Thursday, 17 October 2019

NUI Galway Research Highlights Uncertainties Around the Benefits and Harms of Statins

New article in The BMJ focuses on the use of statins amongst people at low risk of cardiovascular disease and the need for better data to help shared decision making Findings from a five-year study on statin use led by Dr Paula Byrne and Dr John Cullinan, J.E. Cairnes School of Business & Economics at NUI Galway along with Professor Susan M Smith, RCSI, has been published today (17 October 2019) in the leading medical journal The BMJ. Statins are among the most commonly used drugs in Ireland and the western world. While originally intended for those who have suffered prior cardiovascular disease, they are now commonly used by people with no prior disease to prevent cardiovascular disease in the future. This is called primary prevention. This new research highlights that eligibility for statins has expanded considerably over the past two decades and that clinical guidelines have gone from potentially recommending statin treatment in a small minority of older patients, to recommending treatment in a majority. At present nearly two-thirds of Irish adults aged over 50 with no history of cardiovascular disease could now be eligible for statins, even though there are significant uncertainties regarding the benefits of these cholesterol-lowering drugs. To date, most studies have not differentiated between the impact of statins in those with and without cardiovascular disease, which makes it difficult for doctors to support patients when making decisions about taking statins. This new research explores the deficiencies in the available evidence. It shows that considerable uncertainty remains about the benefits of their use for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and that the effects of statins in certain groups, such as women and the elderly, may differ from effects in middle aged men. In addition, the absolute benefits from statins for low-risk patients can be very small and patients may consider that they do not justify taking a daily medication or the risk of adverse effects. Overall the research shows that for lower risk categories, many people may need to be treated to prevent one serious cardiovascular event. In addition, the authors highlight that much of the data on the side effects of statins remain unavailable for independent analysis. The authors call for better data on both the benefits and harms of statins, in particular for low-risk populations, in order to better facilitate shared decision making. Lead author Dr Paula Byrne, SPHeRE Researcher, J.E. Cairnes School of Business & Economics, NUI Galway, said: “Some patients may achieve very small reductions in risk of cardiovascular disease by taking statins. As a result, the individual patient and their doctor need to consider if these reductions justify taking a medication daily and the risk of side effects. From a societal perspective, we need to ask whether or not statin use in such low-risk people represents value for money in the health sector.” Co-author Dr John Cullinan, Senior Lecturer in Economics, J.E. Cairnes School of Business & Economics, NUI Galway, said: “In the context of overstretched healthcare budgets, the concept of overuse of medicines and low-value care should become integral to policymaking and reimbursement. We have highlighted one area of drug spending that warrants more careful consideration and would urge those responsible for the implementation of health policy and Sláintecare to seriously consider and deal with areas of potentially wasteful spending.” Co-author Professor Susan M Smith, RCSI, said: Given the on-going debate on the appropriateness of statin use in primary prevention, it is significant that the evidence to support this use is so limited, particularly for women. Doctors need more evidence on the benefits and harms of statins in low-risk individuals to support shared decision making with patients.” To read the full study in The BMJ, visit: and -Ends-

