Head of Biochemistry, University College Cork
Prof. Tom Cotter is the head of the Biochemistry Department in University College Cork. He obtained his DPhil from Oxford University, and subsequently spent some years in the USA studying how cells die. He is currently the leader of an active retina research group, comprised of four post-doctoral researchers, all working on different, but complementary, areas of retinal signalling. The four are Maryanne Donovan, Francesca Doonan, Gillian Groeger and Lavinia Bhatt, each of whom has specialised skills in biochemical research methods.
The Cotter group is mainly concerned with basic research into cell signalling within the retina. The retina is comprised of seven different cell types organised into three main layers. Photoreceptors (cells that respond to light) are in the outer most layer. When a person’s photoreceptors die, they lose their vision. Through their research, the Cotter group hopes to figure out ways to keep these cells alive. Also they are actively investigating Muller cells in the retina. These cells provide support for the photoreceptors and so are crucial in helping them to survive. Their most recent publication described that a drug named Norgestrel can rescue photoreceptors exposed to severe stress (Doonan et al, 2011). By understanding at a basic level what happens to these cell types when the retina is stressed, they aim to figure out possible novel therapeutic agents.