Research Opportunities in the Faculty of Science and Health
Details of potential PhD research project opportunities within the DCU Faculty of Science and Health are outlined below. If you cannot find a project within your area of interest contact our Associate Dean of Research to discuss further.
The origin and spread of antibiotic resistance genes during drug-resistant bacterial outbreaks. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are one of the greatest threats to human health and their drug-resistance genes spread between species in hospitals, communities and the environment. This computational project will apply genomic and evolutionary methods to track the transfer of these genes across bacterial species in Ireland to decipher their origins and predict future infection outbreaks.
Gene therapy for diabetic retinopathy: This project will optimise of a novel therapeutic (an engineered form of human angiopoietin-1, COMP-Ang1) for the treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness. It will employ (i) a tropism-broadening strategy to improve the ability of an adeno-associated virus (AAV) to deliver COMP-Ang1 into retinal cells and it will (ii) investigate cellular signalling mechanisms through which COMP-Ang1 may potentially repair damaged retinal capillaries.
Investigation of the effects of semaglutide; a GLP-1 receptor agonist, on vascular function during diabetes mellitus. This PhD project will be based within the School of Biotechnology at DCU and will involve collaborating partners at Novo Nordisk and Beaumont Hospital. It will investigate the cardioprotective impacts of semaglutide (trade name Ozempic), a potent GLP-1RA therapeutic, using human multicellular vascular models (2D and 3D). Changes in cellular physiology and behavioural phenotype following direct (luminal) and indirect (abluminal) exposure to semaglutide will be profiled under both normoglycemic and hyperglycemic/diabetic settings
Applying CRISPR-Cas technology to environmental DNA (eDNA) for biospecies monitoring. This project will involve the further development of our innovative new method for detecting specific species from eDNA (see the Front Cover of the latest issue of Molecular Ecology Resources https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/17550998/2019/19/5).
Anne- Parle McDermott
The development of DNA based diagnostic assays to detect contaminating species that affect the brewing industry. This is a collaborative project with the Wicklow Hops Company to develop diagnostic assays for early detection of contaminating species such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae diastaticus and other relevant species using qPCR. The project will also explore the potential for applying our CRISPR-Cas based method as an alternative to PCR-based methodologies.
Anne- Parle McDermott
The anti-atherogenic potential of human mesenchymal stem cell-derived exosomes as novel vascular therapeutics. Human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) hold great potential for the treatment of several diseases, including arteriosclerotic vascular disease, with several clinical trials on mesenchymal stem cell (MSC)-based products currently under investigation. Their therapeutic effects are largely mediated by paracrine factors including exosomes, which are nanometer-sized membrane-bound vesicles with functions as mediators of cell-cell communication. MSC-derived exosomes contain cytokines and growth factors, signalling lipids, mRNAs, and regulatory miRNAs. Increasing evidence suggests that MSC-derived exosomes might represent a novel cell-free therapy with compelling advantages over parent MSCs such as no risk of tumour formation and lower immunogenicity.
Paul A Cahill
Endothelial cell-derived exosomes and their putative control of vascular stem cell fate. Arteriosclerosis is the main cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Vascular endothelial cell dysfunction is a pivotal event in early intimal thickening and the progression of arteriosclerotic disease. Exosomes are bilayer membrane vesicles with cargos that contain a variety of surface proteins, markers, lipids, nucleic acids, and noncoding RNAs. Exosomes participate in the processes of cell migration, proliferation, apoptosis, hypertrophy and vascular regeneration.
Paul A Cahill
Discovering new anti-inflammatory therapeutics.
Shining a light on vascular phenotypes – single cell photonic fingerprints. Label-free technologies for probing distinct cellular phenotypes have attracted recent attention. Several different classes of label-free sensor detectors have been developed, including plasmonic, photonic, electrical and mechanical sensors. Light as a diagnostic and prognostic tool has several potential advantages including high sensitivity, non-destructive measurement, small or even non-invasive analysis and low limits of detection. The innate optical response comprises of scattering, absorbance, and auto-fluorescence signals. The combination of several fluorescence and/or absorbance bands together with scattering bands form a specific spectral response which is unique for each particular cell phenotype (photonic fingerprint).
Paul A Cahill
Characterization of nanoparticle metabolite coronas and their biological impact using in vitro and in vivo systems and omics approaches. The increasing number of nanoparticles (NPs) present in consumer and industrial products elevate the risk of exposure for human health and the environment. Mechanistically a critical parameter for their toxicity is related to interactions of NPs which are mainly developed on their surface via the formation of coronas. So far, the interest is mainly focused on proteins adsorbed on NPs while there are only few studies focusing on the neglected parameter of the small molecule metabolite coronas. This PhD aims (a) to develop methods for aracterizing the composition of the metabolite/small molecule coronas using sensitive mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, (b) assess the physicochemical changes induced on NPs due to metabolite coating and (c) its impact using in vitro (cellular uptake and antimicrobial properties) and in vivo (daphniids) systems using metabolomic and proteomic analyses.
Development of miniaturised approaches for assessment of the antimicrobial properties of nanomaterials. Engineered nanomaterials could provide novel alternative approaches that may be more potent to combat bacteria. Especially with bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics, nanoparticles and nanocoated surfaces could be the next generation materials against microbes. To estimate the antimicrobial effect of nanomaterials there is a challenge to move from large volume experiments to small-scale miniaturised approaches that would be cost effective and generate more reproducible results in a feasible experimental design. It is envisaged that this MSc project will generate a patented approach and commercial kit approach for antimicrobial assessment. It is proposed that interested students undertake this as a 4 th year project to get familiar.
Integrating multidisciplinary geoscientific data into forecasting models to monitor and predict coastal change:Proof of concept in Dublin Bay.
The design and preparation of a new generation of water soluble near infra-red abosorbing fluorinated phthalocyanines for application in antibacterial photodynamic therapy and theranostics.
Molecular switches for light-controlled drug delivery. The study of new stimuli-responsive nano-devices is gaining great attention in the nanomedicine realm. The careful design of nano-carriers opens new opportunities for smart platforms responsive to different endogenous or exogenous stimuli. In this context the development of new light- controlled systems is a challenging and promising field of investigation for new applications in the biological and biomedical fields. The possibility of regulating systems with a low invasive tool like visible light is promising for photo-pharmacological purposes. Light stimuli can be controlled in space and time with high precision and can be easily modulated in terms of intensity and precise operation wavelength. Moreover, the assembly of coordination complexes of light-controlled scaffolds with particular ligands presenting intrinsic properties itself represents a new way to study multi stimuli-responsive materials for applications in the biological realm.
The post antibiotic era; new routes to target antimicrobial resistance (Microresist). The emergence of drug resistant bacteria, is limiting the treatment of infections, and alternative drug delivery systems are urgently required. In this project (between DCU and RCSI) innovative antimicrobial materials will be designed and assessed for antimicrobial activity.
Using sustainable materials for hydrogen generation (SustainH2). Hydrogen has considerable potential, as a renewable energy source to address climate change. In this project, photocatalytic assemblies for Hydrogen generation will be designed and studied together with collaborators (in the UK).
From benzamides to macrocyclic imides and beyond: experiences at the interface of synthetic chemistry, halogen bonding crystallography and molecular modelling. The synthesis of n x m isomer grids of halogenated benzamides and their physicochemical analyses facilitates in depth and comprehensive studies of their structures and interaction environments. New approaches/methods in the interaction landscape are being developed in collaboration with researchers at the University of Lorraine, Nancy, France.
Capture and utilisation of carbon dioxide through reaction with aziridines and epoxides under dual lewis acid catalysis. With increased concern over carbon dioxide emissions leading to climate change and ocean acidification, the development of new methods that utilise carbon dioxide as a C1 source for high value product formation has assumed great importance. The proposed catalytic methods will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted into the atmosphere by converting carbon dioxide into high value products e.g. medicines and fine chemicals.
Harnessing radical oxidation/photocatalysis for the organocatalytic synthesis of bicyclic molecules. Green catalytic technologies that involve the use of an inexpensive organic catalyst, that is readily recyclable and reusable, represent a compelling new direction for organic chemistry. This project seeks to take advantage of readily available radical oxidants and photocatalysts and utilise them in a cooperative fashion with organocatalysts (amines and phosphines) in the development of a new approach to important bicyclic molecules (e.g. tetralones).
Catalytic asymmetric synthesis of gamma-lactones for pharmaceutical synthesis. This proposal is chiefly concerned with the development of efficient enantioselective methodologies suitable for the asymmetric synthesis of monocyclic gamma-lactones from simple, readily available or commercially available starting materials (carboxylic acids and vinyl sulfoxonium salts). We are interested in the development of these new technologies because gamma-lactones offer great promise as valuable building blocks for the efficient construction of pharmaceuticals (e.g. pregabalin, a treatment for epilepsy) as well as being drug entities themselves (e.g. pilocarpine, a 3,4-substituted gamma-lactone, a treatment for glaucoma and dry mouth).
Asymmetric synthesis of cyclohexanones through cooperative lewis acid-lewis base catalysis. This proposal is focused on the development of highly enantioselective methodologies suitable for the asymmetric synthesis of cyclohexanones from readily available starting materials (acid chlorides/ketenes and cyclobutanes). The importance of cyclohexanones stems from the fact that they are key intermediates in the synthesis of natural products such as steroids, and in addition they often possess interesting biological activity in their own right (e.g. (-)-Penienone, a plant growth regulator).
