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School of Biotechnology

Research Interests and Expertise

The School of Biotechnology has an excellent track record for obtaining both national and international funding, with a high impact in publications and in attracting postgraduate and post-doctoral researchers.  The School’s six priority research areas are:

 Cell Biology and Immunology

Prof. Paul Cahill is a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) funded Principal Investigator in area of Vascular Biology and Therapeutics. His work focuses on cell and molecular analysis of developmental regulatory networks that control resident vascular stem cell fate and vascular smooth muscle cell function and their modification by biomechanical cues, epigenetics and various environmental risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease.  Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one killer of all Irish and EU citizens. A hallmark of CVD is a blockage of critical arteries around the body, the heart and brain leading to increased blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke, respectively. The predominant cells that form the blockage are specialised vascular and inflammatory cells. The source of these cells remains controversial with many investigators reporting that they are derived from adult stem cells that reside within the blood vessel wall. Stents are small mesh tubes inserted to keep these arteries open after a procedure called angioplasty (percutaneous coronary intervention, or PCI) that removes the initial blockage. Drug-eluting stents have a polymer coating that emits a drug over time to help keep the blockage from recurring.  The Vascular Biology and Therapeutics group at DCU are focussed on understanding the key cellular and molecular events that occur in both adult vascular stem cells and vascular cells that contribute to the blockage with a specific goal of exploiting novel photonic platforms to detect these events whilst also developing the next generation of drug-coated stents to deliver targeted therapies against these cellular events. A better understanding of the process that leads to the initial blockage will greatly improve the treatment of these CVD conditions and will also lead to early detection through novel photonic platforms for non-invasive disease analysis.

More information can be here.  

Research Centre Affiliation: Centre for Medical Engineering Research

 

Dr. Phil Cummins leads a vascular cell biology research group within the School of Biotechnology. His research focuses on how large blood vessels and capillaries function at the cellular and molecular level in different regions of the body such as the heart, brain, and periphery. The goal of this research is to better understand how the human circulatory system is regulated and how different types of vascular disease may arise (e.g. stroke, diabetic retinopathy, atherosclerosis, cardiovascular infection). Diseases of the vascular system constitute a major burden on the Irish healthcare system, and are particularly exacerbated in Ireland’s diabetic and ageing populations. This DCU-led research programme has the potential to yield viable diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to address this.

Research Centre Affiliation:  National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology (NICB)  /  Centre for Preventive Medicine (CPM)

DCU Research Groups:                 

  • Integrin-Actin Biology (PI: Dr. Ronan Murphy, DCU)
  • Type-2 Diabetes (PI: Dr. Donal O’Gorman, DCU)
  • Mammalian Cell Engineering (PI: Dr. Niall Barron, DCU)
  • Cardiovascular Infection (PI: Dr. Steven Kerrigan, RCSI)
  • Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases (PI: Dr. Diarmuid Smith, Beaumont/RCSI)

 

Dr. Rosaleen Devery is a biochemist who studies disturbances in lipid biology in human disease, particularly cancer and diabetes.  Humans have large numbers of distinct molecular lipid species due in part to de novo biosynthesis and to metabolism of dietary lipids.  Enzymatic synthesis of lipids, cellular distribution of lipid species and molecular mechanisms by which lipids affect cell biology are studied in the Lipid Research Laboratory in School of Biotechnology.  This research is important because common diseases including cancer, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease as well as a small number of genetic disorders are associated with a disturbed lipid profile.   Research has focussed on positive health benefits of unique dietary fatty acids and phospholipids of microbial, plant and ruminant origin on pancreatic  cells and drug-resistant cancer cells.  The research aims to discover tissue-specific functions of lipids to aid in diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of cancer and diabetes.

Other research conducted in the Lipid Research Lab involves determining endocrine disruptive potential of disposable plastic components used in biopharma.  This research is important because chemicals that possess oestrogenic activity have been reported to cause activational and developmental toxicity even at low doses. With the advent of single-use disposable technologies in pharmaceutical manufacturing, the likelihood of compounds with oestrogenic activity entering the human body has increased considerably. The impact of bioprocess parameters on migration of oestrogenic leachables and extractables has been largely untested. The E-screen bioassay, which is based on the ability of MCF-7 cells to proliferate in the presence of oestrogens is employed to give good answers concerning xenooestrogenicity.

