UL Researchers Generate Electricity from Low-Cost Biomaterial

Mobile phone speakers and motion detectors in cars and video games may soon be powered by electricity generated from low cost and sustainable biomaterials, according to research carried out at University of Limerick (UL), Ireland. Scientists at UL’s Bernal Institute have discovered that the biomolecule glycine, when tapped or squeezed, can generate enough electricity to power electrical devices in an economically viable and environmentally sustainable way. The research was published on Dec. 4, 2017 in leading international journal Nature Materials. Pictured is Sarah Guerin, Science Foundation Ireland funded post-graduate researcher at the Bernal Institute, UL.

Mobile phone speakers and motion detectors in cars and video games may soon be powered by electricity generated from low cost and sustainable biomaterials, according to research carried out at University of Limerick (UL), Ireland.

Scientists at UL’s Bernal Institute have discovered that the biomolecule glycine, when tapped or squeezed, can generate enough electricity to power electrical devices in an economically viable and environmentally sustainable way. The research was published on December 4, 2017 in leading international journal Nature Materials.

Glycine is the simplest amino acid. It occurs in practically all agro and forestry residues. It can be produced at less than one per cent of the cost of currently used piezoelectric materials.

Piezoelectric materials generate electricity in response to pressure, and vice versa. They are widely used in cars, phones, and remote controls for games consoles. Unlike glycine, these materials are normally synthetic and often contain toxic elements such as lead or lithium.

“It is really exciting that such a tiny molecule can generate so much electricity,” said lead author Sarah Guerin, a post-graduate student at the Department of Physics and the Bernal Institute, UL.

“We used computer models to predict the electrical response of a wide range of crystals and the glycine number was off the charts. We then grew long, narrow crystals of glycine in alcohol,” she added, “and we produced electricity just by tapping them.”

Sarah’s PhD supervisor Dr Damien Thompson, adds, “The predictive models we are developing can save years of trial-and-error lab work. The modelling data tells us what kinds of crystals to grow and where best to cut and press those crystals to generate electricity.”

Co-author and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Centre for Medical Devices (CURAM) investigator Professor Tofail Syed said: “We also have a pending patent that translates our findings to applications such as biodegradable power generation, devices detecting diseases inside of the body and physiologically controlled drug pumps”.

Previously, Bernal scientists discovered piezoelectricity in the globular protein lysozyme, found in tears, egg-white and saliva, and hydroxyapatite, a component of bone.

“The current finding extends the technology towards pragmatic, low-cost, renewable sources for electricity generation,” according to Professor Luuk van der Wielen, Director of the Bernal Institute and Bernal Professor of Biosystems Engineering and Design. “The finding translates the earlier Bernal scientists’ world-leading contribution in bio-piezoelectricity towards a large-scale and affordable application potential.”

Professor Edmond Magner, Dean of Science and Engineering at UL, said: “UL’s Department of Physics and Bernal Institute researchers continue to pioneer the use of biological crystals for electrical applications. This work places them at the forefront in the development of bio-piezoelectric devices”.


The full paper, Control of Piezoelectricity in Amino Acids by Supramolecular Packing, by Sarah Guerin, Aimee Stapleton, Drahomir Chovan, Rabah Mouras, Matthew Gleeson, Cian McKeown, Mohamed R Noor, Christophe Silien, Fernando M F Rhen, Andrei L Kholkin, Ning Liu, Tewfik Soulimane, Syed A M Tofail, and Damien Thompson, is published in Nature Materials, December 4, 2017.

For further information, photographs or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Nicola Corless
Communications Officer
University of Limerick

Notes to the editor:


This publication has emanated from research conducted with the financial support of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), and is co-funded under the European Regional Development Fund under Grant Number 13/RC/2073.

About Sarah Guerin:

Sarah Guerin, from Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland, is a final year PhD student at the University of Limerick. Her research uses a combination of quantum mechanical calculations and advanced characterisation techniques to develop the next generation of single crystal piezoelectric technologies. In August 2015 she graduated with a first class honours degree in Applied Physics. She completed her undergraduate internship at Analog Devices International, going on to complete her undergraduate thesis with the company.

