Research Projects at NUI Galway Secure SFI Funding

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Three groundbreaking research projects at NUI Galway secured funding awards when Conor Lenihan T.D., Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation recently announced research funding awards of €20.7million for 22 research projects under the Science Foundation Ireland Principal Investigator Programme. Making the announcement, Minister Lenihan said: "Today's Government investment will enable crucial research to be carried out in Ireland over the next three to five years. The successful 22 projects include medical research into cancer, stroke and brain injury, Alzheimer's Disease, asthma, cystic fibrosis, salmonella, meningitis, pre-clampsia, genetics and medical devices, while other areas to be funded include greenhouse gas emissions, web personalization, cloud computing, cyber security, digital media and semi-conductors." In congratulating the award winners, the Minister added: "The Government remains firmly committed to developing the "Smart Economy". It is research projects such as these that will support the next phase of Ireland's economic development. We must never lose sight of the fact that research and development is primarily about people - the individual and collective talents of our skilled personnel. We must continue to support the best researchers to bring about long-term economic benefits and with the assistance of support structures such as SFI, IDA and Enterprise Ireland, we can studiously bring these concepts to that next level, and through exploitation and commercialisation ensure economic and societal benefits for Ireland." Speaking at the announcement, Chairperson of SFI, and former President of NUI Galway Professor Pat Fottrell said: "To date, the academic and commercial outputs stemming from previous PI funding have been promising, which bodes well for today's recipients under this programme. By subjecting all funding applications to a high level of scrutiny and review by 28 distinguished international scientists, SFI has illustrated its meticulous and exhaustive approach in rewarding ground-breaking research with the greatest potential for commercial and societal benefits." From a total of €20m in funding granted by the SFI Principal Investigator Programme, the following NUI Galway projects received €2.7m: Professor Robert Woods, School of Chemistry and NCBES Virtual Glycan Array Development and Carbohydrate Receptor Engineering Carbohydrates are highly abundant, simple organic compounds and are the building blocks of sugars and starches. Professor Woods aims to use a combination of computer modeling and experimental approaches to design new carbohydrate-based drug therapies and diagnostic agents. The ultimate goal of this research is to develop novel anti-viral medications for treatment of influenza and diagnostics for diseases, such as cancer and diabetes. Professor Corrado Santocanale, NCBES Understanding and exploiting molecular mechanisms of DNA replication in cancer cells Correct duplication of the genetic material (DNA) in each cell of our body is essential for the maintenance of a cancer free state. Uncontrolled DNA duplication is one of the hallmarks of cancer and many established chemotherapeutic agents target this process. Professor Santocanale aims to discover mechanisms that control DNA duplication in human cancer cells and to identify proteins targets for development of novel chemotherapeutics. Dr Henry Curran, School of Chemistry & ECI Combustion Chemistry for Sustainable Energy and Energy Efficient Technologies. Under the Kyoto Protocol, Ireland agreed to limit its Greenhouse Gas emissions to 13% above 1990 levels by 2008–2012. Emissions from transport continue to be the main source of growth in GHG levels in Ireland. Dr Curran will examine how biofuels burn which will assist in making choices on potentially new fuels for energy efficient combustion. The research also aims to develop technologies that will enable safe and reliable gas turbine operation (for power and heat generation) with undiluted syngas. These SFI awards follow from last week's announcement by The Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Ms Mary Coughlan T.D., for Government funding of €11.3million for 68 research projects under the Science Foundation Ireland Research Frontiers Programme (RFP) for 2009 of which NUI Galway was awarded over €1million. Dr Harald Berresheim, School of Physics & ECI Variation of the Oxidation Efficiency and Particle Precursor Gases in the Coastal Atmosphere. The atmosphere's efficiency to clean itself from pollutants is linked to the production of OH radicals which react with nearly all pollutants via oxidation. However, this cleansing efficiency can significantly vary depending on UV radiation and atmospheric levels of natural and/or man-made compounds. This project aims to quantify these limitations based on direct measurements of OH in the coastal atmosphere at Mace Head. In addition, the role of OH and sulphur gases as well as other compounds in the formation of new ultrafine particles will be investigated. The project will be supported by two international collaborators. Dr Dimitrios I. Zeugolis, Department of Mechanical & Biomedical Engineering, & NCBES Loading a self-assembled nano-textured matrix for functional tissue engineering In the quest of the ideal raw material for scaffold fabrication, collagen use has been advocated due to its superior mechanical properties and reduced immunogenicity. However, the currently available sources of collagen either harbour concerns for inter-species transmission of disease (e.g. bovine extracted collagen) or are of low yield (human recombinant collagen). Herein, we propose an approach to produce large amounts of collagen that will be host-specific. The resultant scaffolds will be optimally stabilised and functionalised to control structural, physical and biological properties with no inherent toxic effects on resident cells. Dr Anne Marie Power, Zoology & Martin Ryan Institute 'BINDING: Barnacle INspired Design IN Gluing technology' "Developing glues that work in wet environments would be extremely useful in surgical applications. Barnacles have evolved underwater mechanisms to cement themselves to all sorts of surfaces, producing strong bonds which can withstand powerful forces but which are also non-toxic. The molecular methods which produce this attachment will form the basis of this research." Professor Michael Redfern, School of Physics Researchers in the Centre for Astronomy in NUI Galway have developed a unique instrument, for use on the World s largest telescopes, which will now be used to study emissions from collapsed stars in unprecedented detail. It has been known for more than forty years that stars can collapse to a few kilometers across, and can spin at up to 50 times per second - emitting flashes of light like a light-house beam as they do so. What is not understood is why they do so. Our new instrument will provide detailed information to study this emission. Dr Michael Tuite, School of Mathematic, Statistics & Applied Mathematics Vertex Operator Algebras and Deligne s Exceptional Lie Groups A vertex operator algebra is a new mathematical construction very closely related to notions coming from quantum theory in theoretical physics. This project is concerned with an application of some of my recent research in this area to Lie groups in pure mathematics. This work provides a new explanation of very surprising observations made 10 years ago by the Field's Medal winning French mathematician Pierre Deligne. Professor Afsin Samali, Biochemistry & NCBES Accumulation of unfolded or misfolded proteins in the ER triggers the unfolded protein response (UPR). UPR initially attempts to reduce the protein load in the ER and increase its folding capacity. However, unresolved ER stress results in the activation of apoptosis. Loss of UPR protective signalling may underlie the cell death seen in diabetes, congestive heart failure and neurodegeneration. In the recent SFI-RFP proposal we have proposed to study the role of the anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-2, in the regulation of IRE-1 signalling during the unfolded protein response. Dr Adrienne Gorman, Biochemistry & NCBES Novel neurotrophin variants with altered receptor binding Dr Adrienne Gorman received €150,536 from the SFI RFP programme to work on 'Novel neurotrophin variants with altered receptor binding'. Neurotrophins are a small family of molecules that promote neuronal cell survival or death depending on the cell surface receptors with which they interact. The aim of this project is to produce novel neurotrophin variants that retain the neurotrophic activities that are mediated by Trk receptors, while at the same time and prevent cell death signaling through the p75 receptor. These variants could have therapeutic potential to prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease where increased activity at the p75 receptor has been implicated.
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