Professor Helen Roche, Full Professor of Nutrigenomics at UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science, Director of UCD Conway Institute and Fellow, UCD Institute of Food & Health was awarded the prestigious Science Foundation Ireland Mentorship Award 2021.
The SFI Mentorship Award recognises outstanding mentorship provided by a researcher funded by Science Foundation Ireland. Awardees must have demonstrated a commitment to nurturing the intellectual, creative, scholarly and/or professional growth of their mentees, enabled their mentees to become independent and be recognised in their own right as a subject matter expert and shown a sustained commitment to a mentoring relationship that has supported the career progression and/or the personal development of mentees.
Commenting on receiving the award, Professor Roche said: “It is a great honour to have worked with so many bright young scientists, who brought alternative skills into the nutrition and health space – wherein using other disciplines and ‘omics’ approaches has strengthened our understanding of food, nutrition and health. Many thanks to SFI, DAFM and the EU for supporting our team at UCD – the mentees who nominated me really developed professionally within these funding initiatives. They represent the future of science in Ireland and abroad!”
Professor Roche trained in Human Nutrition, Dietetics and Molecular Nutrition. Her Nutrigenomics team focus on Precision Nutrition – specifically the impact of diet on metabolism and inflammation, in obesity, type 2 diabetes (T2D), non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and obesity related cancer. Nutrigenomics uses state-of-the-art 'omics' to investigate the molecular effects of diet on health – to provide hard evidence. Whilst nutrition plays a critical role in health and disease, too often the mechanistic basis is lacking – Helen’s team seeks to fill that evidence gap.
Her recent SFI Investigator Award entitled ‘Diet, Immune Training and Metabolism’ in collaboration with Dr Fred Sheedy and Prof Suzanne Norris (TCD) determines the impact of diet and metabolism on Innate Immune responses in NAFLD. She is co-PI in several multidisciplinary programmes. ‘ImmunoMet’ addresses interactions between nutritional status, metabolic health and the gut microbiome, in collaboration with Prof Paul O’Toole (UCC / Microbiome Ireland). In Precision Oncology Ireland Roche’s team are determining if/how the ‘dietary environment’ potentiates obesity related cancer risk, with Prof Jacinta O’Sullivan (TCD) and Dr David Gomez-Matallanas (Systems Biology Ireland, UCD).
Helen has supervised more than 30 PhD scientists and a similar number of post-doctoral researchers. As Conway Director a key personal remit has been to foster Emerging Investigator success, in UCD facilitating recent Ad Astra appointee achievement.
In Europe, Prof Roche has led several initiatives relating to Food, Nutrition and Health. She chaired the Scientific Advisory Board of the European Healthy Life Healthy Diet Joint Programming Initiative (2015-2019). Advises UK and US grant agencies, including Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and UK Nutrition Research Partnership. She is a board member of the RCSI Hospital Group. Helen is also Visiting Professor of Nutrition at Queen’s University Belfast.