Dr Paulina Szklanna wins 2020 AbbVie Innovation Award to develop biomarkers for multiple sclerosis


Dr Paulina Szklanna has won the 2020 UCD AbbVie Innovation Award for the potential within her research to develop an affordable clinical tool based on blood-borne markers to track the progression of multiple sclerosis over time.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory and neurodegenerative condition that remains the most common cause of non-traumatic disability in young adults. 9000 Irish people are currently living with MS and their individual disease progression is highly variable. Clinically predicting the course of the disease remains a huge challenge and biomarkers are urgently required to help in this effort.

Dr Szklanna and her colleagues have uncovered biomarkers released in the blood from platelets, the fragments involved in blood clotting. They used an interdisciplinary platform called PALADINTM or platelet-based diagnostics, which draws on cutting-edge biomedical, clinical and machine learning knowhow.

Dr Paulina Szklanna, UCD AbbVie Innovation AwardeeWinner of the 2020 UCD AbbVie Innovation Award, Dr Paulina Szklanna, UCD Conway Institute.

The team use these blood-borne markers with AI_PredictMS (Artificial Intelligence to Predict the future in Multiple Sclerosis); a prototype risk stratification solution for MS. In a recent trial, they have shown that AI_PredictMS can differentiate between people with milder and people with more debilitating forms of multiple sclerosis with 97% accuracy.

Dr Szklanna is an early career researcher working in the UCD Conway SPHERE group led by Professor Patricia Maguire, UCD School of Biomolecular & Biomedical Science and Professor Fionnuala Ni Ainle, UCD School of Medicine. This award will provide Dr Szklanna with a research bursary of €8,000 to enable her to progress her research.

“This award from AbbVie will enable us to validate AI_PredictMS in a wider cohort of MS patients and develop it as an antibody-based, non-invasive liquid biopsy that can use standard clinical laboratory equipment.
It will mean that AI_PredictMS will deliver same-day results to doctors, allowing more timely clinical evaluation of people with MS. This will lead to earlier, individualised treatment interventions that should reduce the frequency and/or the severity of their disease”, according to Dr Szklanna.

The team believe this test will become part of worldwide MS screening programmes within the next 5 years and help to slow the progression of chronic disability and improve quality of life for all people living with MS.

The Innovation Award Programme was launched in 2017 by the pharmaceutical company Allergan, which became part of AbbVie in May 2020. This is the third year that UCD has secured funding under this programme and the university is delighted to support accomplished scholars who wish to advance their innovative research studies in the field of life sciences.

David Wade, Director of Operations at AbbVie Clonshaugh, Dublin who was part of the judging panel for the 2020 UCD AbbVie Innovation Award said:
“We are delighted to again partner with University College Dublin for this year’s AbbVie Innovation Award. We are pleased to build on our longstanding relationships with communities through providing educational support to universities and colleges around the country, by reaffirming our commitment to the future of life sciences. Our warmest congratulations to Dr Szklanna and we wish her continued success with her research. We hope that this Innovation Award will inspire more students who wish to establish themselves within the field of life sciences.”

Speaking at the award ceremony, Professor William Gallagher, Director, UCD Conway Institute and Professor of Cancer Biology in UCD School of Biomolecular & Biomedical Science said:
”By fostering a culture of innovation within our early career researchers, we can enable them for success in careers within industry, academia and research support agencies. We are delighted to engage with industry partners, such as AbbVie, to explore the potential in developing fundamental research into commercial and clinical reality.”

Dr Szklanna competed against three other early career researchers for the bursary prize. PhD candidate, Flavia Messina is evaluating a new drug for retinal degeneration; Emilie McCormack, MD & PhD candidate is working on a new perfusion solution for use in lung transplants; and Dr Stephen Fitzsimons is exploring new biomarkers to diagnose the progression of stenosis in coronary artery disease.

Dr Jennifer Melia, Enterprise Ireland; Dr Ena Walsh, NovaUCD; UCD Professor Therese Kinsella, Founder & CEO ATXA Therapeutics and Professor William Gallagher, co-Founder/Chief Scientific Officer, OncoMark Limited were also on the judging panel.

Commenting on the competition, Dr Melia said, “The future is very bright in UCD from both a scientific research and commercialisation perspective.”

About AbbVie
AbbVie's mission is to discover and deliver innovative medicines that solve serious health issues today and address the medical challenges of tomorrow. We strive to have a remarkable impact on people's lives across several key therapeutic areas: immunology, oncology, neuroscience, eye care, virology, women's health and gastroenterology, in addition to products and services across its Allergan Aesthetics portfolio. For more information about AbbVie, please visit www.abbvie.com.