Translational Research - Pharmacology Group
Research in the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine - Professor Alan Baird
Alan Baird is Professor of Veterinary Physiology & Biochemistry at UCD. He trained at the Universities of Glasgow, London and Cambridge as a physiologist and pharmacologist. As a PhD student at the University of London, his host Department was focused on electrophysiological techniques to study neuronal function. He translated the same approach to examine epithelial ion transport by building a voltage-clamp apparatus to regulate sheets of isolated epithelia in Ussing Chambers (Figure below)
Applications included modelling Type 1 hypersensitivity reactions in mucosal tissues under the mentorship of Professors Cuthbert and Coombs at the University of Cambridge.
Following three years as a post-doctoral Fellow at the Medical University of South Carolina, Alan was recruited to UCD as a lecturer in Pharmacology. During this time he was awarded the Conway medal for his work on Regulation of Chloride Secretion in Mammalian Colon and became a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland. When UCD was re-structuring, Alan was involved in the design and implementation of the Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research. Concomitantly, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine was planning to move from an established site in the City to the Belfield Campus, right beside the Institute and next to the Science Centre. Alan recognised an opportunity and joined the School (then Faculty) of Veterinary Medicine in 2004.
At UCD Alan has supervised almost 50 research students to completion. These include clinicians (human and veterinary) and basic scientists. The specific areas of research relate to fundamental cell biology, integrated physiology, and pharmacology. As medical schools fill their research labs with mice, we have been using human cells and tissues! One Health works in both directions. With so many graduate students, all of whom have been great assets and enjoyable to work with, it is difficult to pick out individuals.
For illustrative purposes, Cormac Taylor was involved in two separate projects which were particularly satisfying. One of these was to establish a mechanism for the anti-diarrhoeal compound Berberine, used for millenia in Chinese medicine. Cormac showed that berberine specifically targets a previously undescribed potassium channel upon which colonic chloride secretion depends. The basic findings were developed using post-surgical resection material with colleagues Gerry O’Sullivan and a young surgeon, Des Winter. Cormac and Des are now both Professors of Medicine and Surgery respectively.
Regulation of epithelial transport by non-epithelial cells was a feature of Baird’s work at Cambridge. In UCD, over many years this developed from studies of effector systems to thinking of intestinal epithelial cells contribution to immune sensory function. A serendipitous finding showed that co-culture of epithelia cells with a specific type of leucocyte conferred a phenotype characteristic of M-cells in Peyer’s Patches. Definitive experiments to establish the first human model of M-cells involved collaborations with Per Artursson at Uppsala and an industrial collaborator, David Brayden. David was recruited by UCD and is now Professor of Advanced Drug Delivery at the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine
Declan McCole, as a graduate student in Pharmacology, spearheaded a collaboration with Michael Doherty who was at the time in Large Animal Clinical Studies in Ballsbridge. Declan transferred the technologies we used to study epithelial function in other species to bovines. Specifically, we demonstrated that mast cell activation promoted fluid secretion in colon, a mechanism contributing to expulsion of parasites by the ‘tear’ mechanism because Type I hypersensitivity reactions in the intestinal tract of sensitized animals may contribute to resistance to reinfection with Fasciola hepatica. Declan is now a Professor at University of California, Riverside and Michael is currently Dean of the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine. Similarly, our basic work on cell-cell cross talk in colitis were used by Denise Fitzgerald. She translated the work to develop a novel model of bovine mastitis in vitro. Denise is now Professor of Immunology at Queen’s University, Belfast.
One aspect of diaspora has been a collaboration between UCD (Dublin) and UCD (Denver), specifically the Mucosal Inflammation Program, headed by Sean Colgan. Many Irish PhD and MD graduates have honed their skills and training with Sean, the most generous of collaborators. Baird recently spent a year sabbatical in Denver working in the MIP labs and developing models to understand hepatobiliary-intestinal crosstalk. Several of these researchers have recently returned to Ireland to continue their academic careers.
The Irish Government’s current policy on research is that oriented basic research is research that is carried out with the expectation that it will produce a broad base of knowledge that is likely to form the background to the solution of recognised, or expected, current or future problems or possibilities. Alan’s recent collaboration with an Irish Company, Westgate Biomedical has afforded access to exciting proprietorial materials which are strongly antimicrobial. Evidence of their efficacy has been demonstrated by a recent PhD graduate David Folan who has developed and employed a creative battery of techniques with which to study putative mechanisms of actions. In 2019 a UCD Veterinary Graduate, Nicola Fletcher was appointed to UCD as an Ad Astra Fellow. Nicola has already confirmed the potent antimicrobial effectiveness of the materials and will, in the future, work with Westgate on specific clinical applications.
Alan is committed to bridging research and teaching in an academic setting. All aspects of Veterinary Biosciences are taught with a research-informed, evidence-rich base. As first Director of the College of Life Sciences Graduate School, Alan helped develop the UCD structured PhD programme. Modular credit-bearing modules for PhD students in research skills and research integrity were an outcome form Alan’s work with a consortium of Universities working with Epigeum (Oxford University Press). In 2014, Alan was appointed as National Delegate to PARERE which is a network of national regulators that provides EURL ECVAM (European Union Reference Laboratory for alternatives to animal testing) with upstream input and preliminary views on potential regulatory relevance of methods or approaches submitted to EURL ECVAM for validation and/or peer review. Alan was a member of UCD’s 5th Governing Authority and chairs the Academic Council’s Committee on Examinations which oversees assessment practices across the University.