A picture of Professor Norelee Kennedy, Vice President Research at University of Limerick
Professor Norelee Kennedy, Vice President Research at University of Limerick
Wednesday, 31 May 2023

Grants of €1.4 million have been awarded to three researchers in University of Limerick (UL) to conduct highly innovative collaborative research which has the potential to deliver significant societal impact.

Dr Jakki Cooney, Dept of Biological Sciences, Dr Doireann O’Kiely and Dr James Sweeney, both Dept of Mathematics & Statistics have been successful in securing funding under the SFI Frontiers for the Future Programme.

The programme aims to build research capacity, expertise, and reputation through funding excellent scientific research while funding highly innovative projects which have a strong potential for economic and societal impact and to provide the opportunity to conduct high-risk, high-reward projects.

The three UL projects are:

Dynamic communication networks controlling immunomodulatory enzyme specificity and activity (DyNetIME)

Project Lead Dr Jakki Cooney. The current state-of-the-art biological drugs are monoclonal antibodies (MAbs). MAbs are highly specific for their targets. However, each MAb binds a small number of target molecules, generally one. Therefore, MAbs are given in large doses, which is costly and increases the risk of adverse reactions in the patient. Our strategy is to harness the high specificity of biological catalysts (proteases) to develop new therapies targeting triggers for human diseases. Proteases, unlike MAbs, bind, destroy and release their targets and can do this thousands of times. This means very small amounts need to be given as therapies, reducing costs and risks.

Mathematical models for wrinkle technology (WrinkleTech)

Project Lead Dr Doireann O’Kiely. This mathematical modelling research will significantly advance wrinkle technology by identifying new methods of creating and controlling wrinkles using an increased range of materials. Wrinkles are regular patterns that appear in compressed solid and liquid sheets, and can be used to increase solar cell efficiency, to build more versatile microfluidic devices, and for flexible electronics. Existing mathematical models are restricted to the simplest type of material behaviour, where wrinkles must be continually held in place. We will address industrially-relevant alternatives, in which permanent, rigid wrinkle patterns may be created.

3E-X: Emerging, Enriching and Educating to prepare for the next disease X

Project Lead Dr James Sweeney. The 3E-X project aims to carry out basic research to generate new knowledge through the creation of improved mathematical and statistical models in the research field of infectious disease modelling. This work will advance modelling methodologies and computational inference strategies for transmission models of endemic and epidemic diseases. The research outputs have application across the themes of Connected Health, through modelling solutions to tracking and predicting the incidence of endemic-epidemic disease and ICT, in many longitudinal data studies in areas such as pharma and health. This project is co-awarded with Jason Wyse from Trinity College Dublin.

Welcoming the announcement Professor Norelee Kennedy, Vice President Research at University of Limerick said: “These awards demonstrate that our researchers are working in hugely novel ways to tackle some of the challenges that are affecting our world. The funding will support the undertaking of research to have a positive impact on our society.”

In total 62 projects valued at €42 million to support research in 13 Higher Education Institutions across the country.

Announcing the successful projects Simon Harris, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science said: “These awards will enable research ideas to contribute new knowledge, solving problems faced by our society, while also providing a continuum of support from early career to established researchers, thus growing and retaining top talent in Ireland.

The SFI Frontiers for the Future programme takes important steps to address gender imbalance and to provide support and opportunity for emerging investigators who are returning to their research after a period of leave.”

Professor Philip Nolan, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland, said: “A key action of SFI’s strategy is to deliver 140 investigator grants every year to support excellent research and to attract top talent. The Frontiers for the Future programme is the primary mechanism to achieve this goal.