The Health and Biomedical Research Centre (HEAL)

News and Events

November 29

HEAL and Neuroplasticity Research Group researcher and Physiotherapist Eimear Cronin attended the UK Stoke Forum at the ACC convention centre in Liverpool on November 29th. This forum is the UK’s largest multidisciplinary conference for stroke care professionals with up to 1600 delegates in attendance over 3 days. Findings from the UK sentinel stroke national audit programme were highlighted regularly throughout the conference and were interesting to compare to the Irish situation. One particular study highlighted as part of this audit programme was Tyson et al, 2022, with a finding that an additional minute of any therapy (OT / PT / SLT / Clinical Psychology) was associated with improved outcomes for acute stroke patients during their inpatient stay. During break-out sessions later in the day, this led to much discussion regarding 7-day service and longer working days for the therapy staff in stroke rehabilitation and higher levels of specifically trained therapy assistants in stroke rehabilitation to facilitate increased therapy time for patients. From discussion with delegates at the conferences, these practices appear to be far more common in the UK than in many of our Irish hospitals.

As a senior Physiotherapist and stroke researcher, Eimear was particularly interested in the presentations which explored different walking tools to aid recovery post stroke. Professor Jane Burridge presented her delphi study and systematic reviews on functional electrical stimulation to improve gait, the culmination of which was the newly published ACPIN clinical practice guidelines. Another interesting talk came from Alahna Cullen, a clinical specialist Physiotherapist in Dorset who spoke about Electro-mechanical gait training and specifically the “Lokomat” device which her department had fund-raised for and installed, for the purposes of gait training with stroke patients at a cost of £250,000. Cochrane reviews support the efficacy of this device in more dependent stroke survivors and it would be a useful piece of equipment in the Physiotherapy Department in St. John’s hospital, but would require significant fund-raising.

Eimear presented her poster “What are the effects of Pilates in the post stroke population?

A Systematic Literature Review & Meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials” during this conference. The format of the poster presentations differed to other conferences in that delegates were given a 10-minute time slot to verbally present their E-poster to attendees. This format worked well and much discussion was generated with an interesting questions and answers session, and allowed Eimear the chance to highlight the numerous projects related to stroke being undertaken currently within HEAL and the Neuroplasticity Research Group at ATU Sligo.


November 22

HEAL researcher Ciara McBride attended the 11th Annual Palliative Care Research Network Symposium which took place at the Ashling Hotel in Dublin on 25th of November 2022. The symposium was organized by the All-Ireland Institute of Hospice and Palliative Care (AIIHPC) and provided a knowledge sharing opportunity for all stakeholders with an interest in palliative and end of life care. At the event key speakers included Professor Miriam Johnson, Professor of Palliative Medicine at Hull York Medical School, Director of the Wolfson Palliative Care Research Centre and Professor Kevin Brazil, Professor of Palliative Care, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Fellow in Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation, Queen’s University Belfast. Ciara is a member of the Early Career Research Forum (ECRF) and presented in poster format, representing HEAL, the Research and Education Foundation (REF) and Northwest Hospice at the event.

The title of the presentation was “Developing multi-disciplinary research networks to address regional unmet needs and inefficiencies in Palliative Care service”; co-authors included Dr. Richéal Burns (ATU Sligo and HEAL) and Dr. Anna Cleminson (Consultant in Palliative Care Medicine at Northwest Hospice).  This was an important presentation to create an awareness of how HEAL, the REF and Northwest Hospice have been working to develop a cross-disciplinary strategic research alliance to promote Palliative Care research in the Northwest of Ireland. Ciara was awarded with 1st place in the ECRF abstract session at the event. Congratulations to Ciara, Richéal and Anna on this award.

November 22

The 23rd Annual Multidisciplinary Research Conference hosted by the Research and Education Foundation at Sligo University Hospital was held on 24th and 25th of November 2022. This year an additional 1st annual Early Career Research Forum was added to the conference events and included 14 presentations from researchers across the academic and clinical community in Ireland. HEAL was delighted to be a sponsor of this year’s event and supported the full conference day held at ATU Sligo.

HEAL doctoral researcher Kristian Mallon, supervised by Dr Richéal Burns, won best academic presentation at the 1st annual Early Career Research Forum for his presentation on “Dietary risk factors associated with onset of IBD: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis.”

HEAL researcher Dr Richéal Burns also participated at the 23rd Annual Multidisciplinary Research Conference  presenting on “Challenges to patient-centred Inflammatory Bowel Disease care – a patient’s perspective.”  The presentation recordings are available on the Research and Education Foundation, Sligo University Hospital website.

