A total of €5 million in funding was awarded to 50 research projects as part of the programmes
The Irish Research Council (IRC) has announced an investment of €5 million in 50 research projects under their Enterprise Partnership Schemes.
Three researchers from South East Technological University (SETU) have been awarded funding to pursue research projects including two Enterprise Partnership Postgraduate scholarships and one Enterprise Partnership Scheme Postdoctoral fellowship.
The Enterprise Partnership Schemes Postgraduate and Postdoctoral strands provide researchers with the opportunity to pursue research in collaboration with enterprise while based at an eligible higher education or research-performing institution. The Employment-Based Postgraduate Programme enables researchers to pursue research in collaboration with a higher education institution while based in, and employed by, their employment partner.
The successful recipients of the Enterprise Partnership Postgraduate scholarships are Grace Maher and Samirah Blaau. While Madhuri Dandamudi was awarded an Enterprise Partnership Scheme Postdoctoral fellowship.
Dr Geraldine Canny, SETU Head of Research, congratulated the awardees stating that: “Increasing our postgraduate and postdoctoral researcher numbers is a key objective to augment SETU’s research and innovation capacity and footprint. These researchers will conduct innovative, relevant and impactful research, in collaboration with industry and enterprise. The training programmes offered at SETU will ensure they are highly employable.”
About the projects
The potential of heritage wheat as a crop for organic cultivation is the title of Grace Maher’s research project, supervised by Dr Stephen Whelan, Wexford Campus, and in collaboration with enterprise partner National Organic Training Skillnet.
The aim of the research is to investigate the potential of heritage wheat as a crop for organic cultivation, and its suitability for commercial use in bakeries. The research includes field trials growing heritage wheat varieties on three different organic farms and evaluating their suitability in terms of quality, baking specifications and nutritional composition.
In Ireland very little wheat is grown for human consumption as the majority is grown for animal feed. In terms of food security and self-sufficiency we should be growing more wheat suitable for milling. Many artisan bakers are keen to use more Irish grown flour and there are organic farmers out there who would like to explore the possibility of growing wheat for that market. Securing this funding from the Irish Research Council is vital in order to conduct the research, and hopefully it will have multiple benefits including bringing farmers and bakers together to develop a market for Irish flour grown from heritage grains.
Development and optimisation of DNA tools for the conservation and management of the European otter (Lutra lutra) and American mink (Neovision vision) is the title of Samirah Blaau’s research project supervised by Dr Samuel Browett, Department of Science, in collaboration with enterprise partner National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht.
The European otter (Lutra lutra) and its habitat are protected across Europe under the European Habitats Directive (EHD), and yet remain threatened due to anthropogenic factors. For conservation purposes, DNA obtained from animal faeces provides detailed genetic information on the status of animal populations such as relatedness, sex, movement and diet. However, success rates for getting this information from otters is poor, with previous genetic studies reporting success rates as low as 7%. There is thus an urgent need for the development of a non-invasive monitoring method that ensures a high yield and sufficient quality DNA for population genetic analysis of otters. This project aims to develop an optimised non-invasive sampling protocol to obtain high quality DNA to genetically assess the condition of otters in the Lough Carra (Co. Mayo) catchment, which is part of the EU LIFE Programme and a Nature 2000 site. In addition, this method will be adapted to survey invasive American mink (Neovison vison) populations. This project can provide genetic data vital to the conservation of the native European otter and management of the invasive American mink in the Lough Carra catchment, which is part of the EU LIFE Programme and one of its Nature 2000 sites. The optimised protocol developed from this project will act as a standardised method to survey otters (and other mustelids) across Europe. The NPWS will use data from this study to improve Irish otter population estimates and mink management plans as part of their mandated reporting commitments under the EHD.
Protecting the vision of preterm infants: Developing new therapeutic strategies for retinopathy of prematurity is the title of Madhuri Dandamudi’s project, supervised by Dr Laurence Fitzhenry, Department of Science, in collaboration with enterprise partner Fighting Blindness.
Diseases of the posterior segment of the eye, such as, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) diabetic retinopathy, and macular edema are the most common causes of vision loss. Such diseases are rapidly increasing, partly due to an ageing population. The eye is perfectly designed for protection from foreign bodies, with a range of physiological barriers. It is these barriers, as well as its complex structure that makes it so challenging to treat these diseases. The currently available treatment is through intravitreal injections of anti-VEGF (Vascular endothelial growth factor) agents, where the injection is given directly into the vitreous of the eye. These injections are associated with serious side effects such as retinal detachment, retinal haemorrhage, etc. Together with an increased financial burden, this treatment leads to poor patient compliance, with an estimated 1 in 4 patients not returning for follow up treatment.
As such, there is a clear unmet clinical need for the evolution of new and improved drug delivery strategies for the treatment of AMD and other similar posterior segment diseases. The project aims to develop an efficient nano-system using materials that are safe for the human body using a combination of literature search and experimental research. The nanoparticles encapsulating the novel combination of a corticosteroid and natural antioxidant (which helps in treating the disease and additionally strengthens the retina) was successfully developed. This combination of drugs proved to be effective on ocular cell lines. The successful nanoparticles will be used to develop non-invasive eye drops leading to improved quality of life for people living with these conditions.