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Last updated: Monday, March 30, 2020 - 14:06

School of Nursing, Psychotherapy and Community Health

Interests and Expertise

Living Well With Illness, Disability and Technology

Our research enables people, whatever their stage in life, with disabilities or illnesses, to achieve optimal physical, psychological and social functioning. We also focus on interventions to enhance health and social outcomes for people by empowering and enabling them to live well:

  • How people experience and adjust to illness and disability.
  • The role of technology in enabling people to live personally meaningful lives.
  • Child and family health communication.
  • Psycho-prosthetics.
  • Cancer survivorship.
  • Bereavement and palliative care.

Current research initiatives include:

  • Disclosure challenges faced by children living with epilepsy and parent-child dialogue about epilepsy and its associated stigma.
  • Access, decision-making and experiences of palliative care services for families of children with non-malignant life-limiting conditions.
  • In cancer survivorship, we are developing a self-management intervention to promote living well with and beyond head and neck cancer.
  • In amputation and prosthetic research, an exemplar project is the role of cognitive functioning in prosthetic rehabilitation outcomes.

We also research novel ways to fit high-tech to personal, health and social gain. It's all about supporting independent living over the life course and sustainable health and social care.

For further information on current research, recent projects, and prospects for collaboration, please contact Professor Pamela Gallagher, Dr Veronica Lambert or Dr Gemma Kiernan.

Cognitive and Behavioural Sciences

We carry out multidisciplinary research on cognitive and behavioural changes associated with neurological, neurodevelopmental and neuropsychiatric conditions e.g. epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, head injury, dementia, addiction, feeding disorder, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Dyslexia, ADHD.

  • A particular focus is early detection of cognitive difficulties in older people, assessing cognitive reserve and its impact on disease or illness trajectory, and identifying optimal cognitive enhancement techniques and strategies.
  • A further important research focus is on neurocognitive, psychosocial and legal aspects of executive function (EF) and dysfunction. Current research focuses on the role of EF in cognitive reserve in neurotypical and dementia samples and on the role of EF (general and disease-specific) in neurodevelopmental dyslexia, ADHD and adult eating dysregulation. Another strand focuses on the psychological, neurological and legal aspects of EF training (cognitive enhancement and rehabilitation) in neurotypical and atypical samples.
  • Recent and ongoing behavioural change research has focused on the treatment and risk factors for feeding disorders among children with ASD and other developmental disorders and on academic, social and personal care programmes for children, adolescents and young adults with ASD as well as for neurotypical populations.
  • Our research also contributes towards a greater understanding of how drugs affect the brain and behaviour under normal conditions or in psychiatric disorders, such as drug dependence. Current research focuses on interactions between drugs of abuse and the brain reward system, as well as effects of psychoactive drugs in impulsivity and attentional performance during adolescence and adulthood.

For further information on current research, recent projects, and prospects for collaboration, please contact:

Clinical/Cognition/Applied: Professor Teresa Burke, Dr Lorraine Boran or Dr Sinead Smyth.

 Pre-Clinical: Dr Stella Vlachou.

Child Health

As well as training children’s nurses, we have a national and international profile in research on:

  • The care needs of sick children, especially post-operative pain and palliative care.
  • Child public health. We lead on, or take part in, a number of projects including:
    • Autism Prevalence
    • Post-primary school food and exercise provision
    • Cross cultural collaboration on school food and exercise infrastructure
    • Information systems for measuring the quality of children’s and young adult’s lives across the EU
    • Research needs for child health in Europe
    • Data linkage for health and social care

For further information on current research, recent projects, and prospects for collaboration, please contact Dr Mary Rose Sweeney or Professor Anthony Staines.

Health Systems Research

Our research on health systems focuses on how societies collectively meet health and social care needs.  Our priorities include:

  • Informatics and eHealth with a particular research interest in concepts and terminology for delivery of integrated health and social care (see ICN accredited research centre for further information).
  • Health workforce planning and workforce intelligence, including the RN4CAST and related projects.
  • Evidence-based practice, especially systematic reviews for the Cochrane Collaboration. Cochrane Ireland is hosted at our School.

For further information on current research, recent projects, and prospects for collaboration, please contact Dr Pamela Hussey.or Professor Anne Matthews or Professor Anthony Staines.

Translational Biomedical sciences

Our research develops, examines and validates models of human disease, specifically for cancer, viral or immunological illness. It integrates patient sample analyses with state-of-the-art laboratory techniques to generate new treatment hypotheses for evaluation in human studies and clinical trials.

In virology, the focus is on increasing our understanding of human immune responses to viral infection, to design safer, more effective therapies and vaccines, including for Influenza, Human Parainfluenza Virus (HPIV), Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and Rhino Virus (RV).

We have funding from the Wellcome Trust, Health Research Board and Irish Research Council to investigate the role of anti-viral immune responses in the development or exacerbations of secondary conditions such as bacterial super-infections, asthma and autoimmune conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis. Understanding these mechanisms will enable us to design better therapeutic strategies to combat both the infections themselves and their associated syndromes.

In the cancer field, Dr Buchanan has an interest in understanding the underlying molecular mechanisms that lead to the development of castrate resistant prostate cancer. This work has involved a translational bedside to bench approach using prostate cancer patient samples from which to generate new targets of investigation. One current target includes the calcium channel CaV1.3, which was found to be significantly upregulated in prostate cancer patients. It is known that CaV1.3 can be targeted using existing drugs and is hoped that by understanding its role in prostate cancer these existing drugs can be repurposed to improve patient survival.

The Translation Bioscience laboratory found within the School of Nursing and Human Science houses both Dr Johnson and Dr Buchanan. This self-contained state of the art facility includes a number of key pieces of research equipment. This includes work for cell biology such as tissue culture and cell isolation, Molecular biology equipment for example western blot, PCR and FACS and also electrophysiology techniques such as patch clamp and calcium imaging.

For further information on current research, recent projects, and prospects for collaboration, please contact Dr Patricia Johnson or Dr Paul Buchanan

Transforming Dialogues in Mental Health and Psychotherapy

Society is complex and characterised by continuous change and development, which impacts the mental health and well-being of our community. The mental health and psychotherapy team researches creative, innovative and transformative responses for those experiencing mental health or psychological distress. Team members regularly contribute to media discussion and provide specialist consultancy to public and voluntary agencies. A broad range of disciplines, service user and voluntary bodies, national and international partnerships contribute to our research expertise in:

  • Understanding discourses across the lifespan in mental health, psychotherapy and disability.
  • Uncovering the dynamics of interrelationship between interest groups in these areas.
  • Transforming relationships and infrastructures through participatory methodologies and service/practice development. Outcomes relate to an increasing transformation in how local mental health services around Ireland respond to policy directives and change traditional methods of service provision.
  • Understanding how trauma (psychological, emotional, physical and sexual) is represented in mental health / psychological presentations such as suicidality, PTSD, interpersonal conflict, substance misuse, psychosis.
  • Improving therapeutic, social and political responses to psychological / mental distress.
  • Promoting awareness and understanding and reducing stigma surrounding mental ill-health.

Dr Líam Mac Gabhann has established an unfolding story in mental health research relating to particular challenges, such as Dual Diagnosis and Systemic Discrimination. He has also led a sustained programme of service and community development underpinned by Open Dialogue and Trialogical approaches to change. Líam is regularly consulted to offer perspective on diverse dialogue and consequences for mental health practice, most recently he featured in the three-part TG4 documentary about the history of Asylums in Ireland -  Ar Intinn Eile (An Irish State of Mind).

Paddy McGowan was pivotal in developing the service user movement in Ireland, forming the Irish Advocacy Network in 1999, and through his work within DCU and HSE he has led the developments in increasing capacity and impact of service users and family members in how mental health services are designed and delivered in Ireland. Paddy is regularly called upon by national media and TV documentaries to provide ‘Expertise by Experience’.

Dr Evelyn Gordon leads research in suicide and suicidal behaviour. This research includes identifying effective and acceptable suicide prevention, intervention and postvention responses, promoting the voice of the suicidal person in developing response initiatives, enhancing understanding of the suicidal process, trajectory and person. See for project samples and related publications.

Dr McElvaney leads research in Child Sexual Abuse. She is PI for the Irish cohort study ‘Uncovering pathways and processes of child sexual abuse disclosures in youth’ in a collaboration with Canadian researchers funded by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the study ‘What helps children tell?’ funded by the British Association for the Study of Child Abuse and Neglect.

For further information on current research, recent projects, and prospects for collaboration, please contact Dr Liam Mac Gabhann or Dr Evelyn Gordon.

Dementia and Positive Ageing Research

With an estimated 44 million people worldwide living with dementia in 2013, and the number projected to rise to 135 million by 2050, the challenges of finding a cure, developing better treatments, and providing suitable supports, are among the most pressing public health concerns of our time.

In Ireland, there are around 42,000 people with dementia, a number expected to rise to around 140,000 by 2041. This could push the annual cost of dementia from €1.69 billion to over €5 billion at current prices. Life expectancy in Ireland is also rising – 83 years for women and 79 for men, both higher than the EU average. In addition, the number of older people is projected to double to 1 million by 2031.

Our research emphasises ‘ageing in place’ and ‘living well with dementia’ through an integrated approach to health and social care. A number of our projects take community development approaches to knowledge generation, blurring the boundaries between research and practice in an outcomes-driven approach, which provides practical advice to policy makers and service providers.