November 2022

Congratulations to ATU Postgraduate Researcher and HEAL member Machailla Mc Cabe who recently presented the first phase research findings from her research project entitled “Exploring definitions of mental health and mental ill-health & establishing validated assessment tools for a mental health situational analysis amongst student populations within the 3rd level setting” at the 2nd International Conference on Psychology and Mental Health in November 2022 in Paris, France.  .Machailla’s  oral presentation, entitled “Students’ Conceptualisation of Mental Health across an Irish Multi-Campus University” reflects on some of the initial findings from the research teams’ work.  The research team includes Margaret Mc Loone (PI, ATU), Machailla Mc Cabe (Postgraduate Researcher), Renagh Linanne (ATU Partner) and Dr. Gail Cummins (ATU Partner).

This research is the first project across all ATU campuses and St Angela’s College Sligo to take a holistic approach to gathering attitudes and opinions to mental health and mental ill-health from students. The mixed methods research design focuses strongly on the recently published National Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework by the DEFRIS and HEA.

Michaela’s research supervisor Margaret Mc Loone, reports that “Machailla has shown great enthusiasm for this CUA funded research project on the area of mental health amongst student population groups. Already we have some very interesting results emerging at this early stage of analysis.  From the large sample of participating students (n=655) across all ATU Campuses and St Angela’s College, Sligo mental health is very central to the lives of our students. In fact, the level of students diagnosed previously with a mental health disorder was something we all as staff and students need to be aware of, one third of our students fitted into this category”. 

The research team looks forward to proceeding with the second phase of their research with professional support staff over the coming months across ATU and St Angela’s College, Sligo.

If you are concerned about your mental health or indeed someone you know– help is out there click on the QR code below for help and information relating to mental health support services.

June 9th 2022

Elaine Granaghan, (Youth Worker with Foróige Sligo/Leitrim) one of our first graduates from the MSc Health Promotion Practice programme in ATU, Sligo College along with her supervisor Margaret Mc Loone (ATU, Sligo College) presented their research findings  on the 9th of June 2022 at the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, NUI, Galway’s 10th Biennial International Research Conference entitled ‘Navigating the Future: A Compass for Youth Policy and Practice’. Their oral presentation was entitled ‘Perceived health assets and challenges for everyday wellbeing; A Youth Voice’.  This participatory mixed methods study was conducted among young people between the ages of 12 and 18 years living in the counties of Leitrim and Sligo who were also members of the Foróige Youth Organisation in Ireland.  This oral presentation focused on the specific assets young people identified as important to them in the communities they live in.  

Key ‘youth voice’ findings were presented in 3 key categories following analysis of data from this aspect of the research; mental health, youth facilities and community infrastructure assets.  Regarding mental health assets identified young people asked for a number of key specifics supports and services including; more accessible youth mental health services, local mental health groups to reduce stigma, increased mental health focus in schools and clearer information on how and where to access help.  Confidentiality in accessing mental health related services within rural communities was raised also by young people. They also expressed a desire for more youth facilities in their areas including age appropriate youth facilities, more physical activity options other than competitive sports options and increased availability of transport. Interestingly the third category reflected many positive active commuting options the young people would like to see in their own communities including access to safer walkways, cycle paths, foot paths and more access to green spaces and outdoor amenities in general. 

This research is currently being fed back to the young people themselves, the Sligo Leitrim Children & Young People’s Services Committee (CYPSC)  and the Child and Family Support Network. Both the researchers believe ‘youth participation’ and ‘youth voice’ is central to developing youth policy, appreciating that young people are key stakeholders and want to be involved in planning youth services which is summed up by one of the participants aptly saying that:

 ‘Listening is key to finding out what they (young people) need and even being listened to it’s hugely refreshing’.  (Male, 16 years old, Leitrim)

May 24th 2022

HEAL SRC PI, Dr Allison Gillen’s PhD student Chloe Cox presented her doctoral research at the Next Gen PHE EURASHE 31st Annual Conference in Brussels on “Higher Education for All – Design and delivery of accessible, inclusive full-time online degree programmes for students from under-represented groups.”

May 18th 2022

Margaret Mc Loone HEAL member from the ATU, Sligo College and  Elaine Granaghan, (Youth Worker with Foróige, Youth Organisation Ireland) presented their research findings  on the 18th May 2022 at the International Union for Health Promotion & Education (IUHPE) World Conference on Health Promotion, in Montreal, Canada. Their oral presentation was entitled: Identifying perceived health assets and challenges in their communities: A Youth Perspective from Ireland’. 

This participatory mixed methods study was conducted among young people between the ages of 12 and 18 years living in the counties of Leitrim and Sligo who were also members of the Foróige Youth Organisation in Ireland.  This oral presentation focused on the specific findings from their reflexive thematic analysis, on what young people viewed as important to them, in relation to their own health and well-being.  Perceptions of health amongst young people themselves were diverse and multifaceted. 

Key categories that young people saw as important to their health and well-being emerged as mental health, the importance of school, family and friends in their lives, accessing youth facilities and finally the impact that Covid-19 had on them was also highlighted by the participants.  

Sometimes young people just want someone to talk to and to be listened to, as can be seen from this young participants response:

 I know that I was too unhealthy a while ago as I would never talk to anyone about major issues that were going on in my life and I felt so alone and that the world was against me”. (Female, 17 years, Co. Leitrim) 

Interestingly when looking at what young people saw as important to them in terms of supporting their social, mental and physical health a wide range of themes emerged including; the role of youth and sports clubs, the importance of natural amenities in their areas, the importance of their relationships with local health professionals, having access to school chaplaincy services and having access to transport.

The researchers would like to conduct a more extensive asset-mapping project involving more young people and  giving greater ownership to the young people themselves.  Young people like to be heard and this participant expressed a need for ‘youth voice’ herself in governmental planning; 

‘I wish the government would set up sort of a committee made up of young people to give the government advice especially when it comes to school so they can see things from our perspective’  

(Female, 18 years, Sligo) 

Margaret and Elaine also see a need to increase the availability and visibility of youth services – particularly youth mental health supports both in educational and community settings.  They also would like to see the extension of the Healthy Ireland Healthy Clubs Programme to clubs other than the GAA for young people who are not part of competitive team based sports. 

The researchers would like to thank the young people themselves for participating in this study, the parent(s) and guardian(s) who facilitated their child(ren) to take part in this research and finally the Youth Workers from Foróige, Youth Organisation Ireland for assisting in recruiting the young people. 

May 11th 2022

The Health and Biomedical (HEAL) Centre attended the Health Research Charities Ireland (HRCI), Irish Health Research forum on ‘Embedding research into the Irish health service’ on May 11th, 2022 in the Spenser Hotel in Dublin. The event included presentations by Dr Philip Crowley and Dr Ana Terres from the Health Services Executive, Prof Paul Mc Nally, Children’s Health Ireland (CHI), Prof Rachel Crowley, St. Vincent’s Hospital/ UCD and Prof Philip Nolan, Director General, SFI. Lots of thought-provoking discussion on the directions needed to provide the Irish health service with the capacity and knowledge required to enhance research design, data and evaluation analysis and implementation to improve health and social care delivery, equity and access and patient outcomes. 

April 28th 2022

The Health and Biomedical (HEAL) Centre contributed to ATU’s Sligo Engineering and Technology Expo on April 28th 2022 highlighting the scope of research expertise and current projects across the 24 members of HEAL. Our research in digital transformation and wearable devices providing effective solutions to healthcare needs was of particular interest to attendees.

March 25th 2022

IT Sligo’s newest strategic research centre, The Health and Biomedical (HEAL) Centre was launched March 25th, 2022 by Minister Frank Feighan, Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health, Well Being and National Drugs Strategy.

The HEAL centre aims to significantly address regional research priorities in health and biomedical research and innovation. HEAL will, through undertaking transformative health and biomedical research, innovation and discovery, and training of the next generation of scientists, support the translation of knowledge and innovation for better health and societal outcomes in Ireland and beyond.

Speaking at the launch Minister Feighan said;

“I really welcome the new Health and Biomedical Strategic Research Centre at the IT Sligo. It represents a significant development for education, research and innovation, and the healthcare system. Most importantly, HEAL is a unique asset for citizens and patients throughout the Northwest region. Because of its unique geographic location, HEAL can play a key role in advancing co-operation and collaboration on an all-island basis. This is a key priority for Government and I am committed to improving access and services for those living in the border counties and beyond.”

The project is being led by IT Sligo Professor Suresh Pillai with colleagues Dr Richéal Burns, and Dr Konrad Mulrennan. Working in consultation with several regional and national research centres, Universities, industries, North-West Regional Skills Forum and funding agencies, the team have identified the regional requirements of a strategic research centre.

President of IT Sligo, Dr Brendan McCormack said the region is beginning to attract new health science related industries to the west and northwest:

“The Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC) has seen several Research & Development labs in the area of life sciences spring up along the Irish shores of the Atlantic. In the next few years, AEC has the potential to drive significant R&D infrastructure in emerging counties such as Sligo. I wish Professor Suresh and all his team the very best of luck on this ground-breaking project.”