Dr. John Nolan continuing valuable scientific research

Waterford is making great progress in scientific research and one local man, who is making a great contribution is Dr. John Nolan of nearby Carrick-on-Suir, but now living in Williamstown in Waterford city with his wife Jane and two children Penny and Bea. We discussed how he has reached his current position, doing some state of the art world breaking medical research and how he got into it.

John was raised in Carrick where his family had a small grocery business after the father’s building business suffered in the 1980s building crash. He would go to CBS Carrick and do part-time work in Michael O’Keeffe’s (Esso) Petrol station on the Clonmel Road. A keen GAA man, he loves hurling and supports Tipperary and also soccer, a great fan of Liverpool, he played many years for Carrick United and has many medals from junior league winners to national and Munster. Six premier league medals won with Carrick United in those glory years and also an FAI Junior Cup winners medal, one of his contemporaries back in those days was John O Shea of Ireland and Manchester United. Stephen Hunt is another from Clonea with Carrick United. Stephen would later sign for Crystal palace and play for Ireland. John hurled with St. Molleran’s during his teenage years in Carrick. John has several signed all Ireland winning Tipperary jerseys in his office in Waterford.

John admits he was no big academic back then and got a normal inter cert of 5 honours and nearly the same for the Leaving Cert, but the sciences and maths were his strong points at school. However, his favourite thing about school was playing sports. He would later go onto WIT to do a Bachelor of sciences and there he would blossom academically. In WIT, he began at the Certificate level then onto diploma and eventually a degree (BSc) with Distinction. He was also keen on lab work and did a spell with Nova Foods where he worked with Carrick man Dermot Brett. However, John had a deep grá for the science and decided he would give the PhD a go and it was here that he began his research into nutrition for age-related macular degeneration (AMD, the world’s leading cause of age-related blindness).

John’s PhD studies started in 2002 with supervision from Dr Orla O Donovan in WIT and Professor Stephen Beatty. During this period, John continued some part time bar work at O’Ceallachain’s in Carrick Carrick. John successfully completed his PhD in 2005 following a viva examined by a professor from Queens University, Belfast. It was amazing that he did the PhD in 3 years, when normally it could take up to 5 years. He puts this down to good support, but also a lot of hard work and dedication. He said to us that Professor Kieran Byrne, former Institute President in Waterford was a great supporter of his research and had a great vision and believe in the research. He also mentioned Minister Deputy Martin Cullen, who was very influential at the time for Waterford and a believer in the research. John also got a unique Fulbright scholarship and went to Georgia Medical College of Georgia University, where he did Post Doc work with Professor Max Snodderly. At that time, he was fortunate to get support from his parents and funding from his grandfather (the late Michael Power), in order to do the American Fulbright Scholarship.

On his return to Waterford with his PHD in hand, the future was bright, and he was the first to realise a science Fulbright Scholarship that was home grown. The link up with Dr. Alan Howard for the Howard Foundation, UK was a key element in linking nutrition to prevent AMD and now his work is supporting people with Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Alan Howard met him and supported him and his philanthropy meant that WIT could open the new research centre in Waterford in 2011 (Nutrition Research Centre Ireland, NRCI). This same year, John won the most prestigious research grant available to an academic (the European Research Council grant). With these major research funds, John and his multi-disciplinary team have been able to identify the exact nutrients of the eye that enhance vision and protect against AMD. John’s research is now world famous and has impacted 1000’s of patients across the world. John is the leader of the scientific network studying nutrition and vision and is chair of the Cambridge Brain and Ocular Nutrition conference. They might find a breakthrough in helping to find a prevention for Alzheimer, where there is none at present. Alzheimer is named after a German scientist, who discovered the condition in the 19th century, when he treated a Frankfurt patient with dementia, he died in 1915 but did a paper on it in 1907.

Dr. Nolan is delighted with the progress in WIT and the amount of research they can carry out. They continue to link with hospitals, academic institutes and industries from across the world. He wants as a local man to build a high reputation for Waterford in science and medical research and he is confident that this work will not only continue to help the scientific community, but will position WIT to achieve merited university status for the south east of Ireland.

Article by Kieran Walsh for The Munster Express, Tuesday 14th January 2020