RCSI scientist wins L’Oréal award for immunology expertise

8 May 2017

Image: Jag_cz/Shutterstock

Dr Annie Curtis, a scientist at RCSI, is one of five L’Oréal For Women In Science winners.

Securing £15,000 to help further research into their chosen field, five scientists have received high-profile fellowships in the UK and Ireland.

Now into its tenth run, the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowship initiative named Dr Annie Curtis (of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) as one of this year’s winners, alongside UK-based Drs Radha Boya, Manju Kurian, Bethan Psaila and Priya Subramanian.

Tick tock

Curtis is an immunologist who focuses on our internal body clock, a process regulating our sleep patterns as well as our daily energy use.

With some research linking this clock to a similar activity within cells, Curtis’s work is investigating how this could be harnessed to control inflammation – a key target in a wide range of diseases.

A further study could help explain why we are more prone to inflammation at certain times of the day, and why disruptions to our body clock cause increased risk of disease.

As documented by Science Foundation Ireland, Curtis’s work has also changed our understanding of chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and neurodegeneration.

In 2015, Irish cancer biology researcher Dr Tríona Ní Chonghaile was named as one of the five fellowship winners for her work developing a novel HDAC6 inhibitor that can kill chemo-resistant breast cancers.

Prof Dame Carol Robinson, head of the judging panel at the event, said the competition is now so well known that scientists are “fiercely competitive” when it comes to securing the fellowships.

“Each of our finalists is working on innovative and groundbreaking research, so selecting the winners was a tough task for the judges, but we are delighted they can now benefit from this support at a crucial stage in their careers, and we look forward to seeing the fruits of their research in the future,” she said.

Women in STEM

Boya, based at the University of Manchester, is a nanoscientist aiming to produce atomically thin channels through layers of two-dimensional materials such as graphene.

Kurian is a geneticist at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health who is researching the genetic causes of cerebral palsy.

University of Oxford-based Psaila is a haematologist examining the role of blood cells in the bone marrow – known as megakaryocytes – in a fatal disease called myelofibrosis.

Subramanian, a mathematician at the University of Leeds, is researching mathematical recipes for never-repeating quasicrystals.

“Women still face significant barriers to STEM careers, from a shortage of female role models for young children to a lack of support once on their chosen career path,” said Dr Steve Shiel, scientific director at L’Oréal UK and Ireland.

“Science needs women and, as a company founded on science, we are committed to ensuring more women are able to enjoy long and successful careers in science.”

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic