NUI Galway awarded €3.9m from EU to develop multiple sclerosis treatments

2 Jul 2019

Dr Una Fitzgerald. Image: NUI Galway

In Ireland, there are approximately 8,000 individuals living with multiple sclerosis.

Yesterday (1 July) Dr Una Fitzgerald, principal investigator of the Multiple Sclerosis Research Lab and director of the Galway Neuroscience Centre at NUI Galway, announced that a project she’s leading has secured €3.9m in EU funding.

The funding is part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.

Fitzgerald is working in collaboration with Cúram, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for medical devices, and will use the funding to lead a consortium of researchers across Europe in order to develop novel devices and treatments for multiple sclerosis (MS), a devastating neurological disease.

In Ireland, approximately 8,000 individuals have been diagnosed with MS, which is the most common neurological disease to affect young adults in Ireland.

The disease has two phases: an early ‘relapsing remitting’ phase, during which patients undergo impairment such as double vision or limb weakness, followed by symptom dissipation for a period; and ‘progressive MS’, which is degenerative and patients report much-reduced mobility, increased fatigue and cognitive challenges. These symptoms often impair quality of life significantly, and in some cases lead to an inability to continue in full-time employment, or work at all.

At present, there is only one disease-modifying therapy, Ocrelizumab, which is approved for treating the progressive and degenerative phase, but it is only suitable for a subset of patients. This is why Fitzgerald believes it is imperative to continue research into treatment methods and medical devices to help improve quality of life for MS patients.

EU Initial Training Network

On this project, Fitzgerald and NUI Galway will work closely with researchers from Denmark, Germany, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain and the Czech Republic. The research programme will combine expertise in biomaterials, neuroimmunology, stem cell biology, neurological disease, biomarkers, computer modelling of cerebrospinal fluid flow and medical device design.

The consortium, coordinated from NUI Galway, is part of the EU Initial Training Network (ITN), which will fund 15 PhD students across Europe. Five of these students will be based at NUI Galway, under the supervision of Fitzgerald and her co-awardees Prof Abhay Pandit, scientific director at Cúram; and Dr Nathan Quinlan from the College of Engineering and Informatics at NUI Galway.

Pandit will contribute expertise in the development of biomaterials for drug release and Quinlan will generate in silico models of biological systems that are integral in the development of medical devices. Fitzgerald will offer her experience in the field of neuroscience and pathology, which will create an exciting environment for students to train as scientists while developing a novel medical device.

Fitzgerald expressed her gratitude after receiving the funding: “This award is a huge boost to our multiple sclerosis research efforts here at NUI Galway. By combining our university’s expertise in MS, biomaterials, medical devices and fluid dynamics, and computer modelling with that of our partners across Europe, this project could yield PhD graduates who are MS experts and who have helped pioneer a new medical device that could eventually help those suffering from the later stages of MS.”

Pandit said that this is an excellent opportunity for Cúram. He said the project offers a chance to combine “unique areas of research excellence to produce real solutions for those who urgently need it”.

He added: “That, combined with the training of PhD graduates with expertise and experience, makes this funding a very exciting award and is testament to Dr Fitzgerald’s excellence in the field of MS research.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic