Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

Life-saving treatment for sepsis caused by urinary tract infections among innovations presented at RCSI Research Day 2017

09 March 2017

‘Organs on chips' which mimic the complexity of human organs to be discussed by award-winning inventor Dr Dongeun Huh at John J Ryan Distinguished Lecture

RCSI scientists who have conducted research into sepsis caused by urinary tract infections have discovered a potential new treatment option which is the first of its kind with the potential to stop the process of sepsis spreading through the body and becoming life-threatening. The research is among the innovations being presented at RCSI Research Day 2017, which takes place today at RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland). The Science Foundation Ireland funded study is being presented by Tony McHale, a PhD student at the School of Pharmacy, Molecular and Cellular Therapeutics and the Irish Centre for Vascular Biology, RCSI.

Urinary tract infections (UTI) caused by Escherichia coli are one of the most common infections causing sepsis in both community and hospital settings. 74% of patients with a urinary tract infection who present to the emergency department will be admitted to hospital, due to the high risk of the infection spreading from the original site to the bloodstream where it can trigger a serious systemic infection, resulting in sepsis.

Dr Steve Kerrigan, Senior Lecturer in Pharmacology, RCSI and Principal Investigator on the project said: "The drug works by preventing bacteria that get into the bloodstream from sticking to the inner-most side of a blood vessel. Sepsis usually occurs when bacteria interact with cells that line the inside of blood vessels, which results in circulatory collapse and rapid failure of multiple vital organs in the body of the patient due to a lack of blood supply to those organs. Results suggest that this new drug is capable of preventing sepsis progression in both high risk patients and in patients with established sepsis. Currently, there are no approved drugs on the market to control the underlying pathophysiology that triggers the uncontrolled host response to sepsis. Therefore this new discovery that aims to prevent disease progression is an important advancement in treating this deadly disease."


Tony McHale and Dr Steve Kerrigan

RCSI has filed a patent application on the use of the drug for the treatment of sepsis and Dr Kerrigan is working with clinical colleagues to advance the translation of this research to the clinic. RCSI is also actively exploring partnerships with drug companies to support the development of the technology.

There are an estimated 20 million new cases of sepsis per year with a mortality rate of up to 50%, which translates to 20,000 deaths per day from this disease.

The John J Ryan Distinguished Lecture at RCSI Research Day 2017 entitled "Microengineered physiological bio-mimicry: human organs-on-chips" will be delivered by Dr. Dongeun (Dan) Huh, Assistant Professor and Wilf Family Term Endowed Chair in Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr Huh will introduce a new bioengineering technology termed "organs-on-a-chip" which mimic the complexity of human organs in ways that have not been possible previously. Today's scientists use laboratory conditions, such as cells grown in a plastic dishes, to mimic what happens in the human body. These traditional surrogate models, however, largely fail to replicate and predict the complex inner workings of living tissues and organs in humans. This fundamental, long-standing problem is becoming a very important challenge to virtually all areas of life science research. Dr. Huh will discuss the potential of this emerging "organs-on-a-chip" technology using several examples including a human breathing lung-on-a-chip, smoking lung-on-a-chip, blinking eye-on-a-chip, and placenta-on-a-chip.

Professor Ray Stallings, Director of Research and Innovation, RCSI; Professor Catherine Greene, Research Day Academic Coordinator; Dr. Dongeun (Dan) Huh who delivered the John J Ryan Distinguished Lecture; and Professor Hannah McGee, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, RCSI. 

RCSI's annual Research Day provides scientists with the opportunity to showcase their most recent research findings. The latest advances in biomedical sciences, clinical research, population health sciences, healthcare delivery and health professions education are just some of the topics featured in studies which will be presented today to more than 300 researchers who are expected to attend.

Professor Ray Stallings, Director of Research and Innovation at RCSI said: "RCSI's annual Research Day is a vital platform for highlighting the scope of research and innovation taking place across the different disciplines in the College, particularly amongst young researchers. We are committed to nurturing world-class research that can translate into treatments and benefits for patients and society, beginning at undergraduate level right up to the highest-calibre research-active academic staff. This year I am delighted to announce the inclusion of a new Research Showcase which recognises a selection of RCSI's ground-breaking innovators and highlights some leading researchers within RCSI who have been awarded major international funding and are making impactful contributions to research that is improving human health."

RCSI's Office of Research and Innovation will also present the 2016 Innovation Awards at Research Day 2017. The awards have been established to foster awareness of intellectual property, commercialisation of research and industry engagement. Professor Celine Marmion, Associate Professor of Chemistry at RCSI, will be announced as the winner of the Commercialisation Award in recognition of her work on the development of cancer therapeutics and their commercialisation. Professor Richard Costello, Associate Professor of Medicine at RCSI, will receive the Industry Engagement Award for collaboration with industry to further the development of his innovations in respiratory devices; and Professor Zena Moore, Head of the RCSI School of Nursing and Midwifery, will be recognised as winner of the Clinician Award for her engagement with a number of companies in the area of pressure ulcer prevention.

The emphasis for RCSI Research Day is on research presentations by investigators early in their career, post-doctoral fellows, post-graduate and undergraduate scholars and academic staff. All oral presentations and poster presentations will be judged and awards will be presented at a ceremony later this evening.

For further information on RCSI Research Day 2017 visit: or follow the updates on Twitter #RCSIrd17

Also being presented at Research Day:

RCSI researchers develop a new material to treat bone infection

RCSI scientists have developed a new material that will potentially lead to more effective treatments for the bone infection osteomyelitis. The Irish Research Council funded project is being presented today by Emily Ryan, a PhD student at RCSI's Tissue Engineering Research Group (TERG) and the SFI funded AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) centre.

Osteomyelitis, which is most commonly caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, often requires surgery to remove the dead or damaged bone and patients require a long-term systemic high dose of antibiotics and often bone grafting. However, antibiotic resistance is an increasingly concerning issue with 70% of bacteria being resistant to some/all antibiotics The RCSI team have looked at using non-antibiotic antibacterial agents in combination with collagen biomaterial scaffolds which have proven bone regenerative capacity. In collaboration with the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany, the team have produced a material which combines the porous collagen scaffold with bone forming bioactive glass particles which release antimicrobial copper ions resulting in a material which has excellent capacity for bone repair while also having the capability to kill bacteria.

Professor Fergal O'Brien from the Department of Anatomy in RCSI who is lead-Principal Investigator on the project and Deputy Director of AMBER said: "Our research has demonstrated that combining this new copper doped bioactive glass material onto collagen scaffolds yields a technology which has both a capacity to regenerate bone and also an antibacterial effect, reducing Staphylococcus aureus growth on the site of infection. This might be an important development for patients with osteomyelitis, by improving the success of bone grafts and eliminating the need for long-term antibiotic treatment - thus potentially improving the quality of life for patients who are recovering from this serious and often debilitating condition."

Emily Ryan and Professor Fergal O'Brien

RCSI is ranked in the top 250 institutions worldwide in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2016-2017). It is an international not-for-profit health sciences institution, with its headquarters in Dublin, focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide.