Minister Simon Harris announces funding of €5 million for researchers tackling major challenges in partnership with enterprise and employers
Posted: 3 October, 2023
Detecting ovarian cancer in its early stages; new treatments for preterm infants affected by retinal diseases, including blindness; improving the sustainability of ‘smart’ medical device implants; and originating a set of nutritional guidelines for young GAA athletes. These are among 50 projects to be awarded a total of €5 million in funding under the latest round of the Irish Research Council’s Enterprise Partnership Scheme and Employment-Based Postgraduate Programme, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, announced today (03.10.23).
The IRC’s enterprise programmes provide postgraduate and postdoctoral candidates, hosted by a research-performing institution, with the opportunity to collaborate with an enterprise or employer on a research project of mutual interest.
Each year, the IRC partners with a wide spectrum of organisations, ranging from multinational corporations to SMEs, public-sector agencies, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), under its Enterprise Partnership Scheme and Employment-Based Postgraduate Programme. Through both of these co-funded programme strands, postgraduate or postdoctoral researchers develop new, advanced knowledge, and skills linked with industry and employer needs.
Announcing the latest IRC enterprise programmes’ awards, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, said: “I am delighted to announce the latest projects to be selected for funding under the Irish Research Council’s Enterprise Partnership Scheme and Employment-Based Postgraduate Programme. These co-funded programmes train early-career researchers for the diversity of employment opportunities in industry, the public sector and the non-government sectors. For enterprise and employment partners, the schemes provide a low-risk, flexible route to research talent and innovation in an area closely aligned with their strategic interests.
“It’s exciting to see the broad experience and benefits that these partnerships will give to researchers and their enterprise-employer partners. These collaborative projects will allow researchers to gain valuable experience in the early stages of their careers, while employers and enterprises will benefit from having fresh perspectives, expertise, new ideas and knowledge.”
New Projects Awarded Funding
The funded projects include:
- ‘Catching the silent killer: identifying non-coding RNAs for earlier diagnosis of ovarian cancer’:
Shaun Hartigan from University College Cork, in partnership with Breakthrough Cancer Research, will examine a specific method for detecting ovarian cancer in its early stages by looking at how mutations in cellular components known as p53 affect RNA molecules. P53 is a protein that keeps human cells in check, preventing them from growing and dividing out of control.
- ‘Drug Coating of Vascular Medical Devices Using Plasma’:
Fiona O’Neill, from University College Dublin, in partnership with TheraDep, will investigate the development of a new coating technology for medical devices, such as stents and angioplasty balloons, for the delivery of targeted doses of different therapies.
- ‘Protecting the vision of preterm infants: Developing new therapeutic strategies for retinopathy of prematurity’:
Madhuri Dandamudi, from South-East Technological University, in partnership with Fighting Blindness, will address an unmet clinical need for the development of drug delivery techniques to treat back-of-the-eye diseases in infants, such as retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), which affects the retina of premature infants and can lead to severe visual impairment, blindness and lifelong disability. The research will centre on treatments, ‘smart’ nanomaterials and state-of-the-art imaging techniques that negate the need for ocular injections, improve patient comfort and provide a reduced cost solution.
- ‘Improving the sustainability of medical device implants’:
Frederick Crowley, from University of Limerick, in partnership with Boston Scientific Clonmel, will examine a unique material interface for medical implants that fights infections and that can be used across all medical implants. This will increase the lifetime of ‘smart implants’ and allow miniaturisation to save on material usage, improving their sustainability.
- ‘Development of a nanoparticle-based assay for early diagnostics in chronic diseases’:
Anna Nakonechna, from RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences, in partnership with Ludger Ltd, will investigate an enhanced technique for analysing changes in the glycosylation process, which can indicate chronic diseases, to provide a biomarker for diagnosis and enable patients to seek treatment at an early stage.
- ‘Charting the importance of native oyster Ostrea edulis beds as biodiversity hotpots to establish baselines for ecological restoration’:
Mateja Svonja, from Atlantic Technological University, in partnership with Údarás na Gaeltachta, will survey natural, native oyster beds that still exist in Kilkieran and Bertraghbui Bays, in Connemara, Co Galway, and document their structure and ecosystems. The project will provide valuable information and evidence that may be used to restore and rejuvenate sites where native oysters have disappeared, such as on Ireland’s East coast.
- ‘The Energy Demands, Nutritional Knowledge, and Dietary Intake of Adolescent Irish Gaelic Games Players’:
Neil Irwin, from Technological University of the Shannon, in partnership with Dublin GAA, will recruit 60 adolescent GAA athletes (15-18-years-old) competing at inter-county level and investigate their dietary intake, with the aim of informing the development of nutrition guidelines and recommendations for youth athletes, nutritionists and key stakeholders.
Welcoming the announcement, Peter Brown, Director of the Irish Research Council, said: “The Enterprise Partnership Scheme and Employment-Based Postgraduate Programme are unique national initiatives linking excellent researchers in all disciplines to enterprise and employer partners. The programmes help to future-proof the careers and skills of academic researchers, while connecting employers with a high-quality pool of talent within Ireland’s research community. Researchers and employers benefit mutually. Researchers get exposure to sectoral challenges and how to address them from within a research setting. They get to work alongside some very talented and innovative people as well as industry mentors, who they can learn from; and this new knowledge can then be applied in their research and work.
“A recent study conducted by the IRC found that 92% of enterprise and employment partners strongly agreed that the IRC’s enterprise programmes strengthened their relationship with academia. These collaborations are of significant benefit for enterprise and employers as they seek to harness the benefits of research and innovation in their forward development.
Commenting on today’s announcement, Dr Frances Drummond, Research Manager, Breakthrough Cancer Research, said: “The opportunity to partner with top-class researchers through the IRC’s enterprise programmes is of enormous value and benefit to Breakthrough Cancer Research. Working with excellent researchers who can apply their dedication, skills, expertise and time to finding new breakthroughs in cancer diagnosis and treatments meets a vital need for our organisation and for society. We commend the Irish Research Council and Ireland’s research community on the latest partnership awards.”