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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.

The European Commission has invited a large research initiative proposal – DigiTwins – to enter the next stage of competition to become an EU Flagship for Future and Emerging Technologies. If successful, it would be financed by Horizon 2020 funding worth €1 bn over 10 years. It would involve collaboration with Trinity’s School of Medicine, the Trinity Translational Medicine Institute (TTMI) and AMBER, with Professor of Molecular and Translational Medicine and AMBER Investigator, Yuri Volkov, participating in the proposal as a leader of a key Work package focused on nanomedicine.

DigiTwins aims to revolutionise healthcare and biomedical research for the benefit of citizens and society and to contribute to Europe’s Digital Single Market strategy through the creation of Digital Twins. The proposal promises to create a personal ‘Digital Twin’ for every European citizen. Our Digital Twins – accurate computer models of the key biological processes within every individual that keep us healthy or lead to disease – would be used to identify individually optimal therapies as well as preventive and lifestyle measures, without exposing individuals to unnecessary risks and healthcare systems to unnecessary costs. Since its foundation, DigiTwins has grown from an innovative idea to an initiative with more than 200 partners in 32 countries and first applications of its concept in real-life trials.

In February, the DigiTwins initiative submitted a first proposal to the EC and thus took the first step, of a three stage process, towards becoming an EU Flagship for Future and Emerging Technologies (FET). Stage two, in which a full proposal for a candidate FET-Flagship is submitted, kick-started recently with a DigiTwins partner meeting in Berlin. If successful, DigiTwins would be financially supported by the European Commission over a one-year period to prepare for stage three: the final selection of the FET-Flagships, which are science- and technology-driven, large-scale, multidisciplinary research initiatives built around a visionary unifying goal that are promoted and financed by the European Commission.

After being given the go-ahead to move on to stage two, Professor Hans Lehrach, who leads the initiative, said: “We’re a significant step closer to the establishment of a system of truly personalised healthcare and health maintenance throughout Europe, which will save millions of lives and billions of healthcare costs in the future.“

Within the Workpackage focused on Nanomedicine, Trinity team leader, Professor Yuri Volkov, will develop innovative nanotechnology-based solutions for advanced biomedical imaging, highly informative diagnostics at a new sensitivity level, and personalised approaches for therapeutic drug delivery. Nanomedicine approaches open up an opportunity to take into account specific patients‘ profiles and to create the individualised therapeutic strategies featuring enhanced drug efficacy and safety, by utilising precision drug delivery and controlled release mechanisms.

Trinity will closely cooperate within this Workpackage with leading academic and research centres from Germany, Italy, Norway, UK, Switzerland, Russia and others. This will further expand the ongoing research carried out in the field by Trinity researchers, focused on the nanotechnological solutions for the benefits of healthcare. These are currently supported by several major European research grants under the H2020 funding programme.

About DigiTwins

DigiTwins is a large research initiative that aims at establishing a personal Digital Twin for every European citizen. The community consists of more than 200 partners from industry, academic and clinical research institutions in 32 different countries. DigiTwins combines a transdisciplinary team of visionary scientists, clinicians, public health experts, policy makers, medical informatics experts, experts in Artificial Intelligence, experienced science management professionals, serial entrepreneurs, industry researchers and patient group representatives as well as experts from cross-cutting fields, such as economics, regulation, ethics, health insurance, data security and privacy. The initiative is led by Professor Hans Lehrach (Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin), Dr Nora Benhabiles (CEA - French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission) and Dr Rolf Zettl (BIH - Berlin Institute of Health).

Project will explore how to convert by-products from the dairy industry to high value bio-based products with AMBER as a key partner

The European Commission today announced €22 million in funding for a new bio-economy research project to be led by Glanbia Ireland. The project, called AgriChemWhey, will receive €22 million in funding from the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. It is the first dairy industry project to be awarded funding under the programme. The overall value of the project is €30 million with the balance of funding coming from the partners involved.

The project will explore the development of a new state-of-the-art, bio-refinery at Lisheen, Co Tipperary with a world-first process for converting by-products from the dairy industry into high value bio-based products including biodegradable plastics.

AgriChemWhey is based on groundbreaking technology developed and patented by Glanbia Ireland, in collaboration with University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin. It builds on previous research programmes funded by Enterprise Ireland and research carried out within the Science Foundation Ireland funded Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research (AMBER) centre. Dr Ramesh Babu from Trinity’s School of Physics is the AMBER lead on the project.

Making the announcement today, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan said: “I am very pleased to see this project receive funding under the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking. AgriChemWhey is a highly innovative research project, which if successful, will serve as a flagship for Europe’s growing bio-economy, contributing towards a more resource efficient European dairy sector, with enormous potential for replication in other areas across Europe, while also providing a boost to jobs and growth in Europe’s rural economy.

