Research Profile

Cora O'Neill

Biography

Prof. Cora O’Neill is Deputy Head of the School of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, Director of the Cork Neuroscience Centre, and a funded investigator in APC Microbiome Ireland. She is principal investigator of a research team whose major focus is Alzheimer’s disease,  Parkinson's disease,  and related brain degenerative disorders. She graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry from University College Dublin and PhD in Biochemistry from Trinity College Dublin (1985). She conducted her post-doctoral training at the Swedish Brain Bank in Umea Sweden (1986-87), where she started to work on Alzheimer’s disease, and subsequently in the Department of Geriatric Medicine, Karolinska Institute Sweden (1987-93) where she became a group leader in Alzheimer’s disease research. She was appointed as a College Lecturer  (1993) Senior Lecturer (2001) and Professor (2017) in University College Cork. As previous Chair of Graduate Studies in the School of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, she is a leader in research-led teaching and post-graduate education.  

Dr. O’Neill’s  major research interests are to understand the basic mechanisms that cause neurodegeneration with age in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and related neurodegenerative diseases. Her research pinpointing defects in insulin signalling in the brain as an early cause of Alzheimer’s disease is highly cited and translating to new therapies and biomarkers for the disease. This feeds into the ultimate goal of her research which is to develop better drug therapies, diagnostic tools and lifestyle interventions to treat and prevent neurodegeneration. She is a major advocate for increased investment in Alzheimer’s and neurodegeneration research nationally, has organised several national and international conferences and served on a number of scientific and advisory boards including the Irish National Steering Committee on Neurodegenerative diseases, the Royal Irish Academy National Committee for Biochemistry, the Irish Bioindustries Association committee and as Chair of the Irish Area Section of the Biochemical Society.  

Research Interests

Research Interests
Age related neurodegenerative diseases, particularly Alzheimer’s and related dementia disorders, have been identified as one of the major grand challenges facing society in the next thirty years. The overall aim of our research is to understand the basic mechanisms that stop functioning correctly in the brain to cause neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease and related neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson’s disease. The ultimate aim of our work is  to translate our research findings to develop better diagnostic tools, treatment strategies and lifestyle choices to stall or prevent Alzheimer’s and related neurodegenerative disease, an extremely urgent societal challenge.

The outcome of our research program has led to significant discoveries which have identified primary defective molecular and cell systems that underlie neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. Specifically, our more recent work and current research focus is leading in research highlighting the role of defective insulin and IGF-1 signalling and the interlinked PI3-kinase/Akt/mTOR axis as an early cause of neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s and also Parkinson’s disease. This work  integrates with highly significant attention on this pathway as a converging causative metabolic node of all major diseases of ageing, including neurodegeneration, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Importantly, our discoveries in this area are translating to new treatments targeting this pathway in neurodegenerative disease and to new diagnostic biomarker platforms for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Our research approach employs a diverse range of biochemical, cell and molecular approaches to discover the primary and earliest mechanisms of neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and related disorders including Parkinson’s disease. Our research employs patient material, transgenic animal and cellular models of neurodegenerative disease. Our approach is multidisciplinary and has developed excellent institutional, national and international collaborations integrated with patient advocacy groups in order to combine basic and clinical translational research with patient care in neurodegeneration.

Publications

Book Chapters

 YearPublication
(1992)'Is Alzheimer's Dementia a Treatable Disease? [B2917]'
Winblad, B.; Cowburn, R. F.; O'Neill, C.; Fowler, C. J.; (1992) 'Is Alzheimer's Dementia a Treatable Disease? [B2917]' In: Neurodevelopment, Aging and Cognition. New York: Birkhauser. [Details]

