PhD students are first UCD graduates to receive Wellcome Trust-NIH scholarships 


Two UCD Science graduates have become the first ever recipients from the university of the prestigious Wellcome Trust and National Institutes of Health four-year PhD scholarships.

The WT-NIH studentships enable postgraduate students in biomedical research and the medical humanities to conduct two years of research in their own universities and a further two years at the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, USA.

The research programme will also enable the PhD students from UCD to meet and learn from Nobel Prize and Lasker Award winning scientists.

Andrew Smith (22) is a PhD student at the UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science and the UCD Conway Institute and is supervised by Dr Breandán Kennedy, Senior Lecturer at the UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science. Andrew graduated from UCD with a BSc (Hons) in Pharmacology.

Brian Caffrey (23) is a PhD student at the UCD School of Chemistry and the UCD Centre for BioNano Interactions and is supervised by Professor Kenneth Dawson, Director of the Centre for BioNano Interactions at UCD. Brian graduated from UCD with a BSc (Hons) Degree in Chemistry.

Some 39 Wellcome Trust-NIH PhD scholarships have been awarded in the last eight years and only two other Irish students have ever received the funding. The scholarships are worth approximately €110,000 to each recipient.

At the NIH in the US, Andrew will be based at the National Eye Institute, working in the Neurobiology Neurodegeneration and Repair Laboratory (NNRL) of Professor Anand Swaroop.


He will conduct his research on identifying genes that are involved in the development and survival of cone photoreceptors in the eye, with a view to identifying new drugs that can prevent the cells from dying and treating forms of blindness, including age-related macular degeneration.

Andrew said: "I am excited because the ability to complete research in the US allows us to answer the [research] question in a more comprehensive way that we wouldn't be able to do individually. The resources available are phenomenal, and it is a great opportunity for a PhD student to be immersed in the hub of US biomedical research."

Brian Caffrey will carry out research on determining the molecular detail and orientation of proteins on nanoparticles to better understand their interactions with cells and help aid in creating better drug targeting mechanisms. 

Brian will be based at the National Cancer Institute working in the Laboratory of Cell Biology of Dr Sriram Subramaniam.

Brian said: "I'm absolutely thrilled with the news. The Wellcome Trust - NIH scholarship has allowed me the opportunity to work with Professor Dawson and Dr Subramaniam, who are both leaders in their respective fields, and gain invaluable experience both at home and abroad."

Dr Breandán Kennedy said the fact that the students will conduct research in America, funded by the National Institutes of Health, would enable them and UCD to enhance their international collaboration with the leading vision research scientists in America.

"The students will also be involved in networking events with the highest Nobel Prize award winners and Lasker Award winners in small group meetings. They're also going to be part of a Wellcome Trust, NIH, University of Oxford and University of Cambridge colloquium that will meet once a year and will include the students, their supervisors and leading academics," he added.

Founded under the will of Sir Henry Wellcome in 1936, the Wellcome Trust is dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. In pursuit of this, the Wellcome Trust supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities.

University College Dublin also currently runs a four-year PhD programme in Computational Infection Biology, funded by the Wellcome Trust.