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Over 4,000 delegates from nearly 70 countries from across the globe will congregate in Dublin this month for the 8th World Congress of Biomechanics (WCB2018). WCB2018 will be co-hosted by RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and Trinity College Dublin in partnership with AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland-funded materials science and bioengineering research centre. The Congress is held once every 4 years and will bring together engineers and scientists from various disciplines including biology, physics, mathematics, computer science, chemistry and various clinical specialties.

Prof. Fergal O’Brien, RCSI Professor of Bioengineering & Regenerative Medicine, AMBER Deputy Director and Co-Chair of WCB2018 said “Winning the WCB 2018 bid means we are in effect bringing the World Cup of Biomechanics to Dublin. With an interdisciplinary focus spanning engineering, medicine, life sciences and industry, this event will be a significant boost for Ireland’s growing international reputation for bioengineering research as exemplified by the research at RCSI and AMBER which is partnering with industry to translate world class scientific research to the benefit of patients and society. We are honoured that over 400 of the world’s leading researchers in the field have accepted our invitation to speak here this week.”

Prof. Daniel Kelly Trinity Professor of Tissue Engineering, AMBER Investigator and Co-Chair of WCB2018 said “The field of biomechanics sits at the interface of engineering and medicine, and research in the field has revolutionised medicine, particularly in the area of medical devices. Ireland’s medical technology sector has evolved into one of the leading clusters globally. 18 of the world’s top 25 medical technology companies have a base in Ireland and 50% of the over 400 medtech companies based here are indigenous. Ireland is therefore the ideal location for a congress that aims to enhance links between the clinical and academic research community and industry in the medical technology sector.”

The five-day scientific programme at the WCB2018 will cover speakers from across a wide spectrum of the sector including: Imaging and Device Biomechanics; Biofluid and Biotransport; Multiscale Biomechanics; Organ Biomechanics; Tissue Biomechanics; Cellular Biomechanics; Molecular Biomechanics and Whole Body Biomechanics. Applications range from basic biology to medical devices and the latest technologies. Exhibitions will highlight the latest technologies, publications, and medical devices.

Highlights of the conference will include:

• Professor Julie Steele’s biomechanics research over the past 30+ years has enabled countless individuals to participate comfortably and safely in their daily activities. Professor Steele, from the School of Medicine at the University of Wollongong, is founder and director of the internationally renowned Biomechanics Research Laboratory and Breast Research Australia. She has been actively involved in researching the effects of obesity and ageing on lower limb structure and function with implications for footwear design to promote physical activity and reduce falls in the elderly. In addition, she is very involved in breast health biomechanics and the aim of her research in this space is to ensure that any female, irrespective of age, health status or breast size, can enjoy the health benefits associated with regular exercise without suffering breast discomfort.

• Elazer R. Edelman is Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Senior Attending Physician in the coronary care unit at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He has translated basic findings in vascular biology to the development of next generation medical devices such as cardiovascular stents - which has revolutionised healthcare and saved countless lives. Dr Edelman directs the Harvard-MIT Biomedical Engineering Center (BMEC).

• Dr Niamh Nowlan from Dublin and a graduate from Trinity College Dublin, but now based in the Department of Bioengineering of Imperial College London, UK, works in the area of developmental biomechanics, with particular focus on fetal movements. She will talk about two key research areas of interest; how mechanical forces induced by prenatal movements affect bone and joint formation before birth, and how fetal movements may be used as an indicator of fetal health and function.

Professor John Boland, Investigator in AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre, and Trinity’s School of Chemistry, has been awarded an Outstanding Researcher Award from the Intel Corporate Research Council (CRC). It is the fourth time the award has been given to a researcher in Ireland.

The award will be presented today (29th June) in Trinity College by Dr. Michael Mayberry, the Chief Technology Officer for Intel Corporation, Managing Director of Intel Labs, and Head of the Intel CRC. These awards, which are considered annually by the 18 Strategic Research Segments (SRS) which make up the CRC, recognise only outstanding university research collaborations. The recipients must have demonstrated a high level of innovation at enabling the understanding, or solving of major technology roadblocks. In addition, the award is only given to researchers within an Institute that have exhibited a close relationship with Intel, leading to student hiring, which has been the case over many years with AMBER and the CRANN Institute.

