BON News 4

Waterford researcher wins prestigious European fellowship for work on links between nutrition and brain health

A Waterford researcher has won a prestigious European fellowship worth more than €170,000 that will allow her to further develop her postdoctoral research on the role that nutrition plays in cognitive health.

Dr Rebecca Power is a Howard Research Fellow at the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland (NRCI) in the School of Health Sciences at Waterford Institute of Technology and a Research Technician at the VistaMilk Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Research Centre.

Part of Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) Individual Fellowship will support Dr Power in her research training and career development by spending a year in the United States before returning to Waterford for a further 12-month period. This is the first direct MSCA Individual Fellowship where Waterford Institute of Technology is the beneficiary.

In the United States, Dr Power will work alongside Aron Barbey, Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience and Bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Director of the Decision Neuroscience Laboratory at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science & Technology.

Speaking about the fellowship, Dr Power said: “I’m obviously delighted to have been selected. The support provided will allow me to build on the work that has already been performed here in Waterford and elsewhere in this exciting research area.

“We already know that good nutrition and a balanced diet with lots of fruit, vegetables and fish is important for brain health and function as well as reducing our risk of Alzheimer’s Disease as we grow older. The work that I will undertake during the MSCA fellowship will further improve our understanding of the parts of the brain and neural networks that are strengthened by specific foods.

“With colleagues in the U.S. and here in Waterford, I will also examine the longer-term effects of dietary patterns on how our brains organise and communicate information. We will also examine potential differences between males and females in this regard.”

Prof John Nolan, Founder and Principal Investigator at NRCI, added: “Rebecca deserves huge credit for winning what is the EU’s flagship fellowship programme for researchers. You get a sense of just how competitive it is when you see that the current round attracted more than 11,000 global applicants, of whom 1,630 were awarded fellowships.

“From a Centre perspective, it is also a welcome endorsement of our work which concentrates heavily on better understanding the links between what we eat and how our brains function – something that is becoming ever more important in the context of aging populations. It is also a great vote of confidence in the pathways that are open to talented and committed people at WIT where Rebecca has moved through the levels from her original undergraduate degree in Health Promotion. More importantly, she is a great ambassador for female leaders in science.”

Prof Barbey added: “We’re excited to host Dr Power at the Beckman Institute and to have her with us in the Decision Neuroscience Laboratory. She brings a wealth of expertise in clinical and nutritional science and will lead multidisciplinary research at Illinois to discover nutrient biomarkers that promote brain health. We’re also delighted to initiate this new collaboration with the Waterford Institute of Technology and to partner with the NRCI.”

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