Development of novel centrifugal microfluidic platforms facilitating on-site sample preparation and analysis of emergent contaminants in water, soil and food. Microfluidic compact-disc (mCD) devices use centrifugal forces for fluid propulsion and can perform parallel and multiplex assays through radial replication of structures on the same disc. New mCD platforms integrating features such as stationary phases and stored reagents for sample preparation and analysis will be designed, fabricated (for example, via 3D printing), and characterised in terms of microfluidic channel size and reproducibility, transparency for optical detection, and platform analytical performance for on-site determination of emergent contaminants in water, soil and food samples.
Coupling of low-cost detection systems with microfluidic-based analytical systems for on-site environmental analysis. In order to build a simple, low-cost, portable system for on-site environmental analysis, colorimetric detection by means of a smartphone camera will be investigated for coupling with polymeric microfluidic chips. Validation of this low-cost analytical system in the analysis of common water pollutants such as pesticides, pharmaceuticals and heavy metals will be carried in fresh and marine waters. Further integration of this system with low-cost, sensitive ion-selective electrodes (ISEs) for simultaneous determination of inorganic cations and anions present in common fertilisers and road de-icing chemicals will be investigated.
Advancing drug development for salts with first-principles modelling. There is a significant drive in industry to use computational modelling to speed up the drug development process by predicting materials properties of active pharmaceutical early on in the development process, limiting time- and material-consuming experimental work. This project will benchmark state-of-the-art computational modelling approaches for predicting the stability and properties of salt forms of APIs, which dramatically improve properties such as solubility.
Muscle architecture as a prospective risk factor for lower limb injuries in male and female collegiate athletes.
This project would involve investigations into mathematics education issues that arise in post-primary or in third-level, with a possible focus on pre-service teachers. The exact topic could depend on your own particular interests, and as such, the project would be most appropriate for students who are completing a mathematics education qualification such as PE and Maths, or Science Education
Eabhnat Ní Fhloinn
Gender differences in high-stakes mathematics assessments. In recent years, results in Higher Level Leaving Certificate Mathematics have shown the emergence of an alarming disparity in the number of females attaining the highest grades relative to the number of males. Reasons for this are poorly understood, but some international studies have claimed that different levels of risk-aversion and test anxiety among students can influence gender differences in outcomes. The aim of this project is to study gender differences in risk-averse/risk-taking strategies in high stakes mathematics examinations in the Irish setting.
Gravitational collapse of collisionless matter. The key open problem in mathematical General Relativity (Einstein's geometric theory of the gravitational field) is to resolve Penrose's Cosmic Censorship Hypothesis: can gravitational collapse give rise to 'naked' singularities, or are such singularities always concealed by a black hole horizon? This project will address this question in the case of the Einstein-Vlasov system, which models the gravitational collapse of a cloud of collisionless particles.
Proto-planetary disks - a turbulent planetary nursery? Over the past few years thousands of planets have been found orbiting other stars. Despite this, how planets actually form still remains a mystery. In this project, the existing world-leading astrophysical simulation code developed in DCU will be expanded to incorporate detailed physics to understand with unprecedented accuracy the structure of these proto-planetary disks so that we can understand the conditions within which planets form.
Constructing quantum field theories in curved spacetimes. Quantum field theories form the most advanced framework for fundamental physics. In the presence of gravitational fields they display remarkable phenomena, such as black hole radiation. Unfortunately, a precise mathematical description of interacting theories, beyond perturbation theory, is quite challenging. The goal of this project is to try out and develop new methods, using techniques from the theory of operator algebras, that will help us to construct and/or classify such interacting theories in general curved backgrounds.
Designing appropriate tasks for the new JC mathematics specification. Description: Reform of junior cycle at post-primary has seen a new specification for Mathematics recently introduced into schools. This specification outlines the importance of tasks which engage pupils in authentic problem solving and rich learning experiences. However, recent research on Irish textbooks highlights serious inadequacies in the textbook tasks available to teachers and pupils in this regard. This project aims to follow best practice to design tasks to address this disparity.
The DCU Ability project aims to create meaningful and tailored pathways into education, training and employability for young people with disabilities. We want to find out what families of young people with disabilities expected and then experienced from their young person attending. We also want to know if the services that referred them felt it met their expectations. www.dcu.ie/ability/index.shtml
Play and recreation for children is a universal right enshrined in Article 31 of the United Nations Convention of the Child (1989) but, to date, societies have viewed play and recreation as the purview of young children at a policy and practice level. This project seeks to explore the leisure and recreation needs of young people (12 – 18 Years) in urban and rural settings in Ireland to inform local and national policies with evidence based research findings.
