HIV Molecular Research Group

Group Overview

Established in 2008, the HIV Molecular Research Group (HMRG) is internationally recognized for its translational research into long-term co-morbidities associated with HIV infection and its treatment with antiretrovirals and re- search into models of testing to increase early diagnosis of HIV.

The HMRG, based on the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital (MMUH) campus, coordinates international, collaborative, translational research in HIV. The group comprises researchers with laboratory, statistical and clinical re- search expertise and is funded through a number of streams including Science Foundation Ireland, the Health Research Board and several industry supporters.The groups research focuses around four principal themes (described below).

More Information About UCD HIV Molecular Research Group

The groups research focuses around four principal themes:

  1. Models of HIV detection.The Mater-Bronx Rapid HIV Testing Project M-BRiHT, involves collaborations between UCD, MMUH and the Jacobi Medical Centre in the Bronx, New York, and aims to increase early detection of HIV, a core strategy to reduce onward HIV transmission. M-BRiHT combines rapid HIV testing with novel, computer-based video counseling and offers unselected HIV screening to attendees to the MMUH Emergency Department. Sponsored by UCD and funded by Gilead Sciences, M-BRiHT launched in September 2012 and has already recruited over 4,000 subjects, with plans for international expansion to sites in the UK and Italy in 2013.
  2. Bone disease in HIV. Low bone mineral density and osteoporosis is com- mon in those with HIV.The HMRG coordinates a number of international projects to define the natural history and pathogenesis of bone disease in HIV, including the establishment of the HIV UPBEAT cohort, the largest international prospective cohort of HIV positive and negative subjects (N=484). With funding from the Health Research Board and GlaxoSmithKline, HIV UPBEAT has started to yield very exciting results that will be published in 2013.
  3. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is also increased in HIV. The Reverse Cholesterol Transport Study (RCTS), co-funded by the EU through the European AIDS Treatment Network (NEAT) and Science Foundation Ireland is exploring mechanisms of dyslipidaemia in HIV. RCTS expands on early work by HMRG published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases in 2012 on mechanisms of increased CVD in HIV, and is recruiting 100 subjects with HIV at MMUH and the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London.
  4. HIV Immunology. Through the MMUH ID Cohort Project, the HIV Immunology Study, supported by a number of industry partners aims to explore additional therapy. This study, in collaboration with Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, has recruited over 200 subjects.

In addition to a number of publications and conference presentations, HMRG’s achievements were recognized in 2012 with the award, by the British HIV Association, of the ‘Brian Gazzard Lectureship in HIV Medicine’ to Dr Mallon.


Research Team

Prof Paddy Mallon

Associate Dean / Consultant in Infectious Diseases

Prof Jack Lambert

UCD Clinical Professor / Consultant in Infectious Diseases

 Assoc Prof Aoife Cotter

Associate Clinical Professor / Consultant in Infectious Disease

Dr Eoin Feeney

UCD Clinical Lecturer / Consultant in Infectious Diseases



Associated Researchers

Dr Gerard O'Connor                                               
Research Fellow

Dr Jane O'Halloran                                
Research Fellow   

Mr Robert Maughan                                       
PhD Student

Ms Jillian McCue-Musarra                                            
Research Fellow / Project Lead CM-BRiHT

Ms Aoife Lacey
Research Student
Dr Willard Tinago                                  
PhD Student
Mr Alan Macken                               
Data Manager 
Ms Ailbhe Ni Flaitheartaigh
Clinical Research Assistant

International Collaborators

  • Prof Caroline Sabin, University College London, HIV UPBEAT and HRB Bone 
  • Prof Juliet Compston, University of Cambridge, HIV UPBEAT
  • Prof Yvette Calderon, Jacobi medical Centre, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the Bronx, New York, M-BRiHT 
  • Prof Peter Reiss, University of Amsterdam, RCTS Study
  • Prof Alan Landay, Rush University Medical Centre, Chicago HIV Immunology Study 
  • Prof Dermot Kenny, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Platelet Dysfunction in HIV
  • Dr Anton Pozniak, St Stephens AIDS Trust the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London RCTS Study

Interview with Dr Gerard O'Connor

In conversation with Claire O'Connell

A positive HIV result is certainly a landmark event in a patient’s life, but early diagnosis and treatment can mean a normal life expectancy. And if a person with HIV knows their status, they can take steps to minimise the risk of passing the virus on to others.

That’s why the Mater-Bronx Rapid HIV Testing project, a collaboration between UCD, the Mater Misericordiae Hospital and the Jacobi Medical Centre in the Bronx New York, is encouraging participants to get a HIV test and ‘know your status’.

