Minister Varadkar Announces €13.5M for Research into Cancer, Antibiotics and Other Vital Treatments

Wed, 29 October 14 10:50

Cancer, asthma, kidney injuries and antibiotics are just some of the areas likely to benefit from €13.5 million in funding for new health research projects announced by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. A total of 36 projects are being supported by the Health Research Board (HRB) over the next three – five years.

Announcing the investment, Minister Varadkar said

These 36 projects cover a huge range of areas, including research into stem cell research to fight pneumonia, developing diet and exercise plans following cancer surgery and combating osteoporosis in older HIV patients. Others will look at how to help asthma sufferers who cannot control their condition, new treatments for resistant types of breast cancer, and the impact of salt on kidney function. Many of these projects receiving funding today will go on to make a real difference to people’s lives, not just in Ireland but around the world.

This investment highlights the Government’s commitment to developing new research in areas with a clear health benefit, as well as developing new approaches to health care, and boosting the medical science sector. Every treatment, every medical device and every procedure in our health service starts with a good idea that has been proved in practice.

Speaking at the launch of the awards, Graham Love, Chief Executive at the Health Research Board said

The HRB focuses on driving more research into policy and practice. This is illustrated by today’s investments. Innovation can help bridge the gap between demand for health services and the resources to pay for them. That innovation comes from implementing top class research, which is our raison d'être at the HRB.

Contracts have just been signed and research will start immediately. Thirty two of them will receive awards of up to €330,000 and must be completed in three years, while four will receive up to €800,000 and will be completed within five years. The successful research projects were selected from a long-list of 190 projects. The research teams are spread across Ireland, with researchers linked to TCD, UCD, NUI Galway, UCC, RCSI, Athlone Institute of Technology, NUI Maynooth and University of Limerick. The HRB will monitor progress in each project and will receive annual and end-of-grant reports. The outcomes from the projects will be assessed, using an international framework, in terms of short and medium terms outcomes like new knowledge, research capacity building, and informing policy. The HRB will also look at the longer term impact of each project such as new innovations including devices, new diagnostics, approaches to care; changes in policy or practice; or economic and commercial activity such as patents and spin-offs.

Dr Patrick Mallon, Associate Dean for Research and Innovation, SMMS presented details on a project which aims to limit bone loss in HIV patients on anti-retroviral drugs. Dr Mallon expalained that as people with HIV now live into old age because of the success of antiretroviral therapy, long-term effects of HIV and its treatment, such as osteoporosis, are becoming major issues. Most bone loss occurs with initiation of antiretroviral therapy and this project aims to determine if this bone loss can be limited with a short course of a drug commonly used to treat osteoporosis; alendronate.

The group will conduct a clinical trial to randomize 80 people with HIV who are about to start antiretroviral therapy to either receive a short course of alendronate or a placebo taken weekly for 14 weeks and will determine the loss of bone density over the first year of antiretroviral therapy between the two treatment groups. This trial will help improve long-term management not only of people with HIV in Ireland, but across the world and increase our understanding of osteoporosis, which is a very common condition.

Some of the other projects funded include: 

  • Dr Juliette Hussey from TCD will assess the effect of a diet and exercise rehabilitation plan aimed at helping patients recovering from surgery for cancer of the oesophagus to return to pre-cancer levels of activity and performance.
  • Prof Neil Rowan from Athlone Institute of Technology and collaborators from the National University of Ireland Galway will conduct research using a novel combination of adult stem cells and medicinal fungi to see if they can help the immune system fight pneumonia infections.
  • Dr Steve Thomas from Trinity College Dublin will look at mapping a pathway to universal healthcare.