Sixteen UCD COVID-19 projects share in €6m funding windfall

Posted 15 December, 2020

Sixteen research and innovation projects at University College Dublin have recieved almost €6 million in funding to help solve COVID-19 challenges.

These projects are among a total of 39 from across Ireland that will receive €10.5 million in funding according to Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD.

Nine of the research projects, including four at UCD, will be undertaken as part of a collaborative all-Ireland research partnership supported by an additional £1.29 million in funding from the Department for the Economy (DfE) and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland.

The research projects are led by higher education institutions and involve collaborations with a broad range of organisations including hospitals, government agencies, representative bodies, and industry.

The funded research projects are part of a coordinated COVID-19 Rapid Response Research, Development and Innovation programme with projects supported by Science Foundation Ireland, in partnership with the DfE and DAERA, and the Irish Research Council and Health Research Board.

“As we move closer to commencing a vaccination programme, we need to understand that [COVID-19] has not gone away – supporting our expert researchers in our higher education institutions will help us to safely reopen our society,” said Minister Harris.

“COVID-19 does not know any borders. Working together across this island will help us in our fight.”

Professor Orla Feely, UCD Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact, said said projects will play “a pivotal role in developing solutions to challenges we face as a result of the pandemic, including those requiring an all-island approach.”

She added: “The joint funding programme between SFI and the NI Executive represents an important step in advancing further research and innovation collaboration on the island. UCD looks forward to participating in future all-island collaborations which will have transformative impacts and support talent for the jobs of the future.”

Commenting on the projects supported by DfE, Northern Ireland's Economy Minister Diane Dodds said: “This virus knows no frontiers and it is vital that the world-class research strengths of Northern Ireland universities are fully harnessed to address the common challenges we are all now facing right across this island, north and south.

“Collaboration between researchers promotes innovative and impactful outcomes and this has been underlined by the way the global science community has come together to address the threats and opportunities posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

One of the UCD projects entitled, ‘Understanding and preventing COVOD-19 outbreaks in meat processing plants – prepared for the future’, which will be led by Professor Grace MulcahyUCD School of Veterinary Medicine, has been awarded just under €1.23 million, the largest single award announced. 

Professor Mulcahy said: “This study will help us to understand exactly how COVID-19 spreads within the environment of meat processing plants, and therefore how to reduce this spread. We will rapidly communicate this knowledge to enable practical measures to protect workers and the wider community, and to enable us to be prepared for any future infectious disease threats."

The 15 other successfully funded UCD projects are as follows:

Professor Denis Shields, UCD School of Medicine, awarded €368,928 for a project entitled ‘Multifunctional peptides targeting SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infection.’

Associate Professor Margaret McGee, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, awarded €430,135 for a project entitled ‘A new approach for the prevention of SARS-Coronavirus-2 transmission and associated inflammation during COVID-19.’

Professor Fiona Doohan, UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science, awarded €332,369 for a project entitled, ‘Food Shield: Resilience, growth and digitisation of Food and Feed Supply Systems.’ This collaborative project with Queen’s University Belfast was also awarded ₤99,766 from DAERA.

Dr Carla Perrotta, UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science, awarded €315,779 for a project entitled, ‘COVID19 outbreaks in workplace settings: understanding and preventing super spreading events.’

Dr Nicola Fletcher, UCD School of Veterinary Medicine, awarded €277,579 for a project entitled, ‘Investigation of the mechanisms of COVID-19 associated neurological disease.’

Dr Virginie Gautier, UCD School of Medicine, awarded €364,112 for a project entitled, ‘Accelerating COVID-19 antiviral treatments with novel strategies targeting the virus-host interface.’

Professor Wim Meijer, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, awarded €377,945 for a project entitled, ‘An integrated system for all-island SARS-CoV-2 wastewater surveillance and reporting.’ This collaborative project with Queen’s University Belfast was also awarded ₤194,942 from DAERA.

Dr Eoin Feeney, UCD School of Medicine, awarded €402,375 for a project entitled, ‘Markers of adipose tissue and systemic inflammation in obese and non-obese patients with COVID-19.’ This collaborative project with Queen’s University Belfast was also awarded ₤77,716 from DfE.

Professor Paddy Mallon, UCD School of Medicine, awarded €469,234 for a project entitled’ ‘Biological profiling in COVID-19 infection to characterise optimal therapeutic approaches.’ This collaborative project with Queen’s University Belfast was also awarded ₤77,716 from DfE.

Associate Professor Ciara Greene, UCD School of Psychology, awarded €180,727 for a project entitled, ‘Inoculating against COVID-19 misinformation: Assessing evidence-based interventions.’

Dr Aoife de Brún, UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems, awarded €125,139 for a project entitled, ‘Contact tracing during the COVID-19 outbreak: Enabling rapid learning from experiences and exploring the psychological impact on volunteers.’ 

Dr Suja Somanadhan, UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health Systems, awarded €198,693 for a project entitled, ‘Children as innovators: Harnessing the creative expertise of children to address practical and psychological challenges of COVID-19 pandemic.’ 

Dr Tom Burke, UCD School of Psychology, awarded €134,455 for a project entitled, ‘A remote, self-directed psychological intervention for the public in response to COVID-19: The PAUSE programme.’

Professor Sinisa Malesevic, UCD School of Sociology, awarded €185,340 for a project entitled, ‘World problem: national solutions? The impact of national past on behaviour during the pandemic.’

Dr Ingrid Holme, UCD School of Sociology, awarded €117,573 for a project entitled, ‘Guidelines for communicating cases and deaths related to COVID-19 including an international review.’ 

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General Science Foundation Ireland, and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “We have been faced with incredible challenges in our society and economy over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 Rapid Response Research and Innovation programme was developed to ensure we could bring together the research expertise to provide solutions to the problems created by the pandemic.

“The programme has been delivered by a high level of interagency and higher education institutional collaboration both within Ireland and with Northern Ireland. Today’s announcement builds on the previous investment and will continue to support research projects that will generate solutions to the many challenges presented by the pandemic.”

Stephen Donnelly, TD, Minister for Health, said: “Research has been a key part of our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and we will continue to rely on research in the months ahead. This year, we have not just experienced a pandemic, we have also seen an infodemic. There has been an overload of often unreliable information. We have seen examples of this in relation to the use of vaccines and on unproven medicines.”

DAERA Minister Edwin Poots said: “Tackling the impacts of COVID-19 has driven a global and collaborative response through research, and I am delighted that my Department is co-funding two projects with SFI to address issues that not only have a local and pressing impact but can also help inform the worldwide response to the pandemic.”

Dr Mairéad O’Driscoll, Chief Executive, Health Research Board, added: “COVID-19 has been a stark reminder of the importance of research to improve treatment, develop solutions to health problems and inform decision making.

“Many of these research projects address the long-term health and societal aspects of COVID-19 that will not be tackled with a vaccine alone, such as mental health or understanding patient risk factors. These long-term societal solutions are crucial as we continue to live with the virus and start to open society again.”

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations (with materials from Micéal Whelan, UCD Research and Innovation)