News Archive

Monday, 14 October 2019

Students from NUI Galway had the rare privilege of hearing Irish folk legend Christy Moore discuss his lifelong research of song material, his songwriting influences and his journey as Ireland’s greatest folk singer. The event was part of the University’s annual Jean Ritchie Lecture which coincided with NUI Galway’s Arts in Action 2019-2020 programme launch. Now in its ninth year, Arts in Action offers NUI Galway students from all course disciplines ranging from Medicine to Engineering to Science, the unique opportunity to complete a ‘Creative Arts’ module as part of their academic year. Students can also attend the weekly free lunchtime programme of events featuring celebrated artists. Arts in Action Producer and Artistic Director, Mary McPartlan, NUI Galway, said: “What has always been important to NUI Galway is the natural connection that exists between the creative arts and the existing academic structures, providing students with access to continuous high-end international and professional arts in all genres, which also creates credit bearing opportunities in academic modules. This year’s programme also reflects the growing collaboration between NUI Galway and the many local and national arts organisations, bringing rich and rewarding performances to the students and staff on a weekly basis.” A strong narrative around the theme of this year’s programme is Ireland’s inextricable link with the islands both here and overseas, the country as an island in these uncertain times of Brexit and the possible return to a hard border, the arresting landscape, heritage and the Irish language. Drawing on Ireland as an island, Arts in Action will host a Celebration of the Blasket Islands in association with An Taibhdhearc. Suantraí na hInise/Island Lullaby is a unique and innovative music/theatre event. Composed and directed by Colm Ó Foghlú and featuring internationally renowned musicians Niamh Ní Charra, Noreen O’Donoghue and members of the Orchestra of Ireland it will include historical images and film from The Blasket Centre Archive. Representing islands off Scotland, England and Wales, performances include the English folk singer and musician Lisa Knapp and Irish fiddler player and composer, Gerry Diver. From the Shetland Islands, fiddle player Chris Stout will perform with Dundee harpist Catriona McKay. A strong line-up of Irish artists include comedian and actor Tommy Tiernan in conversation with RTÉ broadcaster, Vincent Woods, world class fiddle player Martin Hayes, renowned uileann piper, Paddy Keenan, composers and instrumentalists, Ulaid, and a concert of harp music with harpists Laoise Kelly, Grainne Hambly and Kathleen Loughnane. Arts in Action is also delighted to continue its association with TG4’s Molscéal and its development of the creative arts programme, presenting the 2019 Gradam Ceol ‘Young Musician of the Year’ featuring accordion player and Clarenbridge native, Conor Connolly and Guests. The programme will also continue its strong relationship with An Taibhdhearc presenting Airneán Árann, a concert featuring actor, Macdara Ó Fátharta, who was born in Synge’s Cottage in Inis Meáin and who translated a selection of the writings of John Millington Synge about the island. For this very special concert Macdara will be joined by his son, MacDara O Conaola, Galway poet, Mary O Malley, Inis Mór musician, Oisín Ó hIarnáin, Inis Mór singer, Treasa Ní Mhiolláin and Inis Oírr singer, Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola. Representing the culture of the Aran Islands the programme features a series of black and white photographs of the Islands from NUI Galway’s Hardiman Library Archives, along with a selection of bilingual poems curated by university academic and poet Dr Lillis Ó Laoire, depicting the landscape of the three Aran Islands. In January 2020, NUI Galway will host a European Capital of Culture Seminar curated by Dr Catherine Morris and Mary Mc Partlan, bringing together a panel of artists, cultural practitioners, teachers and students to explore the dynamic role of arts and culture in university education. The event will discuss how creativity features across the curriculum, how artistic practice can be taught, and how to assess artistic creativity in the humanities. Irish Theatre Institute will present the theatre production Fond Pageant. Written and performed by Daniel Reardon, the play is based on Reardon’s book of the same name, sparked by an unprovoked and inexplicable epileptic seizure suffered by Reardon while attending the opening night of Ulysses at the Abbey Theatre in 2017. Music for Galway will present a series of concerts featuring the best in Irish and international classical music that includes Venetian pianist Chiara Opalio, violinist Eoin Ducrot and Cork cellist Aoife Burke and Collegium choir will perform music from the Renaissance period under the direction of conductor Mark Duley. To download the full Arts in Action 2019-2020 programme and to book events, visit: -Ends-

Monday, 14 October 2019

Have you ever wondered what affects the occurrence of migraines? Psychologists at NUI Galway’s School of Psychology are interested in examining this phenomenon in adults from Ireland and the UK, and want to investigate the psychological factors that could contribute to migraines by carrying out an online study.  Estimates for the prevalence of migraine in Ireland vary roughly between 600,000 and 900,000. There is an estimated 1 to 1.09 billion people affected by migraine worldwide according to the most recent research from the World Health Organisation. While not the most common type of headache, migraine is estimated to be the most burdensome and merits further investigation from all disciplines.  The researchers plan to investigate the impact psychological factors such as attachment style, childhood experiences, dissociation, current stress, anxiety and mood has on migraine. They aim to collect responses from adults diagnosed with migraine from Ireland and the UK with a view to analysing and publishing the results.  The study is being carried out by Iain Mays, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, Professor Brian McGuire, Co-Director for the Centre for Pain Research, and Dr Jonathan Egan, Deputy Director of the Doctorate Programme in Clinical Psychology at NUI Galway. Dr Jonathan Egan, School of Psychology, NUI Galway, says: “Psychological factors are important in that they may influence how a person reacts to how a migraine headache is managed and whether they feel that they can access support or not. Stressful life events in childhood may predispose people to developing chronic health conditions including migraines and we want to research whether this is true in a large sample of people experiencing migraine in Ireland” Iain Mays, School of Psychology, NUI Galway, said: “There is a growing awareness of the impact of migraine in Ireland. This has been documented with the publishing of the Migraine Quick Reference Guide by the Irish College of General Practitioners in February, along with important awareness campaigns such as Brain Awareness Week in March and more recently Migraine Awareness Week in September. This research hopes to contribute to our awareness and understanding of migraine by investigating possible psychological factors associated with the condition.” To participate in the online study and for more information please phone 091 492956 or visit:  -Ends- 

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Professor Louise Allcock, Head of Zoology at NUI Galway is a co-author of a new study that found octopuses from deeper in the ocean had warty skin compared to their shallower smooth-skinned counterparts, with DNA sequences revealing they were the same species despite looking so different. The study was led by The Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, and is published today (8 October 2019) in the international journal, Bulletin of Marine Science.  Deep beneath the ocean’s surface, surprisingly cute warty pink octopuses creep along the seafloor. But not all these octopuses look alike. While humans love a good “Is your skin oily, dry, or combination?” quiz, members of one octopus species take variations in skin texture to a whole new level. Some have outrageous warts, while others appear nearly smooth-skinned. Scientists weren’t sure if these octopuses were even members of the same species, and they didn’t know how to explain the differences in the animals’ looks. But in this new study, scientists cracked the case: the deeper in the ocean the octopuses live, the bumpier their skin and the smaller their bodies. DNA revealed that even though the octopuses looked different, they were the same species.  Co-author of the study, Professor Louise Allcock, Head of Zoology, Ryan Institute, NUI Galway, who analysed the DNA data, said: “We really weren’t sure what the DNA would tell us. Warty octopuses occur throughout the deep oceans of most of the world, including all the way down to the Antarctic, and there are real issues in determining the true number of species. From many locations we only have one or two specimens, because they live in really inaccessible habitats, so we had very little experience as to how much individuals of any given species might vary.”  Lead author, Janet Voight, Associate Curator of Zoology, Field Museum, said: “If I had only two of these animals that looked very different, I would say, ‘Well, they’re different species, for sure.’ But variation inside animal species can sometimes fool you. That’s why we need to look at multiple specimens of species to see, does that first reaction based on two specimens make sense?” To figure out if the smooth and warty octopuses were the same species, the scientists examined 50 specimens that were classified as Graneledone pacifica, the Pacific warty octopus. Plunging deep into the ocean in ALVIN, a human-occupied submersible vehicle, Voight collected some of the octopuses from the Northeast Pacific Ocean. The team also studied specimens loaned from the University of Miami Marine Laboratory and the California Academy of Sciences. They looked at specimens from up and down the Pacific, from as far north as Washington State to as far south as Monterey, California, and from depths ranging from 3,660 feet (1,100 metres) to more than 9,000 feet (2,700 metres) below the ocean’s surface. The researchers counted the number of warts in a line across each octopus’s back and its head and the number of suckers on their arms. They found that the octopuses from deeper in the ocean looked different from their shallower counterparts. The deep-sea specimens were smaller, with fewer arm suckers, and, most noticeably, bumpier skin than those from shallower depths. They found there weren’t two distinct groups; the animals’ appearances changed according to how deep they live. Comparing the octopuses’ DNA sequences revealed only minor differences, supporting the idea that they were all the same species, despite looking so different. Voight adds: “Sometimes when animals look different from each other, scientists can be tempted to jump the gun and declare them separate species, especially in the deep sea, where very little is known about animal life and scientists often don’t have many specimens to compare. But looking different doesn’t necessarily mean that animals are members of different species; take chihuahuas and Great Danes, which are both the same species of Canis lupus familiaris. Dogs’ different appearances are due to selective breeding by humans, but in the case of the warty octopuses in this study, their different appearances seem to result from environmental influences, because their appearance changes depending on where the octopuses are from.” Scientists aren’t sure why the variations in skin texture occur with depth. But they do have a hunch about the size difference. Voight thinks that these octopuses usually eat creatures from the sediment on the ocean floor, passing food from sucker to sucker and then crushing their prey like popcorn. “There’s less food as you get deeper in the ocean. So these animals have to work harder to find food to eat. And that means at the end of their lives, they’ll be smaller than animals who have more food. If you’re a female who’s going to lay eggs at the end of your life, maybe your eggs will be smaller”, says Voight. Smaller eggs mean smaller hatchlings.  Support for this hypothesis comes from the number of suckers on the males’ arm that transfers sperm packets to females. Earlier research by Voight found that male hatchlings have a full-formed arm with all its suckers in place. The researchers documented that the number of suckers on this arm was much smaller in males from greater depth, and Voight hypothesizes it relates to egg size. “The octopus hatchlings in shallower water, only 3,660 feet (1,100 metres), are bigger. Their eggs had more yolk. As the embryos grew, they developed farther inside the egg than the ones from 9,000 feet (2,700 metres), who were developing in smaller eggs. They had less energy to fuel their growth before they left the egg, so they made fewer suckers,” says Voight. Seeing these physical manifestations of octopuses’ food limitation provides a hint of how they might fare as climate change progresses and the octopuses’ food supply fluctuates. Voight notes that this study, which shows that different-looking octopuses can still be the same genetic species, could help researchers down the line trying to identify life forms in the deep sea. Remotely operated vehicles collect video footage of the ocean floor, and it can be used to estimate the number of species present, if known what they look like. That’s why, Voight says, it’s so important to examine specimens in person and use characteristics you can’t see on video to identify species boundaries. To read the full study in Bulletin of Marine Science, visit: -Ends- 

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