with diabetes. By replacing this factor they have shown that it is possible to reverse the effects of the missing biological factor.
While Prof Timothy O’Brien and his team’s work focuses on stem cells for treating critical limb ischemia other applications are also necessary. The ultimate goal of the O’Brien-led team is to use stem cell therapy to improve and advance the techniques in surgery and a move towards the less invasive keyhole surgery. All of this would vastly improve treatment and recovery of patients
This article was written as part of a Community Knowledge Initiative (CKI ) module.