Ireland is in the fortunate and rare position of having the largest collection of medical folklore within Europe in the Schools Manuscript Collection 1937 – 38 which was collected by primary school children from oral histories given to the by family members and neighbours. This project seeks to examine the health beliefs, behaviours and practices in mid-20th Century Ireland and the role of ‘modern medicine’ within this time frame; focusing on healers, herbalism and supernatural belief of the lay population.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is an important pediatric infection which predisposes infants and young children to wheezing and asthma. This project will investigate the nature of this imprinting to allergy by the virus and will explore why, despite years of intensive research, a successful anti- RSV vaccine remains elusive.
Improving NK cell function in prostate cancer through calcium channel manipulation. NK cell suppression is a key hallmark of cancer and associated with poorer patient outcomes. Intracellular calcium is known to regulate NK function and thus represents a potential novel target in “reactivating” NK cells towards cancer cells.
Increased calcium mobilisation in prostate cancer promotes stem cell resistance through hypoxic signalling. Cancer stem cells are known to play a key role in cancer initiation, progression and treatment resistance and their proliferation/ differentiation is supported by calcium mobilisation. Increased calcium mobilisation has been shown to promote stem cells resistant to androgen deprivation therapy through hypoxic signalling, identifying responsible calcium channels could highlight novel targets for future therapeutics that leads to improved patient survival.
The Hearing Voices (HV) Movement is an international movement which aims to assist people to develop more helpful ways of coping with the experience of voice hearing. This study aims to investigate the impact of two key interventions in the HV approach, attendance at Hearing Voices (HV) Groups and participation in the Maastricht Interview, in Ireland.
Transnational healthcare in the EU. In the EU as well as globally, healthcare has moved from being solely a national affair to also being increasingly transnationalised. In parallel with the rising importance of multinational corporations in healthcare provision, European healthcare workers and patients have become more and more mobile. By adopting a social science perspective attentive to the larger social context, projects may look at topics such as: medical tourism and patient and healthcare worker experiences; medical deserts and mobile healthcare workers; experiences of patients' recourse to EU legislation in the area of cross-border care (e.g. Directive on patient's rights in cross-border care; European Health Insurance Card).
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MicroFluidic foil sandwich proposal - fast manufacturing of centrifugal microfluidics disc. Establishing an extremely fast manufacturing protocol that can manufacture foils for centrifugal microfluidics in a matter of minutes compared to hours or even days, leading to the possibility of decentralization towards a digital manufacturing approach (i.e. the end user can manufacture components using digital specification).
Revealing the puzzles of gamma-ray binary systems. PSR B1259-63 is one of the very few binary systems visible from radio up to TeV energies. In this system radio pulsar is in the 3.4 year orbit with the massive young Be star. 2017 observations demonstrated GeV flares during 30 times more energetic than is provided by the pulsar. This project is devoted to the detailed modelling of this system and analysis of the new results that will come in 2022. Results of this modelling will be also important to explain the emission from other gamma-ray binaries which are also known to be extremely efficient in the release of the available energy.
Simulation of flows - The aims of this PhD project in FPC@DCU are:
The project would suit a student having strong interest in simulation of flows with high relevance to industrial applications.
Centrifugal microfluidic technologies - The FPC@DCU will recruit a highly ambitious student with strong scientific and engineering competences for the research and technology development of microfluidics-based solutions for decentralised bioanalytical “point-of-use” testing with manifold applications in medicine and the life sciences. You will study for a PhD in the field of centrifugal microfluidic technologies, specifically in (at least) one of the following research areas:
• Development of highly integrated, microfluidics devices for bioanalytical testing in medicine and the life sciences
• Modelling and simulation of centrifugal hydrodynamics
• Development of related manufacturing and assembly processes for multi-component Lab-on-a-Chip systems
• Optimisation of rotationally actuated flow control elements, e.g. valves and routers, and Laboratory Unit Operations (LUOs), e.g. for reagent storage, plasma extraction, metering, aliquoting, mixing of purification / concentration
• Development of complementary detection / transduction and biorecognition / bioassay technologies as well as bioanalytical applications
Self assembled monolayers for area selective deposition. Tuning the properties of self-assembled monolayers allows for selective deposition during atomic layer deposition (ALD) processes. We aim to develop a fundamental understanding of the interface chemistry during the SAM grafting and ALD steps that will inform the development of novel processes for selective deposition of a range of industrial relevant materials.
This physics education project concerns teaching and learning of physics at university level, possibly building on past projects that have investigated student difficulties with electric circuits, and mathematical tools such as graphing, integration, ODEs, and vector calculus in physics, as well as developing and implementing teaching and learning sequences designed to address these. The details of the project will be determined together with the student and will be tailored to their strengths and interests.
Paul Van Kampen
Femtosecond dynamics of materials for next generation extreme-UV (EUV) lithography. Lithography is the key step in the so-called Moore’s Law of Semiconductor Miniaturisation, by which optical patterns are transferred to a wafer, which ultimately result in nanometer scale features and components, on-chip. The project will use a new, state-of-the-art, ultrafast (femtosecond) laser spectroscopy suite to explore and optimise nanoparticle based materials to meet the stringent requirements that moving from UV to EUV patterning will require.
