Dublin, Ireland, 25th January 2018 – President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, honoured the recipients of the SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Award at a special ceremony in Áras an Uachtaráin in Dublin today. Five awards, representing a €7 million investment, will also support the additional recruitment of 15 research positions. Research supported by the awards will examine novel drug targeting for the treatment of multiple sclerosis and obesity-related diseases, regenerative medicine, immunology, tissue engineering, protein engineering, and memory storage in amnesia.
A passionate political voice, poet and academic, President Higgins has been a long-standing advocate of inclusive citizenship and creativity, highlighting not only the positive contribution of science to society, but also the links between the creativity of artists and the innovation of scientists. Equally, the President has stressed the importance of placing scientific research in a clear social, cultural and ethical context, saying that the benefits of scientific advances should be spread as widely as possible.
The awardees of the SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Award are Dr Tomás Ryan, who was recruited from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to Trinity College Dublin (TCD); also based in TCD is Dr Lydia Lynch, recruited from Harvard University, USA; Dr Claire McCoy was recruited from the Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, Australia to the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI); Prof John Laffey has been recruited from St Michael's Hospital, Toronto, Canada to the National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway); and Dr Christina Kiel has been recruited from the Centre de Regulació Genòmica (CRG), Barcelona, to University College Dublin (UCD).
Congratulating the awardees, Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said “The President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Award is designed to attract to Ireland outstanding new and emerging research talent. In supporting these talented and innovative individuals, we are delighted to recognise early career researchers who have already displayed exceptional leadership potential at the frontiers of knowledge. The development of leadership skills in these researchers early in their careers is vital to ensure research and innovation in Ireland continues to progress. Our investment highlights the importance that Science Foundation Ireland places on supporting all stages of academic careers, and on the attraction and retention of star researchers.”
"Our investment highlights the importance that Science Foundation Ireland places on supporting all stages of academic careers, and on the attraction and retention of star researchers".
Dr Tomás Ryan’s research in Trinity College Dublin focuses on the storage of memory in the brain and has potential implications on the identification and retrieval of lost memories in cases of amnesia. Speaking at the event, Dr Ryan said, “This award enables me and my research team to engage in ambitious, blue skies research and experimentally address the most fundamental questions about the nature of memory storage in the brain. It has allowed me to recruit international researchers to Ireland, and to form a group that will compete globally in this highly exciting field. We intend to discover new insights into how memory works and make significant contributions to our understanding of the brain.”
Dr Lydia Lynch, also in Trinity College Dublin, is researching novel therapeutics for obesity-related diseases. She welcomed the award saying, “I am delighted to receive this prestigious President of Ireland Award from Science Foundation Ireland, which has allowed me to set up a state-of-the-art research programme in Ireland. This means I can continue to perform the research that was established in Harvard and train the next generation of young scientists in this frontier field of immunometabolism.”
Dr Christina Kiel in University College Dublin, whose research focuses on the structural analysis of signalling pathways and protein interaction networks relevant in human diseases, such as colon cancer and retinal degenerations, said “I am delighted to receive this award, which will enable me to recruit an interdisciplinary team of experimental and computational scientists to understand cellular signalling networks in colorectal cancer. The award will support my research in the field of cell signalling and protein engineering. The research will identify the network connections that are deranged by genetic mutation and then aim to exploit this aberrant connectivity to destroy cancer cells. Ultimately, this approach may provide better mechanism-driven diagnostics and treatments.”
The research of Dr Claire McCoy, based in the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, is focused on significantly advancing current therapeutic strategies for the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS), where Ireland has the highest global incidence. Speaking of her award, she said “Obtaining this SFI Future Research Leaders award is the highlight of my career to-date. Not only does it enable me to lead a growing research team, it will also significantly contribute to the cutting-edge research being conducted at RCSI. Most importantly, it helps to place Ireland at the forefront of multiple sclerosis research worldwide.”
Prof John Laffey, at the National University of Ireland Galway, is researching how cells restore function to the immune system in late sepsis, with the aim of developing novel ways to boost this effect. A non-antibiotic treatment for sepsis would save many lives and substantially reduce healthcare costs. He welcomed his award saying, “This Future Research Leaders award will enable me to relocate my research group to CÚRAM, the SFI Research Centre for Medical Devices, at NUI Galway. I will join a dynamic group of researchers with leading-edge expertise in regenerative medicine, immunology and tissue engineering. This world-class environment will enable the discovery of the potential for stem cells to enhance the response of the immune system to severe sepsis.”