Dr Declan McCole and one of his trainees at the University of California, Dr. Anica Sayoc-Becerra (This photo was taken before the pandemic)
A Donegal man, who is a leading doctor in medical sciences in the Unites States, is set to head up a major research project in the fight against Covid-19.
Dr Declan McCole (pictured), from Burtonport, is a professor of biomedical sciences in the School of Medicine at the University of California, Riverside.
Dr. McCole’s laboratory has recently been awarded a grant in excess of €1.1 million to investigate how loss-of-function mutations in the protective gene (PTPN2) increase the risk of infection with the virus that causes Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2).
The grant, which is for three years, is funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health.
The National Institute is the largest funder of biomedical and clinical research in the U.S.
The grant was awarded after Dr McCole’s laboratory discovered that individuals with loss-of-function mutations in the (PTPN2) gene, have increased levels of a protein. This is the virus used to invade the body, on the lining of their lungs and intestines.
“We identified that these individuals have higher levels of this protein that the virus attaches to and essentially hijacks in order to enter the body, and thus places these individuals at increased risk of infection,” Dr McCole explained.
The research award of more than €1.1 million will allow his lab to investigate how these mutations increase this risk of infection from the virus.
The research will also investigate if this risk can be controlled using clinically approved drugs that could reduce the risk of infection with Covid-19.
Dr McCole added: “This is a very exciting project because we will not only determine how this genetic risk factor regulates the amount of the protein that the virus uses to infect cells, we will also identify if a currently used anti-inflammatory agent could potentially be repurposed to reduce the risk of infection in individuals carrying the mutations.”
Dr McCole also explained that this work may help to clarify a major area of confusion relating to whether patients with chronic inflammatory conditions such as ulcerative colitis and rheumatoid arthritis - and currently being treated with JAK inhibitors - are at increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
“Our study will help determine if this class of anti-inflammatory drugs may in fact reduce rather than increase the risk of infection.
“This will provide scientific evidence to support clinicians in deciding to maintain treatment regimens for their patients,” he said.
Initial findings from this study are currently under review at a leading scientific journal and will be published later this year.”
Dr McCole is the only son of Naul (N.T.) and the late Claire McCole from Burtonport. He was educated at Keadue NS, Rosses Community School, and University College Dublin where he obtained a BSc in Pharmacology, and a Ph.D. in Pharmacology and Veterinary Medical Research.
He conducted postdoctoral research and was promoted to Assistant Professor at the University of California, San Diego prior to being recruited to the University of California, Riverside as one of the founding faculty of their medical school that opened in 2013.
Dr McCole is a director of a medical school teaching block in the area of gastrointestinal physiology and anatomy at UC Riverside. He also has administrative responsibilities as the Chair of the Faculty in the School of Medicine.
He has received a number of awards including the New Investigator Award from the American Physiological Society in 2011.
And in 2017 he received a “Top 50 in 50” award in recognition as one of the top 50 contributors in the past 50 years to furthering the mission of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, San Diego and Desert Area Chapter.
He is a regular visitor home to Donegal and never lost his love for his native place, Burtonport and the Rosses.
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