BiographyThroughout my career I have endeavoured to be a multidisciplinary researcher. This is evidenced by my first-class honours degree in mechanical engineering where I specialised in fluid dynamics of kidney dialysis. From this work I was awarded a scholarship from the Irish Research Council to fund my PhD in the area of biomedical engineering and was awarded a national innovative Student Engineer award by Engineers Ireland.
During my PhD, I developed a wide variety of techniques to mechanically, structurally, and biologically characterise diseased cardiovascular tissue. These methodologies have led to the publication of 9-articles and 4-reviews in first quartile journals in areas such as urology, gastrointestinal tissues and aortic aneurysms. It was clear from the conclusion of my PhD work that I needed experience on the effect of mechanics on cell function, behaviour and morphology. Accordingly, I was successful in my application for a Marie-Curie co-fund fellowship based in Prof. Ethier's lab in the Georgia Institute of Technology. During this time, I gained experience in cell culture, biochemistry and immunostaining techniques. My particular focus was on the effect of mechanical deformations on astrocytes, a key cell line in optic, spinal and cortical function, resulting in 4-articles [14-17] collaborating with researchers in Cardiff University and Imperial College London.
It is from this work that, at this stage in my career, I want to investigate the role of astrocytes in concussion and blood brain barrier (BBB) function, an area of societal and scientific importance. My current scientific activities are based on two strands; concussion and astrocytoma. The link between the two is the role of astrocytes in the alteration of the BBB and what protein markers are secreted into the bloodstream post-injury or disease. With this in mind, my aim is to build a platform to study these conditions using cells isolated from porcine tissue in either healthy or injured' conditions. I want to integrate expertise in mechanics from my PhD research to develop an injury model for concussion and examine the effects this has on the mechanical, biological and structural characterisation of the tissue. From my postdoctoral research experience, I want to examine the effects that this injury has on the role astrocytes play in the maintenance and subsequent disruption of the BBB function. More importantly, I want to identify and measure the proteins that cross the BBB when the brain is injured in order to elucidate these key protein markers for post-concussion identification. By examining these cell-cell interactions I can better understand the effect that introducing injured/diseased cells into this model can have on the BBB integrity and the proteins which traverse into the blood stream. With a grant like the Science Foundation Ireland Career Development Award I will be able to build a platform of research to collaborate with sport organisations to aid our understanding of concussion.
Research InterestsGlobally an estimated 40 million people are affected annually by Traumatic Brian Injury (TBI). The cumulative cost of TBIs in the US alone is $76.5 billion, 80% of which are defined as concussion. Concussion is a mild form of traumatic injury to the brain where repeated and undetected concussions can lead to permanently altered brain function. Consequently, the burden of mortality and morbidity that concussion imposes on society makes this condition a critical public health problem. Currently there are no official statistics for the number of people living in Ireland with a brain injury but it has been estimated that between 8,000-10,000 people sustain concussions annually.
Concussion awareness is increasing almost daily in most mainstream sports. However, there is currently no scientific test for concussion only a subjective head injury assessment. The goal of our research is to study the mechanism of this injury at a cellular level to take steps towards a device to diagnose it. In normal conditions, brain-derived proteins are prevented from entering the bloodstream by an almost completely impermeable cellular wall the blood-brain barrier. However, post-concussion, this barrier malfunctions and allows these proteins to enter the bloodstream. These proteins could potentially be used to diagnose concussion - recent research has pointed to a number of key proteins that change in concentration in the blood of patients with concussion. However, they have found it difficult to outline the markers, as patients may have suffered from other injuries, such as broken bones.
Thus far, researchers have failed to solve for how these proteins enter the bloodstream and thus, cannot attribute their presence directly to concussion. The aim of this proposed research is to study the mechanisms of how these proteins cross into the bloodstream. Ultimately we hope to aid in the identification of biomarkers to help a blood based diagnostic method to allow for accurate, immediate and irrefutable diagnosis of a concussive injury.
- 2014 - ELEVATE Marie-Curie Fellowship
- 2012 - New Foundations Grant
- 2009 - Innovative Student Engineer Award
- 2009 - Irish Research Council EMBARK PhD Scholarship
- 2013 University of Limerick - PhD
- Science and Engineering Ethics Committee ,
- School of Engineering Teaching and Learning Team,
- School of Engineering Athena Swan Committee,