Professor Boland was given the award for revealing to the world in a Science publication in July 2017, a new insight into the behaviour of the building blocks of copper. Professor Boland with AMBER researcher Dr. Xiaopu Zhang and an international team have shown that the granular building blocks in copper can never fit together perfectly, but are rotated causing an unexpected level of misalignment and surface roughness. This behaviour, which was previously undetected, applies to many materials beyond copper. Nanocrystalline metals such as copper are widely used as electrical contacts and interconnects within integrated circuits. This new understanding at the nanoscale will impact how these materials are designed, ultimately enabling more efficient devices, by reducing resistance to current flow and increasing battery life in hand-held devices.

“At Intel, we recognize the world-class work of Professor John Boland and his team, and also the many other activities that have been undertaken over the last fifteen years in collaboration with AMBER and CRANN. We have cultivated an excellent research relationship, learn from each other, and appreciate the many fundamental insights that the teams discovered that help us make informed decisions regarding the future of semiconductor technology,” said Dr. Mayberry, Intel Labs.

Professor John Boland, Principal Investigator in AMBER and Trinity’s School of Chemistry, said, “I am very honoured to have received this award from Intel. It has been rewarding to see the impact of our research over the last 14 years translated into new technologies. This would not have been possible without our model of collaborative research engagement with Intel, from researchers-in-residence working in our labs to joint research challenges. I look forward to continuing this engagement with Intel in years to come”.

Professor Mick Morris, Director of AMBER and Professor in Trinity’s School of Chemistry, said, “I’d like to congratulate Professor Boland on this award. He has driven AMBER’s collaboration with Intel for many years and it is his research excellence and expertise in scanning tunnelling microscopy that has ensured new developments in the fundamental understanding of materials, which will ultimately benefit people, through new electronic devices, but also other areas such as medical implants and diagnostics. This award demonstrates both the excellence and also the quality of the research team that has been built in AMBER.”

Professor Boland has served as Trinity’s Vice President and Dean of Research at Trinity. He is a fellow of Trinity College and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was the Laureate of the 11th ACSIN Nanoscience Prize (2011) and was awarded a prestigious ERC Advanced Grant in 2013.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade with responsibility for Brexit, Simon Coveney, TD and Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, Pat Breen, TD, today announced the details of eight new research collaborations supported through the partnership between Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC).

Two of the eight research collaborations are led by AMBER Investigators, Profs John Donegan and Plamen Stamenov, both from Trinity College Dublin’s School of Physics, who received over €1.2m and €1.7m respectively from both SFI and NSFC. The announcement, which was made on the occasion of the Export Trade Council meeting at Iveagh House in Dublin, is a direct result of a joint investment made by the Irish government through Science Foundation Ireland to the value of €8.6 million euro and ¥31,920,000 (ca. €4,273,000) from the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Speaking at Iveagh House, Tánaiste, Simon Coveney, said: “Over the last decade Ireland’s engagement with China has grown from strength to strength, with China now ranking as Ireland’s largest trading partner in Asia. Collaboration and partnership in RD&I is vital for expanding this relationship. China’s emphasis on high technology systems, particularly in green-tech, is extremely complimentary to Ireland’s research prioritisation and reflected in some of the outstanding projects being launched here today.”

Madam Hua Yang, Charge d’Affaires, Embassy of the Peoples Republic of China, Ireland, commented: “Today’s award symbolizes a good start of greater Science, Technology and Innovation cooperation between China and Ireland in the years to come. It is our belief and hope that, with concerted efforts from both countries, our cooperation in Science, Technology and Innovation will achieve more accomplishment, benefiting the well-being of the people from both countries and around the world.”

Professor John Donegan received over €1.2m funding to work in collaboration with Professor Guo in HUST (Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan) on developing a new optical source. In the near future, a new type of optical source will be required for use in the networks that provide our internet. At present, we use lasers since they can provide a high power at a single wavelength. In the future, we will need the optical source to have a very precise frequency and it must be small with low operating costs. This will enable much higher data rates and allow communication with a large range of devices. Professor Guo is a former post-doc of Professor Donegan and was awarded a 1000 talented youth grant on returning to China. They have published over 40 joint papers and hold 4 joint patents.

Professor Plamen Stamenov will work with Huazhong University of Science and Technology on a new class of ‘topological’ magnetic materials that can allow us to communicate data without external power, using the principle of a self-winding watch. This will be invaluable over the next 10–20 years in the era of Smart Cities, and the Internet of Things. The project received funding of over €1.7m from both SFI and NSFC.

The eight projects receiving funding were subject to rigorous review with approximately 250 international expert reviewers assisting in the peer-review process. The chosen projects feature research into the areas of wireless and optical communications, artificial intelligence, micro- and nano-electronics, climate change, green energy, and nano-materials for biomedical applications. Four academic institutions in Ireland will collaborate with six institutions across the People’s Republic of China to carry out this work.

