news archive

Science article by Ken Duffy, Hamilton Institute researcher, in the news

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

A new article by Dr Ken Duffy has appeared in Science:

Activation-induced B cell fates are selected by intracellular stochastic competition Ken R. Duffy, Cameron J. Wellard, John F. Markham, Jie H. S. Zhou, Ross Holmberg, Edwin D. Hawkins, Jhagvaral Hasbold, Mark R. Dowling and Philip D. Hodgkin. Science, Jan 2012.

and has also received wide reporting in the public press, including:

The ultimate fate of a cell is determined mainly by an internal process, contrary to previously held scientific belief that the behaviour of a cell was dictated by external factors – that’s one of the findings of a leading team of international multidisciplinary scientists including NUI Maynooth mathematician Dr. Ken Duffy and published in this month’s Science magazine. This discovery could have significant implications for immunology, in particular our understanding and treatment of autoimmune diseases like Crohns, Coeliac disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
In a unique international collaboration between mathematics and medical science, Dr. Ken Duffy from the Hamilton Institute, NUI Maynooth, is the lead author of the study which was completed by an international team including immunologists from Prof. Philip Hodgkin’s Laboratory at the prestigious Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia. The study was supported by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the Victorian Government and Science Foundation Ireland.

Their research tackled the widely held belief that a cell’s fate was exclusively determined by external cues. Until now, scientists believed that the development of a cell, whether division, death or cellular differentiation into a new cell type, was determined precisely by external factors including the presence of a particular hormone or cell-signaling molecules. This study challenges that belief by showing that a cell’s fate is determined by an internal process, with cells having some control over their own destiny and with external factors providing a probabilistic influence.
The team chose to study immune system B cells, which make antibodies, because they are controllable and can be prompted to expand and change type in response to stimulus. B cells undergo cell development common to many systems including birth, division, differentiation and eventual death, and so the study is representative. It is not, however, possible to say that cells in other parts of the body would react in the same way as that has not yet been determined, but the work proposes a significant mechanism that may be common to other cell types.

Each B cell has the potential to develop in a variety of ways including division, death, production of antibodies and altering the type of antibody it makes. The study showed that the selection of each of these options is consistent with governance by a small internal clock. The ultimate outcome for that cell is determined by which clock fires first. So if the ‘division’ clock completes before the ‘death’ clock, then the cell divides instead of dying. Until now, scientists believed that external signals determined precisely which fate a cell would pursue. The research demonstrates that randomness plays a more significant role in cell behaviour than previously thought and that external signals serve to shape and influence this randomness.

‘The science community will be surprised at the random behaviour of individual cells. Even though the cells in the study were exposed to the same external signals, there was still considerable variation in what happened to each cell,’ said Dr. Duffy.

‘We recreated the conditions required for B cells to develop and then filmed the resulting behaviour. Current teaching says that cells in identical conditions will react in the same way. However, our research shows that the fate of the cell is determined by which clock fires first. The importance of this research is that these clocks can be manipulated by external signals,’ said Dr. Duffy, adding that the research is of great use in understanding the immune system and therefore in determining how to manipulate same to fight infection.

The actual manipulation of the internal cell clocks could potentially be manifested by administering a cocktail of cytokines. These small molecules that float around cells, eventually bind to the cell receptors and induce certain behaviour in that cell. Certain cytokines influence some clocks and not others so by changing the makeup of the cytokine mix, the likely winner of the clock competition can be altered.

The collaboration came about when Professor Phil Hodgkin of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia visited NUI Maynooth as a SFI Walton Visitor Professor for a sabbatical in 2007. He gave a lecture which Dr. Duffy attended, detailing deductions from 15 years of study into this area. Dr. Duffy realised that his expertise in mathematical probability would have a significant contribution to make to the work in achieving optimum results from the collected data and so the two began their fruitful collaboration.

The team is now planning to study T cells, the influential immune system cells which fight viruses, to ascertain if the findings are replicated there. Their ultimate aspiration is to help design new immune therapies for autoimmune diseases and improved vaccines.

‘The work of Ken and the international team is an extremely important contribution to the scientific record and its publication in Science this month is well deserved. NUI Maynooth staff and students are tackling important, complex questions in every field of study and that is something which is part of the University’s DNA. Our mathematicians are among the strongest in the world as evidenced by Ken’s leading role on this study’, said NUI Maynooth President, Professor Philip Nolan.

Hamilton Institute wins in €5.2M PRLTI funding

Monday, July 26th, 2010

The results of the PRLTI cycle 5 round of infrastructure funding were announced last week by An Taoiseach Brian Cowen and the Minster for Enterprise Batt O Keefe TD. We’re delighted that the Hamilton Institute was successful in both bids in which it was involved and has been awarded total funding of €5.2M. €4.5M of this will support the building of new office/lab space for the institute. The remainder will support the ongoing development and expansion of the institutes successful Network Maths graduate programme established under PRLTI cycle 4.

Hamilton Institute featured in ScienceSpin article

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

An article featuring networking research at the Hamilton Institute appeared in the July issue of Science Spin, an Irish popular science magazine.

Ross O’Neill winner of Enterprise Ireland ‘One to Watch’ Award 2010

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, Conor Lenihan TD announced that Dr. Ross O’Neill, a researcher at the Hamilton Institute, is the winner of the Enterprise Ireland ‘One to Watch’ Award 2010. Presenting the award Minister Lenihan said: “This award recognises the commercial potential of Government supported projects, through Enterprise Ireland, that have the capacity to make a major social or economic impact once brought to the market-place.”

For more details

NUI Maynooth Robot Soccer Team in the News

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Can the NUI Maynooth team repeat their success in winning the robot soccer world championship last year ? With the 2009 world championships starting soon, see the Irish Times featured article on our robot soccer team.

SFI FAME strategic research cluster announced

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

The Tanaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment announced the award of a €5.8M award to the FAME (Federated, Autonomic Management of End-to-end Communication Services) Strategic Research Cluster which is a partnership between researchers at Waterford Institute of Technology, Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, the Hamilton Institute at NUI Maynooth and University College Cork. See the official press release.

First Hamilton Workshop on HIV: Mathematics, biology and beyond

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

The First Hamilton Workshop on HIV: Mathematics, biology and beyond, hosted by the Hamilton Institute, aims to provide a forum for researchers working in the area of HIV/AIDS in the greater Dublin area (and beyond). The list of topics ranges from mathematics to microbiology and ethnography, from theory to experiments and field studies. We have scheduled talks and breaks to allow for having a chance to meet, discuss, and gain new research contacts/collaborators in the area of HIV/AIDS.

For further information, see workshop homepage.

Hamilton researcher Selim Solmaz wins Enterprise Ireland grant

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

Congratulations to Selim Solmaz on winning a €98K grant from Enterprise Ireland to investigate the application of research results on hybrid systems to detecting and preventing SUV Rollover. This project is in collaboration with Prof Robert Shorten at the Hamilton Institute and Ford in the USA.

Hamilton Institute at the Festival of Science

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

‘Transformations’ exhibition at the Science Gallery, Trinity College, Pearse St. Dublin  from Thur 27th Nov - Tue 2nd December, 2008 by the Higher Education Authority (HEA)

Launched in 1998, the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI) ushered in a new era for research and innovation and fundamentally altered the research landscape in higher education.

The ‘Transformations’ exhibition celebrates a decade of achievement by showcasing some of the research that impacts on our day-to-day lives. Exhibits are fully interactive and designed to engage with the general public.

The Hamilton Institute and its IMMT group will participate in the event demonstrating two Irish innovations in medical image handling, a collaboration between NUIM, RCSI and UCC as part of a National Biophotonics and Imaging Platform (NBIP). The first describes how automation of a centuries old idea – the optical microscope – can revolutionise how we analyse images, and the second one describes how an Irish computer science invention will allow medical and biological research images be shared by multidisciplinary teams all over Ireland.

For details of what you will find at Transformations, see PRTLI 10.

Mathematics in Drug Development

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

Irish Independent, 8 Oct 08, Supplement on Life Sciences-Research & Development in Ireland.

Two times a day a single pill—or half a pill in the morning and the evening? The attempt to find the most efficient medicine in the correct dose seems like solving an equation with many unknowns.

PK of a drugAt the Hamilton Institute at NUIM, the Computational Physiology group lead by Dr. Wilhelm Huisinga investigates the fade of drugs in the body. Jointly with pharmacists and in close cooperation with international drug companies, mathematicians and bioinformaticians analyse their pharmacokinetics and mechanisms of action. Mathematical theory combined with simulation studies has proven valuable in drug development, e.g., for our understanding of HIV disease in vivo. Missing doses are suspected to be a major reason for virus mutations, causing drug resistant and therapy failure. “Recently, we analysed the relation between drug pharmacokinetics and replication rate of HIV—with important implications’’, said Huisinga. “We theoretically understand, why it makes such a difference on the ability of the virus to replicate, whether a drug is taken once daily, twice daily or even three times a day’’. Currently, the results are extended to allow predictions for combination therapies of different drugs. For further information, see URL