Galway researcher awarded €1m to investigate genetic disorders

President Michael D Higgins presents award for research work on genetics of fruit flies

Dr Elaine Dunleavy of NUI Galway: “I am trying to find out the genes that are important for fertility in males”

Dr Elaine Dunleavy of NUI Galway: “I am trying to find out the genes that are important for fertility in males”

 

A Galway-based researcher who studies the genetics of fruit flies as a way to understand human health has been awarded the President of Ireland Young Researcher Award.

President Michael D Higgins presented the award yesterday to Dr Elaine Dunleavy of NUI Galway. The internationally recognised distinction includes funding worth €1 million which she will use to recruit two scientists who will join her existing research team.

Dr Dunleavy said she was honoured to receive the award. “It was a surprise but I worked hard so I thought I was a good candidate for it. I was very happy,” she said.

The award would help her efforts to understand how stem cells divided, something that had implications in areas such as fertility, ageing, cancer and regenerative medicine, Dr Dunleavy said.

The award was unique in that it provided large-scale early career funding for a researcher considered to have shown exceptional promise of becoming an international research leader, said Prof Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland.

The foundation organises and funds the award. It supported a new generation of top-tier researchers and helped them to build internationally competitive research careers in Ireland, Prof Ferguson said.

Dr Dunleavy is learning about how cells divide in humans by understanding how they divide in the humble fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster.

The fruit fly was an ideal model given 60 per cent of its genes were also found in humans, she said.

“I work with Drosophila as a model to understand the cell division that gives rise to eggs and sperm,” Dr Dunleavy said. “I am trying to find out the genes that are important for fertility in males.” Knowing how the genes work in the fly will help explain how they work in humans.

Dr Dunleavy did her undergraduate studies at NUI Galway before receiving a Wellcome studentship to complete a PhD at the University of Edinburgh.

She completed two years of postgraduate work at the Curie Institute in Paris and another four years at the University of Berkeley which is a major centre for fruit fly research.

Dr Dunleavy comes from Tuam and her parents were at Áras an Uachtaráin when the award was made.