Congratulating the awardees, Dr Ciarán Seoighe, Deputy Director General of Science Foundation Ireland, said: “I am delighted to welcome the first eight awards under the new SFI-NSFC Partnership Programme. Science Foundation Ireland has been building research links between Ireland and the People’s Republic of China for the last number of years and the launch of these partnerships is a testament to the strong collaborative relationship between our two nations. Combining the expertise and resources of both research communities has proven very successful in attracting innovative and impactful project submissions. I am excited to see the outcomes from today’s successful applicants.”

Imagine being able to deliver therapy directly to the heart multiple times from a port under the skin to heal the heart? A new study led by researchers from NUI Galway, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, AMBER at NUIG and Trinity College Dublin among others, describes a novel implantable tool that could make this a reality. The study was published today (11, June 2018) in the internationally respected journal, Nature Biomedical Engineering.

When a patient has a heart attack, additional scarring and remodelling can occur and ultimately lead to heart failure. Multiple therapies are being explored to prevent this disease progression including drugs, proteins and adult stem cells. The problems with delivering these treatments currently are that they don’t stay at their intended site on the beating heart, can cause toxic side effects and often require multiple doses to elicit a clinical effect.

A group of investigators that included eight Irish researchers, have recently designed a device called Therepi that can be placed directly on the heart, comprising of a reservoir for drugs or cells that can be refilled multiple times from a port under the skin. This allows localised, refillable, heart targeted therapy delivery. The researchers showed in a pre-clinical model of myocardial infarction (heart attack) that this device can increase heart function over four weeks when stem cells are repeatedly delivered to the reservoir.

This system has vast potential for advancing research as a tool to characterise optimal targeted drug dosing. Additionally, the study describes the first step towards translating a device to the clinic that allows multiple non-invasive therapy replenishments over time. The published study was the result of a collaboration between Harvard, MIT and Boston Children’s Hospital in the USA, and NUI Galway, RCSI, TCD and AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre in Ireland.

Professor Ellen Roche, co-first author of the study and Assistant Professor at MIT, and a former researcher at NUI Galway who won international acclaim in 2017 for her work in creating a soft robotic sleeve to help patients with heart failure, said “Our study demonstrates that Therepi can repeatedly deliver drugs, and increase retention of cells at the heart to increase function. For us, this is only the beginning of multiple ongoing studies that will use this system as a platform device for therapy delivery to the diseased heart, and as a research tool to further scientific understanding of the effects of a localised, refillable treatment regimen at various diseased organs. It was a privilege to work with a talented multi-disciplinary, inter-institutional team to make this study possible.”

Professor Garry Duffy, AMBER Investigator and Personal Professor in Anatomy at NUI Galway and a senior co-author of the study, added: “I have no doubt that the development of Therepi will impact care for patients with heart disease in the future and its main advantage allows for treatment to be tailored to individual patient need. Therepi is a medical device that allows keyhole surgical placement of a depot or pouch to the outside surface of the heart, and this pouch can be topped-up with drugs or stem cells using a port that sits just below the skin.

“Our study shows that this local delivery with top-ups improves heart function after a heart attack in a pre-clinical model. It builds on a strong trans-Atlantic collaboration which has seen multiple researchers train at MIT and Harvard from Irish Institutions. Along with Professor Ellen Roche at MIT we are currently assessing Therepi’s utility in disease conditions where cell therapies can offer potential cures including Type 1 Diabetes. This collaboration builds on the strength of the ecosystem here for translational medicine at NUI Galway, and we hope to see devices like Therepi reach clinical trials over the coming years.”

Professor Peter McHugh, Dean of the College of Engineering and Informatics at NUI Galway, and co-author of the study, said: “This publication in Nature Biomedical Engineering clearly demonstrates the brilliance of Irish researchers and the world-class standing of Irish research, and the benefits of working with the very best researchers internationally. It is also an excellent example of the application of scientific, clinical and engineering excellence to develop new and innovative treatment methods that will ultimately significantly improve patient outcomes.”

Other researchers involved in the study include postdoctoral researchers, Fiona Weafer and Reyhaneh Shirazi from NUI Galway, William Whyte (co-first author) a TCD/AMBER PhD student who spent time at Harvard to work on the study, Hugh O’Neill, RCSI PhD graduate and Bruce Murphy, Associate Professor in Biomechanical Engineering at TCD.

To read the full study in Nature Biomedical Engineering, visit: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41551-018-0247-5

For more information about the study contact Professor Garry Duffy, School of Medicine, NUI Galway at garry.duffy@nuigalway.ie or 091 495943.