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Researchers at UL awarded funding under SFI Frontiers for the Future programme

Mon, 02 Nov 2020

A number of researchers based at University of Limerick have been awarded funding under the Science Foundation Ireland Frontiers for the Future programme.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, has today announced 71 grants valued at €53 million to support frontier research across 12 Higher Education Institutions, including UL.

UL will receive close to €2m in research funding under the programme for four projects based at the University.

The awardees are Bernal Institute Members and SSPC Researchers, Dr Sarah Hudson and Dr Luis Padrela, UL Chair of Mechanical Engineering, Professor Noel O’Dowd, and Dr Norma Bargary of UL’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, who will work with Dr Andrew Simpkin of NUIG (full details below).

Minister Harris said: “Congratulations to all the researchers who have received funding today as part of the SFI Frontiers for the Future Programme. I am delighted to support this programme which funds individual-led research, with an emphasis on areas of high-risk, high-reward, which will help us build a better future for Ireland through discovery, innovation, and impact.

“I am pleased to see the successful outcome of the new gender initiative that sees 45% of the research grants announced today led by female researchers. The funding will support researchers who are already carrying out excellent work in Ireland, as well as those in the early stages of their research careers who hold incredible potential. 

“It is through investment like this that Ireland will become an innovation leader and provide solutions and opportunities for our society and economy,” Minister Harris added.

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “This was a highly competitive process and I’m delighted that we are able to fund 71 new research grants through the SFI Frontiers for the Future programme. These are highly skilled, talented, and dedicated researchers and it is crucial that we invest in their excellent ideas and research, to maintain and build on Ireland’s global standing in research, innovation, and discovery.  I would like to thank the Higher Education Institutions for their support in delivering this new programme.”

Working across 12 Higher Education Institutes, 231 research positions will be funded including 95 Postdoctoral scientists, 101 PhD students and 35 Research Assistants/others across a variety of different areas.

The programme also sought to provide opportunities to address gender imbalance in line with SFI’s Gender Strategy, 45% of the research grants supported will be led by female researchers.

The programme was run in collaboration with the Geological Survey Ireland (GSI) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 38 industrial collaborators are engaging in the research programmes.

The SFI Frontiers for the Future programme comprises two funding streams:

  • Projects – 45 high-risk, high-reward research projects will receive €25 million to facilitate highly innovative and novel approaches to research.
  • Awards - 26 larger scale innovative, collaborative excellent research programmes that have the potential to deliver economic and societal impact will receive €28m in funding.

UL awardees:

Professor Noel O’Dowd will receive €726,368 under the Frontiers for the Future Awards Stream. His project is ‘Physically-based modelling of bainitic and martensitic steels for flexible and sustainable power generation and distribution (PrOCCESS)’. 

The goal of the project is to develop new experimental techniques and new predictive models for the next generation of steels used for flexible and sustainable power generation and distribution. The project partners are industry: ESB, Wood Group (based in Galway), GE (based in UK) and university: NUI Galway, American University of Beirut, Lebanon.

The MORE-AMP project led by Dr Sarah Hudson has been awarded €479,501 under the awards stream, to design innovative systems that will convert novel antibiotic power into stable therapies for treatment of bacterial infections. 

It is estimated that antimicrobial resistance could cause 10 million deaths a year by 2050. Many of the old reliable antibiotics are now becoming ineffective and the number of new antimicrobial drugs being brought to the market has declined rapidly over the past decade. This coupled with the non-prudent use of existing antibiotics has led to the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

However, there are a collection of powerful antimicrobial peptides that act in tandem to orchestrate the disruption of bacterial cell membranes, none of which have been exploited as antibiotics.

This collaborative research with Bernal’s Professor Damien Thompson, Professors Hill and Ross both from Teagasc and UCC, and Professor Alonso from the University of Santiago de Compostela, aims to develop these powerful dual acting peptides into potential novel antibiotics using modular antimicrobial peptide delivery systems. These modular systems will be composed of lipid systems or crystals of traditional small molecule antimicrobials at the core with positively and negatively charged layers.

The antimicrobial peptides will be included in the core lipid system, as an independent layer during the assembly process or will be included as a blend layer with one of the components of the multilayer. Upon dissolution and degradation of the layered system in vivo, the peptides will be released in a stepwise, sequential, modular manner with their antimicrobial activity intact.

Dr Luis Parela has been awarded €216,416.00 under the awards stream. His project is ‘Controlled Nucleation for the Continuous Crystallization of Nanopharmaceuticals.

Poor solubility and polymorphism of new Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) represent major challenges in pharmaceutical science and engineering for the manufacture of drug substances. There is a need for efficient manufacturing and formulation approaches which are capable of producing medicines with appropriate solubility and bioavailability.

Nanotechnologies hold a great promise to overcome these physicochemical barriers, however existing processes to produce drug nanoparticles face many technical difficulties including lack of control on the solid state and particle size of the products, and on their formulation onto the final medicines (e.g. tablets, capsules).

The development of novel nano-manufacturing processes that can work in continuous mode and are adaptable to existing industrial facilities would provide opportunities for their success in the pharmaceutical arena. This project will address these industrially relevant global challenges by providing an extensive understanding and control on the nucleation and crystal growth events of pharmaceuticals through the development of novel nanocrystallization and formulation methodologies for nano-based drug products.

The nucleation/templating of specific polymorphic forms of APIs (with enhanced properties such as increased solubility, stability, purity and drug release) will be investigated experimentally and using computational molecular modelling.

This collaborative project with Bernal’s Professor Kevin M Ryan and Professor Damien Thompson will provide an important contribution towards the transition from batch to continuous manufacturing for the manufacture of advanced nanopharmaceuticals.

Dr Norma Bargary of UL’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, will receive €467,569 for her project Functional Data Analysis for Sensor Technologies, along with Andrew Simpkin of NUI Galway.

The research will develop new algorithms to maximise the translation of information contained in data measured by sensors, such as from medical and wearable devices, which are commonplace in our lives. The project will lead to improved decision-making - for example, earlier interventions in patients with cardiovascular disease, fault detection in smart manufacturing and monitoring driver fatigue. This work is being carried in conjunction with Dr. Andrew Simpkin (NUIG) and collaborators the Connaught Automotive Research (CAR) group at NUIG and Prof. Kate Tilling at the University of Bristol.