Skip to main content
Home » Clinical Trials » Health Research Institute: meeting the needs of changing patient demographics in Ireland

Professor Alan Donnelly

HRI Director and Professor in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, University of Limerick

Professor Rose Galvin

Professor of Physiotherapy, University of Limerick

Siobhan Egan

Clinical Research Operations Manager, CRSU, Health Research Institute

Discover how patient-centric research at a Health Research Institute in Ireland’s Mid-West is revolutionising clinical trials for better medical outcomes within a changing demographic.

Dynamic collaboration among academics, clinicians and healthcare practitioners hailing from University of Limerick’s Health Research Institute (HRI) University Hospital Limerick (UHL), and HSE Mid West Community Healthcare is igniting transformative research endeavours with tangible impact.

Supporting this research, the HRI’s Clinical Research Support Unit (CRSU) located at UHL streamlines logistical, ethical, regulatory and data protection aspects of clinical trials while fostering patient engagement.

Health Research Institute’s strategic expansion

Founded in 2014, the HRI has recently unveiled an ambitious strategic plan to become a leading research institute for Health and Wellness Across the Lifespan by advancing person-centred, technology-enabled, integrated healthcare and treatment. Its Director, Professor Alan Donnelly, explains how the institute integrates a supportive ecosystem to promote interdisciplinary research approaches across seven domains.

These include four priority research areas: cancer, represented by the Limerick Digital Cancer Research Centre (LDCRC); ageing (see below); physical activity for health; food, diet and nutrition. These are underpinned by areas of excellence: digital technology and advanced data analytics; implementation science; and participatory health research.

“Implementation science plays a critical role in facilitating the application of science and research to healthcare practice, meaning that treatment options can change and increase for the patient,” says Donnelly, who has a specific interest in measuring physical activity and sedentary behaviour, and their role in influencing long-term risk of non-communicable diseases.

Advancing healthcare for changing demographic

HRI researchers are also working to offer better healthcare for Ireland’s migrant population and develop digital solutions with the use of artificial intelligence and bioengineering to deliver novel solutions to specific problems.

Recently, Professor Ruth Clifford of the Cancer Clinical Trials unit at UHL secured a major grant to further develop cancer trials, in conjunction with the HRI.

The HRI’s strategic plan takes account of Ireland’s changing patient needs and demographics, particularly as the population ages.

This is a key focus for HRI member and Professor of Physiotherapy Rose Galvin, a founding member of the university’s Ageing Research Centre (ARC), who has received a national Research Leader Award for exploring models of integrated care for older people.

We are passionate and enthusiastic about what we do, with work that will generate new knowledge to ultimately support better healthcare for patients.

Siobhan Egan

Enhancing discharge processes for older people

A major study led by Professor Galvin examines the way older people attending emergency departments (ED) are discharged, particularly as they are at risk of poor outcomes, falls and readmission. This meant creating and assessing efficient care paths for older individuals to receive timely and coordinated care tailored to their preferences.

When a dedicated team of health and social care professionals was placed in the ED at UHL and focused on older adults being discharged, researchers saw a significant reduction in ED stay and reduced hospital admission, with home support packages implemented.

Patient-centricity enriches research

Underlining the importance of public and patient involvement in research, Galvin’s team established a panel of older people and family carers that meets every six weeks to share ideas and collaborate on research projects.

“Their contribution has hugely enriched and enhanced both the quality and relevance of the work that I do,” she says. “These people have a voice and help to shape the relevance of the research. It has also built greater trust and transparency in the research and has been particularly helpful in recruiting and retaining people in trials.”

Patient recruitment bridges research and practice

Meanwhile, the CRSU remains the critical conduit between academic researchers and clinical practitioners. CRSU Clinical Research Operations Manager Siobhan Egan explains that the unit offers support to researchers and specialises in the management and coordination of research studies including patient recruitment.

This equally applies to trials of medicines, medical devices, observational and biobanking studies; for example, the CRSU will be involved in the forthcoming National Irish Covid 19 Biobank project. It also facilitates opportunities for patients to participate in research and clinical trials. 

“We are passionate and enthusiastic about what we do, with work that will generate new knowledge to ultimately support better healthcare for patients,” concludes Egan.

Next article