Darragh’s eyes are opened to scientific research during WIT summer scholarship

A 17 year-old past pupil of Carrick-on-Suir CBS has just completed a scholarship with a Waterford Institute of Technology research group trying to find ways of preventing age related blindness.

A 17 year-old past pupil of Carrick-on-Suir CBS has just completed a scholarship with a Waterford Institute of Technology research group trying to find ways of preventing age related blindness.

Darragh Hayes worked with the Institute’s Macular Pigment Research Group, led by Carrick-on-Suir scientist Dr John Nolan, for two months during the summer and finished his scholarship on Friday, September 7.

Dr Nolan and his research group have been so impressed with the teenager that he has been offered further part-time work in their laboratory while studying for a degree in Entertainment Systems at WIT.

Darragh, a native of Piltown, is the first recipient of the “Michael Power Student Scholarship”, which he won while studying for his Leaving Cert Carrick-on-Suir CBS.

The scholarship was set up by Dr. Nolan, Principal Investigator of the Macular Pigment Research Group, WIT and Director of Nutrasight Consultancy Ltd, in memory of his grandfather Michael Power.

Dr Nolan is a past student of CBS Carrick-on-Suir and set up the scholarship after visiting the school last year to speak to the members of its new Student Consultative Council of which he is a past member.

The scholarship was open to all members of the school’s Leaving Cert class and the winner was selected on the basis of a science essay on egg nutrition. Three students submitted essays that were assessed by Dr Nolan and his group and Darragh emerged as the winner of the competition.

Darragh said he had found his work experience with the research group invaluable and he is thrilled at being offered part-time work at the research lab.

He explained that Dr Nolan’s team is doing research on preventing age related blindness including a condition called Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), which causes a loss of central vision and eventually blindness.

The macula is a tiny, yellow area in the back of the eye, responsible for accurate vision. The macula’s yellow colour is a result of the presence of the three yellow pigments and studies now show that supplementing these pigments may slow the onset of AMD.

The MPRG’s work focuses on these pigments, the ways they can be used to help AMD patients and even improve the vision of people with perfectly healthy eyes.

“On the scientific side of things, I helped postgraduate student Katie Meagher with two projects. Most of this work was done in a world class laboratory situated in the WIT Cork Road Campus.

“One project included testing the market’s dominant eye care supplements. The second, called the EXIT Study, involves feeding chickens a specialised feed, enriched with the macular pigments lutein and meso-zeaxanthin in an effort to enrich their eggs.

“Eating these eggs may prove an effective alternative to taking supplements. The experience was very hands-on, learning to use the impressive equipment, good lab practice and helping with the development of experimental methods.”

Darragh also did work on the administrative side of the research project.

“I organised relevant data from an extensive database of scientific literature, helped Dr John Nolan search for funding and helped with the organisation of an international conference to be held next year.

“This experience gave me the chance to work in an office environment where time management and efficiency were essential.”

Darragh said the scholarship has made him feel confident in starting his first year at WIT and he already felt a part of the college.

“This kind of opportunity is an incredibly rare and precious thing for a 17 year old student about to begin third level.

“ Dr. John Nolan and the rest of the MPRG have given me a memorable experience,” he told The Nationalist.

Dr Nolan said Darragh achieved goals beyond his expectations during the scholarship and his family should be very proud of him.

“I believe Darragh will use the experience gained with our research team in the best possible way, and I am sure that he has an extremely bright future ahead.

“We wish him the very best. Professor Beatty and I are delighted to announce that we will be offering the scholarship again next year and we look forward to working with the Carrick CBS and their students union to continue this worthwhile scholarship.”