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DCU wins €4.9m in SFI research funding

DCU has secured almost €5m in funding for four pioneering research initiatives through the Science Foundation Ireland Investigator programme. The funding has been made available for the DCU projects on the basis of their scientific excellence and their potential to impact Ireland’s economic and societal development. The projects will have benefits for key industries driving success for the Irish economy, including the device technology and biopharmaceutical sectors.

• Professor Greg Hughes, DCU School of Physical Sciences, who received €691 950, will investigate Copper diffusion barrier layers for advanced interconnect integration. The use of copper as the metal of choice for interconnects between transistors in integrated circuit fabrication has required the development of complex barrier layers to prevent the inter diffusion of copper and silicon. As the dimensions of the copper lines decrease it is necessary to significantly reduce the width of the barrier layers which is difficult to achieve with the current technology. This project will investigate strategies to optimize self-forming copper diffusion barrier layers on a range of technologically relevant dielectric materials to produce the ultrathin layers required for future generations of device technologies.

• Professor Martin Clynes, National Institute for Cellular Biology, has received €1 174 537 to explore Phenotype Engineering using MicroRNAs in Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO) Cells to Achieve Faster Growth Rate and Extended Culture Lifespan for more Efficient Biopharmaceutical Production.Many new genetically-engineered medicines are being developed for diseases such as cancer and arthritis; herceptin for breast cancer treatment, for example. The production of these complex drugs is a technically challenging and costly process. In this project we will use a recently-discovered type of regulatory molecule, called microRNA, to make cell-based production processes more efficient, helping to make these expensive treatments more affordable. This is important in improving access to these new medicines for patients while at the same time contributing to the success and sustainability of the biopharmaceutical industry, which is so important for employment in Ireland.

• Dr Niall Barron’s (National Institute for Cellular Biology) research Improving Biopharmaceutical productivity from industrial CHO cell lines by microRNA knockdown is being funded for €432 801.Many of the most effective new medicines nowadays are proteins similar to those made in the human body. Unlike smaller ‘chemical’ drugs, these cannot be synthesized without the help of animal cells which are grown in large vessels; similar to the manner in which beer is produced. This makes these drugs very expensive to manufacture and contributes to their extraordinarily high cost. This research is focused on genetic engineering these cells using small genes, called microRNAs, to make them more efficient at producing the protein-based drugs with a view to reducing the cost of manufacturing them.

• Dr Andreas Heise, School of Chemical Sciences, in collaboration with Dr Sally-Ann Cryan, RCSI, will further develop Functional polymers for (nano)medical devices with funding of €1 481 129. New biological-based therapeutics have emerged over the last decades but in order to use them to improve human health and quality of life new materials are required to assist in their manufacture and in their delivery to patients. In this project a multidisciplinary approach will be used to develop new bio-inspired materials (polymers) that can be manipulated so as to be applicable in new healthcare products. Our technologies will meet real unmet needs in the fields of therapeutic delivery, tissue engineering and biomedical devices which build on and enhance Ireland’s existing scientific and industrial strengths.

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton TD and the Minister for Research and Innovation Seán Sherlock TD announced a total of €47 million in funding delivered by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, through the Science Foundation Ireland Investigators Programme. The Programme will provide funding over a three to five year period, for 36 research projects involving over 200 researchers. Funding for each project will range from €400,000 to €3.1 million.

2nd May, 2014