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Winners of the PIYRA Award welcomed

Posted on 01/11/13, at 2:12

On 14 January, 2013, President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, welcomed two recipients of the Science Foundation Ireland, President of Ireland Young Researcher Award (PIYRA), Prof. Mark Little and Dr. Patrick Walsh, Trinity College Dublin, to Áras an Uachtaráin.


Speaking today President Michael D Higgins said, “This award recognises the continued hard work and dedication of the winning scientists into fighting debilitating and potentially fatal diseases. The work being carried out by Prof. Little and Dr. Walsh are just two examples of the ground-breaking research taking place in Ireland.  I am delighted to receive them here today. It is the talent and pioneering results of researchers like Prof. Little and Dr Walsh that continue to position Ireland as a leader in scientific research.”

Now in its eighth year, PIYRA is Science Foundation Ireland’s most prestigious award to recruit young researchers currently based around the world to carry out their research in third level institutions in Ireland.  Awardees are selected on the basis of exceptional accomplishments in science and engineering that underpin Biotechnology, Information and Communications technology, and Energy, and on the basis of creative research plans that are built on work that has attracted international attention.

Commenting on the awards, Prof. Mark Ferguson, Director General, Science Foundation Ireland, said: “PIYRA recognises outstanding engineers and scientists who, early in their careers, have already demonstrated or shown exceptional potential for leadership in their fields of research. SFI’s involvement in this programme continues to ensure the recruitment of young, talented and influential scientific researchers to research institutions across the country, and serves to highlight the extraordinary scientific work that the younger generation of researchers are immersed in.”

Prof. Little is being recognised for his research into the rare but potentially fatal kidney disease; ANCA vasculitis. This condition occurs when the immune system attacks parts of the patients own body that contain the protein, PR3. The end result is the destruction of blood vessels, kidney failure and bleeding from the lungs; it is usually fatal if untreated. Using cutting edge stem cell technology, Prof. Little has been able to mimic this disease allowing researchers to work out which specific components of the immune system are malfunctioning. This research will set the scene for designing and testing potential cures.

Speaking about the award, Prof. Little said: “The award has given me the opportunity to establish a credible research programme, one which has numerous knock on effects, from being able to obtain research nurse support, to attracting the highest calibre scientists to work within my research group.”

Dr Walsh has established a research group investigating autoimmune diseases of children. Autoimmune diseases encompass a variety of chronic and, often, debilitating disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis (MS). The progression of many of these disorders can be attributed to an aberrant response by T lymphocytes (T cells) within the body. Dr Walsh’s research has the potential to uncover previously unknown targets for therapeutic intervention of autoimmune diseases. Dr Walsh examines the role of TIR8, a protein identified as having the potential to prevent aberrant T cell responses.

Dr Walsh said: ”Receiving the PIYRA award has been central to my ambition to return to Ireland and develop an independent research programme focused on autoimmune disease. It is a privilege to be awarded the PIYRA in the area of Immunology, an area where Ireland ranks third in the world.”