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Luke O'Neill: oration

Read Professor Stephen Ward's oration on Professor Luke O'Neill for the honorary degree of Doctor of Science in July 2022


Photograph of Luke O'Neill receiving his honorary degree
Luke O'Neill

Pro-Chancellor, Luke O’Neill was educated at Trinity College Dublin where he was awarded an undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences (Biochemistry) in 1985. He then moved to London to embark on his PhD studies at the Royal College of Surgeons. It was during this period where he developed his interest in inflammation, a highly complex process that is provoked in the body during infection or in response to major trauma and injury. Inflammation restores us to health but can become dysregulated and give rise to a whole range of inflammatory diseases which remain difficult to treat.

After obtaining his PhD in pharmacology in 1988, he worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the Strangeways Research Laboratory in Cambridge before being awarded a lectureship in the Department of Biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin in 1991. It was here that his independent research career developed and flourished, focussing his efforts on understanding the immune system which lies at the heart of inflammation. Luke was promoted to Professor in 2000 and is now widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost authorities on the immune response that drives inflammation. His pioneering research has uncovered new molecules and biochemical processes that are triggered by sensors of infection and tissue injury. This has led to the identification of new drug targets and vaccine technology.

Luke has published over 350 peer-reviewed scientific articles and filed many patents surrounding a number of key proteins that facilitate and regulate the immune response. He has won numerous awards for his research and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2016. He also co-founded two early-stage pharmaceutical companies (Opsona and Inflazome), both of which are focused on discovery and development of new drugs targeting inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. His research has been funded by the Wellcome Trust, Science Foundation Ireland and the European Research Council as well as the pharmaceutical industry.

Luke has successfully supervised over 50 PhD students and many of his students and post-doctoral researchers have since gone on to establish their own world class research careers. Furthermore, Luke has excellent communication skills and can engage equally as well with lay audiences as he does with scientists. He uses these communication skills with great effect to regularly and effectively champion science in news and social media as well as in numerous public and patient engagement activities associated with his research. These include a prominent weekly radio slot in Ireland, YouTube videos on his science and most recently several best-selling general science books. In his book Humanology, he delves into some of science’s biggest questions, through his characteristic natural wit, explaining everything from the origins of the universe and human intelligence, to the science of finding love and why humans follow religion. Luke has been described by one eminent Irish broadcaster as “a man who can explain 4.2 billion years of life on Earth and make me laugh at the same time – sheer genius”.

Luke O’Neill’s outstanding research achievements, together with an enviable ability to inspire early career researchers and a talent for humorous public engagement, allows him to effectively champion not only his own research, but also science more broadly to the general public.

Pro-Chancellor, I present to you Professor Luke O’Neill who is eminently worthy to receive the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.


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