Laser ablation and analysis for improved aerodynamic performance. It has been well established that the aerodynamic performance, i.e., lift, drag and pitching moment (amongst others) of aerofoils for aircraft, wind turbines, etc. is critically dependent surface roughness and texture. The project idea is to use pulsed laser ablation (PLA) to remove contaminants in a gentle and controlled fashion using laser desorption/ablation while simultaneously analysing their chemical composition using fibre-optically coupled spectrometry (so-called LIBS) in situ at the turbine blade.
Isotopically enriched ZnO nanostructures: ZnO nanostructures are an important class of wide bandgap semiconductor nanostructure and tailoring the isotopic composition of both the Zn and O elements allows tuning of key materials properties such bandgap energy. This project will develop innovative methods for growth of such nanostructures and study the resultant materials properties in the resultant nanostructures.
Synthesis of ordered arrays of nanoshell structures for photon trapping: The use of nanostructures for light management is an area of importance for a range of photonic and renewable energy applications, including photovoltaics. This project will develop novel methods to synthesis ordered arrays of hollow nanoshells to tailor and enhance light absorption in thin layers of materials and will characterise the key properties of the nanostructured materials obtained.
The origin and evolution of cosmic magnetism. Uncovering the origin and understanding the evolution of cosmic magnetic fields is one of the key science goals in astrophysics. Magnetic fields are challenging to measure in intergalactic space because they are often very weak. This project will use data from the LOFAR (Low Frequency Array) radio telescope to measure the effect of weak cosmic magnetic fields with unprecedented accuracy (more than 100 times better than with other telescopes), and map their evolution with cosmic time.
To devleop 'Lab-on-a-Chip' devices suitable for real-world applications. This project aims to cross the next frontier in decentralised bioanalytical “point-of-use” testing by combining microfluidics, microfabrication, and life-sciences to develop “Lab-on-a-Chip” devices suitable for real-world applications. The student will will study for a PhD in the field of centrifugal microfluidic “Lab-on-a-Disc” technologies, specifically in (at least) one of the following novel research areas:
The potential use of neuroscience evidence in the pre-trial, trial and sentencing process; with consideration for how neuroscience can impact mental health law, including the law of insanity.
The overall aims are to determine healthy and memory concerns in the elderly, in particular when it comes to financial and legal matters. Autonomy, driving independence and the capacity to manage one’s finances are pressing challenges facing older individuals. The latter focus on financial decisional capacity is important, as diminished capacity has been noted in older individuals with cognitive impairment and dementia. Where financial capacity is not assumed or challenged, it can leave the individual open to potential financial elder abuse. Such abuse is the most prevalent form of elder abuse in Ireland.
The 'Caught Being Good Game as a pre-school classroom management tool. The Caught Being Good Game (CBGG) is a positive gamified intervention that has been used to teach good classroom behaviours through a team game which is based on principles of positive behaviour support. Research has demonstrated its efficacy mainly with primary school age children and additional research is needed to explore that adaptations needed to use the game with younger children.
Assistive technologies in the higher education setting. The aims of this project are to 1) explore current practices and attitudes regarding assistive technology usage among third level students, 2) assess the use of off the shelf technologies to support students with specific needs. The scope and focus of the project can be refined in consultation with the student.
Holistic approaches to understand the neurochemical mechanisms underlying Fragile X syndrome. The Fmr1 knock out mouse is a commonly used model for the X-linked disorder Fragile X and shows many of the behavioural and neurophysiological symptoms associated with the disorder. In particular, Fmr1 knock out mice are an excellent model for seizures associated with Fragile X as it is possible to induced audiogenic seizures by playing a loud auditory tone (avoiding seizure-inducing drugs) or procedures that could affect the brain (e.g. cannula implantation). These audiogenic seizures respond to pharmacological interventions, including ganaxolone. Using a series of interventions (i.e. ketogenic diet, cannabinoids, ganaxolone, antioxidants) we will focus on the metabolic pathways and networks that could effectively provide new knowledge over the neural mechanisms of different types of seizures.
Holistic approaches to understand the cause of epilepsy and means for prevention of epileptic seizures using cannabinoids. Epilepsy describes a group of neurological disorders characterized by unpredictable seizures resulting in physical injuries. Currently, clinical research is focusing on understanding what triggers seizures, as well as the means to decrease their occurrence. In the current era of revolutionizing approaches in healthcare, novel fields of biological sciences have emerged to aid towards better understanding of molecular pathology of diseases and medical conditions. In this context, research focusing on metabolic pathways and networks could provide new knowledge over the neural mechanisms of different types of epilepsy and identify potential targets for future treatment of them. Taking into account that currently there is neither a therapy for epilepsy nor extensive knowledge over its mechanisms, the proposed research focuses on the use of the cannabinoid compound cannabidiol in an animal model of epilepsy to determine whether it can act protectively against epileptic seizures. Epileptic seizures will be induced in mice to study the metabolic changes in the brain which is the source and locus of epilepsy, aiming to determine the key molecular pathways which could be translated to humans for drug target development. Based on data from the proposed study, future directions will focus on the potential therapeutic use of cannabinoid compounds for specific types of epilepsy, such as the Dravet syndrome.