Speaking at the launch, Michael Creed TD, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, said: “I congratulate Glanbia and all the Irish partners involved in this ground-breaking award. Innovation is a key theme of the Food Wise 2025 strategy for the sustainable growth of the agri-food sector. Projects such as AgriChemWhey will strengthen the environmental sustainability of the sector, while offering new opportunities for rural employment and development.”

Philippe Mengal, Executive Director of BBI JU which has awarded funding to the project commented: “All of us in BBI JU, together with our founding partners the European Commission and the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC) are very pleased to support this project. It is exciting to see Glanbia Ireland and its partners in the agricultural sector spearhead this research project as it gives us a clear indication that more actors see the potential offered by a sustainable and competitive bio-based sector for Europe and its citizens’’.

The AgriChemWhey project will take low value by-products from the dairy processing industry –excess whey permeate (WP) and delactosed whey permeate (DLP) - and convert them into cost competitive, sustainable lactic acid. Lactic acid can then be used in value-added bio-based products for growing global markets, including biodegradable plastics, bio-based fertiliser and minerals for human nutrition.

The new technology developed by Glanbia Ireland will provide both the dairy industry and wider society with an opportunity for greater resource efficiency - less food waste, more products from the same starting material (milk), and integration of food and non-food material production.

Julie Sinnamon, CEO of Enterprise Ireland added: “A key plank of Enterprise’s Ireland engagement with international research and innovation cooperation is through the European Union Research and Innovation Framework Programmes. Enterprise Ireland leads the national support network for Horizon 2020 through which funding for the AgriChemWhey project has been secured. This project is Ireland’s biggest win under the fund to date and illustrates the potential of the fund for Irish companies and researchers. I want other Irish companies to work with us and see Horizon 2020 as an opportunity to innovate and grow their businesses.”

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland congratulated the partners on this ambitious project stating: “Ireland is ranked second in the world for Animal and Dairy Research, a topic of great strategic importance to this country and it is a testament to the excellent research being undertaken across industry and academia that competitive European investments of this magnitude are won. I am delighted that Glanbia is leading this project and I hope that other Irish based industries are encouraged by their success to lead and win additional research projects of scale from the EU programmes. The technology garnered from this research will place Ireland at the cutting edge of sustainable agricultural processing, and provide an excellent test bed for the roll-out of new and innovative technologies in the dairy sector.”

Jim Bergin, CEO of Glanbia Ireland concluded: “We are very excited about this R&D project which has the potential to harness the potential of by-products from the dairy processing stream and to create a circular bio-economy for the dairy industry. I would like to thank our partners who have contributed to the project so far and most particularly, our funding partner, the BBI JU. We look forward to working together and to taking the project forward to its next phase of development.”

This project has received funding from the Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI-JU) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 744310. The BBI-JU is a €3.7 billion Public-Private Partnership between the EU and the Bio-based Industries Consortium.

Growth in milk production is set to continue as a result of increasing demand for whey protein for human and animal nutrition globally and the removal of milk production quotas in the EU in 2015, underscoring the need for new technologies, products and markets to manage the associated waste streams.
AgriChemWhey has the potential for replication in other regions across Europe, contributing towards the development of the European bio-economy to promote rural growth, competitiveness and job creation and aligning with European sustainability targets.

The new facility is planned for the new bio-economy innovation campus at Lisheen, Co. Tipperary on the site of the former Lisheen mines. The new bio-economy campus will offer a single hub to enable industry, entrepreneurs and researchers to scale technologies that convert Ireland’s natural resources to products of high value for use in a wide variety of sectors.

AgriChemWhey will also partner with Model Demonstrator Regions for sustainable chemicals in Ireland and in Belgium to examine policy development for market uptake of bio-based products and share best practice while working on common challenges together as part of the Irish Bioeconomy Association.

Partners in the AgriChemWhey project include:
• Glanbia Ireland - Project Coordinator;
• University College Dublin (UCD) – Beneficiary;
• AMBER, School of Physics, Trinity College Dublin (TCD) – Beneficiary
• Commercial Mushroom Producers Cooperative Society Ltd (CMP), Ireland – Beneficiary
• PNO Consultants Limited, UK – Beneficiary
• GIG Karasek GmbH, Austria – Beneficiary
• Tipperary County Council, Ireland – Beneficiary
• TEAGASC – Agriculture and Food Development Authority, Ireland – Beneficiary
• Pole Greenwin, Belgium – Beneficiary
• Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium – Beneficiary
• EW Biotech GmbH, Germany - Beneficiary