Dr Devery also works on a project with Dr Peter Kenny, School of Chemical Sciences DCU & NICB to investigate the antitumoral properties of novel synthetic ferrocene compounds.  Understanding how distinct molecular ferrocene compounds interact with biological signaling systems in cancer cells is an important field of study that can impact cancer therapies. The effect of ferrocene compounds on breast tumour types which are associated with poor prognosis is currently being studied. 

Research Centre Affiliation: National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology (NICB)

Research Groups:                           

  • Diabetes Consortium, NICB
  • Translational Cancer Research Group, NICB
  • Organic Synthesis Group, School of Chemical Sciences DCU
  • Department of Food Processing and Functionality, Moorepark Food Research Centre, Moorepark, Fermoy, Co Cork
  • Food BioSciences Department,  Moorepark Food Research Centre, Moorepark, Fermoy, Co Cork, Ireland

 

Prof. Christine Loscher is the Principal Investigator of the Immunomodulation Research Group. The core objective of her research is to identify new ways to modulate the immune system for health benefit. This includes the discovery of new compounds from marine sources which can be used to treat inflammatory diseases. Furthermore, she works closely with a number of Global food companies to identify novel functional ingredients which can be used in a variety of foods including infant formula and sports nutrition. She also collaborates with several biotech companies to uncover mechanisms of actions of their anti-inflammatory drug candidates. 

Research Centre Affiliation: Health Technologies and the Healthy & Ageing Society

 

Dr. Sandra O’Neill is the fundamental and translational research group leader whose focus is to isolate molecules from parasitic worms to develop safe and effective vaccines as no commercially vaccines is available to date to protect against these pathogens. This research is important because a third of the world’s population are infected with parasitic worms and infection in livestock causes significant economic loss to the agricultural community annually. A second focus of this group is to use pathogen and non-pathogen derived molecules as potential therapies a wide range of diseases including autoimmune disease such a rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease. These molecules can also be exploited as diagnostic markers or biomarkers of disease. The focus of the laboratory is to examine the interaction of these modules with immune cells in order to understand their exact mode of action.

 

Dr. Michael Freeley's research focuses on the genes and signalling pathways that T-cells use for migration and activation and how these pathways may be exploited for the treatment for autoimmune/inflammatory diseases, infectious disease and cancer.  The recruitment of T-cells from the blood into tissues, such as the skin or gut, and the production of inflammatory molecules is a normal response to infection that protects us from pathogens (elimination of the pathogen while leaving our own cells alone).  However, T-cells produce an unregulated inflammatory response in autoimmune/inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis and psoriasis.  Blocking T-cell activation and migration therefore is beneficial in this regard.  On the other hand, increasing T-cell activation and migration into tissues is required for more effective vaccines and for treating cancer.  Michael's research utilizes state-of-the-art techniques such as RNA interference (RNAi), screening of RNAi libraries and High Content Analysis to elucidate the genes and signalling pathways that T-cells use for activation and migration.  His discoveries led to the finding that the actin-bundling protein L-plastin is a key regulator of T-cell migration (Freeley et al, 2012 J. Immunology) and that protein Kinase CØ is regulated by phosphorylation at Ser695 in response to T-cell activation (Freeley et al, 2005 Biochem. Biophys. Res. Comm).  In addition, Michael has developed new methods for delivering RNAi into hard-to-transfect primary human T-cells (Freeley et al, 2013 J. Immunological Methods) as well as leading a collaborative project with an international life sciences company where he performed the first RNAi library screens in primary human T-cells using their proprietary self-delivering RNAi technology (Freeley et al, 2015, J. Biomolecular Screening). He has also carried out contract research for a pharmaceutical company to screen small molecule drugs to evaluate their anti-inflammatory potential in in-vitro T-cell assays.  Michael is particularly interested in hearing from academic, clinical and industrial organizations who would like to leverage his expertize in T-cells, immunology and cell biology for research collaborations, grant applications and contract research.

 

Dr. Dermot Walls research explores the relationship between viruses and their human or animal hosts.  Different viruses can cause short-term or long-lasting diseases and this is usually the result of damage to host tissues or host defence mechanisms. Some viruses such as the human Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) are linked with the development of certain human cancers. Our published collaborative work describes the identification new cell-virus interactions and viral components that influence what happens to the cell after it becomes infected. A better understanding of the virus/host relationship will contribute to achieving the goals of earlier detection, prevention and treatment of disease.

Research Centre Affiliation: The National Centre for Sensor Research (NCSR)  /  Irish Separation Science Cluster

 Genetics and Genomics

Dr. Tim Downing’s Infection Genomics research group study bacterial and parasite genomics in terms of their origin, evolution and spread. We primarily investigate the:

  • genomic diversity of Leishmania single-cell tropical parasites isolated from infected people and animals
  • control of gene activity in methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) during exposure to drug treatments
  • genetic variation of Escherichia coli ST131 infections and the associated spread of antimicrobial resistance.

In tandem with collaborators, we tackle these projects using genomics, population genetics and systems biology approaches, with a particular long-term aim of understanding the evolutionary roles of recombination, hybridisation and population admixture. This is important research because these microbes evolve resistance to drugs by changing their DNA, and these potent mutations spread by mixing. 

Research Group Affiliation:Centre for Scientific Computing and Complex Systems Modelling (SCI-SYM)

 

Dr. Anne Parle-McDermotts research group focuses on understanding the importance of folate nutrition for human health.  Folic acid supplementation/fortification has known benefits in the prevention of birth defects and other human diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, but the underlying mechanism of how it does this has not been fully elucidated.  Research at the Parle-McDermott laboratory aims to decipher the molecular mechanism of how folate plays such an important role in human health ranging from pregnancy to ageing using a combination of genetics, genomics, biochemistry and cell biology methodologies. This research will have relevance for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of common human disease.   The group has unique expertise on specific folate enzymes including the second human Dihydrofolate Reductase enzyme, DHFRL1.

 

Dr. Denise Harold's research group focuses on the genetic epidemiology of complex neurological traits, particularly Alzheimer's disease.  Collaborating with scientists in Europe and the U.S., Dr. Harold has been involved in several large genome-wide association studies (GWAS), which have been successful in identifying genetic risk variants associated with increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.  However, there is a substantial gap between our ability to identify these loci and our understanding of how the identified risk variants contribute to the underlying disease pathogenesis.  By leveraging large-scale functional and comparative genomic datasets, we aim to functionally annotate GWAS loci, in order to provide insights into potential molecular mechanisms that can be tested/validated through disease-relevant, high-throughput functional assays.  

Identifying causal relationships between genetic variants and disease risk will help to elucidate pathogenic processes at the molecular level and to identify tractable targets for therapeutic intervention.  As discovery of risk variants grows, identifying the causal variants and their mechanisms will ultimately aid in improving predictions of disease onset, and in determining sub-type of disease, which will be particularly important for developing a precision medicine approach to treatment.

Research Group Affiliation:  Advanced Research Computing Centre for Complex Systems Modelling (ARC-SYM) 

 Bioanalysis, Biochemistry and Proteomics

 Dr. Ciarán Fagan seeks to improve the stability of enzymes. Enzymes are ideal “green” catalysts: they can enable newer processes that are less hazardous and less costly than traditional methods, while producing less waste. Enzymes’ many industrial applications range from detergents to the food and (bio) pharma industries. Unfortunately, enzymes may become unstable and lose their catalytic abilities under the demands of process conditions, or upon prolonged use or extended storage. Dr. Fagan uses two main strategies to increase the stability of enzymes, namely protein engineering and chemical modification. He has prepared enzymes that are more tolerant of heat, organic solvents or oxidizing conditions, or that give improved biosensor performance. Although he has worked on numerous enzymes, his special focus is on plant peroxidases (which are used for a variety of purposes). These, together with a “resurrected” ancient plant peroxidase, an evolutionary precursor of the modern-day enzymes, provide opportunities for postgraduate research.