The GABA-B Receptors as a therapeutic target for substance use disorders; links with cognitive function and personality traits. Preliminary and published studies by Vlachou, as well as published studies by other research groups have shown that GABA-B receptors play an important role in various addiction stages for drugs of abuse, such as cocaine, alcohol and nicotine. This project will aim to extend these findings through behavioural studies and animal models in rats by further linking cognitive aspects and personality traits to addiction stages. The aim is to collaborate with chemists and pharmacologists for the development of novel GABA-B receptor modulators and test them behaviourally in our lab (collaborations to be confirmed).
Assessment of benefits and risks of co-administration of caffeine with dopamine-enhancing drugs in rats.This project aims to investigate in rats the acute behavioural, pharmacological and neurochemical effects of caffeine intake in combination with drugs that enhance dopaminergic signaling. It will focus on the study of the effects of caffeine co-administration with three different psychotropic drugs that are used either for recreational or medical purposes in humans.
Cannabis use in Ireland; a full behavioural and cognitive assessment in adolescence and early adulthood. Collaborators: Hugh Gallagher, Psychiatrist, HSE Ballymun; Ray Walley, GP; Mary Cannon, Psychiatrist, Beaumont Hospital/RCSI; Bobby Smith, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, TCD (discussions initiated, collaborations to be confirmed)
Uncovering the neural mechanisms mediating age-related decline in human perceptual decision-making. Older adults have been shown to be slower and less accurate at making basic decisions; however identifying the neural mechanisms underlying this decline in decision-making behaviour represents a considerable challenge since even elementary choices rely on a multitude of sensory and cognitive processes. To parse out the different processes contributing to the age-related decline in decision-making, this project will leverage recent developing brain imaging methods that allow for the measuring of signals associated with these different processes coupled with coupled with computational 'sequential sampling' models.
Target learning interventions for the treatment of age-related visual decline. This project will aim to establish the key underlying causes of visual decline in older adults and use these findings to develop new rehabilitative strategies for improving the main visual difficulties encountered by elderly populations.
Supporting assisted decision making for people with cognitive impairment.
The efficacy of social prescribing interventions for people with dementia and their family carers. The aim of this PhD will be to identify and test the efficacy of suitable social prescribing interventions for people with dementia and their family carers. ‘Social Prescribing’ is a model of care where individuals work with healthcare professionals to co-produce a personalised care plan that includes available community-based supports as well as formal services and family supports. People are typically referred to these interventions from a GP or community health worker and they particularly suit people who are lonely or isolated, have long-term conditions, complex social and/or psychological needs or are caregivers. Models of SP include arts, books, education/information or exercise on prescription; green gyms, healthy living initiatives, social enterprise schemes and time banks. They have been shown to increase self-esteem, confidence, empowerment, mood, well-being and quality of life.
Understanding the meaning of 'Quality of Life and Wellbeing' for people living with dementia. There is no consensus on the optimal approach for outcome assessment in dementia research, yet suitable outcome measures are needed in order to support the comprehensive evaluation of the impact of interventions; particularly psychosocial interventions. The aim of the PhD would be to explore the understanding of well-being and quality of life with people with mild cognitive impairment and all stages of dementia, with family caregivers and with formal caregivers with a view to identifying the key psychosocial constructs that should be captured when measuring each,
Assistive technologies and older adults: understanding and measuring the impact of Digital Literacy. There is a large potential market for assistive technologies that work for older adults. Although concepts such as acceptability and usability, and contact and familiarity with technology are often measured in assistive technology projects, a clear understanding of the definition and impact of 'Digital Literacy' is missing. Digital Literacy refers to an individual's ability to find, evaluate, and compose clear information through writing and other mediums on various digital platforms. This PhD will define, model and develop a mechanism for measuring digital literacy in an adult or specifically older adult group.
The effectiveness of augmented and virtual reality to reduce loneliness and support social well-being of older adults. As we age, developing meaningful relationships with others and maintaining a social network to overcome loneliness is critical. Most augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) studies focus on physical and psychological well-being of older adults. This PhD would explore the effects of AR and VR on loneliness and social well-being of older adults.
Effectiveness of and age-related differences in augmented and virtual reality technology use for memory retrieval. Despite the reported benefits of head-mounted display (HMD) technology, results of previous studies are not conclusive in terms of the advantages of HMD in assessing cognitive performance nor in its usability with older adults. To date, a clear investigation into the differences in virtual reality performance based on age is also missing. This PhD would investigate age-related differences in virtual and augmented technology use for memory retrieval including episodic and prospective memory.
