What do we do?

We explore the interactions between pathogenic bacteria and human cells in order to better understand how they contribute to disease and in order to develop better antimicrobial therapies. 

Why is it important:?
Opportunistic infections are a great threat to human health. Our current disease model is the bacterial colonisation of the cystic fibrosis (CF) lung. CF is the most common life threatening genetically inherited disease in Ireland and Ireland has the highest incidence of CF in Europe. CF pathogens cause respiratory infections that deteriorate lung function of CF patients and reduce their life expectancy.

The main focus of the research is the investigation of the pathogenesis of opportunistic CF pathogens, such as Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc). We focus on the interactions between these pathogens and lung epithelial cells, at both the cellular and molecular levels, with an ultimate goal of identifying novel therapies to combat these problematic organisms. Bcc is a group of 18 species of bacteria, associated with a high rate of mortality in CF patients. It is resistant to many antibiotics and certain strains are transmissible, leading to patient-to patient spread. Once a person with CF is colonised, Bcc is rarely eradicated. We also study Pseudomonas aeruginosa and newly emerging CF pathogens, including, genus Pandoraea.

The Centre of Microbial Host Interactions, a designated Institute Research Centre at ITT Dublin, is currently investigating Bcc and other CF pathogens to address the following areas:

  • Mechanisms of colonisation and attachment to lung cells and mechanisms of virulence.
  • Investigations on the host response to CF pathogens
  • Pathogen iron acquisition mechanisms
  • Bacterial adaptation during chronic colonisation.
  • Vaccine development for Bcc and related pathogens.
  • The role of biofilm formation in pathogenesis and antibiotic susceptibility

We have a number of epithelial cell and virulence models that we use to probe the interactions between CF pathogens and the lung and the host response to those pathogens.

CMHI team at ITT Dublin

Principal Investigators
The team is co-ordinated by Dr. Siobhán McClean and Dr. Máire Callaghan. Together with Dr. Emma Caraher, they supervise a group of doctoral fellows and postgraduate researchers.
Contact details:

  • Dr Siobhán McClean [siobhan.mcclean AT] – Mechanisms of colonisation of host epithelia and vaccine discovery/ development:
  • Dr Máire Callaghan – [maire.callaghan AT] Immunology/microbiology:
  • Dr Emma Caraher –  [emma.caraher AT ] Biofilm formation and antibiotic susceptibility.


Louise Cullen
Louise Cullen
Presenting her poster at the DCU Proteomics conference September 2013. Louise won first prize for her poster.
PhD and MSc Graduation of three past CMHI members (L-R) Anne Costello, Jean Tyrrell, Ruth Pilkington (November 2012)
Dr Siobhan McClean being presented with the “Best pitch” award at the SFI-TIDA Get started Technology Venture programme (October 2014)
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