May 2014

School Success in SFI Investigator Awards

Sat, 24 May 14 22:11

Three research projects by School Investigators have been awarded funding under the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Investigator programme recently announced by Ministers Richard Bruton and Sean Sherlock. 

Professor Seamas Donnelly aims to tackle the treatment of a serious infection common in patients with cystic fibrosis. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the particularly aggressive bug responsible for the infection that presents a major world health problem. During infection, Pseudomonas clump together to form sticky aggregates that develop into a biofilm, making them more difficult to treat with antibiotics.

“This funding award will allow us to develop new therapies to prevent biofilm formation in patients and make the bacteria responsible easier to treat with antibiotics. We also hope to develop a test that will identify those patients most likely to respond best to this new treatment”,

said Professor Donnelly. 

Professor Ken Wolfe will investigate the sexual reproduction cycles of three yeast species of economic importance. Pachysolen tannophilus is a potential bioethanol producer - this valuable natural fuel source also has uses in the cosmetic and other manufacturing industries. Hansenula polymorpha and Pichia pastoris are widely used in the biotechnology industry to express recombinant proteins such as pharmaceuticals. 

The project will characterise how these species undergo mating-type switching. This is a natural process in which a yeast cell changes or switches 'gender' and, as a switched cell, can mate with a cell that has not switched.

“When we understand the mechanism of switching, we should be able to modify the genomes to prevent switching from happening. This will open up the possibility of using powerful methods of genetic analysis to improve the production characteristics of these industrial yeasts with consequent economic benefits”,

explained Professor Wolfe.

Dr Wenxin Wang from UCD Charles Institute will lead a research project which aims to develop an artificial skin that could promote wound healing.  Diabetic wounds or those seen in patients with the fragile skin condition, epidermolysis bullosa or EB, cause much suffering. This project will focus on developing a skin substitute to mimic human skin that could be used to seal a wound, provide protection and accelerate healing. 

“This novel artificial skin will contain polymers that hold it together, providing enough strength to seal the wound, but also delivering therapeutic genes and living cells to provide the biomolecules needed to accelerate the wound healing, “

said Dr Wenxin Wang.

“This artificial skin could easily be integrated into the wound care practices to treat patients”,

he added.

About SFI Investigators Programme

The SFI Investigators programme will provide funding over a three to five year period, for a total of 36 research projects involving over 200 researchers. Funding for each project will range from €400,000 to €3.1 million.

The SFI Investigators Programme supports excellent scientific research that has the potential to impact Ireland’s economic and societal development. Thirty-six projects have been selected by competitive peer review by 400 international scientists, focusing on excellent research with potential impact.

The successfully funded projects have links to 62 companies, and include research in areas such as sustainable food production, enhancing communications networks to enable high quality internet video, developing innovative wave energy devices, biopharmaceutical production, cancer detection and investigating the control of epilepsy development.

News article originally published by UCD Conway Institute. Reproduced with permission.