Developing CORE outcome measures for digital behaviour change interventions. There is proliferation in eHealth or digital behavioural change interventions for health outcomes. While these interventions prove to be efficacious across many health related behaviours, as yet there is no standardised way to record and measure participant engagement in the context of digital interventions. The aim of this research is to develop via consensus methods an agreed set of measures to be used in eHealth or digital behaviour change interventions. It is envisaged that this CORE outcome set will then be used by researchers when conducting digital behaviour change interventions.
EMPATI: ecological momentary assessments for pain and just in time. Interventions to support pain management. Ecological momentary assessments (EMA) delivered via a smartphone app and prompt a participant in their natural environment to complete an assessment. The aim of this research is to use EMA’s to develop a behavioural phenotype for pain, and predict pain related experiences. Using this information we will use just-in-time adaptive interventions to deliver personalised support for people living with pain.
Risk factors associated with alcohol and substance abuse in young adults. Poor insight represents a major impediment to treatment in a number of clinical disorders, including in individuals who abuse alcohol and substances. This study uses objective measures of insight (eye-tracking) to investigate the degree to which poor insight may leave young people at risk of developing alcohol and substance use disorders.
Fraunhofer Project Centre FPC@DCU
MicroFluidic Foil Sandwich Proposal - fast manufacturing of centrifugal microfluidics disc. Establishing an extremely fast manufacturing protocol that can manufacture foils for centrifugal microfluidics in a matter of minutes compared to hours or even days, leading to the possibility of decentralization towards a digital manufacturing approach (i.e. the end user can manufacture components using digital specification).
The aims of this PhD project in FPC@DCU are:1. Implementation of a commercial CFD simulation package for centrifugal microfluidics.2. Implementation of the software “Mold Flow Analysis” from Autodesk3. Comparison of simulation with microfluidic systems injection moulded by FPC@DCU4. Virtual Prototyping of Lab-on-a-Disc designs by combining CFD and MFAThe project would suit a student having strong interest in simulation of flows with high relevance to industrial applications.
The FPC@DCU will recruit a highly ambitious student with strong scientific and engineering competences for the research and technology development of microfluidics-based solutions for decentralised bioanalytical “point-of-use” testing with manifold applications in medicine and the life sciences. You will study for a PhD in the field of centrifugal microfluidic technologies, specifically in (at least) one of the following research areas:• Development of highly integrated, microfluidics devices for bioanalytical testing in medicine and the life sciences• Modelling and simulation of centrifugal hydrodynamics• Development of related manufacturing and assembly processes for multi-component Lab-on-a-Chip systems• Optimisation of rotationally actuated flow control elements, e.g. valves and routers, and Laboratory Unit Operations (LUOs), e.g. for reagent storage, plasma extraction, metering, aliquoting, mixing of purification / concentration• Development of complementary detection / transduction and biorecognition / bioassay technologies as well as bioanalytical applications
To Devleop 'Lab-on-a-Chip' devices suitable for real-world applications. This project aims to cross the next frontier in decentralised bioanalytical “point-of-use” testing by combining microfluidics, microfabrication, and life-sciences to develop “Lab-on-a-Chip” devices suitable for real-world applications. The student will will study for a PhD in the field of centrifugal microfluidic “Lab-on-a-Disc” technologies, specifically in (at least) one of the following novel research areas:
• Development of functionally highly integrated microfluidic devices for bioanalytical testing
• Modelling and simulation of centrifugal hydrodynamics and related manufacturing schemes
This research will will equip candidates with the skills required for in-demand careers within academia and industry including: microfluidic device design, lab-on-a-chip technology, microfabrication, microscopy, computer-aided design and simulation, statistical evaluation, problem solving, systematic planning and structured management of projects, experimental design and failure mode analysis.
National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology
Determination of the functional impact of germline Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms in ERBB-family genes associated with clinical resistance of HER2-positive breast cancer to trastuzumab.
In vitro Assessment of Calcium Channel Modulation in breast cancer cell lines with acquired trastuzumab response. HER2-positive breast cancer is one of the most aggressive breast cancer subtypes and is classified by cancer cells that either overexpress or have amplification of the tyrosine kinase (TK) pathways. Calcium is known to play a role in supporting tyrosine kinase signalling and thus contribute to cancer progression. Determining the impact of calcium on promoting TK resistance could identify novel targets to improve patient responses to existing treatments.
Alexander Eustaceand Paul Buchanan
Manipulation of autophagy to inhibit cancer cell growth in autophagy-addicted cancers. Inhibiting autophagy has had limited success in cancer except where the cancer cells are autophagy-dependent. This project will investigate a selection of cancer cell types (lung, colorectal and pancreatic cancer cells) including those addicted to autophagy, to evaluate combination therapy with autophagy inhibitors.
