AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research Centre), the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre based at Trinity College Dublin, announced today that it has entered into a licence agreement with Thomas Swan Ltd for the production of atomically thin 2D layered materials. The licences signed by Trinity College are for technologies developed by Professor Jonathan Coleman, Principal Investigator in AMBER, which builds on his 2014 global research breakthrough into the large-scale production of graphene.

Capitalising on its experience in the manufacture of graphene, Thomas Swan Ltd can now quickly scale the manufacture of 2D materials, such as boron nitride and molybdenum disulphide, which will be available from this summer.

These materials have unique properties including strength, flexibility and electrical conductivity. Their production and incorporation into a range of products will change the way many consumer and industrial products are manufactured. Potential applications include high strength plastics; extremely sensitive sensors for medical or chemical applications; foldable touch screens for mobile phones and laptops; super-protective coatings for wind turbines and ships; faster batteries with dramatically higher capacity than anything available today and advanced food packaging.

Professor Jonathan Coleman, Principal Investigator at AMBER and Professor of Chemical Physics in Trinity College Dublin, said: “Last year we signed a licence agreement with Thomas Swan Ltd. to scale up production and make high quality graphene available to industry globally. While graphene consists of a layer of carbon atoms, other 2D materials comprised of different combinations of atoms also have unique properties with potential widespread applications from mechanics, to printed electronics, energy generation and storage. Our collaborative research programme with Thomas Swan underlines the strength of our industry engagement programme and we are delighted that our partnership has led to the commercialisation of my research.”

“We are excited about this new phase in our 2D materials business which builds upon our graphene knowledge base,” said Harry Swan, Managing Director of Thomas Swan, “and we are delighted to be continuing our relationship with AMBER at Trinity College Dublin.”

Thomas Swan Ltd, who has partnered with the AMBER research team for two years have to date invested €750,000 in the research programme and began a further €250,000 collaboration in 2015, co-funded by Science Foundation Ireland, to explore and develop future applications of 2D materials.

About Thomas Swan
Thomas Swan & Co. Ltd. is an independent chemical manufacturing company. With offices and warehousing in the UK, USA and China and a global network of distributors, we service the domestic and international markets and export to over 80 countries worldwide.
Founded in 1926 in Consett, in the North East of England – still home to our manufacturing facilities – Thomas Swan today produces over 100 products, in kilogramme to multi-tonne quantities, and offers an experienced and flexible manufacturing service.
+44 (0)1207 505 131

Team of Researchers Produce Powerful New Biosensor for Medical Diagnostic Applications

Professor Georg Duesberg, Investigator in AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre based at Trinity College Dublin, and Trinity’s School of Chemistry and his team, in collaboration with the group of Dr. Andreas Holzinger at Université Grenoble Alpes and Professor Maryam Tabrizian from Montreal McGill University, Montreal, have produced a new graphene biosensor. This new biosensor has demonstrated very high sensitivity in detecting cholera toxins and can provide earlier diagnosis of conditions such as cancer and other infectious diseases. The work was recently published in the prestigious Journal of the American Chemical Society.*

The sensor, known as a Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR) sensor is an established optical technique for medical diagnosis with high sensitivity and specificity and can potentially be used for lab-on-a-chip sensors.

The researchers discovered that the addition of graphene leads to a two-fold increase in the sensor signal. Graphene is a single-atom thick sheet of carbon with extraordinary properties: it is ultra-light, flexible, and transparent. It amplifies the signal of the SPR sensor and the ultrathin layer can also anchor individual molecules for a specific disease. This sensor was used for the detection of cholera toxins but it could be expanded to other diseases, such as cancer. The cholera toxin was detected within minutes, in contrast to current detection techniques which may take hours or even days.

Professor Georg Duesberg said, “We showed experimentally that simply the addition of graphene led to a clear increase in the sensor signal. This type of sensing platform offers a large variety for medical diagnostics since it can be adapted to almost any type of disease markers.”

Dr. Holzinger, UJF Grenoble, said, “In addition, because of the sensitivity, apart from faster results, it could more easily detect smaller amounts of biomarkers, thus providing earlier diagnosis and prognosis of conditions such as cancer. This also means that a smaller sample is required from the patient for detection e.g. a pin-prick drop of blood, compared to a vial or injection. Our discovery is also applicable for other types of infectious diseases such as malaria and TB.”

This original setup of SPR biosensors reaches clearly higher sensitivities than the standard enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and has the potential for being a real alternative. The need for label free-bio-sensors is enormous.
The graphene grown in Professor Duesberg’s lab has been shown to be more suited to the sensor development than other forms of graphene used previously. The graphene growth technique is known as chemical vapour deposition (CVD) and it creates large areas of single layer graphene with few defects. The lack of defects and homogeneity of the graphene surface is what aids the amplification of the sensor signal.

Professor Duesberg is a member of Europe’s Graphene Flagship, which lays out a science and technology road map, targeting research areas designed to take graphene and related 2D materials from academic laboratories into society. With 142 partners in 23 countries, the Graphene Flagship was established following a call from the European Commission to address big science and technology challenges of the day through long-term, multidisciplinary R&D efforts.

* The full paper can be viewed at

The European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, began his two-day visit in Dublin meeting with researchers in AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre based at Trinity College Dublin. Since the research centre’s launch 18 months ago, AMBER researchers have been awarded over €12 million in funding from the European Commission, across 18 research projects.

A selection of AMBER Principal Investigators, whose research is funded by the EC, were given the opportunity to present their progress to date across their research projects to Vice-President Katainen. Two of the researchers presenting, Professor Daniel Kelly and Professor Wolfgang Schmitt, were both awarded ERC Consolidator Grants this year. The ERC Consolidator Grant is awarded to those with over 7 and up to 12 years of experience since completion of PhD, and is to encourage highly talented researchers at an early stage of their career.

Professor Daniel Kelly’s research, which was awarded €2 million in funding by the EC, focuses on producing biomaterials which can be used to regenerate both cartilage and bone in a diseased joint. His research uses biomaterials containing adult stem cells, and could potentially be used to print hip or knee implants for osteoarthritis sufferers. This is the next generation of implants and are intended to be used to target specific clinical problems in orthopaedic and cardiovascular medicine. Professor Wolfgang Schmitt’s research, which was awarded €2 million in funding by the EC, looks at metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) for energy storage and conversion. The ultimate aim of his research is to harvest light and convert it into chemical energy – which is the ultimate, sustainable, green energy solution.

Following his visit to AMBER, Vice-President Katainen said: “Investing in research is a priority for the EU so I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet several EU-funded researchers at AMBER today. I am confident that the Investment Plan for Europe will be instrumental in supporting research-related projects across Europe. Today I have seen first-hand how AMBER is conducting world-class material science research which will not only help to solve societal challenges but also help to boost our competitiveness and create the jobs and growth needed in Europe.”

Professor Stefano Sanvito, Acting Director at AMBER, said, “We are privileged to have had European Commission Vice-President responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, Jyrki Katainen, visit us here at AMBER. At AMBER we are working to educate the next generation of researchers and create breakthroughs that influence everyone’s quality of life; such as the development of next generation computer chips; new medical devices, implants and pharmaceuticals which will improve patient care. The European Commission’s funding is imperative to AMBER continuing to establish a leading international position for Ireland in materials science and continue to provide world leading research that includes productive engagement with industry and the creation of new jobs.”

Vice-President Katainen’s visit concluded with a demonstration in AMBER’s lab, where Dr Keith Paton, working with Professor Jonathan Coleman conducted his ‘Graphene Kitchen Blender’ experiment. Prof. Coleman pours graphite powder (the “lead” in our pencils) into a blender, adds dishwashing liquid, mixing at high speed, and creates graphene. This method has been refined to produce industrial quantities of high quality graphene. Described as a wonder material, graphene is a single-atom thick sheet of carbon. It is extremely light and stronger than steel, yet incredibly flexible and extremely electrically conductive. Richard Coull, Lead Engineer working with Prof Valeria Nicolosi demonstrated how graphene and other 2-dimensional materials could be printed to make devices such as flexible batteries.

Major new EU funding for research into diabetes was announced today by a group led by RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and AMBER (Advanced Materials for Bioengineering Research). The DRIVE (Diabetes Reversing Implants with enhanced Viability and long-term Efficacy) consortium involves fourteen partners from seven European countries and has received €8.9 million funding as part of the Horizon 2020 - Research and Innovation Framework Programme.

The DRIVE programme will create thirteen new jobs in Ireland and it will develop natural materials and new surgical devices to enhance the transplant and survival of insulin producing pancreatic islets for the treatment of diabetes. The DRIVE programme is co-ordinated by Dr. Garry Duffy, Department of Anatomy and Tissue Engineering Research Group, RCSI and AMBER Investigator. In addition to the fourteen partners, the DRIVE consortium brings together internationally recognised academics, large medical devices industries and clinical experts in islet transplantation including Oxford University. Irish partners include Dublin City University, University College Dublin and Boston Scientific.

