Scientists from NUI Galway and UCD Make Breakthrough in Breast Cancer Treatment

By Cillian O’Brien

Irish scientists have discovered a new treatment method to tackle breast cancer that has spread to other organs.

Teams from the Lambe Institute at NUI Galway and UCD have identified an approach that uses stem cells to treat the disease.

They have engineered a part of these cells to carry a tumour blocking message which was shown to reduce cancer growth in models of the illness.

The exciting breakthrough suggests the microscopic messengers may home in on sites of the disease and could be a safe and effective new way to treat breast cancer when it has spread.

Dr Róisín Dwyer from NUI Galway said: “When cancer has spread it is difficult to deliver therapy to many sites of disease while protecting healthy tissue.

“We engineered mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to express high levels of a tumour suppressing micro RNA and we used the MSCs as vehicles to deliver it to the tumour site.

“The MSCs were found to release the micro RNA in tiny vesicles.

“We then isolated the vesicles to determine if they could be used to treat the cancer, without the cells.

“This could also reduce potential side effects.”

Researchers spent the last five years examining how the cells could be used to deliver treatments to specific locations.

They found that tiny vesicles, secreted by the cells, send information around the body and home in on the sites of tumours and raises the potential that they could be used to bring drugs directly to cancer sites.

There have been big advances in detection and treatment of breast cancer, but patients where the disease has spread to other organs still have a poor outcome.

The research was mostly funded by the Irish Cancer Society’s Breast-Predict centre.

The results were published in the cancer journal Oncogene. To read the full study visit:

UCD €300m Student Housing Project Gets the Go-Ahead

A €300 million on-campus accommodation complex at University College Dublin (UCD) has become the first development approved by An Bord Pleanála under the new “fast-track” planning process.

However the board has reduced the amount of student housing sought by the State’s largest university by more than a quarter, bringing the number of beds down from 3,006 to 2,178.

UCD was granted permission for the development, its largest single student housing scheme to date, in just over three months using the new Strategic Housing Development system. This allows applications for schemes of more than 100 homes, or blocks of 200 student bed spaces, to be made directly to An Bord Pleanála, bypassing the local authority decision phase.

While reduced in size, the new development will increase the student population living on the Belfield campus substantially, bringing the number of bed spaces from 3,179 to 5,357.

The university will build apartment blocks taller than those already on campus – ranging from five to 10 storeys in height – in order to increase the amount of housing on site, without doubling the amount of campus space taken up by apartment blocks.

Seven blocks

UCD had planned seven blocks, with one of the blocks including a student facilities centre with a function hall, gym, and health centre, with studio accommodation above. Shops and services, including a bank, convenience store and cafés will also be built.

However the board ruled that the largest of the residential blocks, which involved the construction of three separate buildings, up to 10 storeys tall with 828 apartments, must be omitted.

The block would have been adjacent to the protected structures of Roebuck Castle and Roebuck Glebe and close to the site boundary at Roebuck Road, a residential area. This block would “adversely affect the character and setting of the protected structures”, the board said. It would also have a “significant adverse impact on visual and residential amenities” of Roebuck Road and would be “contrary to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area”.

A spokeswoman for UCD said it was “very pleased” by the board’s decision, and would be seeking tenders to start construction shortly.

While more time was needed to study the decision, she said the university was not precluded from making another application for the Roebuck Road lands in the future.

UCD to Lead €4m Project on Artificial Intelligence with Samsung

Artificial intelligence (AI) experts from University College Dublin will lead a €4 million collaborative research project with Samsung to onboard technology from the lab into the company’s products.

The three-year research project will be led by UCD’s Professor Barry Smyth, Dr Aonghus Lawlor and Associate Professor Neil Hurley from the UCD School of Computer Science.

It will involve a team of over 25 researchers and staff from Samsung and University College Dublin. Twelve new research posts will also be created.

A key feature of the collaborative project will be the transfer of research skills between staff at Samsung and UCD. Career opportunities for students from the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at Samsung research facilities in the United Kingdom and South Korea are also expected.

AI systems like those behind recommended videos on Netflix and YouTube are becoming more influential in guiding the decision making of users. They also impact physical behaviour like diet and exercise through integration in mobile and wearable technology.

“Until now, we have been living in what can be termed the era of ‘search’, but this is now changing due to converging technologies,” said Baekjun Lim, Vice-President and Head of the Data Intelligence Lab at Samsung Electronics.