Zinc supplementation: impact of source on intestinal epithelium and absorption under normal and inflammatory conditions. Zinc is an essential micronutrient that can be deficient in diets, especially the elderly. In this project, using intestinal in vitro models, several sources of Zinc will be analysed to determine absorption and the impact on the intestinal epithelium. The protective role of zinc in the intestinal epithelium under inflammatory conditions will also be investigated.
Mechanisms of action and resistance of FOLFIRINOX in pancreatic cancer. FOLFIRINOX, a combination of chemotherapies, is standard of care therapy in pancreatic cancer. It gives a greater response in patients compared to gemcitabine + abraxane combination. However, FOLFIRINOX is not prescribed to all pancreatic cancer patients, only those with a sufficiently high performance score, that is, those well enough to withstand the therapy. The side effects associated with these treatments can be severe. The aim of this project is to establish the precise mechanism of action of the combination treatment, assess the benefits of changing the scheduling of these agents to reduce side effects and increase the anti-cancer effect, as well as understand the mechanism surrounding innate and acquire resistance to these agents.
Sandra Roche / Martin Clynes
Understanding the mechanism of metastases in pancreatic cancer. Only 25% of pancreatic cancer patients are legible for potentially curative surgical resection. Surgical resection is only available to patients whose tumour have not metastasised. Using a biobank of adjacent normal pancreatic tissue collected at the time of surgical resection, this project will explore the mechanisms by which the tumour influences the adjacent normal tissue to allow for local advancement of disease.
Sandra Roche / Martin Clynes
miRNAs in Pancreatic Cancer. Survival rates are very poor in pancreatic cancer, partly because early stages of the disease are asymptomatic, so that when diagnosed it is usually quite advanced and has invaded locally and often metastasised. The core concept of this project is to use differential expression of miRNAs as a tool to further understand the biology of human pancreatic cancer. Identified miRNA targets from microarray analysis, will be integrated in established pancreatic cancer cell lines using stable vector manipulation after which phenotypic analysis will be undertaken.
Martin Clynes / Fiona O'Neil
Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer using Radiation therapy. Pancreatic cancer patients receive both chemotherapy and conventional radiotherapy involving small sequential daily doses of radiation. Based on recent developments in imaging for tumour localisation and treatment delivery technology, new regimes utilising hypo-fractionation ablative radiotherapy, including stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) and intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) have been established.While a significant amount of radiation biology knowledge exists in relation to resistance by conventional therapy affecting cancer cells, there is limited information on mechanisms of resistance to newer regimes such as SABR and IMRT hypo-fractionated ablative radiotherapy.The rationale of this research project is to gain a better understanding of the molecular pathways and key genes in pancreatic cancer cells models made radio-resistant by exposure to the new high-dose hypo-fractionated ablative radiotherapy regimes.
Fiona O'Neill / Michael Moriarity
Metabolic optimisation of skeletal muscle mitochondria: The aim of this project is to investigate the effect of contraction and nutrient efficacy on mitochondrial biogenesis and function in skeletal muscle. The overall outcome will be identify combination strategies that metabolically enhance cell energy metabolism that can be used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes and (ii) offset the negative impact of physical inactivity and ageing.
Proteomic characterisation of drug resistance in cancer: Drug resistance is a well-known phenomenon that results when diseases become tolerant to pharmaceutical treatments and is a major challenge in cancer treatment. This project will focus on characterising drug resistant models of human cancers that have been rendered resistant by repeated pulse exposure to combinations of biological and small molecule therapeutics most relevant to each cancer type. Cross-resistance patterns and mechanisms of resistance will be studiedat the proteomic level using advanced LC-MS/MS technology and state-of-the-art protein/peptide mass spectrometry instrumentation. The outcomes of the project will lead to an improved understanding of drug resistant mechanisms in cancer that has the potential to develop new therapeutics to treat or prevent drug resistance in cancer cells.
Identification and characterisation of post-translational modifications in recombinant Chinese hamster ovary cell lines. The Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cell line is the dominant mammalian expression system for the production of biopharmaceuticals. Improving the efficiency of production of these biologics will be critical in controlling costs to healthcare systems as more of these drugs come to market. We have previously carried out a number of studies concentrating on the analysis of the phosphoproteome of recombinant CHO cells. This project will concentrate on the application of advanced mass spectrometry (using state-of-the-art Orbitrap Fusion Tribrid mass spectrometry) to the identification, characterisation and quantitation of other regulatory post-translational modifications that have not been studied in recombinant CHO cells. The outcome from this analysis will be a set of proteins and post-translational modifications that correlate with growth and/or productivity, and progression of the culture. Validation of targets of interest (e.g. through cell line engineering) will then be carried out to improve the performance of CHO cells in bioprocess cultures.