About University of Limerick:

University of Limerick, Ireland, with more than 14,000 students and 1,400 staff is an energetic and enterprising institution with a proud record of innovation and excellence in education, research and scholarship. The dynamic, entrepreneurial and pioneering values which drive UL’s mission and strategy ensures that it capitalises on local, national and international engagement and connectivity.

About the Bernal Institute:

The Bernal Institute at the University of Limerick was established in 2016 and is comprised of more than 300 researchers in applied science and engineering. The Institute’s research focuses on advanced materials, manufacturing and process engineering. The Institute is housed in 20,000 square meters of high-quality, multi-purpose research space and has received over €100 million in capital investment. The Bernal Institute is named after John Desmond Bernal, who was born in Nenagh, County Tipperary, Ireland and was one of the most influential scientists of the 20th Century. He pioneered the use of X-ray crystallography in molecular biology.

About Curam:

Curam is a Science Foundation Ireland academic-industry-clinical ‘super centre’ designing the next generation of ‘smart’ medical devices. With six academic partners and more than 24 industry partners, Curam is establishing a global hub of research expertise in medical device technology. Curam’s innovative approach incorporates biomaterials and drug delivery, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, glycoscience and device design to enhance, develop and validate both traditional and new combinational medical devices from molecular design to device manufacturing.


By Sean Curtin, Truemedia

Robotic Surgeries to be Streamed Live to University of Limerick GEMS

UL Hospitals Group began live-streaming robotic surgical procedures from the operating room in University Hospital Limerick (UHL) to the new Clinical Education and Research Centre (CERC) at the weekend, as part of the educational component of the Group’s robotic surgical programme. The next step is to live-stream to lecture theatres in University of Limreick’s Graduate Entry Medical School (GEMS).

Three-hundred-and-sixty degree live streaming will now form part of surgical training and medical education for GEMS students and students across all healthcare and medical disciplines from University of Limerick (UL). It will also form a strong educational component for non-consultant hospital doctors/registrars, nursing staff and allied health professionals working in the UL Hospitals Group.

On Saturday, November 25, more than 100 consultant urologists, colorectal surgeons, senior registrars, gynaecologists and health professionals from around the country watched the inaugural live-stream of a robotic surgical procedure at the annual South West Urological Meeting held in the state-of-the-art CERC building which was jointly funded by the Health Service Executive and University of Limerick

The surgery was carried out by renowned consultant urological surgeon and honorary senior lecturer, Guy’s Hospital and King’s College London, Mr Ben Challacombe, who was invited by the UHL robotic team to perform this surgery with them.

“It is a great honour to come to UHL and to demonstrate complex robotic kidney surgery using the new live streaming technology, I would like to thank the team at UHL for inviting me, the teamwork and professionalism of the whole surgical team here in Limerick is second to none,” Mr Challacombe said.

In November last year, UHL became the first public hospital in Ireland to perform colorectal, kidney and adrenal surgical procedures using the Da Vinci Xi Dual Console Robot. One year on, over 110 colorectal, adrenal, kidney and other urological cases have been performed.

The Da Vinci Xi technology has particular advancements not available with standard keyhole surgery. 3D-HD visualisation provides surgeons with a highly magnified view, virtually extending their eyes and hands into the patient, almost as if the surgeon were ‘standing inside the abdomen and reaching out to the organs’. The robot is secured or ‘docked’ to the patient and has four working arms (each requiring only an 8mm skin incision) to which operating instruments are attached. Once docked, the robotic arms and instruments are controlled by the surgeon, or surgeons, who are seated at the consoles nearby. The instruments are extremely precise, with no tremor, and they can in fact achieve activities not possible with the human hand, though they would never replace the human hand, they are completely controlled by the surgeon.

Professor J. Calvin Coffey, Foundation Chair of Surgery GEMS, UL and general and colorectal surgeon, UHL, explained the enormous benefits of the live-streaming technology for students: “To date, surgical lectures at GEMS have taken place using video or powerpoint presentations; students do not have access to cadavers. Now, with our new live-streaming technology, students can observe complex operations live and interact from the classroom with the surgeons in the theatre. They can view the anatomy of the patient close up and observe the robotic arms and instruments, providing an unrivalled educational opportunity.”

