Research Newsletter - Issue 78: Spotlight

Irish Research Council Laureate Awards 

The Irish Research Council (IRC) Laureate awards were recently announced by the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, T.D. 

The IRC Laureate scheme funds projects that are 'curiosity driven' and at the forefront of our current understanding in a specific research area. Laureate awards are made under two streams, Starting and Consolidator. The award value for Starting projects is €400,000 and that for Consolidator awards is €600,000.

DCU has received three awards under this highly competive scheme, with a total award value of €1.6M.  The three DCU projects are highly topical and aim to make ground breaking advances in our current understanding of the respective research fields.

Prof. John Doyle, DCU Vice President for Research, has congratulated the awardees, saying:

DCU's awardees in the IRC Laureate scheme deserve huge congratulations.  This is a very competitive programme - and securing an award is testament to the quality of the research being carried out by those who have been funded.  It is also a great programme, one I strongly recommend to DCU Staff - providing funding for the sort of discovery-based research we all want to see more of. 


Below you can find out more about these exciting and ambitious projects:


Dr Janosch Heller (School of Biotechnology) has been awarded the Starting Laureate for his project EpiGlymph: Redefining epilepsy treatment - the role of waste clearing in the brain.


Dr Janosch Heller

Dr Janosch Heller

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological diseases worldwide. It can develop at any time in a person’s life. It accounts for 0.5% of the world’s disease burden, affecting more than 70 million people worldwide – more than 6 million in Europe alone. It is estimated that 5 million cases are diagnosed annually, and the healthcare-associated costs of epilepsy in Europe are almost € 20 billion a year. People with epilepsy have a substantial risk of sudden unexpected death during epilepsy, and suffer several severe comorbidities. Despite dedicated clinical efforts and some technological advances, the mechanisms by which a healthy brain turns into an epileptic one remains largely unknown.

Likewise, despite major investigation, common anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) show a relatively narrow therapeutic window, and elicit serious side effects. Furthermore, no AEDs are disease-modifying and there is no treatment to prevent the development of epilepsy following injury to the brain. About 30% of people with epilepsy remain unresponsive to currently available treatments. Hence, new treatment options are urgently required.

All current AEDs and most pre-clinical therapies, including gene therapy approaches, act on neuronal targets – ion channels & neurotransmitter receptors. However, a universal hallmark of epileptic tissue is astrocyte dysfunction. Nonetheless, astrocytes have received little attention as therapeutic targets. In the healthy brain, astrocytes perform essential housekeeping functions, such as recycling of neurotransmitters, metabolic support and ion homeostasis. Additionally, astrocytes have recently been identified as major contributors to the brain's waste clearing system - the glymphatic system. EpiGlymph will be the first project to investigate the impact of epilepsy on the glymphatic system and vice versa. Additionally, EpiGlymph will utilise gene therapy to repair astrocyte function in epilepsy to specifically increase glymphatic system function and to prevent excessive network excitation and thus seizure generation.


Prof. Jane Suiter (School of Communications/FuJo) has been awarded a Consolidator award for her project COMDEL: Examining the Potential of Communicative Deliberation for Climate Action


Prof Jane Suiter

Prof. Jane Suiter

COMDEL’s ambition is to advance frontier research on the role of deliberation in addressing climate change. Specifically, it aims to deliver new theoretical and empirical insights into the capacity of deliberation to bridge communication and knowledge gaps between climate scientists, citizens, media actors, and elite policymakers concerning climate change. It is premised on the idea that finding ways to overcome these gaps is essential in order to develop cohesive and collective climate action and to combat widespread climate disinformation and vested interests. 

COMDEL will (a) be the first comprehensive beyond state-of-the-art study that brings together the multi-disciplinary literature on democratic innovations (specifically transmission theory), misperception corrections, and climate change communication, through a focus on the deliberative communication in the public sphere between elites and citizens. (b) analyse the interventions within deliberative systems that can inoculate citizens in both the mini and maxi-public against climate change misperceptions. (c) study the dissemination of denier and rebuttal narratives through platforms, mainstream media, and parliamentary speech. (d) establish whether assemblies can help elites move towards climate action and withstand lobbying and information campaigns from vested interests. (e) build an innovative empirical and theoretical framework for enabling deliberative communication across the public sphere, helping to inoculate society against the worst pathogens of climate change disinformation.


Dr Andrew Kellett (School of Chemical Sciences) has been awarded the Consolidator Laureate award for this project ENACT: Gene Editing with Nucleic Acid Click Chemistry


Dr Andrew Kellett

Dr Andrew Kellett

There is major interest in targeting the human genome for therapeutic, engineering, and knockout applications. State-of-the art gene editors employ a common group of enzymes called nucleases that cut DNA precisely. These enzymes have been exploited in breakthrough technologies including zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs), transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), and clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR), with CRISPR/Cas-9 now considered the gold standard for gene editing.

The ENACT project seeks to develop a new type of gene technology that contains two components: an artificial chemical nuclease containing a reactive metal ion capable of damaging DNA, and targeting vectors called triplex forming oligonucleotides (TFOs) and peptide nucleic acids (PNAs) that can recognise specific cancer-causing genes. Therefore, under the guidance of the TFO or PNA probe, the artificial nuclease will sequence-specifically damage targeted genes of interest in human cancer cells.

Two methods will be examined to generate the chemical nuclease-TFO hybrids and both involve a specific type of spring-loaded chemical reaction called ‘click chemistry’. A variety of metal ions—including copper and ruthenium—within the chemical nuclease component will be investigated, with each designed to interact with DNA in a unique way. A range of modifications will also be investigated to ensure the hybrid can survive in biological environments. The hybrid technology will be tested against cancer causing genes that are present in aggressive human cancers, including triple negative breast cancer and glioblastoma multiforme.


Further information about the Laureate Awards is available at