Four Conway Fellows lead projects under North-South Research Programme awards


Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD and Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD have awarded 62 collaborative research projects between academics and institutions in Ireland and Northern Ireland a total of €37.3 million under the first funding call from the North-South Research Programme.

The North-South Research Programme is a collaborative scheme funded through the Government’s Shared Island Fund. It is administered by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) on behalf of the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

The awards ranging in value from €200,000 over two years (Stand I) to €4 million over four years (Strands II and III) are to be made to successful collaborations under the three strands – Strand I: Bilateral Researcher-Researcher Projects; Strand II: Emerging Hubs of Excellence; and Strand III: Partnerships of Scale.

Conway Fellows, Professor David Brayden and Associate Professor Kieran Meade will each led projects under Strand I; Associate Professor Siobhán McClean will lead a Strand II to build critical mass in vaccine development and deployment and Professor William Gallagher will co-lead a Strand III programme to build critical mass in precision cancer medicine.

Commenting on the announcement, UCD Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact Professor Orla Feely said: “We are delighted to see so many successful UCD-led projects under this call, transecting Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities and STEM research areas. The results are a testament to the talent and strong collaborative relationships between the universities and research organisations across the island of Ireland. These researchers are working together to make a positive impact in people's lives, in areas including food safety and sustainable agriculture, healthcare, social justice and the bioeconomy.

“I'd like to offer special congratulations to our Strand II and III programmes, the All-island Vaccine Research and Training Alliance, led by Associate Professor Siobhán McClean, and the All-Island Cancer Research Institute, co-led by Professor William Gallagher, which will build critical mass in vaccine development and deployment and precision cancer medicine, through these vital institutional networks across our shared island.”

Under Strand III, ‘A Foundation Stone for the All-Island Cancer Research Institute (AICRI): Building Critical Mass in Precision Cancer Medicine,’ marks a significant milestone in the network’s shared island mission. The funding will establish an all-island doctoral and post-doctoral research training programme in precision cancer medicine (AICRIstart), in a partnership of ten academic institutions with UCD as administrative lead (UCD, TCD, RCSI, TU Dublin, DCU, QUB, UU, NUIG, UL and UCC) and Cancer Trials Ireland, creating a unique all-island network of excellence in cancer research.

Through its broader work, AICRI will contribute to policy development relevant to the Shared Island initiative, particularly in terms of building a healthier island.

Professor Willliam Gallagher, Professor of Cancer Biology at UCD and co-lead of the All-Island Cancer Research Institute (AICRI), said: “This crucial funding provides the foundation stone for AICRI, which I have been working with my colleagues across the island of Ireland to establish over the last two years.

“Our main goal within AICRI is to help cancer patients live longer and better after their diagnosis, by harnessing the various skills and expertise of our cancer research community and other stakeholders. While one-in-two people on this island are expected to be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime, research can change the goalposts in terms of earlier detection, improved treatment and survivorship. With this key initial funding, we can now embark on creating and embedding a fully integrated framework for cancer research on these shores.”

Under Strand II, the Hub of Excellence ‘All-island Vaccine Research and Training Alliance’ (AVACTA) is led by Associate Professor Siobhán McClean, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science.

Professor McClean said: “We are very excited to start this collaboration between UCD, UCC, TCD and QUB. Our interdisciplinary collaboration draws on expertise in infection, immunology, pharmacy, psychology with a shared goal of designing and developing better vaccines to prevent difficult to treat bacterial infections.

“We will also develop interventions to address low vaccine uptake in identified communities across our shared island. As the recent pandemic demonstrated, infections don’t recognise borders and a shared island approach to vaccine deployment is important.

“We will examine concerns that people have which might reduce their confidence in vaccines and develop guidelines to improve people’s willingness to be protected by vaccination on the island. This funding will give us the opportunity to train 15 researchers to provide the next generation of vaccine experts who will support the growing vaccine industry and public health policy on the island.”

Announcing the awards, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, said: “I’m delighted to see such substantial funding being awarded to researchers and Higher Education institutions from the North South Research Programme.

“These awards will support the Government’s Shared Island vision by bringing researchers from all corners of the island together to work on pioneering projects over the next four years, and is not only strengthening existing relationships, but is fostering new research partnerships.”

Two other Hubs of Excellence funded under Strand II are also connected with AICRI – the ‘All-Ireland Cancer Liquid Biopsies Consortium’ (CLuB), led by TCD and QUB, and ‘eHealth-Hub: All Island Research Hub for Federated Analysis of Cancer Data,’ led by UL and QUB. These, in addition to four of the Strand I awards, are led by some of AICRI’s 130+ Principal Investigators and will connect with AICRI going forward.

For further information on these ad other UCD projects funded under the scheme, see UCD Research website.