Current Post Graduate Students

Dr Michael Carter

MD Title: PiRAMiD: Predicting early onset Autism through Maternal Immune Activation and Proteomic Discovery

Michael is investigating the role maternal immune activation (MIA) during pregnancy plays in causing Autism Spectrum Disorder in offspring. He is characterising a cohort of ASD affected children and their parents alongside matched controls and their parents. All participants were previously enrolled in BASELINE. He is comparing their clinical features as well as elements of their inflammatory profile. Through cytokine analysis we hope to identify specific inflammatory signatures during pregnancy while may correlate with ASD in offspring.

Sophie Casey

PhD Title: Temporal Identification of the Molecular Alterations in Disorders of Neurodevelopment.

As a graduate neuroscientist and current PhD candidate in paediatrics, Sophie’s current research on hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is at the crossroads of both areas.

Her PhD project focuses on the identification of circulatory biomarkers in multiple established animal models of HIE and the determination of the functional downstream targets and effects of these markers in cell models. Sophie is also investigating the inflammatory profiles in maternal serum samples with the aim of determining whether maternal immune dysfunction pays a causal role in the development of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Sophie’s research ultimately aims to provide novel insights into the roles of early molecular (microRNA and cytokine) alterations in the circulation on neurodevelopment and the effects of microRNA manipulation in the relevant cell models.

Dr Yvonne D'Art

MSc Title: Single dose food  challenges in the diagnosis and management of cow's milk allergy in infants

Yvonne is currently undertaking research for her MD.  Her study has recruited 60 cow's milk allergic infants between Cork University Hospital and OLCH Crumlin. 40 of them were given a single dose milk challenge with 0.015mls of milk (this is the dose at which only 5% are expected to react-the ED 05) and 20 did not receive the milk challenge. Both groups are started on the same programme of home introduction of milk using the milk ladder. They will be followed up for one year post recruitment.The mothers are completing Food Allergy Quality of Life (FAQL) and State and Trait anxiety(STAI) questionnaires at intervals during the year.

The primary outcome measure will be level of milk tolerance achieved by 6 months post randomisation/challenge. Secondary outcomes will be changes in FAQL measures from randomisation to 1,3,6 and 12 months post randomisation and changes in serum levels of milk and milk-component specific IgE and IgG4 from 0-6 months in each group.

Dr Aisling Garvey

PhD Title: Multimodal Assessment of Newborns at Risk of Neonatal Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy.

Aisling's area of interest is Neonatal Encephalopathy. Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy (HIE) is the leading cause of acquired brain injury in newborns. This study focuses on the early neurophysiological changes that occur following birth in infants with HIE and whether the evolution of these changes can predict eligibility for therapy and long term outcome.  By incorporating clinical findings, blood biomarkers and very early physiological biomarkers of injury, this study aims to identify more rapidly and accurately infants at highest risk.

Dr David Healy

MD Title:  PIMENTO – Preterm Infants: Microbiome Establishment, Neuro-crossTalk and Origins.

Dave is a medical graduate of University College Cork and is currently training as a Paediatric Specialist Registrar with a view to specialising in Neonatology.

The human microbiome is a rapidly expanding area of research which looks at the relationship between our health and the community of microbes that passively reside in and on us. Alteration in how this community is formed and structured may have long term impacts on an individual’s health.

Dave’s PhD looks to delve into the impact of prematurity and its associated management on the establishment of the intestinal microbiome and how this might relate to health outcomes. Working in conjunction with APC Microbiome Ireland and Teagasc, he hopes to clarify causes and impacts of dysbiosis in this vulnerable preterm population. Furthermore, novel analysis of gut-brain signalling in very preterm infants will attempt to determine whether intestinal dysbiosis may play a role in neurodevelopment of preterm babies.

Dr Dhanis Lad

MD Title: Short-term Topical Application to Prevent Atopic Dermatitis

Eczema is the most common skin disease of childhood, affecting 20% of children in Ireland. Children with eczema have relatively “leaky skin”, as eczema affects the barrier function of the outer layer of skin called the epidermis. This “leakiness” allows high levels of water loss out through the skin and can allow infection and allergens to move in through the skin, possibly causing allergies to substances that cannot enter the body as easily through normal skin. The “leakiness” reflects low levels of some natural moisturising factors (NMFs) in the skin, which can be linked to the filaggrin (FLG) gene, the gene most strongly linked to eczema. Skin barrier structure (NMF content) can be measured painlessly using a machine called a Raman spectroscope. Skin barrier function can be also be measured painlessly using a machine that measures transepidermal water loss (TEWL) – that is the water that is lost through the outer layer of skin.

