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Prestigious EU Fellowships for Outstanding Young Microbiome Researchers

Four talented researchers at APC Microbiome Ireland (APC) SFI Research Centre in University College Cork have been awarded the prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action (MCSA) postdoctoral fellowships this year.

Nearly 10,000 proposals were received by the EU for these competitive fellowships for scientific excellence to enable researchers to solve some of the big challenges of our time. APC Microbiome Ireland has been awarded 11 Marie Curie Fellowships since 2014 securing approximately €2 million to explore “ground up” ideas by emerging scientific leaders.

These four new fellowships are among seven awarded to UCC and will allow the outstanding researchers to continue their research on various aspects of microbiome science.

Dr Eileen Ryan will develop her research on oxylipins, key chemical signals between bacteria and humans which are derived from fatty acids. Her research will contribute towards a molecular understanding of how microbe–host interactions influence human health. Eileen obtained her PhD in nutritional sciences in University College Cork and returned to Cork two years ago from Australia, having spent more than ten years in research positions in both Monash University and the University of Melbourne.  Eileen is currently an APEX Fellow with Dr Susan Joyce at APC Microbiome Ireland where her research focuses on Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).  She uses metabolomics and lipidomics to study the causes and progression of IBD in patients of different BMIs.  Her fellowship will allow her to further develop her leadership in oxylipins.  Besides her research, she loves dancing (her all-time passion) and spending time with her family and 2 year-old daughter.  Eileen also participates in triathlons and is an active committee member of Blackwater Triathlon Club (Fermoy).

Dr Ciaran Lee will explore the gut bacterium Bifidobacterium breve and how it interacts with human immune cells using a synthetic biology approach. Ciaran, who grew up in County Offaly, said “The great buzz of excitement about the Human Genome Project inspired me to take a degree in genetics at UCC.  During this time I heard about a breakthrough technology for editing our DNA and this led me to do a PhD in Physiology at UCC researching how to apply this new technology to correct DNA mutations that cause cystic fibrosis” said Ciaran.  In 2013 Ciaran moved to the USA as a postdoctoral researcher developing gene editing for treating sickle cell anemia at the Georgia Institute of Technology.  He then became the Director of the Gene Editing Core at Rice University in Texas where he was involved in several projects applying gene editing engineering for gene therapy and for cancer immunotherapy.  Ciaran developed a keen interest in the immune system and how we might engineer different aspects of our immune system to ameliorate inflammatory diseases. This led him to join the gut inflammation group led by Dr. Ken Nally in APC in 2019 where he is investigating immune signaling in inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer.  When he’s away from the lab Ciaran likes to spend time gardening, relaxing with his family and friends, playing music and brewing beer.

Dr Maria Rodriguez Aburto will explore how gut bacteria are involved in development of communication between blood vessels and brain cells, especially in early life when disruptions of the microbiome such as stress, antibiotics or delivery by c-section may hinder development of a healthy brain.  Maria grew up in Madrid where she studied biology and pursued a PhD on the neurobiology of hearing and the development of the inner ear. She subsequently completed postdoctoral research in Frankfurt, Germany, where her research focused on communication between the nervous and vascular system during brain development in mice. Her MSCA fellowship will allow her to continue her research with APC’s Professor John Cryan, a leading global expert on brain-gut-microbiome research and who recently co-authored the book ‘The Psychobiotic Revolution’.  Maria is married with two young children. She loves to read and enjoys music, running and food/nutrition.

Dr Maria Esteban-Torres will research how microbes are transferred from mothers to infants which is key for the babies’ development and health.   Maria was born in Madrid and has always loved science, medicine and biology.  She was inspired to study biology by a secondary school teacher.  At the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, she enjoyed microbiology and working in the lab where stimulating interactions with researchers encouraged her to do a PhD.  She was awarded a fellowship to carry out her PhD in food microbiology at Instituto de Ciencia y Tecnología de Alimentos y Nutrición (ICTAN-CSIC) in Madrid.  Maria then came to Cork, for a postdoctoral experience in the pioneering group of Prof. Douwe van Sinderen at APC. She was awarded an Irish Research Council postdoctoral grant to decipher how bifidobacteria interact with their human host to exert their probiotic effect. “My postdoctoral research has been an amazing learning experience and wonderful in every aspect, both professionally and personally. I met my partner, another scientist, and we are now the proud parents of a beautiful boy” said Maria, who will take up her fellowship at the IATA-CSIC in Valencia and continue to collaborate with the APC.

The deadline for the next round of MSCA Individual fellowship applications is 9th September 2020.  Interested applicants should contact Saba Loftus

Photos Tomas Tyner, University College Cork