Eight Research Projects for NUI Galway Announced by Minister Sherlock

Monday, 27 February 2012

Last Thursday, 23 February, Minister for Research and Innovation, Seán Sherlock TD, announced Government funding via the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation of over €6.5 million covering 58 research awards.  NUI Galway received 8 of these awards to a total value of almost €1 million.

The investment is made as part of Science Foundation Ireland’s Technology Innovation Development Award (TIDA) programme and will enable SFI-funded research groups to focus on the first steps of an applied research project which may have a commercial benefit if further developed.

The eight NUI Galway projects under the Programme and their leaders are:

  • Professor Terry Smith ‘Rapid molecular detection of pathogens from bio-pharmaceutical process water and sterile products’. Currently, process water monitoring is by microbiological methods which are slow.  This project will investigate the feasibility of an isothermal point-of-need device for the rapid detection of the bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is the species most frequently isolated from pharmaceutical process water and water-for-injection. This is the bacteria which was responsible recently for several infant deaths in a Belfast hospital.
  • Professor Rhodri Ceredig, ‘Personalised stem cell therapy for inflammatory diseases: a feasibility study of whole blood testing for optimising patient specific stem cell potency and efficacy’. In this project, researchers from NUI Galway’s Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI) Immunology Group and additional collaborators will develop rapid-turnaround, whole-blood assays to measure the anti-inflammatory potency of therapeutic stem cell products for individual patients.  This is of relevance to the use of stem cell products for the treatment of diseases that cause inflammation.
  • Professor Abhay Pandit, ‘Scale-up feasibility of a polymeric diatom replica as the next generation drug delivery system’. This project seeks to develop a novel drug delivery system for ‘hard-to-deliver’ therapies such as cannabinoid drugs. The system is based on a polymer (plastic) version of a naturally occurring structure in diatoms, which are algae. Diatoms are of interest because they are encased within a unique cell wall made of silica, which is ideal for drug delivery.
  • Professor Paul Murphy, ‘Development of new anti-metastatic agents’. Tumour metastasis, or spread, is the primary cause of death of cancer patients. A molecule called migrastatin - which occurs naturally in some bacteria - and its analogues have potential as therapies against tumour spread. This project proposes to build on SFI-funded research to generate a wide range of new migrastatin analogues for biological evaluation. Professor Murphy’s group has a competitive new method to manufacture known tumour migration inhibitors and has the capability to extend this know-how to prepare the new analogues.
  • Dr Andrew Flaus ‘Recombinant chromatin substrates for the epigenetics market’. Research that looks at DNA structure and stability can help shed light on biological processes and point to potential drug targets. This project proposes to undertake a feasibility study into the potential for building a comprehensive catalogue of molecules as reagents and kits to target the chromatin and epigenetics research and development sectors. The group has established methods for efficient large-scale production of recombinant molecules. Proof-of-concept demonstrations and a business plan will be produced.
  • Professor Lokesh Joshi ‘Glycoprotein micelle mediated capture of bacteria’. Despite major advances in hygiene practices worldwide, outbreaks of bacterial gastroenteritis still occur with serious public health consequences and economic impacts. This project will demonstrate a low-cost, natural ‘glycelle’ (glycosylated micelle) strategy that can be used to prevent disease-causing bacteria from sticking to cells of the gut and can be used to remove pathogens from water.
  • Dr Adrienne Gorman, ‘Host cell engineering approach to increase product titre in a mammalian cell expression system’. A major issue exists in the biopharmaceutical sector in the production of biologics and biosimilars, such as recombinant proteins and monoclonal antibodies. Current methods are expensive and yield low amounts of protein. This project explores the commercial potential of a recent finding by Dr Gorman’s group that a protein, Hsp70, could enhance survival and secretion of mammalian cells. The outcome of this project will be a system that increases protein production yields and enhances survival of the cells, leading to a decreased cost of protein production.
  • Professor Robert J Woods, ‘Development of anti-adhesion therapeutics for the inhibition of influenza’. The flu is caused by an infection with an influenza virus, and a key step in this process is the virus sticking to cells in the host. That step is mediated by a molecule on the surface of the virus called hemagglutinin.  Professor Wood’s group is developing a new class of carbohydrate-based anti-influenza agents that block this initial hemagglutinin-mediated adhesion of the virus to host cells.  The proposed research is likely to lead to commercially exploitable results in the form of therapeutics for treating or preventing influenza A in both humans and livestock.

Commenting on the awards, Professor Terry Smith, Vice-President for Research at NUI Galway, said: “The success of NUI Galway under the TIDA Programme represents an important endorsement of on-going research at NUI Galway and its potential for commercial and economic development.  We are excited about exploiting these opportunities, facilitated by SFI, to deliver research excellence with impact.”

Making the announcement at Dublin’s RDS, Minister Sherlock said: “The TIDA Programme focuses on the first stages of an applied research project.  It provides financial support to research teams to enable them to get from concept to market.”

Minister Sherlock also took the opportunity to urge the wider research community to support all endeavours towards commercialisation of research, stating: “While today is an endorsement of research endeavours, it is also very much a call to action for all higher education institutions to get behind and support their researchers in every way possible towards facilitating the commercialisation of their research.”

The Minister concluded by saying “The spirit of convergence and collaboration that has characterised Irish scientific research over the past decade is not only the best way forward – it is the only way forward.”

Welcoming the Minister’s announcement, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland, Professor Mark Ferguson, said: “The TIDA awards being announced today will make a telling impact on how academia and enterprise intertwine towards commercialisation. The projects present significant opportunities for commercialization of research and potential treatments in diverse areas such as new drug delivery system, new transistor devices, 4G wireless communication, cornea repair, SMART needles, hay fever, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, biomass, wastewater treatment and acoustic sensors to detect damage in pipes. Enterprise Ireland has played a key role in the programme’s selection process, further underpinning the market potential of the award recipients.”

ENDS

Author: Marketing and Communications Office, NUI Galway
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