Providing a compass not a map - cultivating interdisciplinary research
In a special first anniversary episode of Zoom for Thought on May 25th, 2021, we turned the tables on its host UCD Discovery Director Professor Patricia Maguire. She spoke to guest host UCD Adjunct Professor Scott Rickard, Chief Data Scientist at Citadel, about “Providing a compass not a map - cultivating interdisciplinary research”. In case you missed it, here are our Top Takeaway Thoughts and a link to the video.
Power of Platelets
Patricia is an expert in platelets, which are cells that clot the blood - but also do “so much more”. As they circulate the body, platelets “take in information in real time. In my lab we use this power of the platelets to sense their environment to get a better understanding of disease”. Her lab is working on diseases such as multiple sclerosis, organ rejection and Covid-19. They are also using platelets to find new diagnostics for the pregnancy disorder preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia affects one in every ten pregnancies and each year almost 600,000 mothers and babies worldwide die of preeclampsia complications. Notoriously difficult to diagnose, clinicians still just check for high blood pressure or protein in urine - as they did to determine preeclampsia 200 years ago.
“We've developed a new, really simple blood test, and when this is combined with artificial intelligence, we can better predict preeclampsia,” said Patricia. “Right now we're testing this in the three Dublin maternity hospitals.”
Platelets and Covid-19
Patricia and her lab have been “busier than ever” in the pandemic because of the involvement of platelets in Covid-19. “Most people know that clotting has been a feature of the disease. The lab team were in the Mater Hospital collecting and working on blood samples of Covid patients.”
This invaluable research was recently published when it showed how platelets are “hyperreactive” in the blood of people hospitalised with Covid-19.
UCD Discovery Mission
The mission of the UCD Institute for Discovery is to cultivate an interdisciplinary research community across UCD. “In a nutshell, interdisciplinarity is combining information from multiple disciplines to advance knowledge and to solve problems. In UCD Discovery, we encourage researchers to basically think differently. We want them to realise that great things can happen at the boundaries of disciplines.”
Referencing her talk title, Patricia explained that UCD Discovery provides direction for researchers tackling unanswered questions. “We connect people and we partner with you, whether you're a junior researcher, whether you're a full professor, whether you're in industry, in a multinational, whether you're an NGO or an SME. We will partner with you and we will facilitate you to help you drive forward your blue sky thinking.”
AI Healthcare Hub
Last year UCD Discovery launched its AI Healthcare Hub with SAS Institute, a global leader in data analytics. “Our mission in the Hub is to give all researchers in UCD a chance to use powerful machine learning technologies to make data-driven decisions about their research. We want to democratise artificial intelligence.” Researchers in the Hub have already developed a new algorithm to predict the severity of Covid-19 in patients on the day of hospital admission.
While we need experts to dig deep into particular disciplines, many of the challenges in today’s world - such as climate change and improving quality of life for people with chronic illnesses - require an interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary approach.
“I think it is really important to be able to embrace new technologies, but also to be able to merge information from different disciplines,” said Patricia, who is passionate about blending the arts and sciences. For instance, a few years ago she initiated the UCD Community Choir through her interest in research showing how choral singing can improve mental health.
Crossfield thinking “can really impact on people’s lives” and UCD Discovery is a proud member of the University-Based Institutes of Advanced Studies (UBIAS) network, which drives forward interdisciplinary research partnerships. UCD Discovery was also delighted to honour the world’s most famous interdisciplinary researcher, Leonardo da Vinci, in an event marking the the 500th anniversary of his death in 2019.
Zoom for Thought
Prior to the pandemic, UCD Discovery organised many collaborative events across UCD, so continuing to build connections during lockdown required creative thinking. Patricia’s team was inspired by the Ted Talk model, offering bite-sized, expert information - and their weekly, 15-minute chat series Zoom for Thought was born. “What we have found since we launched is that there is a real appetite for knowledge in our audience during this pandemic,” said Patricia, thanking the audience for their great support over the past year. “I have also been privileged to speak to some of the most incredible academic and industry leaders from around the world, so personally, it has been amazing and I have learnt so much!”
This article was brought to you by UCD Institute for Discovery - fuelling interdisciplinary collaborations.
Patricia Maguire is a biomedical scientist passionate about the intersection of Artificial Intelligence with basic science. She is Professor of Biochemistry in the UCD College of Science and Director of the UCD Institute for Discovery, a major cross-disciplinary research institute in UCD, which cultivates interdisciplinary connections and community. Recent campaigns include ‘AI for good’, ‘Plotting the Future’, ‘Cybersecurity’ and ‘Data for Healthcare’. UCD Discovery is also a member of the prestigious University-Based Institutes for Advanced Study (UBIAS) network. In this role Patricia hosts the weekly Zoom for thought series where she micro-chats with academic and industry thought-leaders from across the globe.
Patricia’s own research interests are focused on her expertise in blood and platelet biology to aid in the diagnosis and further understanding of inflammatory diseases including Preeclampsia, Multiple Sclerosis, Venous ThromboEmbolism and COVID-19. She is author on over 55 peer-reviewed publications of exceptional impact in leading international journals including several senior author manuscripts in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Proteomics and Blood. She has won multiple awards for her work including the 2021 NovaUCD Invention of the Year Award, the 2020 Science Foundation Ireland Mentorship Award, and a UCD Value in Action award 2018.