Charities fight to keep €1m grant


Fears rise that the State payment to co-fund ‘vital’ medical research will be slashed

MORE THAN two dozen of Ireland’s leading medical charities have called on the Government not to cut a state grant of €1 million that is spent on research into medial conditions.

The charities, which include the Irish Cancer Society, the Irish Heart Foundation and the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland, claim the money is vital for research and will pay for itself in medical breakthroughs in the years ahead.

For the past three years, the Government has provided the money through the Health Research Board (HRB) and the charities match the figure to create the Joint Funding Scheme.

John McCormack, the chairman of the Medical Research Charities Group (MRCG) estimates the charities have committed €60 million to research over the past six years. Ireland’s spend on health research, at 0.06 per cent of GDP, is half the OECD average.

Among the projects paid for by the grant include one to determine the defective gene that causes retinitis pigmentosa (RP), which leads to blindness. A team of researchers from Trinity College Dublin and the charity Fighting Blindness have developed a treatment, which is going to clinical trials.

Prof David McConnell, TCD’s head of the School of Genetics, said the research was “absolutely crucial” in building the international reputation of the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at the university.

Research is also being carried out on the rare genetic disease cystinosis in a joint project between the Cystinosis Foundation Ireland and University College Cork. It aims to find a cure through genetic therapy and has secured further funding in California.

The Diabetes Federation of Ireland is carrying out research into preventable foot disease, which costs the Heath Service Executive €200 million over five years.

Marie Downes, MRCG development executive, said the research carried out by Fighting Blindness alone would be worth the €1 million the Government spent on funding the HRB. “It is very little money in the scheme of things and you get a lot of bang for your buck,” she said.