Conference Publications

 YearPublication
(2011)Irish J. Med. Sci. 6th Annual Neuroscience Ireland Conference
Kiely, AP,Moloney, AM,Coakley, MF,O'Neill, C (2011) Liraglutide ameliorates insulin receptor pathology in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease Irish J. Med. Sci. 6th Annual Neuroscience Ireland Conference , pp.31-32 [Details]
(2008)Alzheimer's and Dementia, 4, (4)
O'Neill C., Stockley, J.H. and Walsh L. ; (2008) Defective protein kinase C activation in Alzheimer's disease: Possible relationship to altered cholesterol homeostasis and ineffective lipid raft formation Alzheimer's and Dementia, 4, (4) 11th International Conference of Alzheimer's disease and related disorders, Chicago, USA, July 2008, , pp.T742-T743 [Details]

Professional Activities

Honours and Awards

 YearTitleAwarding Body
1992KABI-Pharmacia Award
1993KABI-Pharmacia Award

Professional Associations

 AssociationFunctionFrom / To
The Biochemical Society Member and Chair IAS 2000-2003/
The American Society of Neuroscience Member/
The International Brain Research Organisation Member/
Neuroscience Ireland Member/
The American Association for the Advancement of Science Member/
The Alzheimer Society of Ireland Member/