 See a selection of publications here.

Research Centre Affiliation:  National Centre for Sensor Research (NCSR)

 

Prof. Christine Loscher is the Principal Investigator of the Immunomodulation Research Group. The core objective of her research is to identify new ways to modulate the immune system for health benefit. This includes the discovery of new compounds from marine sources which can be used to treat inflammatory diseases. Furthermore, she works closely with a number of Global food companies to identify novel functional ingredients which can be used in a variety of foods including infant formula and sports nutrition. She also collaborates with several biotech companies to uncover mechanisms of actions of their anti-inflammatory drug candidates. 

Research Centre Affiliation: Health Technologies and the Healthy &Ageing Society

 

Dr. Brendan O’Connor’s research is focused on solving problems associated with the rapidly emerging biopharmaceutical industry.   Many new exciting therapeutics are injectable protein based drugs. However, they are very expensive and more difficult to produce. Our research is designed to improve the efficiency of production of these new protein based drugs, thus significantly reducing their overall cost.  In an era of ever increasing health costs this is of vital importance to any society. The biopharmaceutical industry is a very important sector to the developing Irish economy and thus training and developing expertise in this area is important for future high quality employment of our students.

Research Centre Affiliation: National Centre for Sensor Research (NCSR)  /  Irish Separation Science Cluster (ISSC)

 

Prof. Richard O’Kennedy’s Applied Biochemistry Group consists of 22 Senior Researchers, postdocs and postgrads working on using antibodies for analysis. Antibodies have unique capabilities for detecting almost any target (e.g. a pathogen) of interest. The group engineers high performance antibodies using molecular biological techniques that outperform conventional antibodies.  These antibodies have been successfully incorporated into sensors and novel analytical platforms. Application areas include prostate, colon and pancreatic cancer, mycotoxins, marine toxins, Listeria, biomarkers of disease (cardiovascular/ cancer), use of surface plasmon resonance technologies for antibody characterisation, sensor development and novel antibody constructs/conjugates. Training is also provided via the Masters in Biomedical Diagnostics, specific modules and short courses/workshops in antibody generation and methodologies. Currently Richard O’Kennedy is Scientific Director of the Biomedical Diagnostics Institute and has translated many research findings into clinical/environmental/food safety assessment methods. The group won the ‘Bioscience Lab of the Year Award’ in 2014 in Ireland based on successful achievements in basic research, the detection of diseases (e.g. cancers) and environmental research and analysis.

Research Centre Affiliation: Biomedical Diagnostic Institute (BDI)  /   National Centre for Sensor Research (NCSR)

 

Dr. Anne Parle-McDermotts research group focuses on understanding the importance of folate nutrition for human health.  Folic acid supplementation/fortification has known benefits in the prevention of birth defects and other human diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, but the underlying mechanism of how it does this has not been fully elucidated.  Research at the Parle-McDermott laboratory aims to decipher the molecular mechanism of how folate plays such an important role in human health ranging from pregnancy to ageing using a combination of genetics, genomics, biochemistry and cell biology methodologies. This research will have relevance for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of common human disease.   The group has unique expertise on specific folate enzymes including the second human Dihydrofolate Reductase enzyme, DHFRL1.

 

Dr. Dermot Walls research explores the relationship between viruses and their human or animal hosts.  Different viruses can cause short-term or long-lasting diseases and this is usually the result of damage to host tissues or host defence mechanisms. Some viruses such as the human Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) are linked with the development of certain human cancers. Our published collaborative work describes the identification new cell-virus interactions and viral components that influence what happens to the cell after it becomes infected. A better understanding of the virus/host relationship will contribute to achieving the goals of earlier detection, prevention and treatment of disease.

Research Centre Affiliation: The National Centre for Sensor Research (NCSR) / Irish Separation Science Cluster

 Bioprocessing

Dr. Jenny Lawler’s bioprocessing research focuses on the manufacture of novel membranes for downstream processing of proteins. Strategies include preparation of charged membranes (cationic, anionic, zwitterionic), for selective separation of proteins based on isoelectric focusing technology. Research also focuses on the development of membrane chromatography and membrane adsorber systems, including membranes targeting the selective separation of glycoproteins, based on functionalization with novel ligands.

 Mr. Brian Freeland's research focuses on applying Process Analytical Technology (PAT) tools to understand and control complex systems including bioprocessing and nano-fabrication, using on-line spectroscopy, biocalorimetry, gas analysis, soft-sensors and ANN.

  • Nanotechnology:  fabrication of nanoparticles via Pulsed Laser Ablation in Liquids (PLAL).
  • Control and optimization of high cell density microbial bioprocesses
  • Industrial automation, Beckhoff Automation, LabView and laser maching.
Microbiology, Energy and Environmental Science

Dr. Jenny Lawler’s research in the Environmental Science arena focuses on the development of new materials and technologies to address current and emerging environmental problems.  Her research group is involved in the manufacture of novel membranes (including micro-, ultra- and nanofiltration) and graphene based adsorbents, and manufacture of bio-inspired nanostructured antimicrobial surfaces, as well as development of anaerobic digestion strategies for waste management with energy generation. She is particularly interested in the targeting of emerging pollutants such as hazardous organic pollutants and nanomaterials and problem drinking water components such as humic acid, and she has expertise in the mathematical modelling of these removal processes.

Research Group Affiliation: DCU Water Institute

                                                              

Dr. Brid Quilty is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Biotechnology. A graduate in Industrial Microbiology, she leads a multidisciplinary research group with an interest in microbes in the environment. She has a particular interest in the microbiology of water and wastewater treatment systems. Current projects include the development of novel technologies using sunlight to treat drinking water and the preparation of mixtures of microorganisms to treat troublesome waste streams such as those containing fats. Other research areas of interest include the determination of the environmental impact of novel green chemicals and the evaluation of novel materials, including some used for orthopaedic and wound-care applications, to replace the use of antibiotics. The group have collaborative links worldwide and research in co-operation with developing countries is a priority. Dr Quilty is the DCU lead representative in DCU-NUIM-RCSI 3U Global Health 

Research Centre Affiliation: National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology (NICB)  /   DCU Water Institute  /  3U Global Health

Research Groups:                           

  • Photocatalysis Group, School of Chemical Sciences, DCU.
  • Centre for Medical Engineering Research, DCU.
  • Solar Disinfection Research Group, RCSI
  • Centre for Synthesis & Chemical Biology, RCSI.
 Membrane Science and Technology

Dr. Greg Foley is a chemical engineer who specialises in using mathematics and computer modelling to make realistic and accurate predictions about the design and performance of membrane filtration systems. Membranes are used in a variety of industries, from wastewater treatment to diary processing to desalination and constitute a multi-billion euro, worldwide industry. Typical questions that Dr. Foley is seeking to answer include “how large a membrane do I need to carry out a certain operation?”; “under what conditions of pressure and flowrate should I operate membrane equipment to ensure long-term, sustainable operation?”; “is there an optimum way of operating the membrane to minimise costs?”. Dr. Foley is the author of an international textbook titled Membrane Filtration (Cambridge University Press, 2013). As well as membrane processes, he is also interested in the pedagogy of chemical engineering and is active in developing new approaches to teaching chemical engineering to undergraduates.

Dr. Jenny Lawler’s research group focuses on the development and manufacture of novel membranes using phase separation and electrospinning techniques.  Membranes provide a platform separation science applicable to a variety of industries, from production of therapeutic proteins in Biopharma, to treatment of drinking and waste waters.  Dublin City University has key expertise, unique in Ireland, in this area.  Dr. Lawler’s group has expertise in the preparation and characterization of functionalized membranes for a variety of applications. Prepared membranes include hybrid organic-inorganic membranes, high flux ultrafiltration membranes, membrane adsorbers, and charged membranes.