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12 Aug 2022

President Higgins honours two Maynooth University scientists with Future Research Leaders Award

Married couple specialise in biology and inflammatory disease

President Higgins honours two Maynooth University scientists with Future Research Leaders Award

Assistant Prof Joanne Masterson and Assistant Prof Eóin McNamee with President Higgins today. Pic Maxwell Photography.

President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins, has today honoured two Maynooth University scientists, Assistant Prof Joanne Masterson and Assistant Prof Eóin McNamee, at a special ceremony in Áras an Uachtaráin, Dublin.

Dr Masterson and Dr McNamee, who are married, started out as science undergraduates in Maynooth University over twenty years ago, specialising in the field of biology and inflammatory disease. Today, they were among ten recipients of the SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Award. 

The SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Programme recruits and retains outstanding and emerging early career research leaders with exceptional accomplishments in scientific and engineering domains. 

Dr Joanne Masterson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology and the Kathleen Lonsdale Institute for Human Health Research, where she leads the Allergy, Inflammation and Remodelling Research (AIRR) laboratory.  She received an award of €1,572,600 for her research on the rapidly emerging allergic disease, Eosinophilic Oesophagitis, which is a chronic clinicopathologic allergic gastrointestinal disorder, and an increasing clinical problem.

Although immense efforts have been invested in understanding the clinical course and natural history of this emerging disease, to date there is a paucity of therapeutic modalities and no cure. Her research is entitled, Transcriptional Mechanisms Controlling Epithelial Cell Fate Determination during Allergic Esophageal Inflammation in Eosinophilic Oesophagitis.

Dr Eóin McNamee is an Assistant Professor and the Principle Investigator of the Mucosal Immunology Research Lab in the Department of Biology and the Kathleen Lonsdale Institute. He received an award of €1,488,046 for his research on MicroRNA control of Mucosal Inflammation, which is linked to Crohn’s disease & Ulcerative Colitis.

The inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD; namely Crohn’s disease & Ulcerative Colitis) affects 2.5 million people in Europe (up to 40,000 in Ireland), with limited treatment options and no cure.

Dr Joanne Masterson said: “Receiving this prestigious SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Award has allowed me to move the research programme that I had established at the University of Colorado School of Medicine back to Ireland, and recruit an international and interdisciplinary team of researchers to work together on our state-of-the-art, globally competitive research. This will place Ireland at the forefront of global research into the development of Eosinophilic Oesophagitis and will support the scientific talent of tomorrow in this challenging area of rapidly emerging allergic diseases.

"It is even more exciting that I get to share this day with my husband Eoin McNamee who is also receiving his own Future Research Leader Award today. These awards allow us to continue our scientific journeys together, that began over 20 years ago as curious and determined undergraduate science students at Maynooth University.”

On receiving the award, Dr Eóin McNamee said: "I am delighted to receive the SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leaders award which will allow me to establish a cutting-edge research program at Maynooth University. This substantial funding will enable me to recruit an interdisciplinary team of scientists to explore the underlying causes of inflammatory bowel diseases and to test novel therapeutic approaches."

Maynooth University Vice-President for Research and Innovation, Prof Ray O’Neill, congratulated Dr Masterson and Dr McNamee on their awards: “Dr Masterson and Dr McNamee are two outstanding scientists, and I warmly congratulate them on these awards. Their successes speak volumes about the importance and strength of life sciences research at Maynooth.”

Dr Ruth Freeman, Director of Science for Society, Science Foundation Ireland said: “Science Foundation Ireland’s overarching aim is to contribute to the betterment of our society and economy through the transformative research we support. The SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Award recognises outstanding new research leadership and talent.  I am delighted to see the ten awardees choosing to come to Ireland to continue their work and congratulate them on their achievements. We are dedicated to supporting research leaders with ideas to drive innovation and assist Ireland and the world in meeting the many challenges we face, from climate change, supporting healthy ageing and understanding the universe.”

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