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Science Week at UCD ConwaySPHERE

Date: Monday, November 8th, 2021

Science Week at UCD ConwaySPHERE: Two TV shows and one coffee morning!

The ConwaySPHERE research group marks Science Week with not one but two RTE TV shows, the first of which airs this evening Nov 8th on RTE One at 8.30pm. The second episode of the award-winning “Ten Things to Know About…” series will focus on blood and feature ConwaySPHERE’s breakthroughs in Covid-19 research. 

Each episode of this entertaining and informative science series has a different theme, with presenters Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, Kathriona Devereux and Jonathan McCrea meeting Irish researchers working in these fields. In Monday’s episode Jonathan meets ConwaySPHERE co-directors Prof Patricia Maguire and Dr Barry Kevane to discuss how the group is analysing blood samples from Covid-19 patients for biomarkers that could help predict from the outset the
potential deterioration of the patient’s condition.

“We have devised a simple algorithm that could tell us who is likely to end up needing future critical care at the time they present at the hospital with Covid-19 infection,” says Patricia. “The show’s producers were particularly interested in the work we have done during the pandemic.”

The group has already carried out a successful pilot study of this algorithm and the next phase will involve full hospital trials. As Covid-19 continues, they hope to see their technology implemented in more hospitals.  “We have also carried out a study that found that Irish patients admitted to hospital with severe Covid-19 infection have ‘hyperactive’ platelet blood cells which can cause abnormal clotting. Abnormal blood clotting has been a hallmark of the disease since the early stages of the pandemic, resulting in a high number of deaths from strokes and heart attacks. We speak about this on the TV show too.”

The group found that platelets - the small, colourless blood cells that help blood to clot - are up to ninety times more reactive in Covid-19 patients than in hospitalised patients who do not have the disease. ConwaySPHERE’s work on the pregnancy condition preeclampsia will feature in a second RTE One programme, Science to the Rescue, on Wednesday, at 10.40pm.

“Preeclampsia is an absolutely devastating disease that affects about one in every 10 pregnancies and annually claims the lives of more than 50,000 mothers and 500,000 babies. These deaths happen because there is no screening test for preeclampsia. The only cure right now is to actually deliver the baby which unfortunately sometimes can be very preterm. A new test to accurately risk stratify preeclampsia would reduce the enormous competing risks for mums and babies and facilitate early intervention by the clinicians before severe complications occur.” UCD ConwaySPHERE has developed such a risk stratification test called AI_PREMie, which will revolutionise preeclampsia care in Ireland and globally. AI_PREMie was a finalist in the recent Science Foundation Ireland Future Innovator Prize, which made €4m available across two challenges - AI for Societal Good and Zero Emissions. Science To The Rescue, presented by Trevor Vaugh, is an hour-long documentary that gets up close and personal with some of the challenge teams, including AI_PREMie.

Last but not least, the third ConwaySPHERE event taking place this week is an outdoor brainstorming public engagement session on thrombotic disorders and women’s health. Stop the Clot is part of Science Foundation Ireland’s Creating Our Future campaign, a national conversation about research in Ireland. Taking place on Thursday from 10am - 12pm outside the James Joyce library building in UCD and with guests including Annemarie O’Neill, CEO of Thrombosis Ireland, there will be free tea/coffee and a cupcake for every future research idea submitted about clotting and women’s health. 

“The common thread across the two TV shows and this SFI event is adverse blood clotting, which can be a feature of many diseases including preeclampsia, Covid-19 and, of course, thrombosis,” says Patricia. “1 in 4 people worldwide die of conditions caused by thrombosis. At UCD ConwaySPHERE, Prof Fionnuala Ní Áinle, Dr Barry Kevane and myself, work hard together with our extended team to raise public awareness about this potentially devastating condition and to further research in this field.”

Contact Conway SPHERE Research Group

UCD Conway Institute, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
T: +353 1 716 6700