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The Irish Times – Thursday, April 24, 2008


A knowledgeable ally in the battle against bugs

clionaofarrellyOUR BODIES WAGE constant warfare against an invading host of bacteria, viruses and fungi. Most are defeated but a few slip through to cause illnesses.
An insight into this daily battle and the search for new ways to protect against infection provide the basis for an RDS/Irish Times talk next month by Prof Cliona O’Farrelly, professor of comparative immunology at Trinity College Dublin.
She is this year’s winner of the annual award given by the Irish Society of Immunology; with this award comes the opportunity to give a free public lecture on aspects of immunology.
Her talk, to be given at the Royal Dublin Society, Ballsbridge next month, is entitled Bugs or Us: Immunology and the Battle for Survival. It highlights research into the struggle between our immune systems and the microbial world and how evolution has designed molecular weapons for attack, counter-attack and avoidance.
Prof O’Farrelly is noted for delivering interesting and engaging talks to a lay audience. She will describe new efforts to defeat successful attackers such as Hepatitis and Campylobacter, the most common cause of food poisoning in humans.The approach involves conducting a close comparison of our immune systems with those of other species that are not affected by the diseases these microbes cause. The immune system genes of one species are matched against related genes from other species to understand how the genes influence susceptibility to important pathogens.
Farmed chickens frequently carry Campylobacter but are not affected by it themselves. Prof O’Farrelly will describe recent work by her research team that has revealed some of the reasons why the birds do not become ill.
She is also studying why some people succumb to the Hepatitis C virus while others don’t. The hope is that new treatments may emerge by studying in detail the processes that protect some but not all from the virus.
Prof O’Farrelly is a Trinity graduate and worked as a post-doctoral researcher and lecturer at Harvard University in Boston and Sussex University. She took up a research post at St Vincent’s University Hospital Dublin on her return to Ireland and she was director of research laboratories there from 1993 through 2007. She then took up her new post in Trinity’s School of Biochemistry and Immunology.
Prof O’Farrelly is a recipient of the Irish Research Scientists’ Association Gold Medal, the Graves Medal and the Conway Medal. She also served as the president of the Irish Society for Immunology from 2000-2007.
Dick Ahlstrom