Nicholas Dunne and Noel O'Connor
(L-R) Prof Nicholas Dunne and Prof Noel O'Connor

€9 million joint investment announced for US-Ireland Research Programme

Dublin City University led research that monitors water quality in real time among the six projects funded

University also partner institution on project to design Genetically Engineered Tensile Load-Bearing Soft Tissues

A joint investment of €9 million was today announced through a tripartite research and development partnership between the United States of America (USA), Republic of Ireland (RoI) and Northern Ireland (NI), spanning 16 research institutions. The seven awards will support more than 14 research positions in the Republic of Ireland and 10 research positions in Northern Ireland for three to five years.


Real time monitoring of water quality

The DCU led project is Ultrasensitive Nitrogen Sensor using Imprinted Polymer Assisted Bacteria for Real-Time Monitoring of Water Quality. It is being led by Prof Noel O’Connor from the School of Electronic Engineering. Prof O’Connor is also the CEO of the Insight SFI Research Centre in Data Analytics.

The study is in the area of environmental monitoring and aims to design, build, validate and field test a prototype sensor system for the real-time detection of the three most commonly monitored forms of nitrogen: nitrate, nitrite and ammonia/ammonium. Such sensor will use 1) polymers to separate and concentrate each form of nitrogen, 2) bacteria to convert each form of nitrogen into a single form (nitrite), 3) advanced 3D printed microfluidics with integrated valves to ensure routes toward the active sensor in a complete analyser platform for field deployment, and 4) a more sensitive colorimetric-based detection system for nitrite using novel ultrasensitive hybrid material photodetectors. 

The partner institutions are Queen’s University Belfast and Rensselaer Polytechnic University in New York state. The value of the award, including overhead, is €374,206.

Speaking about the award, Prof Noel O’Connor said

“Given the global climate and sustainability challenges facing the world, it is vital that we have access to real-time high quality data so that we can measure the extent of the problem, which is the first step in finding solutions. The sensors to be developed in this project are an example of the type of advances needed in fundamental chemical science in order to produce more frequent and better quality environmental data. 

The Insight SFI Research Centre in Data Analytics is excited to be co-leading this project as it provides us with an opportunity to understand the future of environmental sensing, so that our analytics engines are primed and ready when this kind of data becomes widely available.”

Genetically Engineered Tensile Load-Bearing Soft Tissues

Prof Nicholas Dunne, Chair of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering in the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing, was co-investigator on Design of Genetically Engineered Tensile Load-Bearing Soft Tissues Inspired by Embryonic Tendon Development. It is being led by Prof Paula Murphy from Trinity College Dublin. Prof Dunne is also Executive Director of Biodesign Europe.

The objective of this project is to identify the structural changes and biological mechanisms that drive normal embryonic tendon development and to use this knowledge to enhance the maturation of tissue-engineered tendon constructs via nanoparticle-hydrogel gene delivery system. The primary reason for this study is that traditional scaffold-based approaches hinder cell self-assembly and do not replicate normal embryonic tendon development. 

The value of the award, including overhead is €452,258 

Prof Nicholas Dunne said

“This cutting-edge project is truly interdisciplinary, bringing together international expertise in biomechanics, mechanobiology, developmental biology and materials science. Biodesign Europe are excited about co-developing functional load-bearing tendon and ligament replacements using a bottom-up approach to identify the structural changes and biological mechanisms that drive normal embryonic tendon development and to use this knowledge to enhance the maturation of tissue-engineered tendon constructs via nanoparticle gene delivery.

Ultimately, this project will advance the efforts of tissue engineering towards the development of a biomaterial that can replicate robust tensile load-bearing tendons and ligaments and have a large impact on human health since tendon/ligament injuries account for 20-30% of all musculoskeletal disorder and are the most common form of non-fatal occupational injury resulting in over 4 million new incidences worldwide each year and thus impose a significant burden to the society and the economy.”

Areas of research

The research projects receiving funding are in the areas of energy and sustainability, telecommunications and quantum networks, nanomaterials, optics and photonics; tissue engineering for tendon reconstruction; and sensor monitoring for water quality and peatlands.

The funding agencies involved in the awards being announced today are Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) in the Republic of Ireland; the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the USA, and the Department for the Economy (DfE) in Northern Ireland. The Health Research Board (ROI), the Health & Social Care R&D Division (NI) and National Institutes of Health (USA) have also been cofounding partners in the programme.

Prof Philip Nolan, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland welcomed the announcement, saying:

“I am delighted to congratulate all of the award recipients and their collaborators. These are world-class research projects, driving innovation with the potential to greatly benefit our collective societies and economies. The US-Ireland R&D Partnership Programme demonstrates the strong collaborative relationship between our countries, encouraging globally-relevant scientific discovery across borders.” 

Also welcoming the announcement, Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, Director of the U.S. National Science Foundation, said:

“The US-Ireland R&D Partnership Programme provides a unique opportunity to advance research on a global scale. I am delighted to congratulate the awardees collaborating across the Atlantic, who are working to create future world-class technological innovations.”

The overall goal of the US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership, launched in July 2006, is to increase the level of collaborative R&D amongst researchers and industry professionals across the three jurisdictions. This unique collaboration aims to generate valuable discoveries and innovations which are transferable to the marketplace, or will lead to enhancements in health, disease prevention or healthcare.

Trevor Cooper, Director of Higher Education in the Department for the Economy (Northern Ireland) said:

“The US-Ireland R&D Partnership is playing a key role in driving forward Northern Ireland’s economic vision for a ‘10x Economy’ which champions greater collaboration and innovation to deliver a ten times better economy with benefits for all our people. ‘10x Economy’ recognises that international collaboration is a key feature of the Northern Ireland research landscape and fundamental to driving both economic impact and social advancement. This flagship trans-Atlantic partnership is crucial to delivering this vision.”

Collaborating Institutions

The 16 collaborating institutions are University College Dublin (UCD), Trinity College Dublin (TCD), National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG), Munster Technological University (MTU), Tyndall National institute (TNI), and Dublin City University (DCU) in the Republic of Ireland; Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and Ulster University (UU) in Northern Ireland; and University of Pennsylvania, Virginia Tech, University of Colorado Boulder, Arizona State University, Harvard University, Pennsylvania State University, Ohio State University, and Rensselaer Polytechnic University in the United States.

 More information on the programme is available here.