• Question: has any of your work to try and cure illnesses ever worked?

    Asked by rfarren to Enda, Jean, Kate, Kev, Tim, Enda, Jean, Kate, Kev, Tim, Enda, Jean, Kate, Kev, Tim on 9 Nov 2012. This question was also asked by craigthompson123, andrewf97, bobdylan, bobdylan.
    • Photo: Jean Bourke

      Jean Bourke answered on 9 Nov 2012:

      The chemicals I’m working on are not at that stage yet. What I’m doing is trying to understand how a disease works. The more we learn about both our bodies and diseases the more ways we can come up with to fight disease.

      Hopefully my work will give us some answers about how tuberculosis effects our bodies and how our immune system responds. I hope that in future the information I uncover as part of my PhD will allow someone to come up with an idea for a new drug.

      Because our bodies and diseases are all so complicated it can take decades before we actually get a successful cure for any given disease. In our lab there are people working on ways to cure cancer and viral infections. I have friends working on depression and obesity as well as loads of other things. We try to find leads and develop these leads into medicines, it’s a long, but very rewarding, process.

      Any medicine you pick up in a pharmacy is the result of work done by literally hundreds of people over many years. It is also true to say that the work of any one scientist can contribute to lots of different cures!

    • Photo: Tim Downing

      Tim Downing answered on 10 Nov 2012:

      Hi R Farren,

      A group of us from different labs around Europe looked at the genetics of 17 different parasites. We got these from hospital patients in India and Nepal. We did lab testing to check if they were sensitive or resistant to one particular drug (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_stibogluconate) that is also sometimes used against cancer. We found a number of mutations that distinguish these parasites called leishmania that were resistant and sensitive to this drug.

      Then separately, we tested for these mutations in a larger set of 61 leishmania parasites from other hospital patients. We found we could just 3 mutations was enough to separate those resistant to the drug from the parasites that were killed by it in patients that were very sick. We only published this result in July. This means that we can quickly identify the worse cases of people with this disease and give them longer treatments so that they eventually get better.


    • Photo: Enda O'Connell

      Enda O'Connell answered on 12 Nov 2012:


      Jean makes some great points in her answer. Drug research involves the work of thousands of people working on a problem for 10-20 years before a doctor will be able to give a tablet or an injection to a patient. You can also see from what Tim wrote about his research that it is often a complex process involving a lot of cooperation between labs around the world. Also, pharmaceutical companies spend billions of euros trying to get drugs to a point where they can be used safely in hospitals and a whopping 97% of drugs never see the light of day due to ineffectiveness or harmful side effects! To be involved in research where a drug actually makes it to market is very rare but very special.

      Some of the projects I work on involve “repurposing” old drugs, basically trying to find new uses for them. We know these drugs are active in the body but our hope is that they might have more than one use. For example, Arsenic is one of the most poisonous compounds known to man, but it was once used as a drug to treat tuberculosis, and in China, psoriasis. Recently it has been discovered that it can actually be used to fight a certain form of leukaemia, called APL.

      One repurposing project I’m involved in took 1500 drugs already in use to see if any of them could kill a certain form of Breast cancer, which affects 10-20% of the people (men and women) who are diagnosed with Breast cancer every year. We were hoping for one or two of the compounds to have an effect but found 30 “hit compounds” that killed more than half of the cancer cells after two days. Some of the researchers are now doing further work figuring out how these drugs work and what the best dose is to use. Hopefully, if everything goes well with this work, we will be able to work with Clinical Doctors to bring this to the hospital, and because these drugs are already in use, the side effects should be minimal.

    • Photo: Kevin Lomasney

      Kevin Lomasney answered on 12 Nov 2012:

      That is the interesting thing about my work! The bacteria I use have already been used and were effective in treating patients with a disorder known as Irritable bowel syndrome! This disorder affects 10-15% of Irish people, mainly young women. These people have symptoms of stomach pain, bloating and here is where it gets disgustingly interesting..some have diarrhea, some have constipation and some have both!!! Not at the same time of course but each week it can be different and this disorder really affects a person’s quality of life. A lot of people with this disorder also have mental disorders such as depression. However, the bacteria I work with has been shown to relieve the pain, bloating, and both diarrhea and constipation! However, we have no idea why!!! This is my job, to find out why, and learn how we can use the bugs specifically for treatment of other bowel diseases other than irritable bowel syndrome. At the moment it is proving tough and just as complex as I thought it would be but I am making some progress and I’ve uncovered some clues!