PhD Student at SETU, Carlow campus, close to determining key early markers of Osteoarthritis

PhD Student at SETU, Carlow campus, close to determining key early markers of Osteoarthritis

Laura Coleman has been a student at South East Technological University (SETU) since 2012. Laura has conducted research for her PhD, and her project is ‘Investigating the concentrations of cytokines and enzymes present in osteoarthritis (OA) patients and volunteers' biological samples in order to determine different stages of OA and detect early OA. 

Laura began her journey in college in 2012 studying Bachelor of Science (Honours) Bioscience with biopharmaceuticals and was under the impression that she would be finished in 4 years. After the 4 years, Laura decided to work towards her research PhD funded by the President fellowship scholarship titled, ‘A longitudinal study identifying biomarkers and producing methodologies for use in combination with current diagnostic tools for the earlier detection of osteoarthritis.’ Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting millions of people worldwide. It occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones wears down over time. Although osteoarthritis can damage any joint, the disorder most commonly affects joints in your hands, knees, hips and spine. Osteoarthritis symptoms can usually be managed, although the damage to joints can't be reversed. Laura is currently conducting tests to determine if Osteoarthritis can be detected at an earlier stage which would limit, or prevent, the damage to different body joints. The PhD did not come without its challenges. Laura had to continue to spend money on liquid nitrogen to keep cells in storage, purchase CO2 gas for the incubator, buy media to keep primary tissue cultures viable and purchase additional ELISA kits for analysis of samples. Money was running out rapidly for Laura, once her supervisor, Dr. Rosemary O’Hara heard about this she recommended Laura apply for the COVID assistance fund. Dr Declan Doyle, Head of Development brought this funding to Dr O’Hara’s attention. 

Laura was able to apply for this funding through the Higher Education Authority (HEA). The HEA oversees the strategic development of Ireland's higher education and research system, with the goal of establishing a cohesive system of diverse institutions with distinct missions that is responsive to Ireland's social, cultural, and economic development, as well as supporting national goals. In July 2020, the government launched a €168 million one-time support package for higher education institutions and students in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This assistance was established to help higher education institutions pay expenditures incurred during the epidemic and allowed students to return to school for the 2020/21 academic year. 

Once funding was approved, Laura set out to complete her PhD. Without the funding it would not have been possible to finish certain sections of the work and would not have been able to submit an IDF. An IDF allows you to submit a concept so that a college can evaluate its patentability and commercial viability. The IDF is a set of questions designed to extract the information needed to assess the product's industrial and commercial potential. Public disclosures have an impact on the capacity to successfully commercialise ideas, thus it's important not to publish or present the innovation before speaking with our team. Laura is now considering furthering her career by undertaking a Postdoctoral fellowship as she did not realise how much work and findings she had discovered. The Postdoctoral fellowship will allow Laura to continue her research and complete further studies into osteoarthritis. Laura plans to carry out further research in this area as a Postdoctoral Fellow in SETU Carlow campus. 

Laura could not have completed her work without the amazing support she received from her supervisors in SETU, Dr. Rosemary O’Hara and Dr. John Byrne, Mr Stewart Edwards of Aut Even Hospital in County Kilkenny, her friends and family, as well as Dr. Declan Doyle for the opportunity to apply for the COVID-19 assistance fund.