Diagnosing cancer, maintaining a healthy gut, and improving baby formula are just some of the challenges which glycoscience researchers at NUI Galway are undertaking.
This area of research is expanding at the university within the Glycoscience Group under the direction of Professor Lokesh Joshi. In total, the research has secured more than €3 million in funding this year. Glycoscience is the study of the complex sugars which cover all cells in the human body, and many of the proteins in the bloodstream. These sugars and the proteins they bind to are like glue, linking our cells together. Understanding how these sugars change as the body grows or as disease develops could lead to some scientific breakthroughs.
According to Professor Joshi, who heads up the Glycoscience Group at NUI Galway and also works with the University’s National Centre for Biomedical Engineering (NCBES ): “We are delighted with the additional funding of our research which is really gathering momentum here in Galway. Our research is aimed at the development of new tools for the detection and measurement of carbohydrates in biological systems and the identification of new pathways for exploitation of these important biomolecules as diagnostic targets, therapeutics or novel food components. This is a relatively new scientific field and a very exciting area for us to be involved in.”
Recent new funding announcements include two projects in the Glycoscience Group under the Food Institutional Research Measure (FIRM ) programme, as announced recently by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney. In total, 23 projects in 13 research institutions were funded for collaborative research projects in the agri food area, to a total value of €10 million. The NUI Galway projects, which will be carried out in collaboration with researchers in Teagasc Research Station in Moorepark, Fermoy, Co Cork, aim to study the sugar components of milk with a view to benefiting the Irish infant formula industry, a major producer of infant formula for the world market.
The Glycoscience Group has also been successful in securing Technology Innovation Development Awards (TIDA ), from Science Foundation Ireland in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland. The Glycoscience Group will lead one of the successful awards and is a collaborator on two others, the goal of which includes the identification of innovative glycoscience research ideas for commercial benefit.
A further raft of funding for the Science Foundation Ireland supported Alimentary Glycoscience Research Cluster (www.AGRC.ie ) has also been agreed. The AGRC, established in 2009, is a collaboration between glycoscientists and alimentary microbiologists from a number of Irish universities and research institutes and led by NUI Galway. It also has several industrial partners. The main focus of the AGRC is to explore the role of sugars in the gut, with a view to developing novel ways of combating gut pathogens, and improving probiotic/prebiotic treatments to foster and maintain a healthy gut.
In the field of cancer diagnostics, a young Galway medical doctor has recently joined the Glycoscience Group to investigate the role of glycosylation in the development and progression of multiple myeloma, a cancer of antibody-producing plasma cells in the bone marrow. Dr Siobhan Glavey, a graduate of NUI Galway, received a prestigious award from the Health Research Board under the National SpR/SR Academic Fellowship Programme 2011 to fund this work, which will be carried out under the direction of Professor Joshi and Professor Michael O’Dwyer of the Haemotology Department at University Hospital Galway.