“The robotic programme at UL Hospitals has been developed to bring the highest international quality standard of robotic surgery to the Midwest Region providing equity of access to all patients. Up to now, robotic surgery has been embedded in the private sector, apart from gynaecologic surgery. For the past year, it has been available to public and private patients alike with over 110 cases performed across colorectal, adrenal, kidney and gynaecological disciplines,” said Professor Coffey.

Speaking about the benefits to surgeons (trainee and trainers), consultant urologist, robotic surgeon at UHL and Chair of the South West Urological Meeting Mr Subhasis Giri added, “The Da Vinci dual console allows two surgeons to operate in synergy with pooling of expertise and maximising patient benefit in complex cases in a multidisciplinary setting. This also greatly facilitates dedicated robotic training for the surgeons of tomorrow, which to date is not available anywhere else in Ireland. Now, with 360 degree live-streaming from the operating room (OR), all of our residents can not only observe this surgery and 360 degree perspective of the operating theatre, but can also see a ‘robots-eye-view’ of the inside of the patient and ask practical questions to the surgeon or any member of the theatre team in real time. While technical skills are important, young surgeons also need to learn how to manage the stresses of the actual OR , it’s difficult to learn this from a simulated environment”.

The next step is to live-stream to lecture theatres in UL, the other hospitals within UL Hospitals Group and then globally using the new technology, where students, doctors and medical professionals will be able to log onto the web based live-stream system using a password. Whilst the current live-streaming technology is in 2D, it is envisaged that this will soon be available in 3D.

UL, academic partner to UL Hospitals Group, donated €135,000 to the project for Audio Visual and training equipment and a further €22,000 was donated from the UL MELG (Medical Education Liaison Group) Fund for Live Streaming equipment this year.

Des Leddin, Head of the Graduate Entry Medical School (GEMS) at University of Limerick commented: “At UL, we are delighted to have access to this marvellous teaching tool for our students, allowing them to observe complex operations ‘live’ alongside our top surgeons. Not only will this experience be educationally enriching but I believe that it will also inspire the next generation of high-tech surgeons”.

Colette Cowan, CEO of UL Hospitals Group commented, “Since the robotic programme ommenced last year, we have begun to substitute keyhole surgery with robotic surgery where it’s possible at UHL and the benefits to our patients are enormous. Today, we have seen the huge educational benefits of the robotic programme for our young surgeons and for medical students alike, which is enhanced with the new live streaming technology. I know that I am immensely proud to see this come to fruition and I hope that it will serve them well in their careers into the future”.

Robotic surgery represents the highest international standard of surgery worldwide and is the most advanced form of key hole surgery available to patients. Data from UL Hospitals Group demonstrates that post-operative recovery is twice as fast with robotic surgery than with standard keyhole surgery, with an average postoperative hospital stay of approximately four days. There is also minimal blood loss and a reduction in post-operative pain with robotic surgery.

The Da Vinci Xi program continues to develop under the guidance of Ms Suzanne Dunne, head of strategy UL Hospitals Group and Project Manager for the Robotic Surgery Program. According to Suzanne, “Three components have been fundamental in the program’s success to date; team collaboration and engagement, the multidisciplinary Robotic Assisted Surgery (RAS) forum and the significant data analysis which is collated weekly. The data is crucial in term of patient outcomes, quality improvement, performance and financial monitoring”.

The robotic program was recently further strengthened by Mr Colin Peirce who has developed the robotic assisted program for colorectal surgery. Mr Peirce has also coordinated educational courses, published in Techniques of Coloproctology on the usage of the Dual Console, and delivered international lectures on the topic.

The Da Vinci Xi robotic programme at UL Hospitals Group cost €2.8 million in total and was supported by the Midwestern Hospitals Development Trust, the JP McManus Benevolent Fund, University of Limerick and UL Graduate Entry Medical School. Valued at approximately €2.6m, the Da Vinci Xi robot and equipment was donated by the Midwestern Hospitals Development Trust and funded with the generous support of the JP McManus Benevolent Fund. The CERC development is a partnership project between UL Hospitals and the University of Limerick (UL) and is co-funded by both the HSE and UL with an overall project cost of circa €12.75m. The CERC accommodates and supports the comprehensive educational, training and research needs of both the UL Graduate Entry Medical School and the UL Hospitals medical community across all disciplines.

