€43m allocated by Science Foundation Ireland to support 96 researchers undertaking 26 major projects

Colm Gorey

SFI funding
Image: science photo/Shutterstock

Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) Investigators Programme is set to make the lives of almost 100 researchers that bit better with the allocation of €43m in funding for projects over the next five years.

Announced by Minister for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development John Halligan, TD, this morning (21 September), the SFI Investigators Programme has also agreed in principle to fund an additional 33 scientifically excellent projects based on the recommendations of an international peer-review panel. However, these projects are on a reserve list to be supported if the budget permits later in the year.

The 26 projects under the programme cover many different areas of sci-tech, but the most notable is an effort to develop new types of antibiotics, led by Prof Martin Caffrey from Trinity College Dublin (TCD). It received the single greatest amount of funding, at €2m.

Yesterday (20 September), the World Health Organisation made a plea for the development of new antibiotics as resistance to them increases globally.

Other projects in this round include the development of magnetic materials for next-generation data processing; design for advanced materials for energy-efficient carbon capture and natural gas storage; and personalised cancer treatment methods.

Standards of applications ‘exceptionally high’

Of the Irish universities where research projects are being funded, TCD has achieved the greatest success with nine projects, followed by University College Cork and University College Dublin, with three projects each.

Prof Mark Ferguson, director general of SFI, said: “The standard of applications for the SFI Investigators Programme was exceptionally high. The quality and quantity of excellent projects on the reserve list is clear evidence of the increasingly high standard of research in Ireland.

“I have the highest expectations for the projects funded today, and look forward to seeing the benefits to Ireland’s society and economy.”

Minister Halligan added: “In addition, today’s investment provides 20 companies with access to invaluable expertise and infrastructure across the country.

“These collaborations between industry and academia are integral to further enhancing Ireland’s reputation for research excellence.”

This news comes soon after the launch of four new SFI centres across the country, representing an investment of €74m from the Government over the next six years, with a €40m investment from industry.

Science Foundation Ireland to invest €72m in four new world-class research centres

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) today announced that it will invest €72 million, over the next six years, in four new world-class SFI Research Centres in Ireland.

The new SFI Research Centres will be supported by 80 industry partners who will provide an additional €38 million to support cutting-edge basic and applied research with strong industry engagement, economic and societal impact. The decision follows a comprehensive international peer review process involving leading industry and academic experts over the last 12 months.

Innovation 2020, the Government’s five-year strategy for research and development, science and technology, directs that the network of SFI Research Centres should be further developed to build critical mass in strategic areas of research strength and address enterprise needs.

The announcement marks the third tranche of funding under the SFI Research Centres Programme. The first seven SFI Research Centres were established in 2013 and a further five were established 2015.

These 12 world-leading SFI Research Centres are recognised internationally for research excellence; attract talent and capital to Ireland; anchor, attract and spin-out businesses; consolidate excellent basic and applied research across Higher Education Institutions; and secure EU and other international funding.

The four new SFI Research Centres announced today, including two from University College Dublin (UCD), are:

  • Biological resources as alternative materials to finite fossil resources, led by Professor Kevin O’Connor (pictured right), UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science (Project Title – BEACON)
  • Innovative techniques and processes in Additive Manufacturing, led by Professor Denis Dowling (pictured below right) UCD School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering (Project Title – Déantús)
  • Smart manufacturing IT and industrial automation systems, led by Professor Conor McCarthy, University of Limerick (Project Title – Confirm)
  • Diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of chronic and rare neurological diseases – led by Professor David Henshall, RCSI (Project Title – Future Neuro).

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government of Ireland said, “Our existing 12 SFI Research Centres are outstanding international examples of applied and basic combined (ABC) research. They are making important scientific advances, enhancing enterprise and industry, developing critical skills, supporting regional development, and enhancing Ireland’s international reputation.

“They are drivers of Ireland’s increased rankings in research and innovation over the last number of years. They are also an important engine for the economy; companies engaged with the SFI Research Centres are located all over Ireland and globally.”

“The commitment of industry and academic bodies to come together to develop these new SFI Research Centres clearly demonstrates the potential economic and societal impact of the planned research. I look forward to working with the four new SFI Research Centres on their road to becoming world-class centres of research excellence.”

Professor Orla Feely, UCD Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact said, “This is a wonderful achievement by all involved at UCD. The research that will take place in these Centres over the coming years will advance knowledge, train excellent researchers, and deliver impact to the economy and society.”

The four new SFI Research Centres involve strong collaborative partnerships between research bodies in Ireland with funded researchers participating from institutions including; Athlone Institute of TechnologyBeaumont HospitalCork Institute of TechnologyDublin City UniversityMater HospitalMaynooth UniversityNUI Galway, the Royal College of Surgeons in IrelandTeagascTemple Street Children’s HospitalTrinity College DublinTyndall National Institute (UCC), University College CorkUniversity College DublinUniversity of Limerick and Waterford Institute of Technology.

Four further SFI Research Centre proposals were approved in principle by the SFI Board following stringent assessment by international peer review.
SFI is seeking additional funding to support these centres over the next six years. These proposed SFI Research Centres involve collaborative partnerships with over 100 companies who have committed €60 million funding to the centres.

These proposals, including one from UCD, are:

  • Mapping the molecular causes of human diseases using Systems Biology led by Professor Walter Kolch (pictured right), UCD School of Medicine (Project Title – H-SYS)
  • Innovative technologies to support the production of dairy products: From Pasture, To Cow, To Food, led by Dr Donagh Berry, Teagasc (Project Title Future Milk)
  • Inflammation and Innate Immunology led by Professor Andrew Bowie, TCD (Project Title – INNATE)
  • Advanced Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing led by Professor Michael Butler, National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT) (Project Title – Bio-Logic).

Commenting on the SFI Board decision, Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government of Ireland said, “We need to be ambitious and invest in areas of real potential to ensure our future economic competitiveness. In line with Innovation 2020 we have identified through the SFI Research Centre programme a further four proposals of strategic national importance that meet the high criteria of scientific excellence and impact.”

“Over the coming months we will be working to seek additional funding to support these four SFI Research Centres that have been approved in principle.  I am greatly encouraged by the high quality of research and the significant level of industry and international engagement in the proposals.”

The new SFI Research Centres will be formally launched in September 2017.

UL early career researchers awarded over €1.85 million in SFI funding

Career Development Award recipient, Dr Pat Kiely, University of Limerick
Career Development Award recipient, Dr Pat Kiely, University of Limerick
Four University of Limerick researchers have been awarded in excess of €1.85 million in funding by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) as part of today’s €23 million funding announcement by Minister for Research and Innovation, Sean Sherlock. The UL research awards included Career Development Awards to Dr Pat Kiely, Dr Sarah Hudson and Dr Christophe Silien and a Starting Investigator Research Grant to Dr Stephen Dooley.
Dr Mary Shire, Vice President Research, UL welcomed the announcement; “The Career Development Awards and Starting Investigator Research Grants programmes from Science Foundation Ireland are essential in supporting the next generation of world-class researchers in Ireland. Programmes like these enable our best researchers to pursue their work to make a real impact for society.”
The research activities supported through these grants are in the vital fields of cancer, alternative energy, nanoscience and drug delivery.
Career Development Award recipient, Dr Pat Kiely is undertaking research into colon cancer. Dr Kiely explains; “Approximately 3,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer every year in Ireland and it is the second most common cause of cancer death in Ireland.”

Dr Kiely’s research is focused on a protein called RACK1, he explains: “RACK1 is present in all cells and its role is similar to that of a conductor of an orchestra. When the conductor does not work properly, things go wrong, leading to the development of cancer. The work here is designed to reveal RACK1 function as a potential prognostic marker and therapeutic target in colon cancer and establish inhibitory peptides with novel therapeutic prospects as anti-cancer drugs.”
Dr Kiely’s research is a unique collaboration between bioscientists, engineers and medics. Dr Kiely explains; “will be based in the Department of Life Sciences, MSSI and Stokes Institute where we will use state of the art microscopy and novel cell monitoring platforms to advance our understanding of colon cancer. The project will also help forge stronger links between UL and clinicians based in University Hospital Limerick.”
University of Limerick – SFI Career Development Award Winners
Dr Christophe Silien, Nonlinear optical micro-spectroscopy for multiplex susoension immunoassay. Department of Physics and Energy, University of Limerick.
Dr Sarah Hudson, Bio-availing of Antimicrobial Resources. Dr Hudson is a researcher with the Synthesis and Solid State Pharmaceutical Centre, (SSPC), University of Limerick.
Dr Pat Kiely, Targeting RACKI as a dynamic cog downstream of growth factor. Dr Kiely’s research is based in the Department of Life Sciences, MSSI and Stokes Institute at the University of Limerick and will help forge stronger links between UL and clinicians based in University Hospital Limerick.
University of Limerick SFI Starting Investigator Research Grant Winner
Dr Stephen Dooley, Realistic Reaction Kinetics Models for the Production of Platform Chemicals and Designer Fuel, Carbolea – research group for advanced biomass strategies and technologies, University of Limerick.