Conference Contributions

 YearPublication
(2014)INBIND Biomarkers in Neurodegenerative disease,
Cora O'Neill (2014) Translating brain biomakers to blood biomarkers for Parkinson's diagnosis and treatment: focus on the Akt system. [Invited Lectures (Conference)], INBIND Biomarkers in Neurodegenerative disease, UCC, Ireland . [Details]
(2011)Galway Neuroscience Seminar Series,
Cora O'Neill (2011) Defective insulin and IGF-1 signalling is central to neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's disease. [Invited Seminars/Guest Lectures], Galway Neuroscience Seminar Series, UCG, Galway . [Details]
(2014)Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience (TCIN) Seminar Series,
Cora O'Neill (2014) Insulin signalling resistance: a coverging mechanism and treament target for Alzheimer's and diabetes. [Invited Seminars/Guest Lectures], Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience (TCIN) Seminar Series, TCD, Dublin . [Details]
(2013)International Conference on Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease ADPD,
Cora O'Neill (2013) Overactivation of the PI3-kinase-Akt signalling axis: An early event in Alzheimer's disease linking Abeta to emerging tau pathology. [Invited Oral Presentation], International Conference on Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease ADPD, Florence Italy . [Details]
(2013)Nottingham University Seminar Series,
Cora O'Neill (2013) Understanding and targeting neuronal insulin resistance in Alzheimer's disease. [Invited Seminars/Guest Lectures], Nottingham University Seminar Series, Nottingham, UK . [Details]
(2013)Dublin City University Biotechnology Seminar Series,
Cora O'Neill (2013) Neuronal insulin resisitance in Alzheimer's disease understanding and targeting signals of neurodegeneration. [Invited Seminars/Guest Lectures], Dublin City University Biotechnology Seminar Series, Dublin, Ireland . [Details]
(2012)The 11th International Symposium on Neurobiology and Neuroendocrinology of Aging,
Cora O'Neill (2012) PI3-kinase/Akt mTOR signalling impaired on/off switches in aging cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease. [Invited Lectures (Conference)], The 11th International Symposium on Neurobiology and Neuroendocrinology of Aging, Bregenz Austria . [Details]
(2012)Neurons Under Stress,
Caitriona Long-Smith, Cora O'Neill (2012) Alterations in the localisation and distribution of insulin receptors in an animal model of Alzheimer's disease: liraglutide as a potential therapeutic for aberrant insulin receptor signalling. [Invited Oral Presentation], Neurons Under Stress, RCSI, Dublin . [Details]
(2011)Gordon Research Conference: Insulin like growth factors in physiology and disease,
Cora O'Neill (2011) Defective insulin and IGF-1 signalling is central to neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's disease. [Invited Oral Presentation], Gordon Research Conference: Insulin like growth factors in physiology and disease, Ventura USA . [Details]
(2011)Biochemical Society Protein Folding and misfolding mechanisms and consequences,
Cora O'Neill (2011) Insulin and IGF-1 signalling: longevity, protein homeostasis and Alzheimer's disease. [Invited Lectures (Conference)], Biochemical Society Protein Folding and misfolding mechanisms and consequences, Maynooth, Ireland . [Details]
(2011)CLASS Conway Lecture and Seminar Series,
Cora O'Neill (2011) Understanding and targeting signals of neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's disease: focus on insulin and IGF-1 signalling pathways. [Invited Seminars/Guest Lectures], CLASS Conway Lecture and Seminar Series, UCD, Dublin . [Details]
(2010)Alzheimer's Research Trust local colloqium Northern Ireland,
Cora O'Neill (2010) Defective insulin and IGF-1 signalling and the development of Alzheimer's disease. [Invited Seminars/Guest Lectures], Alzheimer's Research Trust local colloqium Northern Ireland, QUB, Belfast, Northern Ireland . [Details]
(2009)9th International Conference on Alzheimer's and Parkinson's (ADPD),
John Stockley, Cora O'Neill (2009) BACE1 levels and activity associate with post-natal synaptic maturation: implications for Alzheimer's disease. [Invited Lectures (Conference)], 9th International Conference on Alzheimer's and Parkinson's (ADPD), Prague, Czech Republic . [Details]
(2008)UCC College of Science, Engineering and Food Science Annual Public Lecture Series,
Cora O' Neill; (2008) Alzheimer's disease: progress in understanding a complex brain disorder. [Oral Presentation], UCC College of Science, Engineering and Food Science Annual Public Lecture Series, University College Cork , 01-JAN-08 - 01-JAN-08. [Details]