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease characterised by high blood sugar (glucose). If not treated carefully, diabetes causes several debilitating side effects including heart disease, damage to the eyes, kidneys and nerve endings (e.g. hands, feet) and can lead to premature death. The total number of people living with diabetes in Ireland is estimated to be over 225,000. According to the international diabetes federation (IDF), 382 million people worldwide have diabetes and in 2013 an estimated 5.1 million deaths were attributable to the disease, representing 8.4% of global adult mortality. Blood glucose is high in diabetes because of the inability of the pancreas to produce sufficient insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar. Currently the main treatment for diabetes is the daily injection of insulin. In patients where control is poor, transplantation of pancreatic cells (which contain insulin-producing β-cells) is possible. However there are challenges with this therapy including the short supply of donor pancreases, the need to use 3-4 pancreases to get enough β-cells for treatment and poor graft survival and retention at the transplant site.

The DRIVE consortium will address these challenges by developing a completely new system to deliver pancreatic β-cells effectively in a targeted and protected fashion. This will mean that fewer donor pancreases are needed for cell transplantation allowing more patients to avail of a more effective longer-lasting treatment with less demand on donor pancreases. Additionally, the consortium will investigate the combination of DRIVE’s technology with future stem cell-derived β-cells that will widen the availability of islet transplantation therapy to all insulin-dependent patients.

Dr. Garry Duffy, Department of Anatomy and Tissue Engineering Research Group, RCSI and AMBER Investigator, commented on the research funding: “We are delighted to lead the DRIVE programme and to translate new collaborative research for the benefit of patients with diabetes mellitus. Regenerative medicine and stem cell therapies have the potential to revolutionise the treatment of patients who have diabetes, and through DRIVE we will develop new technologies to enhance stem cell therapies for these patients by increasing targeting and ease of delivery using advanced biomaterials.”

DRIVE’s β-System consists of a β-Gel, which contains the pancreatic β-cells within a pancreas mimicking gel; which itself is protected within a capsule called a β-shell. This is delivered using a specialised injection catheter, called β-cath, which offers a more minimally invasive surgical procedure than is currently used. Boston Scientific Ireland Ltd. are working with RCSI on the new surgical procedure.

The current transplantation technique offers patients natural glucose control for 1-2 years. DRIVE’s β-system aims to provide control for up to 5 years by increasing the longevity of the β-cell transplant. The system offers further advantages through the slow release of immunosuppressant drugs by the β-shell, reducing the patient’s need for long-term anti-rejection medication, which has harmful side effects. The β-shell will also be retrievable, so it can be removed and replenished after the 5-year period. DRIVE’s 5-year work plan will include laboratory testing, with a view to human testing at the end of the project.

Professor Paul Johnson, Director of the Oxford Islet Transplant Programme and Professor of Paediatric Surgery at the University of Oxford, said: “Over the past 10 years, the transplantation of particular pancreatic cells known as islet cells (which can sense blood sugar levels and release insulin to maintain normal levels) has achieved promising results in adults who have developed the severest complications from insulin-dependent diabetes. The challenge is to now make sure that more people can benefit from this minimally-invasive treatment. Ultimately we would hope that it can be used to reverse diabetes in children soon after diagnosis. The DRIVE Consortium brings together some of the leading researchers in Europe in the fields of bioengineering, cell biology, and cell transplantation. The overall aim is to develop novel membranes to protect the transplanted islets from rejection ensure that islet transplantation can be undertaken without the need for the patient to take anti-rejection medication, with all the associated complications. This programme of research could be a real game-changer for people with Type 1 diabetes and the team in Oxford are very excited to be part of this state of the art research collaboration.”

The DRIVE Consortium represents a major interdisciplinary effort between stem cell biologists, experts in advanced drug delivery, research scientists, clinicians and research-active companies working together to develop novel therapeutics to address the challenges of treating diabetes. The researchers will optimise adult stem cell therapy using smart biomaterials and advanced drug delivery, and couple these therapeutics with minimally-invasive surgical devices.

Welcoming the announcement, Professor Ray Stallings, Director of Research at RCSI said: “RCSI’s leadership of the DRIVE consortium builds on the College’s expertise in regenerative medicine and industrial collaboration. This new programme will help accelerate the development of new treatments for the benefit of patients, in keeping with our strategy of bench to bedside translational research.”

RCSI researchers involved in the consortium include Dr Helena Kelly (Deputy Co-ordinator) and Dr Eduardo Ruiz-Hernandez, both from RCSI School of Pharmacy; and Professor Seamus Sreenan and Dr Diarmuid Smith Consultants in Diabetes and Endocrinology. The project, which has received €8.9 million direct EU contribution, is funded by the European Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Framework Programme from June 2015 to May 2019. Dr Duffy’s proposal was the highest ranked application across all the Leadership in Enabling and Industrial Technologies (LEIT) proposals throughout Europe, ranked 1st out of 18 funded from 62 projects submitted at Stage 2, and 326 submitted at Stage 1.