Gut-brain connection expert Professor Carel le Roux named Irish Research Council Researcher of the Year
Posted: 21 November, 2023
Professor Aisling McMahon named Early Career Researcher of the Year, with Professor Anna Davies announced as Impact Award winner
Professor Carel le Roux of University College Dublin (UCD), who is an expert on how “the gut talks to the brain” to inform safer and more effective treatments of obesity, has won the prestigious Irish Research Council Researcher of the Year Award for 2023.
The Irish Research Council’s Researcher of the Year Awards celebrate the very best IRC-funded researchers who are making highly significant and valuable contributions to knowledge, society, culture and innovation.
The winners were announced at a ceremony yesterday evening (20.11.23), having been selected by an independent expert panel, chaired by Professor Emeritus Áine Hyland.
Winner of the overall Researcher of the Year Award, Carel le Roux, is Professor of Chemical Pathology at UCD.
In his work as a leading clinical scientist, Professor le Roux investigates how the brain controls hunger and satiety, while studying signals from the gut sent via hormones or neurons after a meal.
His studies have focused on the impact of diet, exercise, medication and surgery, including bariatric surgery, on enhancing gut-brain signalling for the management and treatment of the disease of obesity.
Professor le Roux was the recipient of a €600,000 IRC Laureate funding award in 2018, which he credits with having enabled him to go on to lead the development of a €16 million European project titled SOPHIA (Stratification of Obesity Phenotypes to Optimize Future Obesity Therapy). This project is addressing obesity and its complications such as type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease.
Professor le Roux has also studied unintentional weight loss in patients who have had surgical treatments that have placed their oesophageal cancer into remission. In this instance, his work has focused on ways of controlling signals from the gut to the brain to allow patients to increase their hunger and food intake, thus improving their health and quality of life.
Commended in the Researcher of the Year category were Emma Teeling, Professor of Zoology at UCD, alongside David Stifter, who is Professor of Old and Middle Irish at Maynooth University.
In addition to the overall Researcher of the Year Award, winners of the Early Career Researcher of the Year and the Impact Award were announced.
Professor of Law at Maynooth University Aisling McMahon won the Early Career Researcher of the Year category. Her current research focuses on the impact of intellectual property (IP) rights on access to healthcare and on the development and delivery of health technologies.
Professor McMahon is an internationally influential emerging research leader in the field of IP rights and healthcare. A 2020 article by her examining the impact of patent rights on which countries could access Covid-19 vaccines, medicines and diagnostics first, and on what terms, was cited as an information source for a UK House of Commons Briefing in November 2020.
In 2022, she was awarded a European Research Council (ERC) starting grant of €1.5 million for a project that’s investigating the role of bioethics in the European patent system for technologies related to the human body, including medical devices, medicines and therapies.
Professor McMahon was awarded an IRC New Foundations award in 2020 for a research project investigating patient access to advanced cancer therapies in relation to ethics and equity.
Commended in the Early Career Researcher of the Year category were Dr Amanda Drury, who is Associate Professor in General Nursing at Dublin City University (DCU), alongside Dr Natalie McEvoy, who is StAR Lecturer in Critical Care Nursing at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI).
Anna Davies, who is Professor of Geography, Environment and Society at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), was presented with the Impact Award this year for her longstanding commitment to world-class research that focuses on facilitating action for a more sustainable society.
Professor Davies is a previous winner of the overall IRC Researcher of the Year Award, which she received in 2018 for her work in environmental governance and sustainability.
Her work has seen her develop an interactive platform for a social innovation project she leads titled Share City, which documents and connects more than 4,000 food sharing initiatives across 100 cities.
Professor Davies was awarded an ERC research award and a subsequent public engagement award for the five-year Share City project, and this year she was awarded an ERC ‘proof of concept’ grant to support testing of the initiative.
Her work on a national level has seen her co-designing and delivering the online Climate Smart Transition Year module, including the award-winning iAdapt computer game, to more than 1,000 students across Ireland since 2022. iAdapt challenges players to take on the role of Mayor of Dublin who must prepare, consult and implement plans to protect the city from flooding, all while keeping their citizens happy and staying within budget.
Globally, Professor Davies led a UN science and technology working group report on sustainability at the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in 2021 and she was a lead co-author of UNESCO’s 2022 report on the role of universities in achieving sustainability.
She is a three-time recipient of IRC Humanities and Social Sciences (IRCHSS) funding awards for sustainability projects, including a Thematic Project Grant in 2008, a Fellowship in 2004, and a Small Project Grant in 2003.
Commended in the Impact Award category were Assistant Professor in Criminology at Maynooth University Dr Ian Marder, along with Dr Barry McDermott, co-founder of Relevium Medical, the first ever pharmaceutical spinout from the University of Galway’s global MedTech innovation hub.
Director of the Irish Research Council, Peter Brown, congratulated this year’s Researcher of the Year awardees, saying, “It’s important to shine a light on the remarkable achievements of our top researchers and on the leading-edge work they are spearheading at national, community, European and international level. Their work reflects the exceptional contributions they make in their respective fields, and in finding innovative solutions and ways of improving the world and people’s lives. The Irish Research Council Researcher of the Year winners demonstrate why research matters, and of the vital need for continued support in all fields of research, from science and technology to social sciences and the humanities.”
Alongside nominations for Researcher of the Year, Early Career Researcher of the Year, and the Impact Award, the IRC welcomed submissions to celebrate ‘Research Allies’ in 2023. Research Ally prizes are awarded to mark the crucial role played by higher education personnel in supporting the academic research community across all career levels. Postgraduate students, postdoctoral fellows, academic and research-active staff were invited to nominate the mentors, supervisors, research officers and technical support staff who have supported their work and careers and improved the Irish research ecosystem. The 2023 awards saw 68 Research Allies recognised by the IRC. The Research Allies for 2023 can be viewed at this link.