Money can buy happiness; stem cell patch to heal hearts; why exhibit animals in zoos?; prosthetic hands now feel real

The Zoo
Is keeping animals in Zoos morally justifiable? [source: Paignton Zoo]

Broadcast on The Morning Show at East Coast FM – 15th March 2018

Featured stories:

Money CAN buy you happiness, scientists say

Stem cell patch to heal hearts damaged by cardiac arrest

Why do we continue to exhibit animals in zoos

Prosthetic hands feel more real thanks to ‘good vibrations’



brain ‘pacemaker’ for Alzheimer’s; attractive people more right wing; friends on the same wavelength

Attractive People
Attractive people tend to be more right wing in their political views researchers have found

Listen below to piece broadcast on East Coast FM on 1st Feb 2018

A GP’s guide to invasive spider bites produced by venom scientists

False widow spider Steatoda nobilis

The False Widow spider is an invasive species which has arrived here from the UK over the past 20 years or so, with three bite cases reported in Ireland.

Dr Michel Dugon at NUI Galway led a team based at the Venom Systems and Proteomics Laboratory in developing the world’s first verified identification and symptoms checklist for GPs and the public on how to treat False Widow bites.

This spider’s bites are not fatal, but symptoms can include a large swelling within three minutes of being bitten followed by a dry, necrotic wound, and when the swelling subsidies, inflammation can follow for a few days afterwards.

The False Widow lives in urban settings close to buildings and houses inhabited by people, so the news scientists have developed a symptom checklist for GPs who may have to treat people bitten by this spider certainly come a relief.

Dr Dugon’s team developed the GP guide to identifying and treating people suffering from False Widow bites while examining five reported case of bites from this spider in Ireland and the UK. The findings were reported in Biology and Environment as well as Clinical Toxicology.

“Whilst it is extremely unlikely that a bit will ever be fatal, we do need to consider bites from False Widows as a potential health risk given the increase of this species not just in the UK and Ireland, but also mainland Europe and the US,” said Dr Dugon (pictured here below) 

Dr Michel Dugon

“We hope that our study will help to address some of the public’s concerns about these spiders and will provide healthcare professionals with the information required to accurately diagnose and report bites associated with the False Widow,” said Dr Dugon. 

To read the study in Biology and Environment, visit:

To read study in Clinical Toxicology, visit:

NUI Galway Provide First Definitive Identification Guide on False Widow Spider Bites, visit:

Alcohol drug found to be effective against lung cancer

Dr Martin Barr, School of Medicine, TCD, whose team has found that the anti-alcohol abuse drug, Antabuse, is effective against lung cancer

The FDA-approved alcohol aversion drug, disulfiram (Antabuse), has been found to be very effective in combating chemotherapy resistance in lung cancer.

Scientists based at TCD and St James’s Hospital, Dublin, have reported the finding for the most common type of lung cancer – non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) – in the journal Oncotarget.

“Disulfiram is an already approved drug will well tolerated side effects which can be taken orally,” said Dr Martin Barr, Adjust Assistant Professor and a lead investigator in the Thoracic Oncology Research Group, based at TCD and St James’s. 

“Its potential use may give chemotherapeutic drugs such as cisplatin, a new lease of life in the treatment of resistant drug tumours,” Dr Barr added.

Antabuse has been used to treat alcohol addiction for over 60 years and works by restricting the activity of aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) the main enzyme involved in removing alcohol from the body.

It works by preventing the body from metabolising alcohol, and so the person consuming alcohol will start to feel sick.

Antabuse has now been also found – also by inhibiting ALDH – to decrease tumour cell growth and increase the body’s killing action against lung cancer stem cells. The killing of cancer stem cells is important, because this can prevent the cancer from recurring.

The scientists at TCD and St James’s, working with the Cancer Stem Cell Group at the Coombe Hospital, Dublin, found that lung cancer cells that have high levels of ALDH activity – which is a marker for the presence of cancer stem cells, – become resistant to chemotherapy.

This resistance means that cancer cells can survive chemotherapy and may explain why a large number of lung cancer patients receiving certain types of chemotherapy suffer a relapse in their cancer afterwards.

The development of new drugs is an expensive, time consuming business, and cancer scientists have begun to assess drugs already approved to treat non cancer illness such as Antabuse, for their effectiveness against cancer.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide and accounts for more deaths than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined. In Ireland there are more than 2,300 new cases of lung cancer per year and over 1,800 deaths.

Human space exploration: Is it worth it?

Listen to piece broadcast on Drivetime, RTE Radio 1 on 15th August 2017

Moon Village
An artist’s depiction of the European Space Agency’s planned Moon Village (Source: ESA)

Is human exploration of space worth the huge costs that go with it?

This piece has contributions from scientists involved in space, and based in Ireland:

Luke Drury, Professor of Cosmic Physics, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies 

Paul Callanan, Professor of Physics, University College Cork 

Ilaria Cinelli, Phd candidate & biomedical engineer, NUI Galway

Danny Gleeson, Irish Space Industry Group 





Tribute to my father, Prof E J Duke

As part of a series of tributes to my father, Professor Edward J Duke (Head of the Department of Zoology UCD , 1979 to 2002) , who passed away last month, I’m putting up his first significant scientific publication here.

He achieved so much in his life, and science was only one small part of that.

Yet, this might be of interest to those who knew ‘Eamonn’ in his professional capacity as a scientist. It was published as part of the ‘Letters to Nature’ on the 9th January 1963, when he was just 23 years of age, and a doctoral student in Queen’s University Belfast.

Thank you to Kay Nolan and Tom Bolger, former UCD colleagues for finding this for me.