Superbugs — friends and foes

Posted on: 1st December, 2014

Category: Health & Lifestyle

Contributor: West Cork People

While antibiotics save millions of lives, very few new antibiotics have come into use since the 1960s and antibiotic resistance has become a serious problem. “The antibiotic crisis will make routine operations impossible and a scratched knee could be fatal.”  This is the bleak message from Dr Margaret Chan, head of the World Health Organisation, regarding the crisis of antibiotic resistant superbugs. She went on to add that we could be witnessing the “End of modern medicine as we know it. For patients infected with some drug-resistant pathogens, mortality has been shown to increase by around 50 per cent”.

In the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre (APC) in Cork, novel strategies are being looked for to combat these antibiotic resistant superbugs. One very innovative strategy is to take advantage of the harmless and even beneficial bacteria found naturally on the human body, which help us to fight infections. These bacteria, collectively known as the ‘microbiota’ and comprised of 10 microrganisms, play an important role in human health.

At a public forum, which took place recently, as part of the Celebrate Science festival in Cork, Professor Colin Hill, Chair of Microbial Food Safety at UCC and Principal Investigator at the APC, described several examples of how these ‘super’ bugs can be used to protect us from, or even treat, some very dangerous and even lethal superbug infections.

Prof. Hill described the discovery of Thuricin CD, a special type of antimicrobial called a bacteriocin, which was isolated in Cork and can be used to treat infections of Clostridium difficile.  C.difficile is one of the life-threatening antibiotic-resistant superbugs, which can be a serious problem in the elderly.  In addition, he discussed the use of bacteriophage — viruses which kill bacteria — to treat lung infections in cystic fibrosis and C. difficile infections. He also spoke about using probiotics to prevent and faecal transplants to treat C.difficile infections.

Professor Mary Horgan, MD, Dean of School of Medicine UCC and Consultant in Infectious Disease at Cork University Hospital, highlighted lessons learnt from the latest infection threats. New infections emerge for a variety of reasons; ecological, environmental and human factors that put people in contact with unfamiliar bugs.  Bugs are smart and want to survive, so they develop strategies to evade our immune systems or the treatments we have to kill them. Surveillance systems to promptly identify new infection threats are essential in dealing with new infections. Research is pivotal in our bid to expand knowledge, develop vaccines and treatments and educate the public in a meaningful way. Over the past decade, SARS, H1N1 influenza (‘swine flu’) and Ebola have given us challenges and opportunities in the field of Infection.

While more 10,000 people have been infected with the Ebola virus in the current outbreak in West Africa and there have been more than 4,500 deaths, respiratory illnesses such as influenza, pneumonia and respiratory syncytial virus are a much greater cause of concern, as they resulted in four million deaths globally in 2013. HIV/AIDs, Malaria TB and diarrhoeal diseases caused a further 2.5, 1.3-3.0, 1.7 and 1.8 million deaths, respectively, in 2013. Because respiratory infections are much more easily transmitted, they pose a far greater threat in Ireland. Prof. Horgan argued that everyone should consider getting vaccinated against influenza, not just those most at risk, as the vaccine reduces death by 80 per cent.

Prof John Cryan, Chair of Anatomy and Neuroscience at UCC  and a Principal Investigator at the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre, spoke about exciting new research showing that how we behave and feel may be controlled by the bacteria in our gut. Yes those bacteria may be at the core of us feeling happy or stressed.  Moreover, studies from the APC have shown that these bacteria are crucial for social behaviour and brain development. This has implications for a host of disorders ranging from depression to autism spectrum disorders. Cryan will discuss the factors that control the composition of our gut microbes and point to where this ground-breaking research is going.

The forum was part of Celebrate Science, a new science festival co-ordinated by the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre in partnership with the education and public engagement staff of seven other Science Foundation Ireland Research Centres: AMBER, Infant, Insight, IPIC, Lero, MaREI and SSPC. Celebrate Science Festival activities took place in Cork, Limerick, Dublin and Galway. The festival was funded through SFI Discover’s Public Engagement programme.  For further information see

The Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre,  is a national centre for food and medicine funded by government and industry through Science Foundation Ireland’s Research Centres’ programme.  APC’s research focuses on the role that the gastrointestinal bacterial community (microbiota) plays in health and disease.

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Wave to Mary! 65-year-old Mary Nolan Hickey is running around the entire coast of the Island of Ireland to raise funds & awareness for the RNLI and is currently running the roads of West Cork.

Mary is the only woman to have completed every single Dublin Marathon (all 38 of them). She’s also completed the grueling Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert, known as the ‘toughest foot race on earth’.

To mark her 50th year involved in Athletics Mary is taking on her biggest challenge yet (even though she thought she’d already done that when completing the Dublin Marathon when she was over six months pregnant!) She wants to raise as much money as possible for the RNLI.

Mary started her epic journey in Arklow, Co. Wicklow, on New Year’s Day. She aims to cover up to 5000 kilometers, using coastal routes, over the next five months. She hopes to get back in time to get her first pension payment in June when she turns 66.

Mary will stop off at as many RNLI stations as possible, on her once in a lifetime adventure. As far as she knows no other woman has ever taken on this challenge.

Speaking about her journey Mary said:

“I wanted to prove that age not a barrier. Coming from a coastal town I have a deep affinity with our local RNLI station & volunteers and have huge admiration for the brave men and women who risk their lives to save lives at sea”.

Mary, who’s depending on the goodwill of communities along her route for accommodation, has been astounded by the response so far. “The support has been overwhelming,” she said. “I have met the most amazing and encouraging people along the way”.

To see more about Mary’s adventures, and to pinpoint her location today, check out her Facebook page - rnlilapofthemap2018.
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20th March, 2018  ·  


This Saturday the 10th March, will see some magically curious activity as local Bandon national schools compete in a Wizarding Harry Potter Quiz. The prize will be the beautiful Bandon Banshee Perpetual Cup.

As any Harry Potter enthusiast knows, Bandon has the unique honour of having a character named after the town. The Bandon Banshee, was referred to as the nemesis of Gilderoy Lockhart in the Chamber of Secrets. The book grossed €60 million in sales and was the 7th highest earning film of all time.

Locals, looking to enhance the town for young people, saw the quiz as an ideal way promote the connection. The universally absorbing book series brings young readers on a huge adventure of magic, adversity and triumph. It is also an exploration of loyalty and friendship, good and evil – so it is not only popular way to engage young people, it is a hugely positive connection.

Zoe Tennyson, one of the organisers said they were delighted with the response from schools who ran a qualifying quiz as part of World Book Day. On Saturday Bandon Town Hall will be transformed into Hogwarts Great Hall, with proceeds going Bandon Playground Group, and to cover costs of the event.

Bandon Books will be rewarding the winning team with vouchers to each of the five members. The Bandon Banshee, or Bean-sidhe na Bandaan Perpetual Cup will be hotly contested – but which school will the Banshee go to??

If you have any questions please call Marguerite McQuaid on 087 900 9494
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8th March, 2018  ·  

Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition 23 February 2018

The inaugural Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition will take place in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen this Friday 23rd February. As part of Engineers Week 2018, leaders and members of Ballineen Foróige Club have organised an exhibition which will showcase a diverse and exciting range of engineering projects that have been undertaken by members of the club over the last few weeks, with the aid of leaders and a number of local engineers.

With the aid of local pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, along with the support of STEAM Education, a UCC based company focused on promoting science, technology, engineering, arts, and maths subjects in primary schools, Ballineen Foróige has been engaging members and leaders in all things engineering over the last six weeks. From researching, designing, and prototyping a project based on local problems, to participating in various workshops on coding and careers in engineering, Ballineen Foróige have been extremely busy in preparation for the exhibition this coming Friday night.

On the night itself, Michael Loftus, Head of Engineering at CIT, Fintan Goold, Manager at Eli Lilly and All-Ireland Cork winning Footballer, along with Geraldine Coughlan of GCA Architects & Designers, a local business, will act as judges on the night, evaluating the different engineering projects and offering some advice to the members of the club. Also in attendance will be the CEO of Foróige Seán Campbell, along with a number of local councillors, TD’s and Senators.

Leading the team of Ballineen Foróige leaders organising the event, is Rebecca Dwyer, a bioprocess engineer at Eli Lilly. Rebecca recently became a leader in the club and says that Ballineen Foróige Young Engineer Exhibition 2018 “promises to be a fun, challenging and rewarding experience for all involved and we look forward to welcoming parents, relatives, friends and members of the public to the exhibition and film screening on the evening of Friday 23rd February.” Overall, there are twelve projects entered in the exhibition. One project, led by Cian Kennefick and Charlie Nolan, members of the starting out club, examines the possibility of installing speed ramps on the road near local primary school. Fourteen-year-old Charlie says he got involved in the project as it was something to do and it gets you thinking. Cian says the most exciting part of the project was the building of the prototypes.

Both Cian and Charlie, along with thirty other members of the club will display their projects this coming Friday 23 February in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen. Doors open at 8pm and the event runs until 10pm. All are welcome to attend, and admission is free. Catering, including tea and coffee, will be provided on the night.
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20th February, 2018  ·  

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Main course

17th February, 2018  ·  

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