Trinity twelve secure funding for new healthcare, climate and tech research

Posted on: 27 May 2024

The successful dozen will lead or co-lead a total of 11 STEM-related research projects via Science Foundation Ireland’s Frontiers for the Future programme, which is funded in collaboration with the Sustainability Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).

The awards – each valued at approximately €1.28 million – were announced by Patrick O’Donovan, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

They are of 4-5 years’ duration and will support postdoctoral positions, PhD students and research assistant and other positions. 

Prof. Sinéad Ryan, Dean of Research at Trinity, said: “I welcome this news; these awards are an investment in world-class research and in our next generation of researchers – such important resources for Ireland’s future. My thanks to all our colleagues for their work on securing this funding for Trinity’s research.”

Trinity projects

Fellow Emeritus, Prof. Martin Caffrey (School of Biochemistry and Immunology, Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute – TBSI, and School of Medicine), will establish molecular blueprints of enzymes and proteins that will, in time, help develop new, urgently needed antibiotics targeting pathogens against which a growing number of antimicrobials are ineffective. The project will train the next generation of highly skilled, innovative scientists and generate new knowledge and intellectual property for commercial exploitation.

Prof. Kingston Mills (School of Biochemistry and Immunology, TBSI), will thoroughly study the immune responses to Bordetella pertussis in nasal tissue to inform the design of a more effective vaccine against pertussis (whooping cough), based on intranasal delivery of the vaccine formulated with molecules that generate sterilising immunity and immunological memory in the respiratory tract.

Prof. David Finlay (School of Biochemistry and Immunology, TBSI, and School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, will study how cholesterol-like factors stop Natural Killer cells from killing infected or cancerous cells. He plans to study how their “OFF” switch works and evaluate its role in controlling our immune system. Discovering and understanding “OFF” switches will lead to new immunotherapies for patients with immunological diseases.

Prof. Igor Shvets (School of Physics, and CRANN), working with Prof. Karsten Fleischer, Dublin City University, will seek to develop manufacturing technologies and materials minimising energy use during production. Unfortunately, in many fields abundant materials with sufficient performance have already been pushed to their physical limits, but this team’s methodology will enable known, sustainable materials to perform beyond them.

Prof. Andrew Bowie (School of Biochemistry and Immunology, TBSI), aims to deliver research that will help us better understand exactly how cells respond to viruses. Human PYHIN proteins play a key role in both directly targeting invading viruses and in controlling the release of cytokine and interferons, which are alarm signals that alert surrounding cells to the presence of a virus. In this project the team will examine in-depth how exactly PYHINs contribute to human anti-viral immunity.

Prof. Jane Farrar (School of Genetics and Microbiology, and Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience – TCIN), aims to generate novel gene therapies and to test and compare their efficacy in multiple model systems of dry-related macular degeneration (AMD). The most efficacious will be further studied and combined in dual-therapies.

Prof. Marco Ruffini (School of Computer Science) and Prof. Dan Kilper (School of Engineering, and CONNECT), seek to deliver innovations in today’s optical networks, which lack the flexibility required to support the development of new digital systems such as Smart Cities and Virtual/Augmented Reality. This project will create a digital twin of the optical network as a safe testing environment to 1) help develop and test new solutions, and 2) facilitate fast changes to networks without risking any disruption. 

Prof. Mani Ramaswami (School of Genetics and Microbiology, School of Natural Sciences, and TCIN), will focus on a specific protein (Ataxin-2), which regulates many biological processes important for health, of which only one may be relevant in disease. His team will 1) identify specific regions of the Ataxin-2 protein to target with drugs for potentially fewer side effects, and 2) find new associated proteins with similar roles and uses in health and disease.

Prof. Daniel Kelly (School of Engineering), working with Prof. Pieter Brama, University College Dublin, aims to use emerging 3D (bio)printing technologies to help recreate the conditions that instruct normal tissue development, enabling the engineering of musculoskeletal tissues. The ability to bio-print such functional tissues could transform orthopaedic medicine, providing grafts to regenerate damaged joints and preventing osteoarthritis, a debilitating disease affecting millions worldwide.

Prof. Rhodri Cusack (School of Psychology, and TCIN), will apply deep neural networks (DNNs) – the technology underlying breakthroughs in artificial intelligence – to correct motion noise in infant fMRI data. This project will initiate a global collaboration to evaluate four strategies of increasing potential benefit but also greater complexity. It will enable transformative infant fMRI applications and bring Ireland to the forefront of the rapidly growing intersection of DNNs and MRI.

Prof. Naomi Harte (School of Engineering), will extend our overly simplistic views of communication and develop a framework to consider all the elements of speech (e.g. changes in intonation, expression etc.) that we can tune in to during a conversation. This framework will teach machines to understand speech too, and ultimately deliver more robust and effective speech technology of the future.

Speaking about the awards, Minister O’Donovan said: “These awards support the development of world-class research in areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The projects and higher education institutions are focusing on will help deliver solutions to some of the major challenges facing society, including in healthcare, the environment and technology.”

Dr Ruth Freeman, Director, Science for Society at Science Foundation Ireland, said: “The SFI Frontiers for the Future awards provide opportunities for independent investigators to conduct highly innovative, original research on important questions. I would like to thank SEAI for collaborating on this programme with SFI, supporting vital research in the area of sustainability.”

Director of Research and Policy Insights at Sustainability Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), Margie McCarthy, said: “SEAI is delighted to be a co-funding partner in the Frontiers for the Future Programme. These awards are excellent examples of national innovation and creativity. By supporting independent researchers, we can help grow Ireland’s national capacity to conduct excellent scientific research. 

“We look forward to the new insights and knowledge that the co-funded awards will bring to offshore wind energy support structures and anaerobic digestion ecosystems, and how their results will advance Ireland’s clean energy transition.” 

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