Five UCD-led research projects awarded COVID-19 Rapid Response Funding

Posted 29 April, 2020

Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys TD, today announced that five University College Dublin led research projects have been awarded funding under the newly-established national, coordinated research and innovation response to the COVID-19 pandemic, complementing the ongoing research work already underway in higher education institutions.

More than 350 applications were received for this initiative overseen by a coordinated Rapid Response Research, Development and Innovation programme established by the Health Research Board (HRB), Irish Research Council (IRC), Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland.

The UCD-led projects have been awarded just under €1.1 million in total and are among the 26 projects awarded a total of €5 million which were announced by Minister Humphreys TD. 

One of the UCD-led projects to develop and supply necessary reagents and materials for SARS-CoV-2 testing for hospitals in the Ireland East Hospital Group, has been awarded just over €540,000 and is the highest funded project of the 26 projects funded.

Minister Humphreys TD said, “Research, development and innovation will play a significant role in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.  The projects announced today are part of a national drive to find solutions to the challenges we face. Right across the country, our research community in our higher education institutions and businesses, both indigenous and foreign owned, have mobilised to address these key issues.” 

“The projects announced today, which take in health and social care as well as policy and industry, will help to address how we can ease the restrictions over time and get the country back up-and-running again.”

Minister for Health Simon Harris TD said, “Research and development is critical to supporting Ireland’s National Action Plan in response to COVID-19 and in navigating a way forward for individuals, communities and society as a whole. In these extraordinary circumstances, I am delighted to see such collaboration and coordination in a collective battle against COVID-19. These projects have real potential to have an impact on the health and wellbeing of patients, families, healthcare workers and the healthcare system. 

“In particular, having suitable treatments or vaccines is the best exit strategy from COVID-19 and the related restrictions we are living with so I am committed to ensuring a coordinated and proactive approach is taken to ensuring that COVID-19 patients across all settings in Ireland have access to new and emerging treatments as part of clinical trials.”

Professor Gil LeeUCD School of ChemistryProfessor Patrick Mallon, Consultant in Infectious Diseases at St Vincent’s University Hospital, UCD Professor of Microbial Diseases and Director, UCD Centre for Experimental Pathogen Host Research (CEPHR), and Dr Virginie GautierUCD School of Medicine and a principal investigator in UCD CEPHR, have been awarded just over €540,000.

They have received this funding for a research project to develop and supply necessary reagents and materials for SARS-CoV-2 testing for hospitals in the Ireland East Hospital Group. 

The local and reliable supply will help enable the country to meet its testing requirements and will provide important information for clinicians, planners and policy-makers.

Professor Gil Lee said, “This Award will allow a world-class, multi-disciplinary team of biomedical researchers to develop a local source of nanoparticles, buffers and advanced magnet separation devices to ensure that the RNA genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be isolated and detected to support the Irish healthcare system.” 

“Unlike the systems currently in place in Ireland, this system is not automated which means that it is more flexible and not tied to a specific piece of plastic or swab. It will allow teams of clinical scientists to provide up to 15% of Ireland’s NA (nucleic acid) diagnostics.”    

“The NA test is the gold standard because it allows the virus to be detected more reliably and in individuals who do not show symptoms, so called, super carriers.”

Professor Patrick Mallon, said, “This close collaboration between clinicians and scientists results from long term investment in infectious diseases research at UCD, focused on CEPHR. This infrastructure, linked to the All-Ireland Infectious Diseases Cohort, enables rapid application of research findings back to the frontline services and will significantly contribute to the national response to COVID-19.”

Dr Virginie Gautier, said, "This project is the result of concerted UCD collaborative efforts. I wish to thank the UCD COVID-19 Response Team, who have been instrumental in identifying the key expertise in the UCD research ecosystem and providing the support needed for the development of our interdisciplinary project.” 

This project has been funded by Science Foundation Ireland.

Professor John Lambert, UCD School of Medicine has been awarded just over €199,000 for a project to determine baseline characteristics and outcomes of patients with COVID-19 under the care of the Infectious Diseases Department at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital. 

The study will take place in Dublin’s North Inner City, an area with high levels of social deprivation and a high incidence of COVID-19 infection. 

Professor Lambert said, “We don’t know if survivors of COVID-19 will have long term complications in terms of quality of life or possible long-standing damage to the heart, lungs and brain which are targeted by this virus. Our longitudinal follow-up study with these patients will ensure they are carefully monitored and provided with appropriate treatment if necessary.”

