Harris announces €53m for 71 scientific research projects

Research on spinal cord injury, climate change and horse breeding included in list

Prof Emmeline Hill and Prof Lisa Katz have been awarded over €880,000 to investigate the dynamic interplay between the inherited DNA sequence of a horse and the environment. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

Prof Emmeline Hill and Prof Lisa Katz have been awarded over €880,000 to investigate the dynamic interplay between the inherited DNA sequence of a horse and the environment. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.


A broad range of Irish scientific research is to be supported by the latest round of Science Foundation Ireland’s Frontiers for the Future programme – 71 research grants totalling €53 million have been allocated for work to be carried out in 12 higher education institutions.

Announcing the successful recipients, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris underlined the importance of this type of endeavour, “which funds individual-led research, with emphasis on areas of high-risk, high-reward, which will help us build a better future for Ireland through discovery, innovation, and impact”.

This round includes research on spinal cord injury; novel materials, climate change, smart manufacturing, social connectivity, horse breeding, pharmaceutical manufacturing and information security.

Mr Harris added: “I am pleased to see the successful outcome of the new gender initiative that sees 45 per cent of the research grants announced led by female researchers. The funding will support researchers already carrying out excellent work... as well as those in the early stages of their research careers who hold incredible potential.”

SFI director general and chief scientific adviser to the Government Prof Mark Ferguson said: “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.”

A total of 231 research positions will be funded including 95 postdoctoral scientists, 101 PhD students and 35 research assistants. The research will be undertaken Dublin City University (DCU); Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT); Maynooth University; NUI Galway; RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences; Teagasc; Technological University Dublin (TUD), Trinity College Dublin (TCD); Tyndall National Institute (TNI); University College Cork (UCC); University College Dublin (UCD) and University of Limerick (UL).

The programme comprises two funding streams: for 45 high-risk, high-reward research projects incorporating highly innovative and novel approaches, and awards for larger scale innovative research with potential to deliver economic and societal impact.

SFI Frontiers for the Future Projects include:

– Prof David Hoey at TCD will lead research on how bones respond to exercise by releasing tiny vesicles or sacs of material that encourage the body to build more bone. They hope to develop new therapies for osteoporosis and bone defects.

– At Teagasc, Dr Olivia McAuliffe, aims to transform waste products from food production to valuable products using bacteria in a fermentation process.

– Dr Sarah Hudson at UL aims to design innovative systems to convert novel antibiotic power into stable therapies for treatment of bacterial infections.

– Dr Shane Donohue, at UCD with support from Geological Survey of Ireland and the EPA, aims to develop ways of monitoring the impact of floods and extreme weather on the condition of man-made slopes (eg embankments, dams), so repairs can be targeted and failures avoided.

– Prof Ronan Sulpice at NUIG will carry out research on how sea lettuce could be grown in coastal regions to “depollute” wastewater and estuaries.

– At UCC Prof Michael Prentice will explore how to help bacteria build “microcompartments” to be used as natural chemical factories and storage in anti-cancer treatments.

– Dr Dympna O’Sullivan at TUD and Dr Julie Doyle at DkIT are working with people with dementia to co-design a computerised toolkit that enables self-care for people with dementia, to help them remain healthy and independent at home for longer.

–At Maynooth University, Dr Arman Farhang is developing new data transmission and receiving technologies to improve links for applications such as vehicles in future wireless networks, contributing towards a safer, smarter and highly connected society.

Among SFI Frontiers for the Future awardees are:

– Prof Tia Keyes at DCU who is developing probes that highlight specific stretches of DNA inside living cells, which will have applications in assessing cell damage during screening for potential new drugs.

– Dr Aideen Ryan at NUIG will seek to understand how the sugars that naturally coat cancer cells affect how the cancer cells grow and interact with their surroundings. If successful, the project could point to a new way to treat cancer.

– Prof Luke O’Neill at TCD has discovered “an off-switch for inflammation” in the body called itaconate. This project will look more deeply at the metabolite with a view to developing potential new treatments for inflammatory diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and Crohn’s disease.

– Prof Vincent O’Flaherty at NUIG will develop new additives for animal feed and manure to reduce agricultural greenhouse-gas emissions and get more value from manure.

– Prof Emma Sokell and Prof Fergal O’Reilly of UCD will develop an x-ray source that will be sufficiently low cost and simple to deploy by a broad range of industrial and scientific applications.

– Dr Olive Lennon at UCD is exploring how to improve robotic devices designed to help people re-learn how to stand and walk after a stroke, by sensing when a person intends to walk.

– Prof Leonie Young and Prof Arnold Hill at the RCSI will look at how potentially reversible genetic changes and activities are involved in the spread of breast cancer to the brain, with a view to informing new treatments and better outcomes for patients.

– Personal voice assistants (PVAs) such as Amazon Echo, Siri or Google Home are commonplace. Prof Utz Roedig at UCC will lead a project to develop methods to use PVAs securely, that also addresses privacy concerns.

– Bats have mastered the art of ageing healthily. Prof Emma Teeling at UCD is leading the LongHealth project looking at “anti-ageing” molecular mechanisms in wild bats. It will identify bat anti-ageing processes that could protect human health as we age.