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UCD Researchers awarded over €4m in ERC grants for Biomedical Engineering and Political Economy projects

Friday, 1 December, 2023

UCD Researchers awarded over €4m in ERC grants for Biomedical Engineering projects

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded over €4 million to two researchers at University College Dublin (UCD) to pursue ground-breaking research in areas of Biomedical Engineering and Political Economy.

Professor Niamh Nowlan, UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and Dr Aidan Regan, UCD School of Politics and International Relations were among 308 researchers across Europe to receive the prestigious ERC Consolidator grants for 2023. These grants - totalling €627 million - support excellent scientists and scholars at the career stage where they may still be consolidating their own independent research teams to pursue their most promising scientific ideas.

Professor Nowlan’s project ‘Rezone’ will explore how cartilage in our bodies forms after birth and investigate ways to (re)activate those processes in adults in order to help patients suffering from joint pain.

Dr Regan’s project ‘Democracy Challenged’ will examine why concentrated capital and wealth inequality are a problem for democracy, and the role of corporate tax avoidance and law in enabling these processes.

Iliana Ivanova, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: “I extend my heartfelt congratulations to all the brilliant researchers who have been selected for ERC Consolidator Grants. I'm especially thrilled to note the significant increase in the representation of women among the winners for the third consecutive year in this prestigious grant competition. This positive trend not only reflects the outstanding contributions of women researchers but also highlights the strides we are making towards a more inclusive and diverse scientific community.”

President of the European Research Council Professor Maria Leptin said: “The new Consolidator Grant winners represent some of the best of European research. It is disappointing that we cannot support every deserving project simply due to budget constraints; around 100 proposals identified as excellent in our rigorous evaluation will be left unfunded. Can Europe afford to let such talent go unrealised? We need to collectively advocate for increased investment in research and innovation. Our shared goal must be to ensure that no brilliant idea goes unfunded in Europe, and no promising career is left unfulfilled.”

The laureates of this competition will carry out their projects at universities and research centres in 22 EU Member States and other countries associated with Horizon Europe. The grants will create around 1,800 jobs for postdoctoral fellows, PhD students, and other staff at the host institutions.

Democracy Challenged

Why is the concentration of capital ownership and wealth inequality a problem for democracy? What is the role of corporate tax avoidance and legal-accountancy in enabling this process? Dr (opens in a new window)Aidan Regan’s project ‘Democracy Challenged’ will develop a new theoretical framework and causal mechanism to explain how corporate tax avoidance fuels the wealth inequalities that undermine democracy.

Director of (opens in a new window)UCD's Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence and Associate Professor at UCD School of Politics and International Relations, Dr Regan’s research is focused on the comparative and international political economy of Europe. In particular, he specialises in the comparative politics of advanced capitalist democracies, with a focus on economic inequality, small states, growth models, and the relationship between business and politics.

On the announcement of his ERC Consolidator Award, he said: "I am absolutely delighted to receive this award. I have been working on the idea for a couple of years so I am thrilled to now have the funding to implement it. Central to what I will do is build a transdisciplinary research team at UCD that cuts across the economic, political and legal sciences. The core question driving my project is how corporate tax avoidance impacts wealth inequality and democracy, with a particular focus on the big tech and big pharma sectors. This requires synthesising a very diverse set of skills and perspectives, whilst implementing new empirical and methodological tools.”

“When it comes to addressing the problem of global profit shifting and multinational tax avoidance, legal, normative, economic and political scientists scholars typically stick to their own academic lanes. My objective is to build a new theoretical foundation that weaves and synthesises these different academic disciplines into a shared empirical research programme that focuses on why corporate tax avoidance and wealth inequality is a problem for democracy. We will map and reconstruct the global tax-avoiding wealth chains of multinational corporations in the big tech and pharma sectors, and study the role of legal-accountants in creating these strategies and structures".


(opens in a new window)Niamh Nowlan is Full Professor of Biomedical Engineering at UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering and a fellow of UCD Conway Institute. Prof Nowlan focuses her research on three key areas: paediatric orthopaedics; how mechanical loading affects skeletal development; and foetal movement monitoring. 

Her ERC Consolidator ‘ReZone’ project, aims to bring about enhanced regeneration of Articular Cartilage through activation of the developmental processes which form zonal functional cartilage in early life, and ultimately improve quality of life for patients with articular cartilage defects worldwide.

Professor Nowlan said: “I am thrilled and very grateful to be awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant. This will enable us to understand how mechanical loading affects the development of cartilage, with implications for both cartilage regeneration and for orthopaedic conditions affecting children. Articular cartilage is an amazing material that we depend upon for pain free movement. Due to its poor healing ability, cartilage needs to last a lifetime. What makes healthy cartilage low friction and long-lasting is its complex layered (zonal) structure, but current surgical techniques to fix damaged cartilage cannot recreate the original structure. Therefore, repair cartilage tends to break down, leading to the need for further surgeries and possibly even joint replacement.”

“In the ReZone project, we will find out how the zonal structure of cartilage forms after birth, and in particular how mechanical loading affects the cartilage layers. Through discovering how articular cartilage grows and develops, we hope to be able to (re)activate those processes in adults to be able to truly regenerate articular cartilage and help patients suffering from joint pain across the world. I would like to thank all of the people who helped in the preparation of the proposal, and all my collaborators. In particular I would like to acknowledge my key collaborator (opens in a new window)Professor Pieter Brama with whom I am excited to continue working closely. I would also like to acknowledge my funding sources to date in UCD, especially Science Foundation Ireland and Wellcome Leap.”

For further information on ERC Consolidator Awards and this year's winners, visit the (opens in a new window)ERC website.

UCD School of Mechanical & Materials Engineering

UCD Engineering & Materials Science Centre, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
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