UCD’s Conway Institute’s Dr Fiona McGillicuddy has won the first award to be given out under the SFI-HRB Wellcome Trust Biomedical Partnership.
The €750,000 award will be shared out over a five-year period, covering the length of Dr McGillicuddy’s research project, during which time she will examine the links between obesity, “good and bad” cholesterol, diet and coronary artery disease.
“The whole proposal is around the area of obesity, and adipose, particularly fat health,” she explains, “basically what I wanted to do was see if the health of your fat tissue dictates your risk of cardiovascular disease. There are people who are obese but they’re healthy, and there are obese people who are unhealthy and tend to develop Type II diabetes, insulin resistance, and are at a really high risk of heart disease – I think the core component to all this is the fat tissue.”
Dr McGillicuddy spent time in the US researching the role of “good” cholesterol, or High Density Lipo-protein particles (HDL’s), “their job is to move cholesterol from your body and eliminate it. It’s a very important function; if your HDL particles aren’t working properly, then you’re pre-disposed to have cholesterol deposited around your body, including in your arteries, where you have coronary arteries, and that would pre-dispose you to a heart attack. My hypothesis is that the function of these particles is reduced by obesity, and therefore clearance of cholesterol from the body is also reduced. That’s what’s increasing cardio-vascular risk.”
Investigation of the project will range from in-vitro work to a human translational component. Taking HDL particles from both lean healthy individuals and obese individuals, Dr McGillicuddy will see how functional they are by monitoring the movement of cholesterol.
The Wellcome Trust, in partnership with Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Health Research Board (HRB), fund biomedical and clinical research in the Republic of Ireland.
Commenting on the award, Chief Executive of the Health Research Board Enda Connolly stated that, “This is the first award under the SFI-HRB Wellcome Trust Biomedical Partnership and it will give Fiona a great opportunity to develop her research career. Her work aims to increase our understanding of potential links between obesity, good cholesterol and heart disease. Given the number of people who are affected by heart disease in Ireland, and the cost to the health system in related treatment, we believe her work has the potential to improve people’s health and reduce the cost of care in the long term. We also hope that Fiona’s success will encourage more Irish researchers to apply for funding through the many schemes in the Partnership.”