January 2020 | Eanáir 2020

School Appoints Nine Ad Astra Fellows

Mon, 23 December 19 16:53

The School is delighted to announce the appointment of nine new academic fellows as part of the University’s Ad Astra strategic initiative to recruit high-potential early-stage academic staff.  The appointments were made following a highly competitive UCD-wide recruitment process which sees up to 65 new faculty join the University.  We extend a warm welcome to all our new colleagues and look forward to working with them.  Among the UCD Ad Astra Fellows appointed in 2019/2020 are:-

  1. Dr Eoin Brennan (UCD Assistant Professor at UCD Conway Institute)
  2. Dr Dirk Fey (Research Fellow at UCD Systems Biology Ireland)
  3. Dr David Gomez (Research Fellow at UCD Systems Biology Ireland)
  4. Dr Stephen Lalor (Senior Research Fellow at TCD School of Biochemistry & Immunology)
  5. Dr Sergio Rey (Principal Investigator at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto)
  6. Dr Luana Schito (Principal Investigator at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto)
  7. Dr Stephen Thorpe (Research Co-Investigator at Queen Mary University of London)
  8. Dr Marian Tsanov (Assistant Professor, Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience)
  9. Dr Jeffrey Glennon (Assistant Professor, Dept of Cognitive Neuroscience, Radboud University)

In welcoming the new appointees, Dean of Medicine and Head of School, Professor Michael Keane said:

I am delighted to welcome our new Ad Astra Fellows to the School and congratulate existing staff who have been appointed to these prestigious new roles.  I am confident that each of the Fellows will help us realise our ambition to be a leading research-active Medical School and their research expertise will enhance our teaching programmes.

Prof Peter Doran, Associate Dean for Research, Innovation & Impact echoed the School’s welcome saying,

The appointment of these nine academic fellows to the School of Medicine is a clear signal of the school’s commitment to teaching and research across the clinical and translational sciences.  The School boasts some of the leading researchers in the University, and some of the leaders worldwide within their research domains, as recognised by prestigious awards, citation metrics and other esteem indicators. 

These new fellows add further substantial breadth and depth to the school’s research footprint and I look forward to welcoming and supporting them as they develop their research endeavour at the School.

The School looks forward to introducing many of our new fellows to the School on Wednesday 8th January 2020 and to showcase their research interests through a series of seminars during the academic year. 

About UCD Ad Astra Fellows

Launched in 2018/2019, the UCD Ad Astra Fellows initiative is designed to recruit 65 new academic staff at Lecturer/Assistant level each year to advance our ambition to be a research-intensive, global university with purpose, drive and ambition.  This expansion of our academic faculty will reduce our student : staff ratio and allow us to introduce exciting new pedagogical approaches to our education and training.

Dr Eoin Brennan

Dr. Eoin Brennan is an Assistant Professor at the Conway Institute, University College Dublin. His research interests are focused on investigating novel treatment strategies for arresting the progression of vascular complications of diabetes. Eoin graduated from University College Cork in 2004 with an honours degree in Genetics, and in 2008 completed his PhD at Queen's University Belfast, studying the genetic and epigenetic mechanisms of diabetic kidney disease. Eoin completed part of his PhD studies at Sequenom Inc., San Diego, on a collaborative project investigating DNA methylation in diabetic kidney disease. In 2009, Eoin moved to UCD to join the Diabetes Complications Research Centre to study signalling pathways implicated in diabetes and microvascular complications of diabetes. In 2014, Eoin commenced an ELEVATE IRC/Marie Curie Fellowship at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, investigating endogenous lipid and micro-RNA therapeutics in complications of Diabetes, with a specific focus on targeting vascular lesions. In 2019, Eoin was appointed an Ad Astra Assistant Professor, School of Medicine, UCD. His translationally-focused research programme utilises preclinical in vivo models of diabetic (T1D, T2D) complications, drug design and screening, RNA sequencing technologies and biobank development and expansion in collaboration with local clinical sites. Current research projects of interest include the use of micro-RNA and pro-resolving lipids as a therapeutic strategy in atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.

Dr Dirk Fey

Dirk Fey leads the Cancer Dynamics and Modelling group in Systems Biology Ireland. His aim is to understand the time-dependent signalling networks that control cell behaviour, and the dynamic processes that shape them. He is particularly interested in how these networks integrate information from the genes and the environment, how they respond to perturbations such as drugs, and how this dynamic computation goes wrong in disease, particularly in cancer. He holds a PhD with “European” distinction from the University of Liege, Belgium and a MEng in Engineering Cybernetics from the University of Stuttgart. Dirk’s career path included industry and several academic institutions, including BASF Ludwigshafen and Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia. He has won several European grants and scientific prizes, most recently the Irish Laboratory Award 2017 for Collaboration Achievement. 