Professor Lambert will be collaborating with co-applicants, Professor Peter J Kelly, UCD School of Medicine and Mater Misericordiae University Hospital; Professor Sean Gaine, UCD School of Medicine and Mater Misericordiae University Hospital; Professor Peter Doran, UCD School of Medicine and Mater Misericordiae University Hospital; Professor Walter Cullen, UCD School of Medicine and Dr Emer Joyce, UCD School of Medicine and Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, on this project.

This project has been funded by the Irish Research Council and the Health Research Board.

Dr Virginie Gautier, UCD School of Medicine and UCD Centre for Experimental Pathogen Host Research (CEPHR) has been awarded just over €190,000 for a project to screen for antiviral compounds active against SARS-CoV-2.

Dr Gautier said, “UCD CEPHR is focused on accelerating the development of COVID-19 treatments, we have mobilised our collaborators, resources and expertise to deliver a full COVID-19 antiviral pipeline. Our goal is to identify effective antiviral drugs to be included as part of new therapeutic interventions to reduce COVID-19 disease burden.”

Dr Gautier will be collaborating with co-applicant, Professor Patrick Mallon, Consultant in Infectious Diseases at St Vincent’s University Hospital, UCD Professor of Microbial Diseases and Director, UCD CEPHR on this project.

This project has been funded by the Irish Research Council and the Health Research Board.

Dr Emma Nicholson and Dr Thérèse McDonnell, UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems have been awarded just over €107,000 for a project, called CUPID COVID-19.

This project aims to reduce the disruption to normal paediatric emergency department services during the onset of COVID-19. The project will assess the impact of the pandemic on the care seeking behaviour of parents to identify how barriers to accessing care can be removed.

Dr Nicholson said, “The demands of COVID-19 on the health system, coupled with people’s reluctance to bring your kids to the Emergency Department could impact care. CUPID COVID-19 will help identify the consequences of service changes and understand which patients are at high risk and what their needs are.”

Dr Nicholson will be collaborating with co-applicants, Professor Eilish McAuliffe, UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems; Dr Michael Barrett, UCD School of Medicine, and Children’s Health Ireland, Crumlin; Dr Conor Hensey, Children’s Health Ireland, Temple Street and Professor Fergal Cummins, Limerick University Hospital on this project.

This project has been funded by the Irish Research Council and the Health Research Board.

Associate Professor Christine Linehan, UCD School of Psychology, has been awarded just under €63,000 for a project to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their caregivers.

Dr Linehan said, “People with intellectual disabilities face specific disadvantages during the pandemic; symptoms may go unnoticed, treatment may be withheld, social distancing measures may result in behaviours that challenge. Our survey aims to capture people’s experience so that we can use findings to develop policy and practice guidelines for this population.”

Dr Linehan will be collaborating with co-applicants, Professor Christine Bigby (La Trobe University); Professor Thilo Kroll, UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems;
Professor Malcolm MacLachlan (Maynooth University), Professor Julie Beadle Brown (University of Kent) on this project.

This project has been funded by the Irish Research Council and the Health Research Board.

Welcoming today’s announcement UCD Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact, Professor Orla Feely said, “A wide range of researchers from across UCD are delivering important research as part of the national effort to tackle COVID-19.  These Rapid Response calls are a vital mechanism for supporting this research, and I congratulate all who have been successful in the calls.”

Minister for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, John Halligan said, “I want to acknowledge the ongoing support from the higher education institutions and researchers across the country that have undertaken a vast array of actions to support and deal with the challenges we face. Research, development and innovation will have a significant role to play in our response to COVID-19. 

“Governments around the globe have also rapidly mobilised research in tackling the crisis, and the opportunities being provided to our research community will ensure a coordinated and meaningful contribution to solving some of the challenges we are presented with during the current crisis. It is through sustainable investment in research that we will beat Covid-19 and future pandemics, as well as generate the insight and understanding to support responsive social, economic and cultural policies.”

UCD Research and Innovation has today also launched a new website collating all COVID-19 related research, innovation and supporting response actions from UCD, including expert commentary and new scholarly publications.  

By: Staff Writers, UCD University Relations (with materials from Micéal Whelan, UCD Research and Innovation)