The projects in which the School of Nursing and Human Sciences is a partner are:

  • Dem@care – a project for the timely diagnosis, assessment, maintenance and promotion of self-independence of people with dementia.
  • Dementia Elevator - preparing communities and health systems to respond to people with dementia in a way that reduces excess disability.
  • Actifcare – a European dementia research project that aims to analyse the pathways to care for people with dementia and their families, to better understand the reasons for inequalities.
  • In-mindd – an initiative for long-term brain health and preventing or at least delaying the onset of dementia by combining social innovation, multifactorial modelling and clinical expertise.
  • Posadem – a pan-European Erasmus project focused on developing a multidisciplinary Masters programme in dementia.
  • CAPTAIN (Coach Assistant via Projected and Tangible Interface) - CAPTAIN transforms the living environment to support independent living for older adults.
  • The National Dementia Registry Project - Developing a protype of a National Dementia registry for Ireland.

For further information on current research, recent projects, and prospects for collaboration, please contact Dr Kate Irving or Dr Louise Hopper.

Ethical Issues in Health Care

This research aims to improve understanding and decision-making on the moral and ethical aspects of health care issues. Areas of current research include ethical issues in nursing, disaster response, emerging technologies and research. The combined role of critical thinking and emotions in ethics is of particular interest, especially as expressed through narratives of various formats.

Dr Dónal O’Mathúna is Chair of the EU-funded COST Action IS1201: Disaster Bioethics and is actively involved in responding to ethical issues in disasters. He is a regular commentator on healthcare ethics in Irish newspapers and on TV and radio programmes, including the Irish Times, the Late, Late Show, Drive Time and Morning Ireland.

For further information on current research, recent projects, and prospects for collaboration, please contact Dr Dónal O’Mathúna.

Nutrition and Exercise

NURISH - Nutrition Understanding Research Innovation Society and Health - is an academic group in the School of Nursing and Human Sciences whose members are interested in the role of nutrition in health and illness. Nutrition links with other research strengths of our School in that nutrition is relevant to [positive aging], [cognition], [ethics] and [child health]. The group were involved in the economic cost of overweight and obesity study launched by SAFEFOOD in 2012.

NURISH are also interested in healthy weight maintenance and the factors influencing it. This work is a collaboration with UMass Boston, USA. The study was awarded first prize at the Royal College of Physician’s Winter Scientific meeting in 2013.

NURISH are also currently undertaking a comprehensive study of teenager’s diet and physical activity behaviours in the post-primary school setting. This study has a Danish arm in collaboration with the Steno Institute in Denmark and is part of the EU-funded DEDIPAC network.

National and international food policies are of interest to NURISH specifically folic acid fortification policy in Ireland. Various research projects are on-going and have produced several research papers.

The SOPHIE project is a study funded by the Iris O Brien foundation and is examining the health impact of Special Olympics programmes for people with intellectual disabilities. Health behaviours such as physical activity and diet are being analysed.  The study was launched in 2013 as part of a collaboration between Special Olympics Ireland and DCU. A presentation on the SOPHIE study was also given to government ministers from north and south and sports personnel at the opening of the regional Special Olympics in Limerick.

For further information on current research, recent projects, and prospects for collaboration, please contact Dr Mary Rose Sweeney.

Society, Health and Sexuality

The understanding of health systems change in Europe needs to grasp, besides macro-level processes, the social relations of the people who work in and use healthcare services. At the School of Nursing and Human Sciences we adopt a broad-ranging but also fine-grained view of the challenges globalisation poses to health services in Europe by using anthropological lenses to examine:

  • Health care privatisation
  • The mobility of health care workers and health care seekers
  • European governance
  • Collective responses

The assumptions behind these studies is that living well with illness is a function of the fair distribution of access to health care services and of social rewards for care work in the society, and linked with questions of social justice and ethical issues in healthcare.

Dr Sabina Stan specialises in anthropological approaches to transnational migrant health care practices in the EU, healthcare reform and informal healthcare practices in Central and Eastern Europe. She has developed several international research projects in:

  • Informatisation of Eastern European healthcare services.
  • Managerialism in health care in Canada and Europe.
  • European east-west migration.
  • Transnational collective action responses to health care migration and privatisation.

Dr Mel Duffy is a founding member of the EROSS – Expressions, Research, Orientations: Sexuality Studies, a cross-faculty research group for DCU academics exploring developments and disparities in sexual cultures, sexual identities and gender role formation across the life span. Areas of investigation include all sexualities from cultural, ethical, historical, health and social foundations of sexuality.

For further information on current research, recent projects, and prospects for collaboration, please contact Dr Sabina Stan or Dr Mel Duffy.