Irish research institutes may not be able to compete with the resources at the disposal of behemoth facilities such as the US government-funded National Cancer Institute, but that has not stopped world-class research being conducted here. There, in fact, have been enough major breakthroughs in medical science in Ireland to ensure that it has garnered an international reputation for producing top-quality researchers.
If we consider, for example, the broad area of cancer research we can see the immense amount of quality work being conducted at colleges and institutes around the country. For instance, researchers at Trinity College Dublin are currently investigating why it is that breast cancer cells require more sugar than normal cells. At University College Cork, researchers are examining how changes in a gene can turn a normal cell into an aggressive cancer cell; they are also looking to identify cell proteins that encourage the spread of ovarian cancer cells to other parts of the body in order to help research and develop drugs to prevent the spread of these cancer cells. And these are just a selection in one – albeit vast – area of medical research.
Of course the related areas of study are broad too. Biomedical Science is a popular postgraduate option that can lead to careers in a variety of industries, such as pharmaceuticals, medical devices and biotechnology, as well as the field of medical laboratory research. An MSc in Biomedical Science can be taken at UCC, Cork IT (part time) and NUI Galway (one year full time). The huge success of the medical device industry in Ireland has created the highest per capita employment of medical-technology personnel in Europe.
In addition to the aforementioned taught programmes, there are also research opportunities available in Biomedical Science. For example, UCD’s School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science is actively engaged in three key areas of biomolecular research: namely, Disease Mechanisms (neuroscience, cancer and diabetes); Infection Biology; and Structural Biology. Research applications in this field are also welcomed at Cork IT, where current research streams include Clinical Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Virology.
Biomedical Science affords students the opportunity to specialise in a number of different areas: Haematology, Medical Microbiology, Cellular Pathology, Clinical Chemistry, Immunology, among others. However, There is a range of other intriguing postgraduate programmes that enable specialisation from the beginning.
For example, NUI Maynooth’s MSc in Immunology and Global Health (one year full time) has been running since 2008, and is unique within Ireland. Taking influences and techniques from social sciences such as sociology and anthropology, the course provides biological and health science graduates with a deeper understanding of the challenges of health and development while broadening their understanding of immunology. Among the modules on offer are Vaccines and Adjuvants, and Molecular Parasitology and Diseases of Poverty.
Another fascinating programme is the MSc in Toxicology, which is offered jointly by Athlone IT and NUI Galway (both one year full time). Toxicology is the study of poisons, and while drawing heavily on life and physical sciences, there is also a strong focus on its practical applications. Sample modules include Principles of Toxicology and Pharmacology, Reproductive Toxicology, Applied Issues in Pharmacology and Toxicology, and Toxicokinetics (or how a substance gets into the body and what happens to the body once it has).
While medical research in Ireland is onerous work, it is also rewarding. Competition for funding is intense, and a good degree of networking and investigating the opportunities offered by colleges, hospitals, and organisations such as the Health Research Board is advised. Given the current economic situation, it is no surprise that research funding is not as freely available (though the government have recently announced a €300-million investment in research here that will include areas of medical research). Thankfully however, organisations such as the Molecular Medicine Ireland are finding innovative and inexpensive ways to improve the research capabilities of PhD students.
Budding researchers at any of the MMI’s founding partners – NUI Galway, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Trinity College, UCC, and UCD – are eligible for a pilot scheme called the MMI Clinician Scientists Structured PhD Curriculum. The programme allows researchers to select taught modules for their structured PhD from any of the participating institutes, as long as they meet the module requirements of their own programme. The scheme represents an exciting opportunity to tailor a structured PhD to meet a student’s own area of research interest.
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