UCD-led consortium secures EU funding to investigate disrupted signalling across a range of diseases


Life in the digital age often throws a curveball when the signalling bars on our mobile phones drop or disappear altogether. Similarly, disruptions in the signalling networks of cells within the body can wreak havoc and lead to disease.

An international consortium led by UCD has secured EU Horizon 2020 funding valued at €887,800 to investigate a specific cell signalling process seen across a range of human diseases.

The CRYSTAL3 consortium includes 10 partners (5 academic and 5 industry) located in 7 countries and will be led by Conway Fellow, Professor Breandán Kennedy from UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science. The project begins in January 2021 and focus on commercial and research opportunities of a relatively unexplored inflammation-related signalling pathway.

Central to this pathway are powerful molecules called cysteinyl leukotrienes (CysLTs) that are involved in the process of inflammation – the body’s response to fight injury or pathogens. CysLT signalling receptors are found widely in the body e.g. lungs, colorectum, heart, brain & eye.

Currently, drugs targeting CysLT receptors are prescribed to treat airway inflammation. Recently, CysLT signalling was implicated in regulating cells in cancer, cardiovascular disease and diseases involving the eye and central nervous system. The CRYSTAL3 consortium will determine how CysLT signalling links to these diseases, then explore potential targeted therapies and how any products and services co-developed can be commercialised.

More than 2.5 billion people suffer from vision impairment according to the World Economic Forum. Ocular (eye) disease places a direct economic burden on European countries of ~€20 billion. Brain disorders such as dementia and neurodegeneration account for ~30% of overall disease burden in Europe with a resulting economic impact of ~€800 billion annually. There are few effective treatments for these disorders.

The World Health Organisation estimates cancer is responsible for 1 in 6 deaths, and incidence will grow to 29 million by 2040. Global cancer control is a priority. In Europe, cancer healthcare costs ~€57 billion. Healthcare costs associated with cardiovascular disease worldwide are estimated at €100 billion each year.

Commenting on the award, Professor Breandán Kennedy said; “The CRYSTAL3 consortium is an exciting prospect that will harness multidisciplinary research expertise to develop treatments for diseases that cause enormous individual and societal burden. It also provides a fantastic opportunity to enhance intersectoral training, career development and transnational mobility of researchers in Europe.”

Professor Kennedy, Dr Yolanda Alvarez and the CRYSTAL3 management team are ideally qualified to lead this consortium having successfully co-ordinated two similar large scale consortia; FP7-IAPP 3D-NET (www.ucd.ie/3dnet) and H2020 RISE 3D-NEO-NET (www.3dneonet.org;). CRYSTAL3 include Conway Fellows, Dr Alison ReynoldsProfessor Orina Belton and Dr Derek Costello.

CRYSTAL3 is the acronym for 'Commercial & Research Opportunity for Cysteinyl Leukotriene Signalling in Ocular & CNS Dysfunction, Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease'. The CRYSTAL3 consortium will combine their resources and expertise in computational drug discovery, genetic engineering, pre-clinical disease models, marketing and commercialisation through research staff exchanges between all the partners.

The academic partners are University College Dublin; Trinity College Dublin; Linköping University, Sweden; International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory, Portugal and University of Gottingen, Germany with industry partners Ocupharm, Spain; Xenopat, Spain; Bioreperia, Sweden; Cresset, United Kingdom and Pharmahungary, Hungary.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 101007931.