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New SALI appointed APC PI Prof Ruth Massey’s research innovates with genome sequencing to establish antibiotic alternatives

Professor Ruth Massey has secured a highly competitive SALI Professorship in Microbiome and Health Sciences, bringing her globally-recognised Microbial Pathogenicity expertise to Ireland, funded by the Irish Higher Education Authority. Her revolutionary functional genomic approaches have generated data of such novelty, quality and relevance that they are now being used in multiple laboratories around the world.

University College Cork’s School of Microbiology and School of Medicine were privileged to recruit an academic with Professor Massey’s credentials through the Senior Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI) programme. Professor Massey has also joined as a Principal Investigator in APC Microbiome Ireland, a world-leading SFI Research Centre headquartered at UCC.

As we live through the unprecedented times of a global pandemic, understanding how pathogenic microorganisms cause disease has never been more important. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), often referred to as the Silent Pandemic claims approximately 50,000 lives each year across Europe and the US alone, and will be responsible for up to 10 million deaths per annum by 2050 if new approaches to prevention and treatment are not developed. In addition to this human cost, there are severe financial implications with an estimated reduction of 2.0-3.5% in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), costing the global economy in excess of €80 trillion per annum. With a dwindling pool of effective antibiotics, and many pharmaceutical companies shutting down their antibiotic development facilities, new and innovative approaches to infection management and treatment regimens are desperately needed. But without a greater understanding of how pathogens cause disease, we are effectively working in the dark.

To tackle this problem Professor Massey’s team have developed a new use of the genome sequence (complete set of genetic instructions) of pathogens/microorganisms to define their activity with respect to how they cause disease, and resist the effects of antibiotics. Armed with this information, ways to block these microbial activities can be developed, with a view to producing novel therapeutics and disease intervention strategies. Her vision is to combine her current experimental approach with that underway in the APC which will enable her team to characterise the impact the human microbiome makes to these disease processes.

Professor Ruth Massey has a B.A. in Natural Sciences and a Ph.D. in Molecular Microbiology from Trinity College Dublin. She gained experience as a postdoctoral researcher in the UK at both the Universities of Oxford and Bath, and in Oxford she developed her interest in Gram positive bacterial pathogens. Her first independent position was in the Zoology Department in Oxford, where Wellcome Trust funding allowed her to set up her first lab, and she subsequently moved to Bath in 2007. In 2017 she was appointed to the University of Bristol, and in 2019 was awarded a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award and promoted to Professor of Microbial Pathogenicity. In 2021 Professor Massey became the SALI Professor for Microbiome and Health Sciences at UCC.

On announcing the ten posts approved under the Senior Academic Leadership Initiative Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD said “Championing equality and diversity is one of the key goals of my department. The Senior Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI) is an important initiative aimed at advancing gender equality and the representation of women at the highest levels in our higher education institutions.”