University of Limerick to collaborate on new €42m European digital health research project

Prof Norelee Kennedy, UL Vice-President for Research

University of Limerick is collaborating on a groundbreaking new €42m European digital health research project to examine fatigue and sleep disturbances in neurodegenerative disorders and immune-mediated inflammatory diseases.

New UL Vice-President for Research, Professor Norelee Kennedy, is project lead at UL on the European research project to Identify Digital Endpoints to Assess Fatigue, Sleep and Activities of daily living (IDEA-FAST) in the neurodegenerative disorders (NDD) Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease and in immune-mediated inflammatory diseases (IMID) rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, primary Sjögren's syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.

IDEA-FAST is co-funded by the European Union (represented by the European Commission) and the European pharmaceutical industry (represented by EFPIA, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations) under the Innovative Medicines Initiative Joint Undertaking (IMI JU) programme.

It consists of 46 members from 14 different European countries, including pharmaceutical companies, academic and not-for-profit institutions, small- and medium-sized enterprises and patient organisations aimed to play complementary roles in achieving the agreed goals.

Fatigue and sleep disturbances are common and disabling symptoms that affect patients with NDD and IMID, impacting on daily activities and are the major causes of poor quality of life and increased healthcare cost. Current questionnaire-based approaches to measure these symptoms have key limitations preventing them from being used as reliable endpoints in clinical trials to evaluate the effect of therapies.

Based on the advancement of wearable and portable digital technology, the IDEA-FAST project aims to address these issues by identifying novel digital endpoints for fatigue, sleep disturbances and disabilities in daily activities.

The final ambitious goal is to provide more objective, sensitive, reliable and ecological measures of the severity and impact of these symptoms in real-world settings. Such digital endpoints will eventually improve the efficiency of clinical trials, ultimately reducing the time and cost to bringing new therapies to patients.

Professor Norelee Kennedy is the UL lead and clinical partner on IDEA-FAST, which is being led by Newcastle University, Great Britain and University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein, Kiel, Germany as academic co-leaders, and by Janssen Pharmaceutica NV and Takeda Pharmaceuticals International as industry co-leaders.

The research taking place in UL will be done in collaboration with Professor Alexander Fraser, Consultant Rheumatologist and general physician at University Hospital Limerick, who is also an honorary Senior Lecturer at UL.

This project has received funding from the Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking (JU) under grant agreement No 853981. The JU receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme and EFPIA and Parkinson’s Disease Society of the United Kingdom LBG.

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New Vice President for Research appointed at University of Limerick

Prof Norelee Kennedy is an Associate Professor of Physiotherapy and Head of School of Allied Health at UL. 

UL President Dr Des Fitzgerald said he was “very happy to announce that the Governing Authority has just approved the appointment of Professor Norelee Kennedy as Vice President for Research.

“I want to congratulate Prof Kennedy on her appointment and wish her every success in this critical role.

“The Research function is vital to the future of the University. Indeed the importance of Research to the University sector in Ireland generally is now gaining significant attention. Research and Innovation will also form a main pillar of the new UL Strategic Plan which will be launched in the coming semester,” he added.

Prof Kennedy has worked as an academic in UL for over 14 years and as Head of School of Allied Health for five years. The Tipperary native graduated from Trinity College Dublin with a BSc Physiotherapy in 1999 and a PhD in 2004. Her research focuses on focuses on inflammatory arthritis and physical activity in exercise.

She said she was “delighted to take on the role of Vice President for Research at University of Limerick. I am very proud and honoured to be taking on this role. It is an extremely important role for the University and as an academic in UL for the last 14 years, I am very proud of UL and the research that we do.

“It is such an exciting opportunity to look at the next phase of research for UL. We have an excellent base in what we are doing in our research here and I think there are opportunities to look at new ways of bringing people together to work in interdisciplinary ways.

“I am a physiotherapist by background and have been research active for over 20 years. My research focus is on people who have arthritis and I have worked very closely with them and their communities in understanding what is important to them and to research needs. That is something I would like to bring to this research role and also to see at the heart of research at UL, that we are fully engaged with our people and our communities.

“My vision is that we would build on the excellent research that we have established here at University of Limerick and continue to broaden the research that we do and to ensure that, through an interdisciplinary approach and working together, we will continue to ensure that research is engaged and has excellent impact and value for the communities and the people that we work with and the research partners that we engage with nationally and internationally,” she added.

Dr Fitzgerald said he also wished “to acknowledge the superb work of the outgoing Vice President Dr Mary Shire who completed two very successful terms in this role and led the Research function with distinction”.

The Vice President, Research (VPR) at UL is a member of the Executive Committee with responsibility for Research Support Services and the Technology Transfer Office.

They are responsible for the Research affairs of the University, including research support services, related enterprise and commercialisation of UL’s research.

Reporting to the President, the VPR also has a key role in the overall leadership and strategic management of the University.