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Investment in 40 new projects to help transition high potential young talent to fully independent research leaders

Minister for Research and Innovation, Mr Seán Sherlock, T.D. has announced €23 million in new funding to help support 40 of Ireland’s most promising young research talent to become fully independent researchers. The funding which is being awarded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) will help ensure that Ireland’s most talented young researchers can be encouraged to remain in Ireland, while also helping to attract excellent young researchers from other countries to base themselves here.

Minister for Research and Innovation, Mr Seán Sherlock TD said:“Funding for researchers at the outset of their careers is an important element of the Government’s strategy for job creation in research and innovation under our Action Plan for Jobs. SFI’s funding schemes for early career researchers help ensure that excellent research with the potential for real economic and societal impact is properly supported in Ireland. Investment like this is important for Ireland’s developing international reputation for excellent research with impact. The 40 research projects being awarded by SFI today demonstrate the enormous talent and potential that exists among Ireland’s young researchers.”

The €23 million in funding delivered by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, through SFI’s Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG) and Career Development Award (CDA) Programmes will support researchers and post-graduate students working on projects in areas such as sustainable and renewable energy, cancer research, neurological disorders, immunology, microbiology, biotherapeutics and Wireless Networks.

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of SFI and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said:“Both of the programmes under which funding is being announced today will help promising young researchers to create and develop impactful careers here in Ireland and in turn enable the pursuit of scientific research that has potential economic and societal impact. These programmes are also an important factor in ensuring that Ireland can succeed in persuading top young scientific talent from abroad to base their research efforts here in Ireland.”

SFI’s Starting Investigator Research Grant (SIRG) provides support for excellent postdoctoral researchers who wish to take steps towards a fully independent research career, while the Career Development Award (CDA) aims to support early and mid-career researchers who already hold a salaried, independent research post and who are looking to expand their research activities. Both programmes aim to support the development of young researchers with the potential to become excellent, fully independent research leaders in their chosen fields.

The 40 research projects awarded funding today will be funded by SFI through 12 research bodies, as follows: Trinity College Dublin (5), National University of Ireland Galway (5), Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (4), Dublin City University (4), University College Cork (4), University of Limerick (4), National University of Ireland Maynooth (3), University College Dublin (3), National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (3), Teagasc (2), Tyndall National Institute (2) and Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (1).

A further 12 projects were also deemed scientifically excellent by the International Review Panel and are on a reserve list to be funded by SFI, if budgets permit later in the year.

Examples of projects supported:

Orla O’Sullivan (Teagasc Food Research Centre, Cork) SIRG

Orla’s research focuses on microbial diversity in the gut. Microbial diversity is highest in a healthy gut and Orla’s research will investigate if it is possible to improve that diversity and in turn improve the overall health of individuals. The research will also examine whether alterations in diet and/or lifestyle can influence microbial diversity and function.  Orla’s ultimate goal is to inform the potential development of nutritional supplements that can help improve human health.

Stephen Dooley (University of Limerick) SIRG

Stephen’s research will focus on understanding ways that cleaner and more versatile energy sources can be developed from indigenous biomass resources, including plant matter.  His goal is to find ways that help ensure that Ireland imports less fossil energy by creating environmentally benign energy technologies, particularly for transportation. He hopes that his research can help achieve this by informing a deeper and predictive understanding of how indigenous biomass, in particular, can be harnessed.

Patrick Hayden (Dublin City University) SIRG

Patrick’s research will investigate techniques that could improve the quality of laser-powered high-precision measurement. High-precision measurements on the composition and uniformity of drugs are useful to the pharmaceutical industry to help perform quality control as drugs are developed and produced. One method to perform these measurements is by measuring light emitted from the surface of the drug when a laser pulse is focused on it. The process is known as laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) at short wavelengths and Patrick’s research aims to increase the efficiency of this process. The research could also have applications in other areas including archaeology and forensic science.

Aoife Morrin (Dublin City University) CDA

Aoife’s research aims to explore the potential for the analysis of skin in non-invasive or minimally invasive diagnostic approaches as an alternative to more invasive blood sampling. Skin is the largest human organ and contains rich analytical information related to a wide variety of medical conditions. Pressures on healthcare systems have resulted in a greater focus on enhanced efficacy of treatments and cost reduction. As such, there is a lot of research into new diagnostics that can address these challenges. Aoife intends her research to demonstrate innovative approaches to the analysis of skin that can be used for the early detection of various conditions including eczema flare-ups, liver failure, and skin cancer.

Alex von Kriegsheim (University College Dublin) SIRG

Alex’s research aims to develop new treatments to help prevent against bowel cancer in patients with colitis and Crohn’s disease. Both conditions lead to chronic inflammation of the gut, which can in turn increase the risk of bowel cancer. Alex hopes that his research can identify the ways in which this inflammation causes the growth of cancer cells and how the process can be halted through the release of important enzymes known as hydroxylases, which are blocked in chronically inflamed tissues.

Click Here for the list of Funded Projects

TeagascAlberta

Edmonton, Canada…Teagasc, Ireland’s agriculture and food development authority, and Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions and the University of Alberta in Canada have signed an agreement that will result in additional highly qualified personnel working in the agri-food sector.

This international agreement, signed in Edmonton, Canada on June 16, 2014, provides research funding to allow four PhD students to receive prestigious Walsh Fellowships and pursue their research to benefit the agri-food sector in both countries. Each Walsh Fellowship is valued at €22,000 per year (about $40,000 CAD) for four years. The funding is provided equally by Teagasc and Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions.  The students will be directed and supervised by professors of the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences (ALES) and co-supervised by Teagasc researchers.

Students will spend at least one year in Teagasc and one year in the University of Alberta in Canada, and will generally split their time equally between Canada and Ireland.

Dr. Frank O’Mara, Director of Research for Teagasc said, “Teagasc are continuously seeking collaborative arrangements with like-minded, leading research organisations around the world, to link with the foremost international scientists to deliver solid science for the future. Working with Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions and the University of Alberta is one such opportunity. I am confident this agreement will benefit the agri-food sectors in both Ireland and Canada. It’s a fantastic opportunity and I’m delighted we’re able to do it.”

Teagasc provides integrated research, advisory and training services to the agriculture and food industry and rural communities. It operates in partnership with all sectors of the agri-food industry and with rural development industries, employing approximately 1,100 staff at 52 locations throughout Ireland. It has developed close alliances with research, advisory and training agencies throughout the world and is continuously seeking to expand its international contacts.

Dr. Stan Blade, CEO of Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions said, “Revenue from Alberta’s agri-food sector is an important component of the province’s economy but the sector has not grown significantly over the last decade. Teagasc has a superb record in creating new value-added opportunities in the food industry based on their expertise and facilities. Research and innovation supported through these inaugural Walsh Fellowships can help to accelerate growth in this sector, both in Alberta and Ireland.”

Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions, an Alberta government research funding agency, invests in science and innovation to grow prosperity in Alberta’s agriculture, food and forest sectors through new technologies, products, services or industry practices. It routinely seeks R&D partners in the areas of sustainable production, bioindustrial innovation, food innovation, ecosystem services and prion diseases.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the students to conduct their research in an international setting and leverage the expertise in both Alberta and Ireland,” said Dr. John Kennelly, Dean of the Faculty of ALES. “We live increasingly in an inter-connected world and it’s through partnerships like these that we’re able to provide excellent training to highly qualified students in an international setting so they may, in turn, provide solutions to global challenges in the agri-food industry.”

The Faculty of ALES provides solutions to global challenges in the fields of food and nutritional security, environmental sustainability, bioresource innovation, and individual and community well-being. An applied science faculty, ALES also draws on the social sciences, business and the arts and humanities to provide comprehensive solutions. We teach this approach to our students, providing them with well-rounded real-world skills as they enter the labour market.