Scientific research projectsto receive €49m


Awards for scientific research worth almost €49 million have been announced.

The State funding will flow into a variety of projects from the study of eye diseases to cell death in cancer and a better understanding of the body's immune system.

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Micheál Martin announced details of the awards yesterday in Dublin at the Royal Irish Academy. He was speaking at the launch of the 2006 annual report of research funder, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

The new funding has gone to some of Ireland's top researchers and will support long-term scientific studies for from one to five years. The Minister announced 33 awards, the largest worth €3.5 million for Prof John Boland, of Trinity College Dublin, who is a specialist in nanotechnology.

The 33 awards announced yesterday cover a range of subjects in the biosciences and bioengineering sectors and in information and communications technologies. SFI is specifically charged with supporting research in these areas.

SFI awards are noteworthy in that they are open to researchers from anywhere in the world. A scientist granted an award must conduct their research in Ireland and of the 33 announced, 10 were made to researchers from abroad. They were given to scientists from Sweden, the US, Australia, Germany, Italy and the UK.

"These scientific investments are crucial for Ireland's future economic development," Mr Martin said yesterday. "World class research and world class people are at the heart of any knowledge economy."

The latest awards for 2007 follow a busy year for SFI, which during 2006 approved 463 new awards to 18 higher education institutes. These involved financial commitments worth almost €135 million.

It was also successful in attracting international researchers here during that year, with 28 scientists agreeing to work in Ireland after awards made under a variety of SFI programmes. The international dimension is highly important given global competition for research talent. The awards made are comparable with those in other jurisdictions.

Applications for funding are assessed by an international panel before awards are made. SFI argues that it only supports excellence in research and that quality is ensured through scrutiny by international peers.

The research announced yesterday could make a real difference for many people.

NUI Galway's Prof Christopher Dainty received €4.5 million for studies in the general area of optics. Areas of interest include methods for the early diagnosis of eye disease, and the prevention of blindness in old age.

Dr Andrew Bowie, of Trinity College Dublin, received €1.378 million to study in detail aspects of the body's immune system as it fights viral infections. Understanding how the body defends itself against infection could point to powerful new drugs to counter viral attack.

SFI is responsible for investing €1.4 billion during the lifetime of the National Development Plan 2007-2013. Established in 2001, it has approved more than 1,600 awards under its various programmes, with an investment of €825 million.

"This funding feeds into the goals of the SSTI [ Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation], goals which are to build the critical mass of world class research in Ireland and to double our output of PhDs," Mr Martin stated.

SFI invests in individual scientists and research teams most likely to produce new knowledge or advanced technologies.

Its programmes maintain a connection with industry as a way to foster collaborations that will allow the commercialisation of research discoveries.