Dr David Gomez

From Madrid, Spain. Dr David Gomez studied a BsC in Biology at the University of Alcalá de Henares. In 1998, after the conclusion of his degree, he moved to Santander to commence his thesis under the supervision of Piero Crespo in the Spanish National Research Council. A year later Piero's lab moved to the Instituto de Investigaciones Biomédicas in Madrid where Dr Gomez concluded his PhD at the University Autónoma of Madrid in 2003. Following a one year postdoctoral fellow appointment in the same research lab, in 2005 he started working as a postdoctoral researcher in Walter Kolch's lab at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Glasgow, Scotland.  In August 2009 he joined Prof Kolch at Systems Biology Ireland. In 2011 he became a research fellow and junior group leader in SBI.  Since the beginning of his career, Dr Gomez has worked in the study of signal transduction pathways involved in cancer development. During his PhD, he used classical molecular and cellular biology to study the differences among the members of the Ras family of proteins. During the course of these studies, Dr Gomez realized the use of classical reductionist approaches could slow down the progression of the signal transduction field due to the high complexity of signaling network.  For this reason, he has applied new approaches that can help accelerate the study of signal transduction processes by (i) developing new proteomics based methods for the identification and delineation of new signaling networks; (ii) applying of systems biology for the development of signal transduction networks kinetics models. The result of these studies was the delineation of the tumor suppressor Hippo pathway in mammalian systems. Since the delineation of these pathways, the SBI research group has made key contributions to characterize the molecular mechanisms that regulate this pathway and explain the role of this pathway in normal a pathological cell signaling.  This research is funded by a Career Development Award from SFI and three EU Horizon 2020 consortia. Since 2015 Dr Gomez has been coordinator of the Systems Biology and Biotherapeutics module in the MSc of Biotherapeutics and Business in the UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Sciences (SBBS).

Dr Stephen Lalor

Dr. Stephen Lalor is currently a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at TCD and holds a Starting Investigator award from SFI. Dr Lalor’s research interests are in the commensal microbiota that colonise the airways and its influence on chronic inflammatory disorders, including asthma and autoimmunity. His research focuses on T cell orchestration of chronic inflammatory disease and the impact of the airway microbiome on pathogenic mechanisms of disease, both within the respiratory tract and systemically.  He has extensive experience and expertise in cellular immunology and animal models of chronic inflammatory disease and he has a strong background in respiratory immunology and the bacteria that commonly colonise the respiratory tract.  His research interest aligns perfectly with current ongoing research efforts within the University and within the UCD Infection Biology group.  His research in multiple sclerosis fits well with ongoing clinical research within the School at St Vincent’s University Hospital.

Dr Sergio Rey

Dr. Rey is a Chilean- born Canadian physician-scientist with more than two decades of experience dedicated to the delineation of molecular mechanisms enacting oxygen sensing in human health and disease. After receiving separate MD (2001) and PhD (2006) degrees by the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, he engaged in back-to-back postdoctoral training with Nobel laureate Dr. Gregg L. Semenza (2011) and renowned cancer geneticist Dr. Bert Vogelstein, at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. In 2013 he moved to Toronto, Canada, wherein he has focused on uncovering novel molecular mechanisms by which oxygen governs cancer progression, leading to metastatic disease, therapy resistance and ultimately, mortality. He is the recipient of a Young Investigator Award from the Wound Healing Society (2011); followed by two awards from the American Association for Cancer Research [i.e., Takeda Oncology (2016) and Minorities in Cancer Research (2017)]. Whilst contributing in the training of undergraduate and graduate biomedical students, he has collaborated with industry in the search for translatable oxygen- sensitive cancer therapeutics. His overarching long-term goal is to deconvolve the intricate molecular machinery underlying oxygen, or lack thereof (hypoxia), as a pathobiological scaffold guiding cancer progression, potentially leading to the development of safer and more effective targeted oncolytic therapies.

Dr Luana Schito

Also recruited from the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, Dr. Schito is an Italian-born Canadian scientist who has devoted more than 14 years of effort in delineating the adaptive, pathophysiological responses of human cancer and their metastases to low oxygen (i.e., hypoxia). Dr. Schito obtained a M.Sc. in Molecular Biology (2007), followed by a Ph.D. in Human Pathology (2011) from the University of Rome Sapienza; the latter whilst performing her experimental thesis work under the mentorship of Nobel laureate Dr. Gregg L. Semenza at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She followed-up with postdoctoral training with Dr. Semenza until her move to Toronto, Canada (2013), wherein she has focused on uncovering novel molecular mechanisms by which tumor hypoxia drives resistance to radio- and chemotherapy in cancer patients. A particular research interest of hers is the utilization of top-down and bottom-up approaches to dissect the molecular correlates of hypoxic lymphatic dissemination in solid cancers, utilizing models of advanced disease.

Dr Schito is the recipient of the Women in Cancer Research Award (2016) from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the New Investigator Review Award (2018) from the American Physiological Society, among other recognitions. Dr. Schito has been actively involved in science outreach and fundraising, by serving in the AACR-Associate Member Council (2016) and engaging with the American Society for Cell Biology in an effort to promote research reproducibility, robustness and accountability in the Biomedical Sciences. The long-term objective of her research program is to enhance our understanding of the role of hypoxia as an organizing molecular principle in cancer pathophysiology, thus holding the promise of generating knowledge leading into effective treatments, designed to forestall or eradicate the disease.

