Research News

SFI-Irish Aid SDG Challenge runner-up prize awarded to UCD-led BIOTOPE project

  • 28 September, 2023


Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, and Minister of State for International Development and Diaspora, Sean Fleming TD, have announced the winners of the Science Foundation Ireland-Irish Aid Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Challenge, following rigorous assessment by a panel of global health experts.

The Neosepsis project led by Maynooth University has won the first SDG Challenge focused on SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being, with a new approach to identifying sepsis in newborn babies. 

A runner-up prize was awarded to Dr Joseph Gallagher, UCD School of Medicine and Dr Chris Watson, UCD Conway Institute and Queen’s University Belfast, for the BIOTOPE project.  In partnership with Dr Balwani Mbakaya of Mzuzu University in Malawi and Prof Cathal Seoighe of University of Galway, the team is working to reduce deaths from childhood pneumonia. 

Pneumonia kills more children than any other single disease with an estimated 935,000 deaths per annum. The BIOTOPE project builds on existing work in primary care in Malawi and will use cellular networks and smartphone technology to develop models to help categorise the severity of pneumonia cases for treatment, and work on tests to reduce over-prescription of antibiotics.

The team will use the additional €893,000 over two years to improve their machine-learning models, finalise the best candidate biomarkers for disease severity, and conduct clinical studies in eight districts. A further group of teams is working on SDG 13, relating to the climate crisis. 

Minister Harris said: “Significant progress has been made in tackling and reducing child mortality in the past two decades, and the Neosepsis project will contribute in areas where improvements are still urgently needed. The team has made rapid progress since being selected for funding only 18 months ago. This progress demonstrates that working together, we can effectively tackle the Sustainable Development Goals and make a real difference on a global scale.” 

Minister Fleming said: “I congratulate the researchers on winning the Science Foundation Ireland-Irish Aid Sustainable Development Goals Challenge and hope the additional funding provided will help with this vital research.”

Prof. Philip Nolan, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland said: “The teams involved in this challenge have brought themselves to the heart of the problems they are trying to solve, meeting those affected and coming up with achievable solutions. To see the progress they have made in such a short period of time inspires me, and I hope will inspire other researchers to accelerate implementation of their discoveries.”

The SDG Challenge Programme is a partnership between SFI and Irish Aid (Department of Foreign Affairs), whose purpose is to support transformative, sustainable solutions to contribute to addressing development challenges in Irish Aid’s partner countries. Some 146 out of 200 countries or areas have already met or are on track to meet the SDG target on under-5 mortality.