SBI Director Walter Kolch Elected to Royal Irish Academy

Written by: Will Fitzmaurice
Written on: Monday, 30 May, 2016

In recognition of his outstanding achievements in science, Professor Walter Kolch, Director of Systems Biology Ireland, has been elected to the ranks of the Royal Irish Academy. Election to membership of the Royal Irish Academy—which has occurred annually since 1785—is the highest academic honour in Ireland. Those elected are entitled to use the designation ‘MRIA’ after their name. There are now 497 members of the Academy, in disciplines from the sciences, humanities and social sciences.

The Royal Irish Academy (RIA) is Ireland’s premier learned body and vigorously promotes excellence in scholarship, recognises achievements in learning, direct research programmes and undertakes its own research projects, particularly in areas relating to Ireland and its heritage.

Professor Kolch was one of five UCD academics elected to the RIA in a ceremony in Dublin on 27th May 2016. They include: Paul Devereux, UCD School of Economics; Diane Negra, UCD School of English, Drama and Film; Frédéric Dias, UCD School of Mathematics and Statistics; and Emma Teeling, UCD School of Biology and Environment Science.

In announcing the new members of the RIA at the annual admittance day ceremony, Professor Mary E. Daly, President of the RIA, called on the new Minister for Education and Skills, Richard Bruton, to introduce an Action Plan for Higher Education, similar to the successful Action Plan for Jobs that he implemented in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Professor Daly said that “the steady erosion of funding per student and the failure to invest in infrastructure has brought higher education to a crisis point requiring such an emergency action plan. No system can sustain a 38% decline in state grants (2007/8-2014/5) and at the same time absorb a 25% increase in student numbers.”

“Ireland and Iceland are the only two countries in the OECD where real expenditure on higher education per student dropped since the 2008 crash. Ireland cannot afford to be such an outlier in higher education. The sector needs a cross- government initiative, setting out clear actions and targets, which mobilises all the relevant government departments.”

Walter Kolch has been Director of Systems Biology Ireland (SBI) since its inception in 2009, and served as Director of the UCD Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research from 2010-2016. Prior to his appointment to SBI, Kolch spent his academic career in Austria, the US and Germany before moving to Scotland where he was appointed Group Leader at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, Glasgow in 1998. He became Professor of Molecular Cell Biology at the University of Glasgow in 2000 and within this role, was the founder and Director of the Sir Henry Wellcome Functional Genomics Facility from 2001-2004. This facility was one of the first worldwide, which integrated bioinformatics, proteomics, genomics and transcriptomics research and service. From 2005 to 2009, he was Scientific Director of the Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration (IRC) Proteomics Technologies - RASOR, a £15M multidisciplinary project between the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Strathclyde and Dundee, which focused on developing innovative proteomics technologies and which incorporated an associated doctoral training centre.

In the last ten years, Kolch has built an international reputation across three areas: MAPK signalling, proteomics, and cancer research, especially in regard to using systems biology approaches. As principal or co-applicant he has secured grants worth in excess of €90M, has published over 230 original articles and currently coordinates 2 multi-partner EU-FP7 Health programmes and a Marie Curie COFUND postdoctoral fellowship programme in addition to the SBI CSET programme.