UCD medical researcher is first Irish academic to receive European Respiratory Society award

University College Dublin medical researcher Dr Silke Ryan has become the first Irish academic to be awarded the honour of delivering the keynote lecture at the European Respiratory Society’s (ERS) International Congress.

Dr Ryan delivered the flagship Cournand lecture at the ERS congress. The lecture is reserved for young academics in recognition of the scientific contribution they have made to respiratory medicine.

In her lecture, entitled ‘Inflammatory Pathway Activation by Intermittent Hypoxia in Obstructive Sleep Apnoea’, she outlined how her research findings may lead to the development of therapeutic targets for heart diseases associated with obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA).

The ERS congress is the largest annual respiratorymeeting in the world. It was held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and was attended by over 20,000 people.

Dr Ryan is a consultant in Respiratory and Sleep Medicine at St. Vincent's University Hospital and a Health Research Board-funded research fellow in the UCD School of Medicine and the UCD Conway Institute.

OSA is a common disease affecting about 14% of middle-aged men and 5% of middle-aged women. It is characterised by frequent breathing pauses during sleep leading to sudden drops in the blood oxygen level, resulting in subconscious awakenings in order to restore the oxygen level.

Dr Ryan’s research has resulted in a better understanding of the mechanisms associated with the development of various cardiovascular complications, such as high blood pressure, heart attacks or stroke, in obstructive sleep apnoea.

“My research has identified that frequent oxygen fluctuations (intermittent hypoxia) preferentially activate inflammatory pathways known to promote atherosclerosis or hardening and narrowing of the arteries, and these events are likely to be key mechanisms of cardiovascular disease processes in OSA,” she said.

“Further understanding of these mechanisms will hopefully lead to the identification of therapeutic targets for heart diseases associated with OSA and for other disorders associated with intermittent hypoxia.”

The research has been published in high-impact journals, such as Circulation, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, and Thorax, and is widely cited.

Professor Stephen Holgate, ERS Science Council Chair, was himself a recipient of the Cournand lecture award in 1992.

“Each year at our international congress we recognise leaders in the field of respiratory medicine for their achievements with a number of awards, including the award of delivering the congress’ keynote lecture,” he said.

In 2003, Dr Ryancommenced a three-year translational research fellowship at UCD and St. Vincent’s University Hospital, resulting in the award of her PhD.

Her research is currently funded by the Health Research Board through a translational fellowship grant.

In 2012, Dr Ryan received the James B. Skatrud New Investigator Award at the American Thoracic Society Annual Conference, an award which recognises outstanding career accomplishments to date and future promise of a new investigator working in the broad area of respiratory neurobiology and sleep.

The ERS is an international organisation that brings together physicians, healthcare professionals, scientists and other experts working in respiratory medicine.

It is involved in promoting scientific research and driving standards through the training of respiratory professionals. http://www.ersnet.org/