Meet a researcher: Dr Dearbhaile Dooley

We recently caught up with SCoRH Member Dr Dearbhaile Dooley. Upon completion of a BSc in Anatomy from NUI Galway, Dearbhaile relocated to Belgium to undertake a cotutelle PhD at Hasselt and Antwerp Universities in the field of inflammation and CNS trauma. Her PhD research focused on the use of stem cells and immunomodulatory mediators as therapeutic factors for spinal cord injury. During this time, she was also involved in teaching anatomy to medical and biomedical students. Dearbhaile returned to Ireland to join the Renal Inflammation Group at Trinity College Dublin as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow, where she investigated the role of monocytes in a humanised mouse model of ANCA Vasculitis.

Spinal Research Institute: Tell us a bit about what you do in the SCI research field?
Dearbhaile Dooley: I am a Principal Investigator based at the School of Medicine, University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland and lead a preclinical SCI research group. My lab is interested in understanding the pathophysiological mechanism associated with SCI, particularly the secondary inflammatory reaction which results in an influx of peripheral inflammatory cells as well as activation of resident central nervous system (CNS) cells, known as microglia. Microglia react to environmental changes after SCI by altering their motility, morphology and phagocytic functions. Another cell type, macrophages also become recruited to the lesion site from the peripheral circulation and similarly to microglia, macrophage phenotypes are determined by the surrounding microenvironment. Following SCI microglia and macrophages can exert either beneficial (alternatively activated) or detrimental (classically activated) effects, depending on their activation state. Thus, the focus of our research lies in understanding what drives the activation states of microglia and macrophages, such that we may target these cells, and ultimately provide a more favourable environment for recovery.

SRI: What interests you to work in SCI research?
DD: As a undergraduate student studying science at NUI Galway, Ireland, I became fascinated by the field of neuroscience and in particular the inability of the CNS to repair itself after damage. I was fortunate to complete a final year project on the response of astrocytes following rat SCI and fell in love with the topic and the lab life. As such, I decided to peruse an PhD in Belgium where I investigated the role of stem cells and immunomodulatory therapy for SCI – I found that we could successfully modulate the inflammatory response after SCI leading to improved functional and histopathological outcome in mice, and became particularly excited by this line of research. Following completion of my PhD, I moved back to Ireland to complete a Postdoc in Trinity College Dublin. I joined UCD in 2017 as Assistant Professor, and am delighted to be able to lead my own research group where we can address challenging scientific questions with novel and exciting techniques, in order to understand mechanistic aspects and ultimately improve recovery for SCI patients.

SRI: what would  you like to pursue next?
DD: Based on our previous data, we believe that inflammation after SCI plays a major role in determining overall prognosis; therefore, immune-based interventions hold great therapeutic potential. However, it is now widely accepted that a more modulatory or fine-tuning approach is preferable over completely blocking the inflammatory response. By leveraging a variety of in vitro and in vivo techniques, I would hope that we can unlock and specifically target the unexplored therapeutic potential of microglia and macrophages in order to improve functional outcome after SCI. Unravelling this mechanism will form the basis for future immune-based therapeutic interventions that exceed previous approaches.

You can find Dearbhaile on SCoRH.

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