Fourteen UCD research projects secure €10.2 million funding through SFI Frontiers for the Future Programme


Pictured: Professor Emmeline Hill, UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science and Professor Lisa Katz, UCD School of Veterinary Medicine

Posted 02 November 2020

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, TD has announced that 14 UCD research projects have been awarded a total of just under €10.2 million in funding through the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Frontiers for the Future Programme.

The UCD projects are among 71 projects, from across 12 Higher Education Institutions, which have been awarded a total of €53 million to support frontiers research.

The SFI Frontiers for the Future Programme provides opportunities for independent investigators to conduct highly innovative, collaborative research with the potential to deliver impact, whilst also providing discrete opportunities for high-risk, high-reward research projects.

The programme comprises two streams – Frontiers for the Future Programme Projects and Frontiers for the Future Programme Awards.

Frontiers for the Future Projects provides funding for high-risk, high-reward research that facilitates highly innovative and novel approaches to research. Frontiers for the Future Awards provides larger scale funding for innovative, collaborative and excellent research programmes that have the potential to deliver economic and societal impact.

UCD has secured €8.3 million for 9 Frontiers for the Future Programme Awards and €1.9 million for 5 Frontiers for the Future Programme Projects.

Minister Simon Harris TD said, “Congratulations to all the researchers who have received funding today as part of the SFI Frontiers for the Future Programme. I am delighted to support this programme which funds individual-led research, with an emphasis on areas of high-risk, high-reward, which will help us build a better future for Ireland through discovery, innovation, and impact.” 

Among those funded are UCD scientists, Professor Emmeline Hill, UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science and Professor Lisa Katz, UCD School of Veterinary Medicine.

They have been awarded over €880,000 for a five-year research project to investigate the dynamic interplay that exists between the inherited DNA sequence of a horse and the environment.

During this project the UCD research team will use sophisticated genomics and computational technologies to evaluate how the early life environment of the foal, weanling, yearling and young racehorse influences the DNA and affects behaviour, disease and racing performance.

This project will build on a 15-year research programme led by Professor Hill and Professor Katz in equine exercise physiology and genomics at UCD which has uncovered many genetic contributions to athletic traits in the horse. The UCD research team has been a world leader in the development of genetic tests for racehorses.

Professor Emmeline Hill, said, “We are delighted to receive this prestigious funding from SFI through the Frontiers for the Future Programme. In our new research programme we will investigate genetic and epigenetic contributions to exercise, disease and behaviour traits in racehorses.”

Professor Lisa Katz, said, “The benefits of exercise for health and wellbeing are well established, positively influencing clinical presentation of a variety of neurological, musculoskeletal and metabolic diseases. An emerging theme in our genetics research suggests a link between the exercise response and behavioural adaptability in the horse.”

Other academic collaborators on this project include; Professor David MacHugh, UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science, Professor Keith Murphy, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science and Professor Molly McCue, University of Minnesota.

Irish equine science company, Plusvital Ltd and Jim Bolger, the renowned racehorse trainer and breeder, through his stud farm in Co. Wexford, will also contribute to this research project.

Professor Orla Feely, UCD Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact said, “I would like to congratulate the UCD researchers who have successfully secured funding today through the prestigious SFI Frontiers for the Future Programme.”

“The fact that UCD researchers are leading 14 of the awards and projects announced today is a clear indication of the depth and quality of the research expertise at UCD. The research that will be supported under the programme, from across multiple disciplines, has the potential to deliver significant economic and societal impact over the years ahead, and I wish all involved every success.”

“I am particularly delighted to see so many of our female researchers leading these projects, which reflects the quality of our outstanding female research leadership in UCD and supports our efforts to encourage greater female participation in the STEM disciplines.”

The other 13 UCD projects funded are;

Professor Grace Morgan, UCD School of Chemistry, is the lead researcher for a 4-year project entitled, Optical and Magnetic Integration of Surface Molecules (OptiMISM), which has secured €796,000 through the Frontiers for the Future Programme Award stream.

Professor John Crean, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science is the lead researcher for a 4-year project entitled, Next Generation Therapeutics for Chronic Kidney Disease (NGENKID), which has secured €469,000 through the Frontiers for the Future Programme Project stream.

Professor Emma Sokell, UCD School of Physics, is the lead researcher for a 4-year project entitled xLuminate: nanoimaging and spectroscopy enabling brilliant tuneable, laboratory-scale x-ray source technology, which has secured €970,000 through the Frontiers for the Future Programme Award stream. Dr Fergal O’Reilly, UCD School of Physics, is co-lead researcher on this project.

