Vice President for Research, Maynooth University

Immunologist, Professor Bernard Mahon, is the current Vice President for Research at Maynooth University. He is also a member of 3U Partnership’s Strategy Board. Previously, he was the Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, and Scientific Director of the Irish Institute of Immunology.
His scientific research interests are in the area of hypothesis-driven, fundamental studies of murine and human immunology.

  1. The two major topics he focuses on are:
    How do adult mesenchymal stem cells modulate immunity (a question with implications for stem cell therapy, transplantation and tolerance). This work finds application is the design of new cell based therapies;
  2. The immunology of early life, particularly at the mucosal surface of the airways. This has led me to examine early life infections with the pathogens B. pertussis, poliovirus and B19V, work which has implications for vaccine design, immunisation protocols and diagnostics.

Professor Mahon has authored over sixty scientific publications, holds a number of patents and has contributed to the development of new vaccines currently in human clinical trials. He has received funding awards from the Wellcome Trust, SFI, EU Framework 7, Enterprise Ireland and the Health Research Board.
For list of Research Publications click here

3U recently caught up with Professor Mahon to ask him a few questions about his job as Vice President for Research in Maynooth University as well as some more personal questions.


Briefly describe what your current job entails?
My role is to guide and support the research community at Maynooth University. The University has a tremendous research tradition stretching from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century and spanning the Sciences, the Social Sciences and the Arts. I am very conscious that I am responsible for helping our scholars meet their full research, and innovation potential, and achieve the ambition of our strategic plan.


Have there been any recent developments in your career?
My own research is now led by very able younger scientists, but I still keep my hand in as a collaborator. I am fortunate that my personal Immunology research had gained a lot of momentum and so I am still publishing and patenting. A patent of mine in collaboration with Institut Pasteur de Lille for an immunotherapeutic intervention for allergies is gaining a lot of traction commercially in the US at the moment and that is very exciting. The applied work is fine but my real interest has always been at the basic/fundamental end of the spectrum. For example our work on how stem cells alter the immune environment at transplantation is perhaps the most rewarding intellectually.


Why did you choose this particular career?
I remember watching what used to be called the “space-shots” and saying “I am going to be a scientist”. This came as a surprise to my teachers in East London who expected me to say either “docker” or ” footballer”. Myself and my brother (also a scientist) owe a lot to our Irish mother who filled our house with encyclopaedias. At University, I discovered a talent for biochemistry, the toughest problems were all in Immunology – so that’s where I wanted to work- to find a challenge that was worth studying. I was fortunate to have Professor Ivan Roitt as a lecturer, so perhaps he is to blame.


What scientific publication are you most proud of?
I am proud of our recent work on adult stem cells, but a Journal of Experimental Medicine paper from 1994 remains work which I think is important. It is certainly not my most cited paper but it showed the role of T cells in protection against poliomyelitis. This work has withstood the test of time, and used humanised mouse models in the early nineties! The paper also knocked a whole in a theory about T independent antigens which still resurfaces from time to time among those who don’t understand the literature.


What career might you have chosen if you weren’t in your current one?
My sister and brother have each started and made a success of their own businesses, so I could well have gone down that path. The idea of running a second hand book store is also appealing but I am not sure I’d let the customers near the books.


Where are you from originally?
Hackney in the East End of London, although both my parents were from County Cork. If I lose my temper the Cockney accent comes out more strongly.


What public figure do you most admire and why?
It is very hard to think of any current public figure who I can say I admire, save perhaps John Hume whom I met a few years ago – a man of integrity and courage. Historically, Earnest Shackleton is interesting, especially in contrast to Robert Scott. The latter sacrificed himself and those around him to achieve a flawed objective – the second team to the South Pole – an imperial goal. In contrast, Shackleton faced adversity, overcame it, brought out the best in his companions, reacted quickly and achieved remarkable mountaineering and seafaring feats. Not bad for a man from landlocked and flat County Kildare.


Do you have any hobbies?
You might have guessed- mountaineering. I love mountains, I have climbed a little but I really enjoy wild hillwalking and rock scrambling. I try to get into the hills at least twice a month.


Being a scientist I am obsessive. I keep voluminous notebooks of routes, geology, flora, fauna, photographs stretching back 25 years. I am also a “bagger” I have climbed every mountain in Ireland over 2000 ft; everything in England and Wales over 3,000ft and over one hundred Scottish Munros including some scary stuff on the Isle of Skye. I have done a little in the Alps, I admit to being a mountain bore and can discuss schist and gabbro with anyone foolish enough to ask (not many).


What kind of music do you like?
Punk, especially The Clash ,The Ramones and Joy Division of course- these are still on my turntable at home. I also love some of the emerging bands such as Metronomy and London Grammar. I continue to go to gigs and am often the oldest person in the room (usually at the back). If I am driving to mountains, I play punk.


If you could go anywhere in the world where would you go?
The Gleniff horseshoe near Grange in County Sligo, the landscape of sea and mountains is wondrous, the folklore ancient, the rocks are full of fossils, the flora is full of surprises- and I have a cousin who farms nearby who will provide sufficient malt whisky as medication for tired limbs.

Vice President for Research, Maynooth University