“Today people are searching less, with recommendation features filling the gap. Given this environment, we are extremely excited about the opportunity to work with world-class experts in the field of recommendation systems at UCD, and we expect to see impactful results from this collaboration.”

The collaborative research project will leverage deep data science and AI expertise at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics including machine learning, user modelling and recommender systems.

“Ireland has an excellent reputation in machine learning and recommender systems and the Insight Centre for Data Analytics is delighted to be working with Samsung to help bring our innovative technologies out of the lab to Samsung devices and customer-base,” said Professor Barry Smyth, UCD School of Computer Science and a Founding Director of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics.

The Insight Centre for Data Analytics is a joint initiative between researchers at UCD, NUI Galway, UCC, DCU, and other partner institutions. The €75 million research centre is funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and a wide range of industry partners.

By: Jonny Baxter, digital journalist, UCD University Relations

University College Dublin Search for Design Team for €48m Project

by Lewis Catchpole


University College Dublin (UCD) is commissioning an international search for a design team to devise and design a landmark €48m building.

The international competition, which will launch in early 2018, is to design the 8,000 sqm University’s Centre for Creative Design as well as an Entrance Precinct Masterplan.

London-based Malcolm Reading Consultants have been appointed to manage the process.

UCD plans to improve and develop its campus to reflect its 21st Century identity, and offer faculty and students exemplary facilities that raise the University’s profile internationally and give it greater presence within Dublin.

University College Dublin president, Professor Andrew J. Deeks, said: “The architectural quality of our campus offers us an immediate way to communicate what UCD is about: an exceptional student experience, a productive intellectual exchange and an ambition to impact the world that draws students from diverse cultural backgrounds.

“Holding an international design competition is a perfect fit with our day-to-day values of stimulating creativity, welcoming talent and rewarding excellence. We’re very much looking forward to the competition launching in early 2018.”

The two-stage global search will culminate in the selection of five teams chosen on the basis of relevant skills and past experience. At the second stage, the teams will be invited to visit the site and will be asked to produce concept designs. International teams will be required to team up with a local executive team during the second stage.

Malcolm Reading, competition director, said: “This project has the potential to define UCD, the largest university in Ireland, over the next fifty years. As the project has two distinct aspects, this could be a great opportunity for an emerging practice to collaborate with an established one.”

Interested architects, urban designers and masterplanners can now sign up to receive notification of launch on the competition website’s holding page at

UCD Professors Named on List of World’s Most Highly Cited Researchers

UCD Professors Da-Wen Sun and Colm O’Donnell, UCD School of Biosystems and Food Engineering, have been included on the 2017 Highly Cited Researchers list, compiled by Clarivate Analytics.

This is the third time that both Professor Sun and Professor O’Donnell have been included on the list.

The list identifies journal publications’ authors – as determined by their fellow researchers – whose research has had significant global impact within their respective fields of study.

The list is a citation analysis of researchers who are among the top 1% most cited for their year of publication in one of 21 main subject fields.

Professor Sun’s work is standard reference material for researchers in the areas of computer vision, computational fluid dynamics modelling and vacuum cooling.

He has 1,099 papers in the Web of Science of which 121 have been cited more than 100 times (Web of Science h-index = 84, SCOPUS h-index = 89). Papers in the Web of Science do not exclusively include papers published in peer-reviewed journals and can include seminar papers and other studies.

Recent work by Professor Sun has used non-destructive and non-invasive hyperspectral imaging to determine quality and safety in foods. This allows greater certainty over standards in the food production process compared to visual inspection practices that are still common.

Hyperspectral imaging takes images of food specimens at different wavelength bands at a scale of around ten nanometres (1 nm = one billionth of a metre).

Professor Sun is an international authority in food engineering research and education. He was elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 2010 and was selected as a member of Academia Europaea (Academy of Europe) in 2011. He was awarded fellowships of the International Academy of Food Science and Technology in 2012 and the International Academy of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering in 2016.

He is editor of the journal Food and Bioprocess Technology, series editor of Contemporary Food Engineering and former editor of Journal of Food Engineering.

Colm O’Donnell is Professor of Biosystems and Food Engineering and Head of the UCD School of Biosystems and Food Engineering.

He leads a research team working on a range of Process Analytical Technology and Non-Thermal Processing projects funded by EU Framework, the Irish Research Council, the Food Institutional Research Measure, Enterprise Ireland and industry.

His primary research focus is on process analytical technology for food and bioproducts characterisation and novel food processing technologies.

His areas of expertise include hyperspectral imaging and Near Infra-red and Mid Infra-red spectroscopy – the study of the interaction between matter and electromagnetic radiation.

He was appointed Editor of the International Journal of Food Properties and Associate Editor of Transactions of the American Society of Agricultural & Biological Engineers. He is Chair of the International Federation for Process Analysis & Control (IFPAC) Dairy Processing Technical Committee.

He is a Principal Investigator and Head of the Process Quality and Safety by Design Pillar in the €25 million Enterprise Ireland/industry funded Dairy Processing Technology Centre. He is also Head of the Food Quality and Processing Pillar in the UCD Institute of Food and Health.

In the 2017 Clarivate Analytics edition, about 3,000 researchers who represent some of world’s leading scientific minds earned the distinction of Highly Cited Researcher.

By: Jamie Deasy, digital journalist, UCD University Relations

UCD spin-out company wins top prize at US start-up competition

  • Company’s products help to prevent falls among older people
  • In 2016, firm secured €590,000 from investors and Enterprise Ireland

University College Dublin spin-out company, Kinesis Health Technologies, has won the Tech Day start-up pitching competition in the United States.

At the Tech Day event, entitled ‘Technology and Ageing – Innovation for Independence and Innovation’, Kinesis pitched against eight other start-ups working in the ageing technology space from around the world.

The Irish company was declared the overall winner and won €3,900 prize.

Kinesis develops products that help to prevent falls among older adults by using wearable sensor technologies.

Healthcare professionals use Kinesis QTUG™, a Class I medical device, to identify those patients at risk of falls and prescribe an intervention to prevent them from falling in future.

Pictured: Seamus Small, CEO & co-founder, Kinesis Health Technologies, at the Tech Day start-up pitching competition in San Francisco where the firm won the top prize; and pictured on homepage at NexusUCD are Dr Barry Greene and Seamus Small, co-founders, Kinesis Health Technologies (Nick Bradshaw, Fotonic)

The device helps doctors to quantify a patient’s response to therapy and rehabilitation and also assesses patients for neurological disorders.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 30% of adults, over 65 years of age, fall at least once each year.

The direct and indirect societal costs of falls among older adults are enormous and in the US alone, such costs have been estimated to be in the region of $20 billion per year.

“This prize provides great recognition for the Kinesis team and provides further external validation of the value and impact of our products to the global ageing care market,” said Seamus Small, CEO and co-founder of Kinesis Health Technologies.

Kinesis was founded in 2013 by Seamus Small and Dr Barry Greene, as a spin-out company from the Technology Research for Independent Living (TRIL) Centre, a large ageing research programme, at UCD.

The company, an Enterprise Ireland High-Potential Start-Up (HPSU), has already secured customers for its products in Ireland, UK, US, Canada and Australia, and has partners in place in India, Japan, Germany and The Netherlands.

Kinesis is headquartered at NexusUCD, the Industry Partnership Centre at UCD.

Last November, Kinesis announced that it had closed its first investment round and secured €590,000 from a consortium of private investors and Enterprise Ireland.

The Tech Day start-up pitching competition was held at the 21st International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics (IAGG) World Congress in San Francisco.

The World Congress was billed as the as the “largest world conference on ageing”. Over 6,000 experts in the field of ageing gathered together to share their knowledge on improving the health, welfare, and rights of a growing proportion of the world’s population.

By: Jamie Deasy, digital journalist, UCD University Relations

Ireland’s first space satellite to be developed by UCD

  • Satellite will detect most powerful explosions in the universe

University College Dublin will lead the development of Ireland’s first space satellite after the European Space Agency gave the green light to its EIRSAT-1 project.

The Education Irish Research Satellite (EIRSAT-1) will be launched from the International Space Station in 2019 once final approval is received from the ESA.

It will be managed and controlled from a command centre in the UCD School of Physics. Known as a CubeSat because of its size – around that of a shoebox – it will orbit the Earth for approximately 12 months.

A major part of its mission will be to gather data on the most powerful explosions in the universe – gamma-ray bursts.


“Despite its small size, EIRSAT-1 will detect the biggest explosions since the Big Bang and pave the way for future space science missions,” said Professor Lorraine Hanlon, UCD School of Physics.

“Our students will have an amazing opportunity to learn, not only from the wealth of expertise at ESA, but also from the other excellent teams participating in the programme from across Europe. This hard work will prepare them very well for future careers in the space sector.”

