DCU RECEIVES OVER €23m in PRTLI RESEARCH FUNDING
-100% 'SUCCESS' RATE
Under this strategic investment programme, DCU applied for support for five specific research projects - three science and engineering projects and two humanities and social science based projects. These projects are carried out as part of national collaborative research programmes involving other third-level institudes.
DCU's €23m allocation is made up of €10.5m in capital funding and almost €13m in recurrent funding.
The key areas of research are Therapeutics/Theranostics (see below), Photonics (see below), Innovation within the digital media industry and research on Ireland's relationship to languages, literatures and cultures in other parts of the world.
Professor Eugene Kennedy, DCU's Vice President for Research welcomed the HEA's announcement. "Today's announcement represents a 100% 'success' rate for DCU and is a recognition of DCU's growing excellence in research. The fact that all areas of research - within science, engineering and humanities - have been acknowledged is a great testament to DCU's researchers. Most importantly, these successes will build on our collaborations with our partner institutions which are all within the context of national initiative. Furthermore, this will enable DCU together with its collaborating partners to produce highly qualified young researchers for Ireland's knowledge-based society".
The President of DCU, Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, welcomed the HEA decision, and indicated his strong support for the Government's strategy for research. He pointed out that the policies on research funding and the promotion of R&D were having a crucial impact on foreign direct investment in knowledge-intensive sectors, and that consistency in these policies was vital in the national interest. He was confident that the DCU research teams funded in this latest PRTLI Cycle would make a vital contribution to the economy, the health sector and Irish society.
THERAPEUTICS/THERANOSTICS RESEARCH - Under today's announcement, DCU's International Centre for Neurotherapeutics , School of Biotechnology in conjunction with the the Biomedical Diagnostics Institute, is to receive €12.5m. It will open up cutting-edge research in Neuroscience, Immunology and Cell Biology for the development of novel therapeutics.
A revolutionary new range of drug treatments are being designed at Dublin City University that can produce extraordinary improvements and relief in many conditions that affect muscles, including the disabling symptoms of brain and spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis and migraine.
Professor Oliver Dolly, Director of the International Centre for Neurotherapeutics, said, "The entire research team involved in this project are both thrilled and excited with this substantial award. It will allow researchers from a number of complementary disciplines at DCU and partnering universities to exploit our knowledge on neuro-active drugs and explore their promising potential uses in other disease states".
Oliver Dolly, a research Professor of Science Foundation Ireland who has worked for 25 years on Botox __ the drug familiar for its cosmetic use to remove facial age lines __ is developing the second and third generation products which have the potential for far reaching medical uses in cerebral palsy, overactive bladder, pain relief, migraine, multiple sclerosis and conditions which cause muscle spasms.
His team's research work has also developed exclusive new technologies that can be used to screen drugs for highly specific targeting to particular cell types in the body.
“Botox is the drug isolated from the deadly botulism bacterium. Using protein engineering it can be produced easily and cheaply. We can now tailor the drug by modifying the genes to alter its properties for specific applications in dystonias, where the brain cells give the wrong signals which can affect any muscle in the body, causing spasms and other harmful and painful effects,” said Professor Dolly.
“There are over a 100 different applications – tailoring this therapeutic for ‘preferential' impacts and outcomes,” he said. “This is a major goal of a long-term research programme funded by Allergan, a world leading neurological company that produces Botox, which is processed at a plant in Westport.”
There are two kinds of cholinergic nerves in the body that control muscular action – motor nerves that mediate major body actions (head, hands, arms and legs) which can provide quick and dramatic responses, and the autonomic nerves that relay signals to smooth muscles (stomach, intestine and bladder) which exert a gentler, smoother effect.
Overactive bladder, which can be extremely painful and distressing as well as leading to kidney infections, can be caused by brain and spine injuries, multiple sclerosis and other conditions. Currently, drugs available only work on certain patients with overactive bladder.
“We are aiming to produce a treatment that will relieve the condition by acting on the autonomic nerves in the wall of hyper-active bladder,” says Professor Dolly.
Another extraordinary feature is that Botox treatments of autonomic nerves can have a lasting effect for six to twelve months, while those in motor nerves last up to four months. Professor Dolly's DCU team are exploring how to apply the longer effect to motor nerve treatments.
A further new area of research is the discovery from cosmetic treatments that Botox injections also lead to an improvement in pain relief for migraine sufferers. “We are quite excited about this development – administration to nerves around the head relieves tension on the surface and this means the windup of pain in the brain is avoided,” said Professor Dolly.
Botox has also been found to have a very beneficial effect in severe cases of arthritis. “People suffering with chronic arthritis have had Botox injections in the affected joints which kill the pain and reduce swelling and inflammation. In fact, the results are so dramatic that rapid fluid reduction causes problems for monitoring the effect. We are working with US rheumatologists on this development,” he said. This research may also lead to new treatments for other immune disorders and inflammation, according to Dr Christine Loscher, the researcher leading the immunological aspect of this programme.
This drug project has now advanced to research on under-active nerves. Professor Dolly's laboratory is the exclusive source of potassium channels recreated from the human brain by protein engineering. Using a unique methodology, these potassium channels can be used to test the effectiveness of specifically-targeted drugs, blocking one channel but not others, thereby, ensuring selective action.
“We obtained tissue from MS patients. These sufferers had a unique potassium channel that couldn't be found in normal samples. If we can block this distinct potassium channel, the transmission of neural signals to weakened muscles would be improved,” said Professor Dolly.
The DCU team has acquired a considerable amount of new knowledge with significant commercial potential in the field of novel therapeutics active on the nervous system. As a result, it is hoped to set up a spin-out company, based in DCU Invent, the university's commercialisation gateway, to exploit these opportunities.
“We want ultimately to produce a drug totally in Ireland for national and international markets; the advanced state of this research highlights the feasibility of achieving that goal. Moreover, the in-depth and state-of-the-art programme funded will produce high-calibre doctoral researchers with the sophisticated skills necessary for the advancement of the biopharmaceutical industry in Ireland", said the Professor.
PHOTONICS RESEARCH - National Biophotonics & Imaging Platform (NBIP) - The new investment of €7m will build on past research, education and enterprise achievements in the first round of PRTLI funding.
This multi-university research programme is funding the development of enhanced spectroscopy and microscopy techniques to view molecules in human cells at DCU, probing their nature and behaviour, to reveal the origins of major diseases.
Early detection is a key to better and more effective treatment of life-threatening conditions.
Professor Brian MacCraith, Director of the DCU Biomedical Diagnostics Institute says the technologies developed in this programme will provide “groundbreaking views of the behaviour of molecules inside human cells.”
DCU scientists and engineers will contribute key elements of expertise in photonics, nanotechnology and computerised image analysis to the multi-university National Biophotonics & Imaging Platform (NBIP).
Professor MacCraith says: “DCU's programme in the NBIP will lead to significant enhancements in the techniques which enable us to capture images of the chemical activity inside living cells in real time -as it happens - and in 3-D.
“The advanced technologies developed at DCU will be exploited by life scientists to probe key biological issues and, in particular, to provide critical information about the origin and development of major diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.”
“This in turn will enable us to detect theses diseases at an earlier stage and also to develop better drugs to overcome them.”
The programme will further develop DCU's “Science, Discovery and Technological Innovation” and “Life Sciences and Health in Society” themes.