Irish Scientists Discover Method to Produce Electricity from Tears

A team of scientists at University of Limerick has discovered that applying pressure to a protein found in egg whites and tears can generate electricity. The researchers from the Bernal Institute observed that crystals of lysozyme, a model protein that is abundant in egg whites of birds as well as in the tears, saliva and milk of mammals can generate electricity when pressed. Their report was published on October 2 in the journal, Applied Physics Letters.

A team of scientists at University of Limerick has discovered that applying pressure to a protein found in egg whites and tears can generate electricity. The full paper, The Direct Piezoelectric Effect in the Globular Protein Lysozyme, by Aimee Stapleton, Mohamed R Noor, John Sweeney, Vincent Casey, Andrei Kholkin, Christophe Silien, Abbasi A. Gandhi, Tewfik Soulimane and Syed A M Tofail, is published in Applied Physics Letters.

The ability to generate electricity by applying pressure, known as direct piezoelectricity, is a property of materials such as quartz that can convert mechanical energy into electrical energy and vice versa. Such materials are used in a variety of applications ranging from resonators and vibrators in mobile phones to deep ocean sonars and ultrasound imaging. Bone, tendon and wood are long known to possess piezoelectricity.

“While piezoelectricity is used all around us, the capacity to generate electricity from this particular protein had not been explored. The extent of the piezoelectricity in lysozyme crystals is significant. It is of the same order of magnitude found in quartz. However, because it is a biological material, it is non toxic so it could have many innovative applications such as electroactive anti-microbial coatings for medical implants,” explained Aimee Stapleton, the lead author and an Irish Research Council EMBARK Postgraduate Fellow in the Department of Physics and Bernal Institute of UL.

Crystals of lysozyme are easy to make from natural sources. “The high precision structure of lysozyme crystals has been known since 1965,” said structural biologist at UL and co-author Professor Tewfik Soulimane.
“In fact, it is the second protein structure and the first enzyme structure that was ever solved,” he added, “but we are the first to use these crystals to show the evidence of piezoelectricity”.

According to team leader Professor Tofail Syed of UL’s Department of Physics, “Crystals are the gold-standard for measuring piezoelectricity in non-biological materials. Our team has shown that the same approach can be taken in understanding this effect in biology. This is a new approach as scientists so far have tried to understand piezoelectricity in biology using complex hierarchical structures such as tissues, cells or polypeptides rather than investigating simpler fundamental building blocks”.

Professor Luuk van der Wielen, Director of Bernal Institute and Bernal Professor of Biosystems Engineering and Design expressed his delight at this breakthrough by UL scientists.

The discovery may have wide reaching applications and could lead to further research in the area of energy harvesting and flexible electronics for biomedical devices. Future applications of the discovery may include controlling the release of drugs in the body by using lysozyme as a physiologically mediated pump that scavenges energy from its surroundings. Being naturally biocompatible and piezoelectric, lysozyme may present an alternative to conventional piezoelectric energy harvesters, many of which contain toxic elements such as lead.

“The €109-million Bernal Institute has the ambition to impact the world on the basis of top science in an increasingly international context. The impact of this discovery in the field of biological piezoelectricity will be huge and Bernal scientists are leading from the front the progress in this field,” he said.

The full paper, The Direct Piezoelectric Effect in the Globular Protein Lysozyme, by Aimee Stapleton, Mohamed R Noor, John Sweeney, Vincent Casey, Andrei Kholkin, Christophe Silien, Abbasi A. Gandhi, Tewfik Soulimane and Syed A M Tofail, is published in Applied Physics Letters.


For further information, additional photographs or to arrange an interview, please contact Nicola Corless, Communications Officer at Nicola.Corless@ul.ie or on +353 86 141 4640.

New Confirm research centre at UL is a ‘game changer’

New Confirm research centre at UL is a 'game changer'
The launch of the Confirm research centre at the University of Limerick is a game-changer for Irish manufacturing competitiveness according to its director.

The launch of a new World-class research centre at the University of Limerick is a game-changer for Irish manufacturing competitiveness according to its director.

The €47 million Confirm centre will be led by UL and Professor Conor McCarthy, with Tyndall National Institute, University College Cork, Cork Institute of Technology, NUI Galway, Athlone Institute of Technology, Maynooth University and Limerick Institute of Technology as academic partner institutions.

