Young Neuroscientists Symposium September 2016


The Neuroscience Ireland Young Neuroscientists Symposium was held on September 1st 2016 in the Hamilton building of Trinity College Dublin. The symposium was highly attended, including undergraduate, postgraduate and postdoctoral scholars from all over Ireland and Europe. Delegates were treated to a welcoming address from Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor, T.D., three captivating keynote presentations, a number of high quality presentations from postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers, and a career panel open discussion. Poster presentations and exhibitor stands were attended during lunch and coffee breaks. Overall the symposium was a great success!

“I wanted to thank very much the whole YNS organising committee for a wonderful conference. The symposium was a well balanced mix of pharmaceutical industry oriented talks and strictly scientific topics, giving a rare opportunity to directly see the relationship between both of these sectors and how they complement each other.”

Pawel Matulewicz, TCD

The symposium was kindly supported by Neuroscience Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland. Gold sponsors: Alkermes, Failte Ireland, the Health Research Board in Ireland, Novartis, Pfizer, Rett Syndrome Ireland and Transpharmation Ireland. Silver sponsors: AnaLab, Bayer, BioSciences, Eppendorf, Lonza, Merck, Teva and ThermoFisher Scientific. Bronze sponsors: Exiqon and Fannin.

Following a welcoming address from the president of Neuroscience Ireland Prof. David Henshall, we were delighted to welcome the Minister for Jobs, Innovation and Enterprise, Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D, who gave an empowering opening address emphasising the Government’s commitment to the development of a smart economy and the role researchers will play in its continued development.

 Dr. Jack Prenderville, Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. (Minister for Jobs, Innovation and Enterprise) and Prof. David Henshall (president of Neuroscience Ireland)

Our keynote presentations were delivered by Prof. Alon Chen, the Director of the Institute of Pharmaceuticals at the Max Planck Institute (‘Genetic and optogenetic dissection of the central stress response’), Dr. Dara Cannon, the Director of the Centre of Neuroimaging and Cognitive Genomics at NUI Galway (‘The role of neuroimaging in biological psychiatry’), and Dr. Lee Dawson, the head of CNS research at Astex Pharmaceuticals (‘Neuroscience drug discovery – the search for a needle in a haystack?’).


 Prof. Alon Chen delivering his keynote presentation


“The Young Neuroscientist Ireland Symposium 2016 was my first conference here in Ireland and it was a great experience. The diverse mixture of both industry and academic leaders in their fields with students/post-docs allowed for an amazing learning and networking opportunity. I will definitely be returning to this conference in the future” – Sarah Jarrin, NUIG


In the afternoon we hosted an open career panel discussion, where 5 members of staff from both academia (Prof. Mani Ramaswami, Dr. Dara Cannon, Dr. Stella Vlachou) and industry (Dr. Lee Dawson, Dr. Niamh Murphy, Novartis) briefly introduced their distinctive career paths, before addressing questions from the audience.

 Career Panel members (from l-r): Dr. Lee Dawson, Prof. Mani Ramaswami, Dr. Niamh Murphy, Dr. Dara Cannon, Dr. Stella Vlachou


“…I have recently returned from a number of years working abroad so the wide range of topics covered in the poster and talk sessions was particularly useful for me to get a snapshot of the excellent neuroscience research taking place nationally. I thoroughly enjoyed the career panel discussion, the speakers were candid and honest and I was reassured that there are many career paths out there for us…” – Teresa Moloney, RCSI

“I thoroughly enjoyed attending the YNS symposium. For me, the highlight was the career panel discussions which I found extremely beneficial affording a snapshot of the paths undertaken to establish a successful career in both industry and academia…This symposium also provided a unique platform for young inter-disciplinary researchers to interact in an easy-going environment and I look forward to attending again next year.” – Katie Togher, UCC

Throughout the day we heard presentations from postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers. Dr. Shane Hegarty (UCC), the winner of the Neuroscience Ireland Early Career Award, also presented his research on the ‘Characterisation of the role of canonical BMP-Smad 1/5/8 signalling in the development of ventral midbrain dopaminergic neurons’. A number of other awards were also presented for best oral and poster presentations.


 Dr. Min Liu, winner of best postdoctoral oral presentation, with Prof. David Henshall

Dr. Shane Hegarty, winner of the Neuroscience Ireland Early Career Award, with Prof. David Henshall


The symposium also included a data blitz, where delegates were invited to introduce their research to the audience in two minutes. Many of the attendees also stayed on after the conference to join us in Xico on Baggot Street, and we would like to thank the management and staff of Xico for their hospitality.

“Thoroughly enjoyed YNS 2016…My favourite section of the day was the data blitz section: I think other conferences should adopt these into their schedules more often as they are a great way for presenters and attendees alike to absorb the most important elements of ongoing research…I will definitely return next year.” – Chloe Farrell, TCD


Prof. David Henshall with some of the award winners from the day (from l-r): Rana Raoof, Dr. Cristina Ruedell Reschke, Dr. Teresa Moloney, Luiz Fernando Almeida Silva)



The YNS 2016 organising committee (from l-r): Anand Gururajan, Laura Olsen, Sinead Ryan, Tudor Munteanu, Shane Hegarty, Charlotte Callaghan, Niamh Connolly, Gary Brennan, Jennifer Rouine, Jack Prenderville

Full list of award winners:

Dr. Min Liu, NUIG (Postdoctoral oral presentation)

Rana Raoof, RCSI (Postgraduate oral presentation)

Chai Jairaj, TCD (Data Blitz presentation)

Pawel Matulewicz, TCD (Postdoctoral poster winner)

Cristina Ruedell Reschke, RCSI (Postdoctoral poster winner, sponsored by Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience)

Jo-Hanna Ivers, TCD (Postdoctoral poster runner-up)

Carmela Belardo, Napoli/NUIG (Postgraduate poster winner)

Shauna Wallace, UCC; Meadhbh Brosnan, TCD; Niamh Moriarty, NUIG; Luiz Fernando Almeida Silva, RCSI (Runner-up postgraduate poster)

Allison McIntosh, TCD; Teresa Moloney, RCSI (Best question, sponsored by Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience)

RCSI Neuroscientists make breakthrough in understanding gene activity in epilepsy

Neuroscientists from RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) have made a breakthrough in understanding what controls gene activity in epilepsy, a disease associated with excessive electrical activity in the brain that gives rise to seizures. The findings may also help explain why epileptic states can be so persistent. The research will be published in the March edition of the leading neurology journal Brain. Today marks International Epilepsy Awareness Day, to raise awareness of this condition that affects approximately 37,000 people in Ireland.
Epilepsy is often associated with altered levels of genes in the brain and this is thought to make the brain more excitable. The researchers looked for a chemical change to DNA called methylation which acts as a long-lasting on / off switch for gene activity and is thought to be one way that brain cells store biochemical memories. More than 30,000 gene sites were studied using brain tissue from patients with epilepsy. The research found that a number of human genes are controlled in this way and many were not previously linked to epilepsy. In some cases, the more DNA methylation that occurred, the more gene activity was turned off. The research also found that certain types of genes are more likely than others to be under this type of control.
Brain Image
The epigenetic landscape of human temporal lobe epilepsy 
Dr Suzanne Miller-Delaney, lead author of the study said “This study is the first of its kind in human epilepsy. It specifically aligns deterioration of parts of the brain with structural changes in patient DNA and gene activity. The study can help us to understand what is controlling gene activity in epilepsy and why the epileptic state can be so persistent.”
Professor David Henshall, from the RCSI Department of Physiology & Medical Physics and Principal Investigator for the study adds “Epilepsy affects about 37,000 in Ireland and this study could potentially offer new targets for reversing epilepsy once established”.
The research was supported by a grant from Epilepsy Ireland, The Health Research Board (HRB) and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). Additional researchers involved in the study included Prof Ray Stallings group from the Department of Molecular and Cellular Therapeutics at RCSI and researchers in Seattle, USA.

SFI funding to support early career researchers

Minister for Research and Innovation, Mr Seán Sherlock, T.D. announced €23 million in new funding to help support 40 of Ireland’s most promising young research talent to become fully independent researchers. The funding is being awarded through Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG) and Career Development Award (CDA) Programmes.

Four RCSI researchers were among those to be awarded funding. Two senior post-doctoral researchers from RCSI were recipients of the Starting Investigator Grants: Dr Eva Jimenez Mateos and Dr Tobias Engel. Both work in the epilepsy research laboratory in the Physiology Department at the RCSI and are mentored by Professor David Henshall. Both projects focus on molecules called microRNAs which work to control of protein levels in cells.

Career Development Awards were announced for two RCSI Senior Lecturers: Dr Annette Byrne, Department of Physiology and Medical Physics, for a project on metastatic colorectal cancer; and Dr Gianpiero Cavalleri, Molecular and Cellular Therapeutics (MCT), for research into genetic biomarkers for epilepsy.

Professor Ray Stallings, RCSI Director of Research said: “RCSI welcomes the announcement to provide major funding to four RCSI research projects through the Science Foundation Ireland Programmes. This is a fantastic achievement and underlines the cutting-edge and competitive research work performed at RCSI. The funding will enable the SIRG awardees to develop new research interests and establish themselves as independent researchers, while CDA awardees will have the opportunity to further develop and strengthen their independent research programmes. These awards reflect the immense hard-work and outstanding research and translational achievements being carried out by the awardees.”

A further 12 projects were also deemed scientifically excellent by the International Review Panel and are on a reserve list to be funded by SFI, if budgets permit later in the year. RCSI researchers on the reserve list were Drs Steven Kerrigan, Markus Rehm and Stephen Madden.