(2007)Biochemical Society New opportunities for elucidating protease biology and therapeutic strategies,
John Stockley, Cora O'Neill (2007) Analysis of beta secretase kinetics and protein levels of BACE1 and BACE2 in human control and Alzheimer's brain. [Invited Oral Presentation], Biochemical Society New opportunities for elucidating protease biology and therapeutic strategies, Chicherster, England, UK . [Details]
(2006)Inaugural meeting of Neuroscience Ireland, incorporating a Biochemical Society Independent meeting,
Cora O'Neill; (2006) Neurological disorders, molecules, mechanisms and therapeutics. [Conference Organising Committee Member], Inaugural meeting of Neuroscience Ireland, incorporating a Biochemical Society Independent meeting, University College Cork , 21-SEP-06 - 22-SEP-06. [Details]
(2005)Department of Geriatric Medicine, Karolinska Institute Stockholm,
Cora O' Neill; (2005) Dying to survive: The IGF-1 receptor - Akt pathway in Alzheimer's disease. [Invited Oral Presentation], Department of Geriatric Medicine, Karolinska Institute Stockholm, Karolinska Institute Stockholm , 01-JAN-05 - 01-JAN-05. [Details]
(2005)International conference on Alzheimer's disease and related disorders,
Cora O' Neill; (2005) Excessive activation of Akt signalling links to neuronal cell death in Alzheimer's disease. [Oral Presentation], International conference on Alzheimer's disease and related disorders, Madrid, Spain , 01-JAN-05 - 01-JAN-05. [Details]
(2005)Neurodegeneration Ireland,
Cora O'Neill; (2005) Molecular mechanisms of Neurodegeneration. [Conference Organising Committee Member], Neurodegeneration Ireland, University College Dublin , 14-MAR-05 - 15-MAR-05. [Details]
(2003)National Neuroscience Network,
Cora O'Neill; (2003) Understanding signal transduction in Alzheimer's disease. [Oral Presentation], National Neuroscience Network, Trinity College Dublin , 01-JAN-03 - 01-JAN-03. [Details]
(2003)Department of Biochemistry National University of Ireland, Galway,
Cora O' Neill; (2003) Alzheimer's disease defining molecular signals of neurodegeneration. [Oral Presentation], Department of Biochemistry National University of Ireland, Galway, National University of Ireland, Galway , 01-JAN-03 - 01-JAN-03. [Details]
(2003)Department of Biochemistry, Trinity College Dublin,
O' Neill, Cora; (2003) Signal Transduction Dysfunction in Alzheimer's disease: focus on the IGF-1 receptor-Akt pathway. [Oral Presentation], Department of Biochemistry, Trinity College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin , 01-JAN-03 - 01-JAN-03. [Details]
(2003)BioSciences Institute, UCC,
Cora O' Neill; (2003) Neuronal signal transduction in Alzheimer's disease. [Oral Presentation], BioSciences Institute, UCC, University College Cork , 01-JAN-03 - 01-JAN-03. [Details]
(2003)Graduate Medical Education Programme, University College Dublin,
Cora O' Neill; (2003) Molecular pathology of Alzheimer's disease. [Oral Presentation], Graduate Medical Education Programme, University College Dublin, University College Dublin , 01-JAN-03 - 01-JAN-03. [Details]
(2001)School of Biology and Biochemistry, Queens University Belfast,
Cora O' Neill; (2001) Calcium signal transduction in Alzheimer's disease. [Oral Presentation], School of Biology and Biochemistry, Queens University Belfast, Queens University Belfast , 01-JAN-01 - 01-JAN-01. [Details]
(2001)University College Dublin,
Cora O' Neill; (2001) Identifying neuronal signal transduction events that cause Alzheimer's disease. [Oral Presentation], University College Dublin, University College Dublin , 01-JAN-01 - 01-JAN-01. [Details]
(1999)Annual Symposium of the Biochemical Society,
Cora O'Neill; (1999) Neuronal Signal Transduction and Alzheimer's disease. [Conference Organising Committee Member], Annual Symposium of the Biochemical Society, University College Cork , 01-JAN-99 - 01-JAN-99. [Details]
(1999)670th Biochemical Society Meeting,
Cora O'Neill; (1999) Joint co-organiser. [Conference Organising Committee Member], 670th Biochemical Society Meeting, University College Cork , 01-JAN-99 - 01-JAN-99. [Details]
(1997)Biochemical Society Irish Area Sections meetings,
Cora O'Neill; (1997) Predoctoral Meeting Organiser. [Conference Organising Committee Member], Biochemical Society Irish Area Sections meetings, Unknown , 01-JAN-97 - 01-JAN-03. [Details]
(1997)Biochemical Society Lecture Tour,
Cora O'Neill; (1997) Yearly organisation of the Biochemical Society Lecture Tour. [Conference Organising Committee Member], Biochemical Society Lecture Tour, Unknown , 01-JAN-97 - 01-JAN-00. [Details]

Committees

 CommitteeFunctionFrom / To
Health Research Board Post-doctoral Fellowship grant review panel committee member2004 / 2007
Alzheimer's Association of Ireland Medical and Scientific Advisory Panel member2013 /
Biochemical Society Development and Disease Committee member2003 / 2008
Graduate Studies Committee School of Biochemistry and Cell Biology Chair2010 /
Ethics University Committee University College Cork member SEFs representative2012 /
Strategic Research Agenda in Neurodegenerative Disease Steering Committee member2010 / 2013
Irish Bioindustries Association (IBIA) Committee member2000 / 2003
Royal Irish Academy (RIA) National Committee for Biochemistry member2000 / 2003
Biochemical Society Education Committee member2003 / 2008
Health Research Board Endocrinology Grant Review Committee member2002 /
Health Research Board Neuroscience grant review committee member2002 / 2004
Irish Research Scientists Association Committee member2003 / 2006
Graduates Studies Commiitee SEFS UCC member2011 /
Irish Research Network in Neurodegenerative Disease Steering Committee member2013 /
Executive Managment Committee (EMT) Science Faculty SEFs Member2003 / 2009
Biochemical Society Irish Area Section Committee Chair2000 / 2003

Employment

 EmployerPositionFrom / To
Karolinska Institute, Sweden Post-Doctoral Fellow, Research Scientist and Group Leader01-JAN-87 / 31-DEC-93
University of Umea, Sweden Post-Doctoral Research Fellow01-JAN-86 / 31-DEC-87
National University of Ireland, Dublin Post-Doctoral Research Fellow01-JAN-85 / 31-DEC-86
University College Cork Senior Lecturer, Biochemistry, BioSciences Institute01-SEP-93 /
St. Vincent's Hospital Dublin Biochemist02-JAN-80 / 01-OCT-80

Education

 YearInstitutionQualificationSubject
1979University College Dublin BScBiochemistry
1985Trinity College, University of Dublin PhDBiochemistry

Languages

 LanguageReadingWritingSpeaking
Irish FunctionalFunctionalFunctional
French FunctionalFunctionalFunctional
Swedish FluentFunctionalFunctional

Outreach Activities

 Description

I am active in public awareness and outreach activities for Alzheimer’s disease, neurodegeneration and education in biochemistry, cell biology and neuroscience. This involves interaction with: patients and advocacy groups for Alzheimer’s and neurodegenerative research; undergraduate and post-graduate bodies; schools; industry, and national and international committees and organisations that inform policy. I am active in both public outreach; conference organisation, media interaction and several national and international committees to maximise outreach in these areas.

Journal Activities

 JournalRoleTo / From
Journal Of Biological Chemistry Referee-
Acta Neuropathologica Referee-
Journal Of Neuroscience Referee-
Neurobiology Of Disease Referee-
Cell Death And Differentiation Referee-
Biological Psychiatry Referee-
Experimental Gerontology Referee-
Cell And Molecular Life Science Referee-
Neuromolecular Medicine Referee-
Biochemical Journal Referee-
The Journal Of Alzheimer’S Disease & Parkinsonism Referee-
Febs Letters Referee-
Neuroscience Letters Referee-
Neuroreport Referee-
Neuroscience Referee-
Neurobiology Of Aging Referee-
European Journal Of Neuroscience Referee-
Journal Of Neurochemistry Referee-
Aging Cell Referee-

Teaching Activities

Teaching Interests

As Vice-Head of the School of Biochemistry and Cell Biology and Chair of Graduate Studies in the School of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, I hold a number of undergraduate and post-graduate education responsibilities.

Currently I lecture and integrate research-led teaching to all undergraduate levels from second year right through to fourth year, MSc and PhD post-graduate programmes. My specialisation is metabolism and cell signalling in the broadest sense in Biochemistry and Cell Biology and specifically how this integrates with brain function in health and disease. At second year level I teach a basic cell metabolism module covering how molecules enable life and energy transformation in cells in health and how these systems can go awry in disease. At third and fourth year level I teach a basic brain neurochemistry module (third year) and a research level module covering the molecular / cellular basis of neurodegenerative disease with a specific focus on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease (fourth year).

My teaching contributes to eight degree outlets in the College of Science Engineering and Food Science SEFS), to the Biomedical Science Degree (UCC/CIT) and is a major component of the interdisciplinary Neuroscience degree at UCC. At all levels I am passionate about research-led teaching with best integration of practical aspects, discovery and innovation with scientific theory.  I have received several teaching awards, including from NAIRTL and supervised over a 100 final year and visiting student research projects. As Chair of Graduate Studies in the School of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, I oversee our extensive taught MSc and research MSc and PhD programmes. Eleven PhD students, 2 MD and a number of MSc students have successfully graduated from my own research team.   

I currently teach introductory biochemistry, with a focus on cellular metabolism, to second year undergraduate Science students, and Molecular Neuroscience to 3rd and 4th year undergraduate Science students. An outline of my courses and all courses taught by staff in the Department of Biochemistry are available in UCC's Book of Modules.

Modules Taught

 Term (ID))TitleLinkSubject
2020Biochemistry of the Central Nervous System BC3008Biochemistry of the Central Nervous System
2020Principles of Metabolic Pathways BC2002Principles of Metabolic Pathways

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School of Biochemistry and Cell Biology

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University College Cork, Western Road, Cork.

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