SFI funding award for SARS-CoV-2 water surveillance project led by Prof. Wim Meijer


Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD today announced that two University College Dublin (UCD)-led projects are to receive funding under the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) coordinated research and innovation response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UCD projects are among 11 projects announced today which between them are to receive a total investment of €1.4 million. This investment builds on previous funding and complements the existing research work underway in higher education institutions across the country.

Speaking at today’s announcement, which took place at I-Form, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Manufacturing, at UCD, Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD said, “I am delighted to announce this further investment in research and innovation related to COVID-19. These projects will address immediate priorities to assist us with the challenges we face as we seek to reopen our society and economy, and get the country running again.”

“Research and innovation from our higher education institutions, in collaboration with our health services and industry, can support us in delivering solutions to the many challenges the pandemic has thrown at us. Working together we can find solutions and move forward towards recovery.”

Professor Wim Meijer, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science and Fellow, UCD Conway Institute  is leading a project entitled, SARS-CoV-2 surveillance of sewage and water bodies, which has secured €48,666 in funding.

Co-applicants in this project are; Dr Nicola Fletcher, UCD School of Veterinary Medicine and Fellow, UCD Conway Institute; Professor John O’Sullivan, UCD School of Civil Engineering; and Dr Liam Reynolds, Dr Laura Sala Comorera, Niamh Martin MSc, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science. Professor Meijer and Dr Fletcher are Fellows at the UCD Conway Institute.

This funding will enable the project team to measure levels of SARS-CoV-2 at wastewater treatment plants. This will provide insight into the prevalence of the virus in the community and serve as an early warning system for a new wave of infection. The project also aims to work out what happens to the SARS-CoV-2 virus in nearby bodies of water such as rivers, streams and sea, including the waters where we swim.

This SFI-funded research will benefit from the expertise of an existing EU Interreg-funded project at UCD called Acclimatize, which determines the levels and origins of faecal contamination in Dublin Bay.

Professor Wim Meijer said, “This SFI funded project for surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in sewage and bodies of water will provide critical information on the prevalence of the virus in the population, and on the fate of the virus in the environment.”

He added, “This project is a great example of collaboration between UCD Schools, which is one of the great strengths of the university, and it is combining expertise in microbiology, molecular biology, environmental biology, civil engineering and virology.”

Dublin City Council, Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council and Irish Water are collaborating on this project.

I-Form, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Manufacturing headquartered at UCD, has secured €126,071 in funding for a project entitled 3D printing PPE for healthcare settings. Professor Denis Dowling, UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and Professor Dermot Brabazon, School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, DCU, are co-applicants for this project.

Within I-Form, the COVID-19 Rapid Response Digital Manufacturing and Innovation Hub will rapidly design, manufacture and deliver urgently needed PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for frontline medical staff in hospitals and other healthcare settings.

Professor Orla Feely, UCD Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact said, “I would like to congratulate my UCD colleagues who have been successful in receiving funding today for their new COVID-19 research and innovation projects. A significant number of UCD researchers are continuing to deliver key research as part of our national effort to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. The investment provided by SFI through this Rapid Response call is a critical mechanism for supporting them to carry out this vital research at this time.”

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, said, “The COVID-19 Rapid Response Research and Innovation programme exemplifies the high international standards, agility and responsive nature of our research community. This programme has been delivered by a high level of interagency and higher education institutional collaboration.”

“We are stronger when we work together, and we will continue to collaborate with our colleagues to share the latest knowledge, developments and innovations, and to support ideas that will generate solutions to the many challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Rapid Response Research, Development and Innovation programme was established by Science Foundation Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, the Health Research Board and Irish Research Council.
Today’s announcement builds on the previous investment of €5 million across 26 projects, including 5 from UCD, and the ongoing work in the universities and institutes of technology that are adding significantly to the national effort to combat the virus and assist us on the path to recovery. More than 500 applications were received by the agencies.

Minister for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan added, “I am proud of how the Irish research community has mobilised so rapidly and intensively in focusing on this issue. Ireland’s investment in research allows us to move rapidly and coherently in a crucial area such as Covid-19 research. This will have benefits for Ireland but also for the wider world.  This could not be done without our ongoing long-term investment in our higher education and research and shows the need for continuing investment in these areas at all times.”

All of the projects funded have been internationally peer reviewed at the assessment stage. Further announcements will be made over the coming weeks as the reviews are completed.

The agencies, working with partners across our public service and health system are now evaluating areas of priority with a view to issuing thematic calls as the next phase of the programme. The focus for the second phase will be on important scientific and engineering research that will contribute in a meaningful way to re-opening Ireland.