SFI Investment Programme Showcases Research by Five NUI Galway Researchers

Monday, 20 June 2011

Research by five NUI Galway Researchers, who are part of the Governments € 44 million SFI ’Principal Investigator’ (PI) programme announced last month, was highlighted at a showcase last week attended by Mr Seán Sherlock T.D., Minister for Research and Innovation.

The PI showcase follows on from the announcement in early May by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation, Mr. Richard Bruton T.D., of a range of measures to support innovation in Ireland, chief among them a € 44 million investment for 44 PI research teams, directly supporting close to 300 high-quality jobs over the next five years.

The five NUI Galway Researchers are Professor Robert Lahue, Dr David Finn, Professor Malini Olivo, Dr Wexnin Wang and Dr Ciaran Morrison.

Professor Robert Lahue’s research centres investigating the genetic mutation that underlies Huntington’s disease and 14 other inherited neurological diseases on DNA triplet repeat expansions and neurological disease. The aim of the research is to understand the basic science behind the relentless nature of the HD mutation, and to identify possible drug targets to slow or minimise the impact of the disease.

Dr David Finn’s research will investigate whether the body’s own marijuana-like chemicals, so-called endocannabinoids, play a critical role in two levels of stress-induced regulation of pain.

Professor Malini Olivo’s research centres on cancer of the oral cavity. This type of cancer is among the most common malignancies worldwide with a growing incidence among smokers. Therefore, early diagnosis and treatment is critical for patient survival. Over-expression of a specific protein in oral cancer cells called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) makes it a suitable target to detect and monitor in oral cancer. Prof Malini Olivo proposes two novel antibody targeted nanogold photosensitizers (nanosensitizers) as specific oral cancer optical probes.

Dr Wexnin Wang’s research centres on In situ formed Stem Cell Biological Dressing for Wound Healing. Hard-to-heal chronic wounds affect millions of patients each year. The goal of the proposed research is to develop an advanced biomimetic dressing system based on a unique smart dendrtic polymer system combining stem cells and therapeutic biomolecules to address challenging wound healing and regenerative clinical targets.

Dr Ciaran Morrison’s research centres on Centrosomes, the structure which controls the division of cells. Dividing cells have two centrosomes that act as anchors to the fibres that pull chromosomes apart when cells divide. Cancer cells have multiple centrosomes, causing uneven cell division. Centrosomal problems also play roles in developmental disorders. The research aims to disrupt the genes that code for key elements of the individual parts of the centrosomes and then examine how cells divide, form centrosomes, manage their chromosomes and carry out activities that maintain genome stability. These experiments will give new insights into how the different parts of the centrosome combine to ensure normal centrosomal functioning.

The 2011 PI Awards will directly support close to 300 top-class researcher positions in a broad range of scientific areas such as cancer, early diagnosis of the childhood cancer Neuroblastoma, lung disease, investigation of therapeutic interventions for Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, improved crop and plant cell productivity, graphics for gaming, resource management in data centres, advanced telecoms networks, autonomic management of smart cities, wave energy, and energy conversion and storage devices.

Thus far over 20 industry partners are connected to the successful projects in some shape or form, amongst them Inercept Pharma Ltd., Pevion Biotech Ltd, Sigmoid Pharma (Ireland), Nestle, Kerry Group, Alimentary Health, Intel Labs Europe, IBM, Alcatel-Lucent/BLI, Aquamarine Power (Edinburgh), Infineon, Disney Research, ESBI, France Telecom, Howard Science (UK), and a host of others.

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