NUI Galway’s Tara Diviney is “Global Winner” in Undergraduate Awards

NUI Galway’s Tara Diviney is “Global Winner” in Undergraduate Awards

Tara Diviney, a recent graduate of NUI Galway’s BSc in Biomedical Science, specialising in Pharmacology, has been awarded “Global Winner” in the Medical Sciences category of the 2019 Global Undergraduate Awards.

Out of over 3,400 submissions, 25 students from around the world were selected as the highest performing entrants in their category for the 2019 programme. The full list of winners can be viewed here.

Tara won the Medical Sciences category on the basis of her final year research project which was supervised by Galway Neuroscience Director, Dr Una Fitzgerald, with additional support provided by her co-supervisors, Dr Jill McMahon and BrainMatTrain Marie Curie Fellow, Enrico Bagnoli.

Since completing her BSc at NUI Galway, Tara has continued on to the Wellcome Trust Doctoral Programme in Neuroscience at the University of Oxford where she will undertake her PhD.

The Global Undergraduate Awards is the world’s leading undergraduate awards programme which recognises top undergraduate work, shares this work with a global audience and connects students across cultures and disciplines.

Congratulations to Tara on this outstanding achievement from all at the Galway Neuroscience Centre!

Dr Eilís Dowd awarded funding from the Michael J Fox Foundation

Dr Eilís Dowd awarded funding from the Michael J Fox Foundation

A team at the Galway Neuroscience Centre, led by Dr Eilís Dowd, has been awarded funding of US$300,000 from The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research to develop a novel approach to brain repair for Parkinson’s disease.

Click the image above to view Dr Dowd’s interview about the research funding on Ireland AM (or click here).

Parkinson’s is a condition that primarily affects a person’s ability to control movement leading to a progressive deterioration in ability. The symptoms of the condition are caused by the degeneration and death of brain cells that regulate movement.

Brain repair for Parkinson’s involves replacing these dead cells by transplanting healthy brain cells into the brain, but the widespread roll-out of this therapy has been hindered by the poor survival of the implanted cells.

In research that made global headlines recently, Dr Eilís Dowd’s research team demonstrated that the survival of the cells was dramatically improved when they were implanted into the brain within a supportive gel made from the natural material collagen. The funding from The Michael J Fox Foundation will allow Dr Dowd to take this research to the next level where she will test if the collagen gel can also improve the survival of healthy brain cells generated from adult stem cells.

Commenting on the funding award, Dr Eilís Dowd at NUI Galway, said: “In our previous research published in the Nature journal, Scientific Reports, we showed that collagen provides the cells with a nurturing, supportive environment in the brain and helps them to survive the aversive transplant process. This funding from The Michael J Fox Foundation will allow us to test if this approach can also improve survival and reparative ability of healthy brain cells derived from adult stem cells. If so, this could lead to a dramatic improvement in brain repair approaches for Parkinson’s – a field that has been hampered for years by poor transplant survival.”

The Michael J Fox Foundation is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease and to ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with Parkinson’s today.

Dr Liliana Menalled of The Michael J Fox Foundation, said: “Cell replacement therapy is a promising approach to restoring cell function and easing symptoms of Parkinson’s. This approach of enhancing cell survival with collagen is an innovative way to overcome a persistent challenge and may significantly advance these therapeutics for the many people living with this disease.”

The research will be led by Dr Eilís Dowd, in collaboration with colleagues from the Galway Neuroscience Centre and CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Research in Medical Devices at NUI Galway, and University of Edinburgh. Dr Dowd’s ongoing research in this field featured in the short documentary Feats of Modest Valour which won the coveted Scientist Award at the Imagine Science Film Festival in New York, as well as the Professional Documentary Award at the Raw Science Festival in California.

Dr Eilís Dowd has been working in the field of pre-clinical Parkinson’s research for almost 20 years, and her research focuses on understanding the cause of the condition and on developing novel pharmacological, cell, gene and biomaterial therapies for it. She received her PhD from University of Edinburgh, after which she completed post-doctoral research at University of Cambridge, McGill University, Canada and Cardiff University. Dr Dowd is currently president of Neuroscience Ireland, Ireland’s official neuroscience society. She sits on the governing councils of both the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and the International Brain Research Organization.

To view a short trailer of the documentary Feats of Modest Valour, visit:

For more about The Michael J Fox Foundation, visit:

Prof David Finn elected as President of the International Cannabinoid Research Society

Prof David Finn elected as President of the International Cannabinoid Research Society

Congratulations to GNC’s former Director, Prof. David Finn, on becoming President of the International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS) in Washington DC last Thursday night!

David is Professor of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at NUI Galway and was GNC Director from 2012-2015. The overall aim of David’s research is to increase our understanding of the neurobiology of pain and psychiatric disorders including anxiety and depression.  His work focuses, in particular, on the affective and cognitive dimensions of pain, stress-pain interactions, and neuroinflammatory processes, with an emphasis on the endogenous cannabinoid, opioid and monoaminergic systems. See more here.

The ICRS is an international organisation dedicated to scientific research in all fields of the cannabinoids, ranging from biochemical, chemical and physiological studies of the endogenous cannabinoid system to studies of the abuse potential of recreational cannabis. In addition to acting as a source for impartial information on cannabis and the cannabinoids, the main role of the ICRS is to provide an open forum for researchers to meet and discuss their research. See more here.

The next Annual Symposium of the ICRS, the 30th Symposium, will be held in NUI Galway from 4th – 9th July 2020!  Watch this space:



GNC Director Awarded EU Funding for MS Research

GNC Director Awarded EU Funding for MS Research

Congratulations to Dr Una FitzGerald, Director of the GNC, on receiving an award of €4M from the EU Horizon 2020 programme for her project entitled: PMSMatTrain: Novel Biomaterial-based Device for the Treatment of Progressive MS. An Integrated Pan-European Approach

PMSMatTrain focuses on gaining a comprehensive understanding of the progressive phase of multiple sclerosis (PMS) from basics to translation, fully supported by eight beneficiaries (six research institutions and two SMEs).

The consortium will develop a multi-modal “tuneable” hydrogel-based medical device designed to bring about biphasic release of anti-inflammatory molecules and neuroprotective drugs as well as generating a clinically-relevant in silico model of drug elution and dispersal within the central nervous system. Using “state-of-the-art” 3D organotypic cultures and disease-relevant oligodendrocytes produced from MS patient-derived stem cells, the project will allow investigation MS pathophysiology as well as analysing the role of therapeutic molecules in combatting inflammation and promoting regeneration and neuroprotection. The industry partners will develop the end-device by providing standardised manufacturing protocols for scaled-up production and commercialisation of the final product.

PMSMatTrain is a multidisciplinary European Training Network that will educate and train 15 Early Stage Researchers in functionalised biomaterials, materials science, stem cell biology, in vitro and in vivo models, molecular biology, in silico modelling, functionalisation strategies and prototype design.
Programme fellows will experience both public and private sector research and development and will be best placed to secure employment as high calibre, innovative and well-trained graduates.

“A Tiny Spark” wins at the Sci On! Festival in Nevada

“A Tiny Spark” wins at the Sci On! Festival in Nevada

The Science on Screen film, A Tiny Spark, featuring the research of GNC member Dr Karen Doyle, has won its first film festival award. On May 6th 2019, the Sci On! Festival in Reno, Nevada awarded “A Tiny Spark” with the 2019 Best Medical Documentary Award after screening it in the stunning Fleischmann Planetarium.

A Tiny Spark is a documentary directed by Niamh Heery, produced by Caroline Kealy with animations by Eric Dolan about stroke research and survivors. It has just started its international festival run and so far it has had screenings in Ireland, Australia, Oregon and Nevada.

The judging panel had the following to say about the film, which was funded by CÚRAM and Galway Film Centre’s Science on Screen Award:

Absolutely superb and engaging documentary, with an excellent and sensitive blending of interviews with animated scenes.
Such a powerful and perfectly-made film. The subject matter is so vital and relevant. It’s hard to find the words to describe such a meaningful and compassionate treatment of a condition that has impacted so many of us directly or indirectly, personally or through a friend or family member. Thank you for helping raise awareness — and to show that there is hope.

View the “A Tiny Spark” trailer here:

GNC hosts Ireland’s first Brain Bee

GNC hosts Ireland’s first Brain Bee

This year, Ireland saw its first ever International Brain Bee competition. This was held at NUI Galway during Brain Awareness Week, and was organised by Prof John Kelly.

Three Galway-based secondary schools participated in the competition, with 16 students taking part. Michael Flaherty from St Enda’s College was the overall winner – congratulations Michael!

The International Brain Bee was founded over 20 years ago with the mission to inspire young people to study and pursue careers in neuroscience (read more here).

The International Brain Bee promotes student engagement with neuroscience through a three-tiered competition: students start by signing up for a Local Brain Bee, the winners of which compete in their country’s Regional Brain Bee. Every year, Regional Brain Bees send one representative to compete at the International Brain Bee world championship.

Given the success of this year’s inaugural event, we hope to extend this event throughout Ireland next year to give our secondary school students the opportunity to fully participate in this international contest.