The STOP AD intervention trial will investigate the effect of early skin barrier protection on the prevention of eczema and food allergy in high risk children. In STOP AD, infants at high risk of having eczema will be identified using family history and neonatal NMF and TEWL values. These infants will be randomised to either skin barrier protection with a commercially available moisturiser for the first 2 months or to routine care. The study’s primary outcome will be the incidence of eczema at 6 and 12 months and the incidence of food allergy at 1 year. Filaggrin gene status will also be determined.

Sonia Lenehan

PhD Title: The effect of environmental enrichment on neurodevelopment in term babies

Sonia Lenehan graduated from UCC in 2016 with a B. Sc (Hons) in Neuroscience. Sonia is currently a PhD research student with the INFANT centre since 2017. The title of her PhD is “The effect of environmental enrichment on neurodevelopment in term babies.”  Her PhD will look at environmental enrichment, in the form of lifestyle and sensory experience, and its effect on the brain. Sonia will use eye-tracking as a way to asses social cognition in different groups of infants.

Christopher Lundy

PhD Title: Biomedical Signal Processing for Early Detection of Brain Injury in Preterm Infants

Chris' PhD involves using novel signal processing and machine learning methods to extract and combine pertinent information from near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) and electroencephalography (EEG) data collected by INFANT from preterm infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).    

In developing automated biomedical signal analysis methods, the ultimate aim of this project is to aid in the early detection of brain injury in preterm infants.

Dr Andreea Mona Pavel

PhD Title: Study of electroencephalogram, heart rate variability and clinical parameters as early biomarkers of encephalopathy in newborn infants

Hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy (HIE) is the most common cause of neonatal encephalopathy, associated with a high risk of death and lifelong disability. Therapeutic hypothermia is currently the only treatment recommended for moderate and severe HIE cases. There is a 6-hour widow to assess an infant at risk of HIE and decide if therapeutic hypothermia might be beneficial. Several studies show that the sooner you start the treatment, the more effective it is. Unfortunately, there is no treatment recommended for mild HIE, although we now know that 20-40% of infants with mild HIE have a poor neurodevelopmental outcome. The initial neurological assessment is sometimes unreliable to differentiate between HIE grades and sometimes is very difficult to accurately select the infants that might benefit from cooling and that might have a poor outcome, especially in the mild spectrum. We need new strategies to obtain a quick and accurate diagnosis of HIE severity by adding new early biomarkers for HIE grade and outcome prediction.

The main aim of Andreea's PhD is to assess the early physiological biomarkers in HIE: to add to the clinical features, that we are currently using in practice, the most predictive electroencephalographic (EEG) and heart rate variability (HRV) features. She will also characterise the standard EEG and HRV features seen in all HIE grades, and identify those features that are most predictive of poor neurodevelopmental outcome.

Dr Cathal O'Connor

PhD Title: SPINDLE - Assessing SleeP IN infants with atopic Dermatitis by Longitudinal Evaluation

Cathal is a medical graduate of University College Cork (2013) and completed basic specialist training in both paediatric (2016) and adult (2018) medicine with the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI). He is a Dermatology Specialist Registrar with RCPI and Fellow of the Irish Clinical and Academic Training (ICAT) programme. 

 Cathal's PhD will assess the sleep disruption seen in atopic dermatitis ('eczema') which affects 20% of Irish children. SPINDLE will recruit a cohort of infants with eczema and compare their sleep macrostructure and microstructure to a matched control group. This will be achieved by novel and thorough analysis of sleep quality and quantity and skin barrier and cytokine assessment.

Mary- Anne Ryan

PhD Title: Sleep architecture development of the mid to late preterm infant and correlation with neurodevelopmental outcome- The SLEEPi study

Mary-Ann is a registered general nurse with specialist registration in paediatrics and midwifery.  

