Healthcare and Life Sciences 50 – 2015

John Nolan/Macular Pigment Research Group

Professor Nolan is Director and Principal Investigator of the Macular Pigment Research Group (MPRG) which operates out of Carriganore House at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) – one of Ireland’s foremost third level colleges.

Nolan has just completed a two-year study testing the impact nutritional supplements in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD). New studies by Nolan and team will test if these supplements can improve cognitive function in those with early stage disease. His study comes in the wake of his extensive breakthrough research into of the role of macular pigment (nutrients in the eye) for Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of blindness in the world today. That research, carried out over a period of ten years, involved over 1,000 people in clinical trials and was done in close co-operation with Professor Stephen Beatty of Whitfield Clinic, Waterford, Ireland and the results show that taking the supplements can greatly improve vision in patients with AMD and AD. In the AD studies, Nolan and colleagues were the first to discover that those with the disease had a deficiency in the macular pigment (the three naturally occurring nutrients, the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and meso-zeaxanthin which form a yellow protective pigment at the back of the eye, and have also recently been discovered in the brain). The supplement used in the trials, called Macushield in Europe and MacuHealth in the US, uniquely contains these important carotenoids. Such is the success of Macushield/MacuHealth that it is now being widely prescribed for patients with AMD and for patients that want to enhance and protect their vision. Indeed, Nolan’s work with this supplement has gained full support from the European Research Council (ERC; 1.5 million euro) and the team in Waterford is currently testing the impact of this supplement to enhance visual function in the normal population, and the initial data shows that visual function can be greatly enhanced in people free of eye disease. These findings have important implications sports people (e.g. golfers, baseball players) and in the work place (e.g. drives, pilots, military etc). Nolan believes that these supplements are key to support overall eye health and advises that the research is conclusive in this regard.

Nolan graduated from WIT with a B.Sc. in Applied Biology in 2002 and completed his Ph.D. in 2005 on Determinants of Macular Pigment in healthy subjects. He became the first applicant from an institute of technology in Ireland to be awarded a Fulbright scholarship, and completed his Fulbright year in the medical college of Georgia under the renowned professor of biology and ophthalmology Max Snodderly. Nolan was also the first applicant from an institute of technology in Ireland to win the prestigious ERC grant from Europe.

His experience as a Fulbright scholar reinvigorated his determination to achieve positive results from his work in Ireland and to develop the Vision Research Centre in Waterford into a world-class scientific and academic facility. WIT supported him in his ambition, realizing the enormous potential of his ground-breaking work.

The future: Most significantly, Nolan’s recent work into AD opens up exciting possibilities for those at risk of or who are suffering from AD, underlined by the fact the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in the U.S. chose his most recent paper for specific recognition and dissemination at the annual conference of the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. He has also published over 70 peer reviewed scientific papers in his area of research and has editorial roles at the European Journal of Ophthalmology and the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. He is also Chair of the International Macular Carotenoids Conference, which is held at Downing College, Cambridge University.

Away from his work Prof. Nolan is a devout family man and is married to Jane and has a baby daughter Penny. He is a native of Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary and is a passionate supporter of the Tipperary senior hurling team. He is also a competitive middle-distance runner.