Dr Stephen Thorpe

Stephen graduated from Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Trinity College Dublin in 2007. He remained at Trinity College to pursue a PhD investigating the role of mechanical stimuli in directing the chondrogenic differentiation of bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells under the supervision of Dr Daniel Kelly. On graduating in 2012, Stephen moved to Queen Mary University of London as a post-doctoral research assistant with Prof Martin Knight on an EPSRC platform grant looking at multiscale mechanobiology for tissue engineering. In 2012, Stephen was awarded a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship to investigate the biophysical regulation of genome function and its role in mesenchymal stem cell differentiation in the lab of Prof David Lee. Stephen was subsequently awarded funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to continue this research toward controlling cell fate via biophysical regulation. In 2020, Stephen moved to the School of Medicine at University College Dublin as an Ad Astra Fellow and Assistant Professor.

As a bioengineer, Stephen implements a range of engineering, biophysics and molecular biology techniques to probe cellular responses to biophysical signals such as those that occur in growth and development, or during exercise. In addition to enhancing our understanding of cell mechanobiology, Stephen's research looks to leverage this understanding to develop regenerative medicine strategies for connective tissues, and address the aberrant mechanobiology associated with one of the most lethal cancers, pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.

Dr Marian Tsanov

Dr Marian Tsanov obtained his medical degree at Sofia University of Medicine in 2002 and PhD in Neuroscience at the International Graduate School of Neurosciences, Ruhr University Bochum in 2007. In his doctoral research, he investigated the effect of synaptic plasticity on sensory thalamo-cortical functional connectivity. He joined Trinity College Dublin as a postdoctoral fellow to investigate the extended hippocampal system. In 2010 he was awarded with a fellowship from the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (IRCSET) to investigate the encoding and processing of signals that mediate path integration. In 2013 I was awarded with Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellowship to investigate the signal processing between procedural and episodic memory networks. Dr Tsanov was principal investigator in Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and faculty member at the School of Medicine of Trinity College Dublin until his move to the UCD School of Medicine in 2020.

His laboratory aims for the development of cutting-edge technical approaches in fundamental neuroscience and clinical neurology. The major target of my work is the treatment of memory and motor impairment in neurodegenerative disorders. His translational research focus involves 1) invasive approach with deep-brain stimulation or optogenetics, and 2) non-invasive approach with transcutaneous nerve stimulation and gene therapy. Dr Tsanov’s laboratory uses optogenetic tools in parallel with electrophysiological recordings in the context of rodent spatial behavior. Optogenetic tools allow us to investigate the roles of neuronal subtypes in the process of memory formation. Optical stimulation of genetically targeted neurons expressing light sensitive channelrhodopsin can be used as a rapid activator of neuronal firing with potential cell type selectivity. His research applys optogenetic stimulation in choline acetyltransferase and tyrosine hydroxylase rat lines with highly-selective laser stimulation of the septal cholinergic and tegmental dopaminergic neurons, respectively. The goal of his translational programme is the application of optogenetics for the treatment of movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. Dr Tsanov’s laboratory designs optogenetic closed-loop brain computer interface for the treatment of epilepsy. One of his scientific priorities is the development of non-invasive treatment of neurological disorders. Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) is predominantly being explored in epilepsy and depression, however its application is proposed for Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Until now, the effect of non-invasive transcutaneous VNS has not been investigated on patients with mild cognitive impairment and this technique is an open frontier for the treatment of amnestic patients. The most powerful tool to combat neurodegenerative disorders caused by genetic mutations is gene therapy. The regulation of gene expression is precisely the leading goal of his research. The ability of viral vectors to transport genetic material into cells represents a unique therapeutic opportunity. Inhibition of gene expression or translation and genome editing based tools are developed in his laboratory.

Dr Jeffrey Glennon

UCD alumnus Dr Jeffrey Glennon completed a PhD in Human Anatomy & Physiology studying neurochemistry in thalmocortical circuits after graduating with a BSc in Physiology & Pharmacology.  Over the past 18 years he undertaken research in neuropsychiatry in both academia and the pharmaceutical industry.  His current interests include research on the neuropsychiatry of cognitive and emotional control in compulsive and antisocial behaviour within neurodevelopment (conduct disorder, autism), neurological (type I myotonic dystrophy) and somatic medicine (type II diabetes).  As a neuropharmacologist and translational neuroscientist, he seeks to implement basic, preclinical efforts into druggable mechanisms in type I myotonic dystrophy and his research into insulin-signalling pathways in type II diabetes may be relevant to treatment-resistant obsessive compulsive disorder.  His research at the Radboud University focuses on the target validation of novel drug targets impacting on cognitive and emotional learning impairments and likes to UCD research on neuroplasticity and conduct disorder.

Dr Glennon described himself as an ‘integrator’ and throughout  his career he has led cross-disciplinary teams of medicinal chemists, neuroscientists, bio-informaticians, and geneticists, drawing personnel from various Dutch universities, university hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry.  He has led a number of large EU Commission-funded research collaborations involving academic, small medium enterprises and major pharma companies.