Since September 2012, more than 2,800 people attending the Mater’s Emergency Department have taken part in the screening study, which asks participants to watch an educational video, answer questions about their risk factors and take a rapid HIV test.

Early diagnosis is considered to be best practice,” says project lead at the Mater Dr Gerard O’Connor, a Lecturer in Emergency Medicine at UCD School of Medicine & Medical Science. Yet most of the study participants at the Dublin site didn’t know their HIV status, he notes: “So a big goal of the study in Dublin is trying to increase awareness of testing and normalise it, so that it is seen as pretty routine.”

How does it work? People attending the Emergency Department are asked if they want to take part in the research study. If they do, they watch a set of short videos on an interactive laptop that explain the project and the process and implications of HIV testing. They complete an online survey and they are offered a HIV test, which involves a quick swab inside the mouth - and 20 minutes later the result is ready.

The immediacy of the result is important, explains Dr O’Connor, who is a Specialist Registrar in Emergency Medicine and Clinical PhD Research Fellow with the HIV Molecular Research Group led by Dr Paddy Mallon. “It means you are not asking people to come back in a day or two, they have the answer pretty much there and then. And if it’s positive, the person is immediately linked into care.”

So far, the rate of positive testing has been in single digits per 1,000 tests. “Our rates of HIV positive acquisition are comparable to what they have been seeing in the US,” says Dr O’Connor. “And the people we have diagnosed so far have had really robust, high CD4 counts so they are hopefully going to stay healthy long into the future now that they are getting the appropriate care. Plus they are now in a position to take precautions and reduce the risk of passing HIV on to others in the community.”

The questionnaires have also been yielding some interesting findings, based on interim analysis of about 1,500 surveys. They indicate that less than one-fifth of those who have multiple sexual partners say they always use condoms. The answers also help to identify how people want to engage with the video itself, and that will help future design of the screening, explains DrO’Connor.

The project, which receives funding from an investigator-initiated unrestricted research grant through healthcare company Gilead Sciences, is now attracting interest from other sites. “We have been asked to roll it out to Manchester and Modena, and in that case Dublin will be the hub in a hub-and-spoke type model,” says Dr O’Connor. “And we have had interest from Sydney, they also want to implement this type of project.”

And the ultimate aim of the Mater project is to prove that screening can be done, even in a challenging environment like an Emergency Department:

“The ultimate short-term impact would be to argue with health policymakers to say that this is a good idea, we have proven it works, we think you should fund this.”

Injecting drug users are a high-risk group for HIV infection as well as several other clinical problems, but this group is poorly described in the medical literature, according to Dr O’Connor. So another branch of his research is looking to analyse that cohort in the Mater’s Emergency Department more closely.

We have a lot of injecting drug users in the Mater - unfortunately they get caught up in this spiral and for many of them, they never had a chance,” he says.

The new project, PRESIDNT (Prospective Epidemiological Study in to Injecting Drug Users in North Dublin), will build on preliminary research at the Mater and will build up one of the largest cohorts of its type in the world, explains Dr O’Connor.

A key outcome will be to understand the types of infection that injecting drug users are likely to experience. “Most of the previous literature would say injecting drug users are infected with Gram positive bacteria, but we have found a lot of Gram negative organisms, so we want to explore that further,” says Dr O’Connor. “Also many of them develop pneumonia, so we are looking into maybe vaccinating them as soon as they come to the Emergency Department.”

More generally, he would like to build up evidence for prioritising certain types of care for injecting drug users who present. “I would like to see some mechanism where anyone coming to an Emergency Department with injecting drug use is by definition high risk for death, so we could perhaps have more effective intervention perhaps with an improved linkage to community services.”

Director Biography


Dr Patrick Mallon graduated in Medicine from Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland and undertook subsequent clinical training in infectious disease medicine in Sydney, Australia where he completed a PhD in the clinical and molecular aspects of HIV-associated Lipodystrophy (the commonest long-term side effect of antiretroviral therapy).

Dr Mallon returned to Ireland in 2007 to take up a consultant appointment as an Infectious Diseases Specialist at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, a major Irish teaching hospital that cares for a large cohort of HIV-infected patients.  He has an academic appointment at the UCD School of Medicine & Medical Science where he has led the development of the School's innovative capstoneProfessional Completion module within our Medicine degree programmes.

Dr Mallon’s research interests include translational research into toxicities of antiretroviral therapy and cardiovascular disease, and pharmacology of anti-infectives. He has published widely in these areas and also acts as a reviewer for several international peer-reviewed medical journals.

As Associate Dean for Research and Innovation, Dr Mallon is responsible for driving the School's translational research strategy, developing research capacity, and creating a world-class support infrastructure for UCD Medicine investigators.

Paddy Mallon - 260 x 390