Mid to late preterm infants (MLP)( 32-36+6 weeks gestation ) are born at a critical period of brain development. Sleep is essential for neurosensory cortical development, physical growth and brain formation in the preterm infant. Deprivation of sleep, (active or quiet sleep) has been associated with impaired development and loss of brain plasticity. In the NICU emphasis is placed on recording of cardiorespiratory vitals with less placed on monitoring the trajectory of neurodevelopment throughout stay. As the main behavioural state of the premature newborn, the objective information of sleep wake cycling as recorded on EEG/ aEEG monitoring, provides a valuable contribution to the standard clinical neurologic evaluations and clinical practice.

 This is a single centre observational study carried out in southern Ireland. Participants (n=101) are healthy /clinically stable MLP infants, admitted to the neonatal unit at birth. An overnight video EEG / aEEG carried out before 36+6 weeks gestation or prior to discharge. A modified neonatal version ( reduced montage) of the international 10/20 system was used when recording EEG , with ECG and respiratory activity also monitored. The 12 hour time frame analysed and annotated was similar for all recordings (+/- 2 hrs) commencing with the onset of active sleep. Standard of care was not altered whilst recordings were in progress.

All participants were invited to return to for developmental assessment and full head EEG at 4 mths corrected age and a developmental assessment at 18 months corrected age. Findings were correlated with a group of healthy term infants at the same ages.

Dr Aisa Shayo

MD Title: Assessing the impact of Kangaroo Mother Care in neonatal care units of hospitals in Kilimanjaro, Northern Tanzania

In Tanzania Prematurity is still the leading cause of neonatal death. Caring well the premature baby will reduce neonatal death as well as under 5 years mortality hence will archive national target.  The anticipated achievement might improve using a focused, setting appropriate intervention care bundle which is acceptable and sustainable to health care providers and mothers.

Aisa she is thinking of the improved implementation may impact on a reduction of neonatal mortality and major morbidity and can be continued in conjunction with respiratory support using bCPAP. These will be associated with a reduction on neonatal mortality and major morbidity and can be continued in conjunction with respiratory support using bubble CPAP.  The implementation of KMC in neonatal wards in Northern Tanzania can be improved using a focused, setting appropriate intervention care bundle which is acceptable to health care providers and mothers.

Aisa is trying to see what is the current uptake of KMC at the neonatal units of 4 hospital in Kilimanjaro region and if there is an impact on KMC after introduction bundle of care in those four hospital.

Dr Carol Stephens

MD Title: SYNAPSE- EpilepSY After NeoNAtal ElectrograPhic Seizures

Carol is a paediatric SpR with the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI)  and currently a Clinical Research Fellow with INFANT. Her area of interest is post neonatal epilepsy. SYNAPSE aims to determine the incidence of post-neonatal epilepsy in term infants who went electrographic  monitoring in the neonatal period due to high risk of seizures. It will further evaluate if neonatal seizure(NS) aetiology and seizure burden are related to post neonatal epilepsy and if NS characteristics are related to post neonatal seizure type.  SYNPASE will also evaluate what risk factors give rise to future epilepsy in those infants with no electrographic seizures.

 This will be a retrospective, single centre, observational study and infants will be recruited from previous studies since 2003 with INFANT.  In our centre, the neonatal unit, paediatric department and neurophysiology departments are tri-located offering us the unique opportunity to determine the true incidence of post neonatal epilepsy in Irish children.


Soraia Ventura 

PhD Title: Electroencephalographic Study of the Effect of Massage on Infant Sleep

Soraia's background is in Neurophysiology and her main interests are within the area of Electroencephalography.  After gaining relevant experience in the clinical field, Soraia is currently working on the Electroencephalographic Study of the Effect of Massage on Infant Sleep and is supervised by Prof Geraldine Boylan and Dr Sean Mathieson.

Parent-led baby massage is known to provide environmental enrichment through tactile stimulation and bonding between babies and their parents. We aim to test if routine parent-led massage during the first four months of life may be associated with brain development. Our study participants were split into two groups soon after birth: routine massage (intervention) and non-massage (controls). Using EEG at four months of age, I am studying sleep spindles which are brain maturational markers measured during specific stages of sleep. We will compare these between intervention and control groups.

This study will also be the largest to describe sleep spindles in detail during this critical stage of development.


Department of Paediatrics & Child Health

Péidiatraic agus Sláinte Leanaí

Floor 2, Paediatric Unit, Cork University Hospital, Wilton, Cork, T12 DC4A