The new centre will address ways to optimize production systems, adding intelligence and enhanced information technology.

“Confirm will act as a beacon for international talent in the areas of advanced manufacturing from robotics to artificial intelligence,” said Prof McCarthy following the launch.

The new centre, which is funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the industry, is one of four which was launched by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week.

“Investing in leading-edge scientific and technological research is good for our economy and helps us to discover new innovations which can improve our quality of life. Our SFI Research Centres represent a virtuous triangle between government, industry and higher education, and show just what can be achieved when there is a shared vision about reaching your ambitions.”

Barry O’Sullivan, general Manager of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care which has operations in Plassey, has welcomed the launch of the new research centre at the University of Limerick.

“Confirm will allow us to enable customer-driven customization. So it’s not just about automation, it’s about tailoring more customer-focused solutions so that we can add more value and bring more business back into Ireland,” he said.

University of Limerick president to introduce ‘no smoking zones’

University president Dr Des Fitzgerald has outlined that UL is moving towards becoming a ‘smoke-free’ campus
University president Dr Des Fitzgerald has outlined that UL is moving towards becoming a ‘smoke-free’ campus

The University of Limerick is moving towards having a ‘No-Smoking’ campus, its president Dr Des Fitzgerald has announced.

Dr Fitzgerald said there will be designated smoke-free areas all around the campus in the coming months, with some being introduced next month.

The full details of the number and the locations of the smoke free zones are currently being finalised and will be announced in advance of implementation.

In addition, UL will be offering support programmes for students and staff seeking help to quit smoking.

“This is a programme close to my heart,” Dr Fitzgerald told thousands of graduating students last week.

“Through this initiative we aim to create a model of excellence and to promote a healthy environment in which to develop the minds and bodies of our students,” he added.

“UL has an outstanding reputation for its campus, for the care and support it provides students and for its sports culture, and the Healthy Campus Initiative is an important step in developing this further,” he said.

UL already has a ‘smoke free’ policy, which outlines that all employees and students have a right to work and study in a smoke-free environment and that all its enclosed workplaces are smoke-free.

Smoking is prohibited in all University controlled buildings, including all indoor facilities, single occupancy offices, meeting rooms and restaurants.

In  the context of this policy, ‘smoking’ includes the use of electronic cigarettes, electronic cigars, electronic pipes or other such electronic nicotine delivery systems intended to simulate smoking, whether they deliver a nicotine dose or not.

An anti-tobacco group, Action on Smoking and Health Ireland, has praised a number of institutions, including the Athlone institute and Westport College for their smoke-free campuses.

These colleges have completely banned the use of tobacco products on campus, including the use of electronic cigarettes.

University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin have also started the process to become completely smoke-free zones.

At UL, One-of-a-kind multi-million-Euro microscope unveiled

A multi-million-Euro microscope funded by Science Foundation Ireland and the University of Limerick (UL), was unveiled today at UL’s Bernal Institute. The new microscope will allow researchers to study materials at an atomic level in real-world conditions and is one of only a handful of microscopes with these capabilities worldwide.

The Titan Themis is a double-corrected, monochromated Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) and is valued at €6 million. A further €3 million worth of specialist equipment has been added to the UL machine including in-situ microscopy and ultra-fast and sensitive detectors, as well as environmental holders, which allow for the behaviour of materials to be studied in real-time across a range of environments.

“The holders for the specimens are especially interesting. For the past 70 years, we have been observing materials in a vacuum and not in the conditions these materials are used on a day-to-day basis. The holders allow us to introduce specific triggers into samples allowing us to see how these materials, at an atomic level, interact with the world, for example, how they react when exposed to different gases, liquids, heating, biasing or cryo-cooling,” explained Dr Andrew Stewart of UL’s Department of Physics and the Bernal Institute.

“This TEM is also equipped with a detector which allows us to capture the atoms’ reactions at a rate of 1,600 frames per second. Up until now, we have only been able to detect 10 frames per second so effectively this new camera will allow us to record the processes at a sub-millisecond timescale and capture that information as it unfolds. It is the difference between seeing time-stamped stills of a process and seeing a movie of what is happening at an atomic level. It is the combination of all of these features, that makes this microscope quite unique,” he continued.

The microscope could be used in the drug discovery and design processes in the pharmaceutical industry; medical device development; in the electronics industry; and, in materials characterisation in the nuclear and aviation industries.

President of UL, Dr Des Fitzgerald, officially unveiled the microscope at a ceremony in the Bernal Institute on Wednesday.

“At a total value of €9 million, the acquisition of the Titan Themis marks the biggest single investment in a piece of instrumentation by University of Limerick. TEM is a fast evolving area of research that is moving towards automation and structural dynamics at shorter timescales – these new facilities will place UL at the forefront of this directional change, and will create a generation of postgraduate students who will have world-class skills in electron microscopy. This, in turn, will strengthen UL’s international academic profile by attracting overseas students and programmes,” Dr Fitzgerald stated.

The equipment is funded by University of Limerick in partnership with Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) through its Infrastructure and Opportunistic funds and has already enabled funding to be received from FET Open via Horizon2020.

‘Edison of Medicine’ delivers Bernal Distinguished Lecture at UL

Researchers from around Ireland gathered in University of Limerick (UL) on Friday morning to listen to one of the world’s top engineers discuss his work in the area of biomaterials and biotechnology.

Pictured with MIT’s Professor Robert Langer on his recent visit to UL to deliver the second in the Bernal Distinguished Lecture Series, is Dr Sarah Hudson.

Described by Harvard Business Review as the ‘Edison of Medicine’, Professor Robert Langer is credited with improving the lives of more than two billion people worldwide through his work in developing novel drug-delivery systems.

The David H Koch Institute Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology was in UL as part of its Bernal Distinguished Lecturer Series at the university’s Bernal Institute. The university’s new president Dr Des Fitzgerald described Professor Langer as an “outstanding academic” and a “great educator”.

“Professor Langer’s career is not just about his exemplary track record in multidisciplinary research, it is also about his success in bringing his research from the lab to the market and his innovation in the design of novel therapies for treatments with high societal impact,” Dr Fitzgerald stated.

Chair of Friday’s event and lecturer in chemistry at UL, Dr Sarah Hudson was a postdoctoral researcher in Professor Langer’s lab from 2006 to 2008.
“While working in Professor Langer’s lab at MIT, I saw how he was able to pinpoint the crux and/or the potential of your work or ideas immediately. I discovered that innovative science comes from the unexpected – you can plan your experiments but you cannot plan your results but that by looking at things from different angles, unexpected ideas and solutions will evolve,” Dr Hudson said.

At the recent visit of Professor Robert Langer to UL were Dr Philip O'Regan, Dean KBS, Dr Sarah Hudson, Professor Robert Langer from MIT, Professor Des Fitzgerald, President of University of Limerick, Dr Mary Shire, VP Research at UL, and Professor Edmond Magner.

“Professor Langer is an inspirational speaker and his work is an exciting example of what can be achieved when you integrate medical doctors, engineers, physicists, biologists, histologists, vets, pharmacists and chemists together in a research environment. The Bernal Institute and UL has created a similar cross-disciplinary research environment and I believe listening to how Professor Langer’s work came about, his numerous inventions and discoveries for new therapies to treat disease, will demonstrate just how much can be achieved in such an environment.

“I believe it will inspire many people here and also reassure the public that we, as researchers, are concerned with the same things that worry them and that we are pulling together to combat many of the health and environmental issues we face worldwide today,” Dr Hudson concluded.

Professor Langer’s lecture at UL was entitled “Biomaterials and Biotechnology: From the discovery of the first angiogenesis inhibitors to the development of controlled drug delivery systems and the foundation of tissue engineering”. The lecture included discussions on Professor Langer’s research, how it led to new drug delivery technologies including nanoparticles and nanotechnology that are now being studied for use treating cancer, other illnesses and in vaccine delivery. It also touched on ways of developing systems for treatment of brain cancer and other diseases and new approaches for engineering tissues such as cartilage, skin and blood vessels.

UL team wins US-Ireland Research Innovation Award

University of Limerick, 3D4Medical and IBM Research were the winners of the 2017 US-Ireland Research Innovation Awards, jointly presented by the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland and the Royal Irish Academy at the Chamber’s Annual Dinner in the Clayton Burlington Hotel, Dublin.

The team from UL led by Dr Eamonn de Barra, in collaboration with Stryker Orthopaedics, received the award for developing a new type of bioactive bone cement for neurosurgery, which has advantages over existing products on the market in terms of ease of use, speed of surgical placement and reduced workload on the OR team which is a positive outcome for all.

Dr de Barra said, “We are proud to reach this milestone and to continue to assist our research partner Stryker in their corporate mission, via the exchange of ideas, technology and people. We at the University of Limerick are delighted to have our collaboration recognised by the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland and the Royal Irish Academy in their Innovation Awards 2017”.

Among the 700 strong audience at the awards ceremony were leaders of many of the US companies in Ireland, representatives from academia and a range of innovation stakeholders. In addition to hearing from the President of the American Chamber James O’Connor and President of the Royal Irish Academy Professor Michael Peter Kennedy, the event was also attended by US Chargé d’Affaires Reece Smyth and Conrad Tribble, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State at the State Department in Washington DC.

Speaking about the need for Ireland’s innovative approach, James O’Connor, President of the American Chamber said: “To be successful in the digital age, we need to continually upgrade and invest in our physical infrastructure.  We need to increase the supply of residential and commercial accommodation for the current and next generations who want to come to work and live here.  We need to seize the opportunity to develop cloud technologies.  And most importantly, we need to continue to invest in our skills and talent. The battle for FDI will centre on digital skills that are needed to unleash innovation in our 21st century data-driven economy.  A key part of producing the best graduates is ensuring that our young people are equipped with the skills that enable them to participate in a digital world. Whether working in a medical field, as a fashion designer, architect, the arts, the ability to harness digital technology will help them to do more and achieve more”.

“Ireland, through the government’s policies and the approach of its agencies, has constantly embraced innovation. It is this innovative approach to doing business which has ensured the strength of the US-Ireland business relationship over the 55 years since the foundation of the American Chamber of Commerce. The work we are celebrating tonight continues to be done through amazing collaboration built over many decades of US companies investing in Ireland, companies who constantly reinvent themselves and move up the value chain to provide high quality products and services for customers around the world. We can all be incredibly proud of the work of tonight’s award winners and indeed all those who entered this year’s awards.

“Through the efforts of this Chamber and State Agencies such as Enterprise Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland and the IDA, Ireland is the place to ‘make it happen’. This is a message that is clearly understood by our members here tonight and in boardrooms throughout the US.  The potential of over 150,000 of Ireland’s best educated and highly talented innovative people is being realised daily by over 700 US companies that are invested here.  Every day, they work at the leading edge, producing the goods and services that are transforming our world today, and imagining and developing the goods, services and ideas that will change our world tomorrow.  I am very proud of the powerful reputation we have built as a country that delivers for the companies who have invested here,” he continued.

According to Anna Scally, Partner, KPMG in Ireland: “These awards are a great opportunity to showcase innovation in Ireland today. Companies all over the world are looking for competitive advantage, and innovation is critical to that. If Ireland can be at the forefront of innovation, then that will help us to retain our place as the leading location in the world for FDI. KPMG works with innovative companies in every sector of Irish business and we strongly believe in supporting innovation at every opportunity. We are delighted to support these awards”.

Stephen Masterson, Ulster Bank Head of Corporate Banking and Markets said: “We know the tangible benefits US multinationals bring to Ireland in terms of investment, expertise and talent. But what the awards really shine a light on, is highlighting a less known benefit for the SME sector which is the lifeblood of the Irish economy. The awards show how this community has embraced innovation and technology and collaboration with the FDI sector. That is why we at Ulster Bank are delighted to support the initiative”.

The evening also saw the presentation of the American Chamber Special Recognition Award to CoderDojo, the global network of free, volunteer-led, community-based programming clubs now available in 63 countries for young people founded in 2011 by Bill Liao and James Whelton in Cork.

UL researcher awarded prestigious global fellowship

Physiotherapy researcher Dr Mary O’Keeffe is the first UL graduate to receive the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellowship from the European Commission.

A University of Limerick, Health Research Institute researcher has been awarded a prestigious global fellowship to further her research into lower back pain.

Physiotherapy researcher Dr Mary O’Keeffe is the first UL graduate to receive the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Fellowship from the European Commission. The award will enable Dr O’Keeffe to attend the George Institute for Global Health at University of Sydney, Australia, one of the top ten research institutions in the world for scientific impact. There, she will be hosted for two years by Professor Chris Maher who is the world leader in lower-back-pain research.

“I absolutely love research and think it has great potential to have a positive impact on the economy, health system and most importantly the patients and public all over the world,” Dr O’Keeffe commented.

“Back pain is the leading cause of disability in the world and I hope by strengthening both my research and communication skills I can one day contribute to improving the lives of millions of people worldwide for the better. Good science and research are powerful weapons and have the potential to do great things. Knowledge is power! I am very fortunate to be this position and I am excited for all the opportunities ahead,” she added.

Dr O’Keeffe will conduct advanced analysis of her PhD multicentre randomised controlled trial which investigated the role of a personalised multidimensional treatment for chronic low back pain within the Health Service Executive. Her doctoral research was undertaken through a competitive PhD scholarship from the Irish Research Council.

While at the George Institute for Global Health, Dr O’Keeffe will be trained in mediation, moderation and economic evaluation and will be involved in pharmacological and exercise trials. The fellowship also involves skills development in networking, grantsmanship, project management, leadership and student supervision and communications training with a media office and a multi award winning health journalist, Dr Ray Moynihan, co-author of Selling Sickness-How the World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies are Turning us All into Patients.

The fellowship also involves an internship with Wiserhealthcare, an international and interdisciplinary collaboration to reduce over-diagnosis and overtreatment of conditions like lower back pain.

In the third year of the fellowship, Dr O’Keeffe will return to UL to be hosted by her PhD supervisor Dr Kieran O’Sullivan. During this time she will complete a secondment to the European Pain Federation (EPF) in Brussels. EPF creates a forum for European collaboration on pain issues and to encourage communication at a European level.

“I am delighted to have been awarded this prestigious fellowship. Post PhD can be hard and a confusing time to decide ‘where do I go and what do I do next?’ This fellowship gives me a-once-in-a-life-time opportunity to further my training and development in a world class research team and this will build my capacity to become a leading light in my field of back pain,” Dr O’Keeffe concluded.

Network of European experts exploring new weapons against drug-resistant bacteria

Professor Colum Dunne from University of Limerick (UL) Graduate Entry Medical School (GEMS) is a member of the AMiCI Management Group.


A network of European experts has begun examining the potential of antimicrobial coatings to prevent the spread of drug-resistant bacteria in hospitals.

The Anti-Microbial Coating Innovations (AMiCI) consortium is studying the development, regulation, and “real life” use of these coatings, which can be used on textiles, including bed sheets and gowns, and solid surfaces such as walls, floors, beds and tables. Professor Colum Dunne from University of Limerick (UL) Graduate Entry Medical School (GEMS) is a member of the AMiCI Management Group.

According to Professor Dunne: “New approaches are needed to protect hospital patients and healthcare staff. Antimicrobial coatings have great potential. These are surfaces fortified with active ingredients that are responsible for the reduction and even elimination of micro-organisms that come into contact with them”.

Healthcare associated infections, including multidrug-resistant bacteria, effect four million people annually in the European Union, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

More than 60 universities, research institutes and companies from 26 European countries are participating in the network, which represents the first time this issue is being addressed on such a large scale.

Members of the AMiCI consortium are organised into five groups concentrating on different areas relating to antimicrobial materials.

They will examine the design and manufacture of antimicrobial materials, their performance testing, risk assessment, management and cleaning.

“While some materials, such as copper and silver, have recognised antimicrobial properties, there are promising new technologies for use in coatings. In this network, we will evaluate the impact of introducing these in healthcare facilities, their potential for impact on spread of infection, practical aspects of their regulation and use, and possible development of resistance,” Professor Dunne adds.

AMiCI is supported by the European Commission’s Cooperation in Science and Technology programme (COST) for four years.

Previous research, published by Professor Dunne and his colleagues, has reported the emergence of multidrug-resistant bacteria in Irish hospitals. It has also examined how outbreaks of these organisms have been successfully managed by infection prevention and control teams.