Tuesday 26 September, Cork, Ireland: Professor Stefan Andersson-Engels has been awarded €5.3 million through the SFI Research Professorship Programme, which will underpin the Biophotonics Group at Tyndall National Institute for the next five years. The funding will be used to advance the fundamental understanding of biophotonics science, the application of light-based technologies to life sciences and medicine.

This award will foster the development of new diagnostic and guidance tools to meet proven clinical needs. These will be implemented in the clinical setting of neonatology, neurosurgery, orthopaedics, and the GI tract, as well as oral cancer screening, and will be guided by 20 clinical and pre-clinical collaborators. The award aims to provide better healthcare and outcomes for patients, and to grow economic activity through the commercialisation of the resulting technologies. This will be achieved through partnerships with existing MedTech companies.

Principal Investigator at the IPIC SFI Research Centre for Photonics, Prof Andersson-Engels and his team have already created two start-up companies, one of which was in partnership with the National Cancer Centre in the Netherlands. The team has also transferred technologies to companies in the areas of cancer boundary detection and the monitoring of babies during childbirth.

The objective of Prof Andersson-Engels’ project is to use the unique properties of light, a safe, non-invasive method for humans that can accurately detect specific cells, for diagnostic purposes such as gastrointestinal diagnostics for malignancies and inflammatory bowel diseases, in-vivo oral cancer delineation and diagnosis. As light can only penetrate short distances into tissue, Prof Andersson-Engels will seek to address this challenge, and aim to facilitate light-based diagnostics and therapy deep inside the body, permitting use for many more diseases.  

Commenting on the award, Prof Andersson-Engels said: “I am delighted to be continuing our important work with the talented team across Tyndall, UCC, and IPIC. With the medical devices sector in Ireland recognised as one of the five emerging global hubs, it is an exciting time for the Biophotonics Group to forge close collaborations with companies, clinicians and research centres for the faster development and deployment of more accurate, less invasive diagnostic treatment methods for cancer and other diseases.”

Prof Andersson-Engels has an impressive track record, receiving several prizes for his research achievements, and his work on the development and commercialisation of technology has been critical to ensuring that patients will benefit from the results of scientific research. His pioneering work in the area of ALA-PDT (Photodynamic therapy) using the topical application of aminolevulinic acid (ALA), a photosensitizing agent for the treatment of non–melanoma skin cancer is currently one of the first lines of treatment at most skin cancer clinics around the world.

Welcoming the announcement, Deputy Director General of Science Foundation Ireland, Dr Ciarán Seoighe, said: “Recruiting and retaining world-leading scientific talent to Ireland is a key priority for SFI in partnership with our higher education institutions. Prof Andersson-Engels’ exceptional international track record will help to drive Ireland’s position at the forefront of photonics research. His work will contribute to improving the health and wellbeing of people by the invention and application of new technologies, as well as boosting industry engagement. We wish him every success with his research programme."

Surgical Oncologist, Head of Medical Affairs and Research, Centre for Early Cancer Detection at The Netherlands Cancer Institute, Professor Theo Ruers said: “We at The Netherlands Cancer Institute, have established a very strong and fruitful collaboration with the Biophotonics@Tyndall team over the last few years throughout the first phase of the Professorship Award. Our complementary skill sets have led to a spin-off company, multiple publications, and patents as well as collectively attracting EU and Health Holland funding. This collaboration is a win-win for both parties, and we expect the coming phase to be even more productive and impactful.”

Director of IPIC, the SFI Research Centre for Photonics, Professor Paul Townsend concluded: “This award further strengthens IPIC’s outstanding research team by providing the scientific vision and knowledge to steer existing photonic device integration towards innovative new applications in the biomedical areas. Furthermore, by continuing this world-class biophotonics research programme at IPIC and Tyndall, we can underpin strong collaborative partnerships with other Science Foundation Ireland Research Centres through projects that will present huge opportunities at a global level and again raise Ireland’s research credentials in the biomedical space.”