Orla Dunne

Orla Dunne, a Ph.D. candidate at The Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University Belfast in Belfast, Northern Ireland, has received IFER funding from 2020-2021 for her project, “Further characterization of an in vitro human sensory neuronal model derived from dental pulp stem cells for the study of neuronal responses in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).” The goal of Orla’s project is to characterize a cell-based model to study neuronal responses in COPD. In respiratory conditions like COPD, nerves in the airway can become overly responsive to stimuli, resulting in a debilitating chronic cough. While researchers often rely on animal models such as guinea pigs, mice and rats to investigate the hyper-responsiveness of airways, Orla seeks to examine the use of neurons derived from dental pulp stem cells to look at neuronal responses relevant to cough research. Redundant human dental tissue is a rich source of human dental pulp stem cells, which can be differentiated into nerve cells over a period of 10-14 days. The cells will be extensively characterized and studied to determine agents that can make them hyper-responsive. The model can also be adapted for other conditions, such as chronic pain or chronic itch, potentially reducing animal use in many areas of research.