WIT based researcher wins prestigious ERC funding


Prof John Nolan, Principal Investigator at the Macular Pigment Research Group (MPRG) at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) is one of four Irish researchers to receive funding under the latest round of the European Research Council’s (ERC) 'Proof of Concept' top-up funding programme.

Prof Nolan’s most recent ERC funded research project “Economical lutein production” will focus on bringing his blue-sky research closer to market. Lutein is essential for optimal vision and protection against the world’s leading cause of blindness - Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). The world’s lutein market depends solely on extraction from the marigold flower head which is highly seasonal dependent. This €150,000 project will develop a method of lutein production from an alternative source to help meet the growing global demand.

EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said: “The funding announced today will help turn ideas into innovation. The ERC Proof of Concept grants encourage a new type of thinking amongst scientists, backing them to make the most of their blue sky research. This mindset will help European recovery and improve our quality of life.”

ERC President Professor Jean- Pierre Bourguignon commented: "I am delighted to see such pioneering projects in the latest Proof of Concept competition, selected through a fine-tuned peer review process. This system is one of the ERC trademarks, which has gained high respect in the scientific community. A continued increase in demand for these grants illustrates the interest of scientists in exploring possible extensions of their research. This scheme is most welcome as it helps push the best fundamental research towards the market. In my view, it is a truly original path taken by Europe to prompt innovation."

In July 2011, Prof John Nolan and the MPRG were awarded €1,493,342 by the ERC for their project entitled “CREST (Central Retinal Enrichment Supplementation Trials): Macular Pigment and its impact on vision and blindness”. This ground-breaking study will advance understanding of the protective role of macular pigment, and potentially improve normal vision and prevent or delay blindness due to AMD.

Prof Nolan remains the only researcher in an Irish Institute of Technology to win ERC funding. Other winners of the Proof of Concept funding are Prof Frederic Dias and Dr Debra Laefer from University College Dubline and Prof Valeria Nicolosi from Trinity College Dublin.

In this call, a total of 67 grants of up to €150,000 have now been awarded to 67 researchers who already hold ERC grants, of which the final 34 were made public today (the first 33 grants were announced in September 2013). In this second round of funding, grants go to researchers in 13 countries across the European Research Area: the Netherlands (5), Germany (4), the United Kingdom (4), Ireland (3), Israel (3), Spain (3), Switzerland (3), Belgium (2), France (2), Sweden (2), Denmark (1), Finland (1) and Italy (1).

The next call for proposals 'Proof of Concept' 2014– is currently open (to ERC grant holders) with a first deadline of 1 April 2014.

For more information on the Macular Pigment Research group, or to volunteer for one of the research group’s clinical trials, visit www.wit.ie/mprg.

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