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UCC Researchers awarded health research funding

14 Jul 2020

Researchers at University College Cork [UCC] have been awarded almost €500,000 in Health Research Board funding under two postdoctoral training schemes.

One project aims to identify the women and infants at the highest risk of Iron deficiency during pregnancy and early childhood - one of the leading causes of diminished nuerolgical developmental potential worldwide.

The other seeks to comprehensively research the oral health of people with Cystic Fibrosis (PWCF) over the next three years to establish whether they have higher rates of oral diseases such as dental decay or gum disease.


The research projects are two of twelve to receive a share of a €3.7 million investment in new health research fellowships.

The awards were made under two postdoctoral training schemes, Applying Research into Policy and Practice Fellowships, and Clinician Scientist Fellowships.

Dr Elaine McCarthy’s work on an Iron Deficiency Assessment for protection of the newborn brain received €241,040 as part of the Applying research into Policy and Practice Fellowships, while Dr Martina Hayes’ research on Oral Health in Adults with Cystic Fibrosis, was awarded €236,183 under the Clinician Scientist Fellowships scheme.

Dr McCarthy, from the UCC School of Food and Nutritional Sciences, and an investigator at the Irish Centre for Maternal and Child Health Research (INFANT) said the HRB funding will help develop the means to detect those at early risk of iron deficiency.

“Iron deficiency during pregnancy and early childhood is one of the leading reasons why children fail to reach their full developmental potential worldwide. Despite this, we have no system of identifying the women and infants at the highest risk,” Dr McCarthy said.

“This funding from the Health Research Board will enable us to develop two screening tools, for use in pregnant women and their infants, to accurately identify those at risk of iron deficiency. This will help clinicians provide prompt and targeted treatment, thus protecting the developing brain from the life-long consequences of iron deficiency,” she concluded.

Dr Hayes is a Senior Lecturer in Restorative Dentistry at UCC, and expressed her delight at the award.

This will allow me to comprehensively examine the oral health of people with Cystic Fibrosis (PWCF) over the next three years. It’s not known whether or not people with CF have higher rates of oral diseases such as dental decay or gum disease but at present dentists are not part of the multidisciplinary Cystic Fibrosis healthcare team.

If people with cystic fibrosis do have a higher risk of dental disease, inclusion of oral healthcare professionals such as dentists and hygienists, would allow for preventive and early intervention measures.

Now that adults with cystic fibrosis have a greatly increased life-expectancy than before, it is important to look at chronic diseases such as oral diseases and the impact that they can have on quality of life for these individuals.

On a personal level, this fellowship gives me the opportunity to be mentored by Professor Barry Plant, a highly regarded international researcher in the field of Cystic Fibrosis. For an early career researcher and clinician, I look forward to seeing how such a busy clinician leading a unit in Cork University Hospital incorporates research into their clinical activity to improve outcomes for their patients.

Professor Geraldine Boylan, Director of the INFANT research Centre at UCC welcomed the funding announcement.

“Investment in health research has always been vitally important for Ireland and the extraordinary response of the scientific community to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a strong endorsement of this investment. These awards for excellent postdoctoral researchers by the Health Research Board will further strengthen our health research base in Ireland and is extremely welcome. We are thrilled that our rising research star Dr Elaine McCarthy has been awarded funding under this scheme for an important project in the INFANT maternal and child health nutrition research programme, led by Professor Mairead Kiely, School of Food and Nutritional Sciences, UCC,” she said.

Anita Maguire, Vice President for Research and Innovation, also welcomed the announcements.

“I am delighted to see our early career health researchers attract these prestigious awards to support their research – these awards from the HRB will provide an excellent platform enabling them to develop their research careers. The potential impact of these research investments by the HRB on patient care and quality of life is very significant,” she said.

University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF