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Posted 24 July 2009

Investment in Smart Economy Research

UCD researchers awarded €8.8.million by Science Foundation Ireland

The importance of UCD research to the bio/pharma and ICT industries was recognised by SFI as Conor Lenihan T.D., Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation announced funding awards of €20.7million to the higher education sector with €8.8 million going to UCD principal investigators.

9 UCD PIs received funding for projects which are specifically geared towards supporting the next phase of Ireland’s economic development.

Ireland is a key global location for the bio/pharma sector. Currently thirteen of the top fifteen bio/pharma companies in the world have substantial operations in Ireland. In total, there are eighty-three facilities employing more than 17,000 people in Ireland.

6 of the UCD projects link to the bio/pharma sector by undertaking research which improves understanding of diseases with the specific purpose of developing better therapies for human and animal patients.

1. Professor Dominic Walsh UCD Conway Institute - Pharmacology

Title: Therapeutic targeting of amyloid beta-protein oligomers

Synopsis: Alzheimer’s disease is caused by plaque build up in the brain. These plaques are primarily composed of amyloid b protein. Prof. Walsh and his team aim to understand how such assemblies of amyloid b protein affect memory and therefore pave the way to identify diagnostic tests and/or therapeutic strategies.

2. Professor Stefan Oscarson CSCB Chemical Biology

Title: Chemical Biology on Carbohydrates - Approaches Towards Potential Drugs and Vaccines Against Infectious Diseases and Cancer

Synopsis: Carbohydrates are molecules that are ubiquitous in our daily lives, being the building blocks of sugars, starches, and various natural materials. Prof. Oscarson’s group will synthesise carbohydrates that mimic those made by bacteria, and will produce antibodies against these that can assist in the treatment of disease and allow the production of vaccines for meningitis, and other conditions.

3. Dr Seamas Donnelly UCD School of Medicine & Medical Science/ St Vincent’s University Hospital

Title: Macrophage Migration Inhibitory Factor (MIF), enzymatic activity & pulmonary disease.

Synopsis: Chronic inflammatory lung diseases such as asthma and cystic fibrosis are a major burden on patients and the Irish health system. Dr Donnelly’s research focuses on an important molecule, Macrophage Migration Inhibitory Factor (MIF), and investigates its role in driving inflammatory disease processes. The ultimate goal of this research is to deliver novel candidate anti-inflammatory therapies that target MIF action to improve quality of life for those with chronic inflammatory lung disease.

4. Stokes Professor of Physical Chemistry Gil Lee

UCD School O Chemistry & Chemical Biology

Title: Single Molecule Instrument Research Program: Force Measurements in Live Cells and Multiplexed Pathogen Detection

Synopsis:Advanced techniques that allow a study of the mechanics and physical properties of biomolecules can provide answers to key questions in biology and medicine. Prof. Lee will utilize state-of-the-art apparatus to provide a new insight into the detection and, consequently, treatment of viruses, nerve damage, and other ailments.

5. Dr. Brian Vohnsen UCD School of Physics

Title: Adaptive Photonics for Nanoscale Bioimaging

Synopsis: Collagen is a protein that is present in many parts of the body, such as the skin, tendons, and the eye. Dr. Vohnsen will use light-based techniques (imaging and microscopy) to study tissues rich in collagen in order to find structural evidence for optical and other diseases and conditions.

6. Dr. David MacHugh & Professor Stephen Gordon

UCD School of Agriculture, Food & Veterinary Medicine Veterinary Science

Title: Functional genomics and proteomics studies of bovine tuberculosis

Synopsis: Dr. MacHugh and Dr Gordon will address a key problem affecting the Irish agricultural sector i.e. Bovine Tuberculosis. This research will study the bacteria causing the disease and propose new ways of eradicating bovine tuberculosis, through better diagnosis and more efficient treatment.

Making the announcement, Minister Lenihan said “Today’s Government investment will enable crucial research to be carried out in Ireland over the next three to five years. The successful 22 projects include medical research into cancer, stroke and brain injury, Alzheimer’s Disease, asthma, cystic fibrosis, salmonella, meningitis, pre-clampsia, genetics and medical devices, while other areas to be funded include greenhouse gas emissions, web personalization, cloud computing, cyber security, digital media and semi-conductors.”

Welcoming the funding, the president of UCD, Dr Hugh Brady said, “The bio/pharma industry in Ireland has begun a new phase of development triggered by the investment made by the Government in basic research in biotechnology and ICT. The SFI funding creates tangible economic benefits as we in the higher education sector forge closer links with industry.

Our research supports the efforts of IDA, Enterprise Ireland and the Government to attract and retain large employers. The FDIs we need are those interested in research that can lead to product or process improvements for their products rather than assembly-line workforces. Our researchers are encouraged to link with industry but also to pursue their own innovation opportunities. Through the UCD/TCD Innovation Alliance, our graduate training in the science, technology and engineering areas, is specifically designed to foster innovation.” Dr Brady added.

In congratulating the award winners, the Minister added “The Government remains firmly committed to developing the “Smart Economy”. It is research projects such as these that will support the next phase of Ireland’s economic development. We must never lose sight of the fact that research and development is primarily about people - the individual and collective talents of our skilled personnel. We must continue to support the best researchers to bring about long-term economic benefits and with the assistance of support structures such as SFI, IDA and Enterprise Ireland, we can studiously bring these concepts to that next level, and through exploitation and commercialisation ensure economic and societal benefits for Ireland.”

The ICT sector in Ireland comprises of over 220 companies, employs nearly 40,000 people and accounts for €50 billion in exports. The research funded is of direct relevance to not just the ICT sector in Ireland but globally.

The two other UCD researchers awarded SFI principal investigator funds are working in the crucial areas of energy management and global computer networks.

7. Professor Chen-Ching Liu UCD School Of Electrical, Electronic & Mechanical Engineering

Title: Vulnerability Assessment and Mitigation of Information and Communication Systems for Critical Infrastructures

Synopsis: Prof. Liu’s work will protect mission-critical infrastructures - such as electric power grids or natural gas pipelines - from cyber attacks. Cyber intrusions into critical information and communication technologies will be detected and stopped before an attack can disrupt critical physical systems such as electricity grids.

8. Dr. Alexey Lastovetsky UCD School Of Computer Science & Informatics

Title: High-performance heterogeneous computing

Synopsis: As Cloud computing becomes reality we need better tools and algorithms to efficiently use the huge clusters and global networks of computers needed to solve scientific problems that require massive computing power, such as climate change modeling. Dr. Lastovetsky collaborates with the world-leading expert Prof. Jack Dongarra (University Tennessee) and IBM in developing these tools that can be exploited by the larger scientific computing community

Speaking at the announcement, Chairperson of SFI, Prof. Pat Fottrell said “To date, the academic and commercial outputs stemming from previous PI funding have been promising, which bodes well for today’s recipients under this programme. By subjecting all funding applications to a high level of scrutiny and review by 28 distinguished international scientists, SFI has illustrated its meticulous and exhaustive approach in rewarding ground-breaking research with the greatest potential for commercial and societal benefits.”

Breakdown of Awards by University
University Number of Awards Funding €
UCD 8 8,833,736
TCD 5 4,563,844
NUIG 3 2,769,684
UCC 2 1,863,585
RCSI 2 1,783,222
Dundalk IT (DKIT) 1 493,353
Dublin City University 1 440,145
Total 22 20,747,569

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