Five Irish companies will work with University College Dublin and Queen’s University Belfast on the project. The companies include Resonate, ENBIO, SensL, Parameter Space and MOOG Dublin.

Parameter Space is a UCD spin-out and ENBIO was previously based at NovaUCD, the university’s Centre for New Ventures and Entrepreneurs.

The collaboration of student teams, researchers and high-tech companies is part of the ESA’s Fly Your Satellite programme. It will provide training and education to graduates and undergraduate students in all major aspects of satellite development, under guidance from academic and industry mentors and the ESA.

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.

UCD – Drug can reduce risk of developing diabetes by 80 per cent, study shows

  • Drug reduces chances of developing diabetes by 80 per cent
  • Pre-diabetes also reversed in 60 per cent of those on trial

An injected drug that lowers blood sugar levels can reduce the chances of those at risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 80 per cent, according to new research led by a scientist at University College Dublin.

The drug, liraglutide, promotes weight loss by interacting with the areas of the brain that control appetite and energy intake.

The study involved a major international trial conducted over three years in which 2,254 adults with pre-diabetes participated at 191 research sites in 27 countries. The findings of the study were published in the medical journal, The Lancet.

The aim of the trial was to evaluate whether liraglutide can safely delay the onset of type 2 diabetes in participants with pre-diabetes.

The trial results show that continuous treatment with the drug over three years helped to prevent the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in participants by 80 per cent when combined with diet and exercise.

In 60 per cent of those patients, pre-diabetes was completely reversed and patients returned to healthy blood sugar levels.

Of those patients who went on to develop diabetes, those who had been taking the drug took three times longer to develop the disease than those in the placebo group.

Liraglutide also helped to sustain greater weight loss when compared to the placebo.

Pre-diabetes is a metabolic condition that is closely tied to obesity. If undiagnosed or untreated, it can develop into type 2 diabetes, which is treatable, but not reversible.

In Ireland, one in ten of the population have pre-diabetes, and pre-diabetes and obesity are risk factors for type 2 diabetes and its complications. Pre-diabetes progresses into type 2 diabetes in five to ten per cent of sufferers within ten years.

These individuals are at risk of a range of conditions that can affect their overall health, including type 2 diabetes and its complications, as well as cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Professor Carel le Roux from the UCD Diabetes Complications Research Centre, UCD School of Medicine and Fellow, UCD Conway Institute is an obesity specialist and the corresponding author on the study.

“In this study, we wanted to see if this drug in combination with a reduced-calorie diet and lifestyle intervention could delay the onset of type 2 diabetes in a high-risk population with obesity and pre-diabetes,” he said.

“On the basis of our findings, liraglutide 3.0 mg can provide us with a new therapeutic approach for patients with obesity and pre-diabetes to substantially reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes and its related complications.”

The study is entitled: 3 years’ of liraglutide versus placebo for type 2 diabetes risk reduction and weight management in individuals with prediabetes: a randomised, double-blind trial

By: Jamie Deasy, digital journalist, UCD University Relations

Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe features two UCD students

  • LGBTQ+ activist is one of youngest to be recognised
  • PhD researcher honoured for efforts to bring disruptive tech to developing world

UCD students Sam Blanckensee and Colin Keogh have been named in Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe list of people “who will impact Europe for the next 50 years.”

The listing features 300 young leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs under the age of 30 who are transforming areas including business, technology, media and culture.

22 year-old activist Blanckensee was named in the Law and Policy and Youngest categories.

He is National Development Officer at Transgender Equality Network Ireland and Education Officer at Irish Trans Student Alliance.

Forbes described him as “an outspoken voice for the trans community across Irish media and politics.”

Blanckensee was part of the lobbying effort that helped pass legislation to allow people to self-declare their gender and receive new birth certificates.

He is a student in the UCD School of Veterinary Medicine and was LGBT Coordinator with UCD Students’ Union.

Blanckensee received a UCD President’s Award in 2014 for work advocating for the rights of transgender students inside and outside the UCD community.

PhD student Keogh was featured for his work towards “using low-cost disruptive technologies to help improve the world.”

He was named in the Science and Healthcare category.

Keogh is a research engineer at UCD College of Engineering and Architecture and founder of Rapid Foundation.

It aims to put “technology such as 3D printers and low-cost electronics in the hands of people who need it most in developing countries.”

The Rapid Foundation was a recipient of the 2016 Fritz Schumacher Award.

By: Jonny Baxter, digital journalist, UCD University Relations