Professor Emma Teeling, UCD School of Biology and Environmental Science is the lead researcher for a 5-year project entitled, LongHealth: The molecular basis and regulation of longer healthspan in mammals, which has secured €988,000 through the Frontiers for the Future Programme Award stream.

Professor Lorraine Hanlon, UCD School of Physics, is the lead researcher for a 4-year project entitled, Building on EIRSAT-1: Nanosatellites as a disruptive technology platform for innovation and research in the global space sector, which has secured €997,000 through the Frontiers for the Future Programme Award stream.

Professor Desmond Tobin, UCD School of Medicine, is the lead researcher for a 3-year project entitled, Investigations of the homeo-dynamic status of heterogeneous subpopulations of normal human cutaneous melanocytes: a paradigm for understanding melanoma-genesis, which has secured €341,000 through the Frontiers for the Future Programme Project stream.

Dr Olive Lennon, UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science, is the lead reseaarcher for a 4-year project entitled, The 3Rs: Responsive, Rehabilitative Robotics in motor relearning of functional standing and walking after stroke, which has secured €644,000 through the Frontiers for the Future Programme Award stream.

Professor Geraldine Butler, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, is the lead researcher for a 4-year project entitled, Effect of genome diversity on antifungal drug resistance in the human pathogen Candida Parapsilosis, which has secured €991,000 through the Frontiers for the Future Programme Award stream.

Dr Dearbhaile Dooley, UCD School of Medicine, is the lead researcher for a 2-year project entitled, Targeted control of microglia polarisation after spinal cord injury, which has secured €247,000 through the Frontiers for the Future Programme Project stream.

Professor Helen Roche, UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science, is the lead researcher for a 5-year project entitled, Diet, immune training and metabolism, which has secured €995,000 through the Frontiers for the Future Programme Award stream.

Dr Shane Donohue, UCD School of Civil Engineering, is the lead researcher for a 4-year project entitled, Geophysical and Earth Observation Tools for Evaluating the Condition of Slopes (GEOTECS), which has secured €475,000 through the Frontiers for the Future Programme Project stream.

Professor Wenxin Wang, UCD School of Medicine, is the lead researcher for a 5-year project entitled, Multifunctional single-chain cyclized/knot polymers and their applications for Recessive Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa (RDEB) wound healing, which has secured €1 million through the Frontiers for the Future Programme Award stream.

Dr Elaine O'Reilly, UCD School of Chemistry, is the lead researcher for a 4-year project entitled, Biocatalytic cascades for the synthesis of therapeutic iminosugars from monosaccharides, which has secured €413,000 through the Frontiers for the Future Programme Project stream.

In addition Professor William Gallagher, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science and Director, UCD Conway Institute, is the co-lead with Technological University Dublin, for a project entitled, CHEMPREDICT DL – Segregation of breast cancer patients at low and high risk of recurrence with chemical imaging and deep learning, which has secured €478,000 in funding.

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland said, “This was a highly competitive process and I’m delighted that we are able to fund 71 new research grants through the SFI Frontiers for the Future programme.”

“These are highly skilled, talented, and dedicated researchers and it is crucial that we invest in their excellent ideas and research, to maintain and build on Ireland’s global standing in research, innovation, and discovery.  I would like to thank the Higher Education Institutions for their support in delivering this new programme.”

Working across 12 Higher Education Institutes, 231 research positions will be funded including 95 Postdoctoral scientists, 101 PhD students and 35 Research Assistants/others across a variety of different areas.

The programme also sought to provide opportunities to address gender imbalance in line with SFI’s Gender Strategy, 45% of the research grants supported will be led by female researchers.

The programme was run in collaboration with the Geological Survey Ireland (GSI) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and 38 industrial collaborators are engaging in the research programmes.

Minister Harris TD, added, “I am pleased to see the successful outcome of the new gender initiative that sees 45% of the research grants announced today led by female researchers. The funding will support researchers who are already carrying out excellent work in Ireland, as well as those in the early stages of their research careers who hold incredible potential.  It is through investment like this that Ireland will become an innovation leader and provide solutions and opportunities for our society and economy.”

In addition to UCD the research will be undertaken in the following Higher Education Institutions -  Dublin City University (DCU); Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT); Maynooth University; National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG); RCSI, University of Medicine and Health Sciences; Teagasc; Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin); Trinity College Dublin (TCD); Tyndall National Institute (TNI); University College Cork (UCC); and University of Limerick (UL).

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