Creating the Future: Prof Orla Hardiman on tackling motor neurone disease

6 Jun 2023

Ann O’Dea and Prof Orla Hardiman. Image: © Connor McKenna/

In the first of our new series profiling Ireland’s research leaders, Ann O’Dea spoke to Ireland’s leading authority in neurology, Prof Orla Hardiman, about a life dedicated to improving the lives of those with motor neurone disease.

Creating the Future: Meet Ireland’s Research Leaders in association with Science Foundation Ireland.

As a clinician, researcher and research leader, Prof Orla Hardiman is one of those who have transformed how we treat motor neurone disease (MND). Her particular area is that of the causes, diagnosis and treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the most common form of MND.

MND is a rare condition that progressively damages parts of the nervous system leading to muscle weakness, often with visible wasting. It is estimated that around one person in 30,000 develops MND each year. This translates into around 150 new diagnoses every year in Ireland alone.

As well as being professor and head of neurology at Trinity College Dublin, Hardiman works two days a week as a clinician. She is also a researcher at the SFI research centres FutureNeuro and Adapt, she founded and leads the national ALS clinical and research programme, and she is the HSE national clinical lead for neurology.

Hardiman’s impact in the area has been widely recognised and she recently received the Impact Award from the Health Research Board (HRB), was named Researcher of the Year by Science Foundation Ireland and won the top prize at Trinity’s Innovation Awards at the university’s annual ceremony.

Unlike many of her peers worldwide, Hardiman says she never considered leaving her clinical work behind.

“At heart I’m a clinician, and everything that I do is driven by that. I would never give that up,” she says, adding that she always wanted to be seeing people with the conditions for which she’s seeking treatments and solutions.

Hardiman cites the remarkable progress made when it comes to multiple sclerosis (MS), which she describes as “very treatable now”, as giving great hope for the future of those with MND.

“The clinic is a place where people can come, where we can help make life a bit easier, where we can improve the experience I hope, where we can walk the journey with people and where we can give hope, because there is hope for people with MND as well.”

Hardiman takes us though her long and storied career in neurology and explains how she got here. She shares the challenges of being a woman, a mother and now a grandmother, while managing a remarkable career in neurology, and she shares her musical aspirations.

It is hard to imagine a better role model to kick off our series that delves into the journeys and award-winning work of some of Ireland leading researchers.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Ann O’Dea is the CEO and co-founder of Silicon Republic and the founder of Future Human