Orla Benson Postgraduate Research Scholarship 2019/20
The 2019/20 recipient of the Orla Benson Postgraduate Scholarship is Ms. Ciara Larkin.
In a ceremony held by the DCU Education Trust, Ciara was one of 21 students who received awards from DCU President Prof. Brian MacCraith; awards that were established in memory of past students, staff, and friends of DCU.
In 1996, the family and friends of Orla Benson founded the Orla Benson Memorial Scholarship in memory of Orla; a graduate of class of 1995 from the Biotechnology degree programme who sadly passed away in the summer months before her graduation. The memorial scholarship offered by the Benson family is awarded on an annual basis to a student demonstrating outstanding potential in the field of Biotechnology. Since its inception this generous award has been instrumental in forging collaborations, disseminating research and ultimately making breakthroughs across the various fields of the recipients.
Ciara is part of the Meng group within the School of Biotechnology and is based in the National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology (NICB). Funded by Science Foundation Ireland, Ciara’s work examines the signalling pathways involved in chronic irritation and “itchiness” of the skin.
‘Between 10 and 20 percent of the global population suffer from chronic itch in one form or another’, describes Ciara, ‘unfortunately, the mechanisms underlying this debilitating symptom remain unclear. My work focuses on the cells of the skin, aiming to understand the interactions responsible for recurrent and treatment-resistant itch.’
Together, Ciara and the Meng group are using their knowledge of cellular communication and SNARE proteins to develop a novel therapeutic which can alleviate the debilitating and life-altering itch associated with severe skin conditions.
Ciara has used the award to visit the laboratory of her research group’s collaborator; Professor Andrea Szegedi based in the University of Debrecen, Hungary in order to learn state-of-the-art techniques for diagnosing, characterising, and treating experimental samples which she can bring back to the DCU and apply to her research. As part of her visit, the Scholarship also enabled Ciara to present her work at the 92nd General Meeting of the Hungarian Dermatological Society.
‘The Orla Benson Scholarship, and where it has taken me, has been fundamental in enabling the realisation of my first first-author paper, detailing novel targets in the search for a potent and selective inhibitor of itch-specific signalling’, says Ciara, ‘At present, anti-itch agents represent a serious clinical unmet need. This award has effectively brought us one step closer toward an effective therapeutic option for the many sufferers of chronic itch.
‘Orla was a popular and enthusiastic student of the School of Biotechnology, and as she did once before, she continues to touch and change the lives of many through this award.’