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NUIG looks at heart gene in research into sudden death

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Scientists in Galway are seeking families who are known to be at risk of sudden death due to a cardiac condition in order to continue ground breaking stem cell research into developing therapies to repair the genetic defect.

Biomedical researchers need skin biopsy samples from family members with Long QT syndrome – an inherited rhythm disease – so they can engineer those same skin cells into heart cells and create an exact replica of that patients’ heart tissue in a laboratory dish.

The research aims to investigate the causes of unexpected sudden death from inherited cardiac conditions in young people and to help test therapies that may reduce the risk of sudden death in survivors and relatives.

The team from the Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI) and CÚRAM at NUI Galway, in collaboration with clinicians from Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin, are the first in Ireland to develop synchronised beating heart cells from human stem cells made from skin biopsy.

It was the discovery of the genetic basis of inherited cardiac conditions such as Long QT Syndrome which has given the scientists an insight into how the defect might be repaired.

To continue the next phase of the NUIG study, both affected and unaffected family members are required to better understand what places one family member at risk and not another.

Skin biopsy samples will be taken using “punch biopsies” at NUIG with local anaesthetic and subsequently grown in a dish.

By engineering skin cells into heart cells through what is known as reprogramming, an exact replica of the patients’ heart tissue can be created in the lab and new therapies to prevent arrhythmias can be tested without putting that patient at risk.

The genetic defect in the heart cell can also be repaired through “genome editing” and this repaired heart cell can be compared to the diseased heart cell in the lab.

The stem cell study was initiated by Professor Timothy O’Brien, director of REMEDI and co-principal investigator at CÚRAM in NUIG and Dr Terence Prendiville, principal investigator at the National Children’s Research Centre and the Department of Paediatric Cardiology at Crumlin.

The research was carried out by Professor Sanbing Shen, professor of fundamental stem cell biology, and post-doctoral researcher Dr Min Liu.

“I meet families every week in the hospital from all over Ireland who have been affected by the sudden unexpected death of a loved one. Their first question to me is: “Could this affect my child?” Their next question is: “How do I keep them safe?” remarked Dr Prendiville.

“Research such as this allows us to continue to push the envelope on developing medical therapies that safeguard against risk of sudden death.”

Interested candidates should email: Terence.prendiville@olchc.ie

Connacht Tribune

Covid boosts college coffers

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NUI Galway

NUI Galway reported an operating surplus of almost €19 million during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic when its campus was closed for months.

The healthy finances reported by NUIG has prompted its student body to call for it to waive repeat exams’ fees and student levies, and to invest in mental health services.

Consolidated financial statements for NUIG for the year ended September 30 2020 show the university reported an operating surplus of €18.9 million. This was up by €16 million on the surplus generated in 2019.

The financial statement said that while Covid-19 was ‘extremely challenging’, the ‘extraordinary dedication and work ethic of its staff have mitigated against the financial impact’ of the year.

The report said a surplus of €18.9 million was a ‘commendable performance’ given that 95%  of staff and students withdrew from campus in March 2020 to study and work remotely in line with Government regulations.

It noted that core income fell by a net €4 million compared with the previous year.

“Drops in research income of €9m and a Covid-related decline in commercial and student accommodation income of some €5m were offset by increased fee income of €4m, a €3m increase in the fair value of investments, and other increases of €3m relating to Government grants and other income,” the report said.

It said that the increase in Government grants includes Covid Support grant funding from the Higher Education Authority to cover additional specific Covid-19 related costs of €2.2m.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Workers leave hospitality sector to seek job security

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Pearse Doherty...morale has never been lower.

The severe restrictions for hospitality and entertainment are widely expected to be lifted next month – but already workers in the sector are reportedly leaving in their droves to source more stable employment.

And that could spell disaster for Galway’s vibrant arts industry which is a crucial cog in the wheel of local tourism.

When Covid regulations are eased for those staging events – thought to be announced this week – one of their biggest challenges is to secure staff for operations, according to prominent Galway event organiser Pearse Doherty.

Morale has never been lower in the industry, with even loyal customers getting fed up having to book and reschedule constantly when the goalposts shift so many times for shows.

“I really think it’s going to be very difficult for any venue going back or festival being staged. I don’t think things are ever going to go back to normal. Any event over 5,000 people will likely have to have fewer tents, a bigger space – all these things have to be taken into consideration for people who invest in the business,” he reflects.

“Having 50 per cent capacity and closing time at 8pm does nothing to make things financially viable. A lot of business models are built on having a bar and selling to 100 per cent capacity so I’m just not sure how many will survive the pandemic, even with all the very welcome Government supports for the industry.”

He knows of many in the industry who are changing careers or moving abroad in search of work in a location where restrictions nowhere as strict.

The head of production for the doomed Galway Capital of Culture 2020, head of production for Aiken Promotions which is behind the biggest gigs in the country and the site manager for the Electric Picnic, Pearse has himself pivoted in his career, taking up the role of producer with Fíbín Theatre at An Taibhdhearc.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway author dedicates children’s book to brave young nephew battling DMD

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Dedication....Fionn Brogan – new book aims to help in his fight.

A flying mouse with a skill for hurling is the subject of a book a Galway man has dedicated to his cousin’s son – six-year-old Fionn Brogan who, like Lumo the mouse, must overcome a myriad of challenges in his everyday life.

Ballinderreen man Tom Costelloe tells the Connacht Tribune he wrote the book to raise funds for his cousin Michael’s son, inspired by the strength and resilience Fionn has shown since his diagnosis of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) when he was just three years old.  A disease which attacks the muscles, DMD will leave Fionn unable to play football or do many of the things he loves to do as time goes on.

As a result, his family wants to raise enough funds to make the next few years the best possible for Fionn – and aim to adapt their house so he can freely use a power wheelchair among other alterations that will be required.

For Tom, who works as a speech and language therapist, the Covid lockdowns presented an opportunity to put pen to paper and create this story of Lumo, a mouse with wings.

“With a positive message of self-acceptance, the story is brought to life with wonderful colourful illustrations by Thomas Quinn from Kinvara.

“Like Lumo the flying mouse, Fionn and his family have no shortage of strength, resilience and sprit – and thanks to our printing costs being generously sponsored, every euro raised from the sales goes directly to the Fionn Brogan trust,” he says.

Tom, who lives in Galway City, says the family had a series of fundraisers over the past year and he hopes this will add to the momentum of achieving what’s necessary to support Fionn as he continues to defy all odds.

And through his work, he’s had a good research group to test-run Lumo – getting very positive feedback.

“I work with kids so they became my research team, and they were very useful in making sure the book was of interest,” he laughs.

‘Could a Flying Mouse Play Hurling?’ is available in in Clarke’s Pharmacy Kilcolgan, Burke’s Eurospar Kinvara, Circle-K Kinvara, Poppyseed Café Clarinbridge and First Chapter in Gort.  For more information on the Fionn Brogan Trust, visit fionnbrogantrust.ie where donations can also be made.

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