Major part of €104m package to be used to scale-up research on neurological diseases in Ireland

Minister for Agriculture declines to comment on investigation of Science Foundation Ireland chief executive Prof Philip Nolan

Scaled-up funding for brain research in Ireland will build upon breakthroughs on treating and managing epilepsy and motor neuron disease, and expand work on other neurological diseases, according to Dublin-based researchers.

The FutureNeuro facility based at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland is to receive a major portion of €104 million in funds from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) announced on Tuesday.

The other centres allocated funding are the BiOrbic Bioeconomy SFI Research Centre in UCD; I-Form SFI Research Centre for Advanced Manufacturing in UCD; and VistaMilk SFI Research Centre based at Teagasc’s facility in Moorepark, Co Cork. The investment will support more that 600 researchers.

FutureNeuro director Prof David Henshall said there was a desperate need for new treatments and enhancements in diagnosing and managing patients across all brain diseases. FutureNeuro had built “phenomenal expertise” in epilepsy and motor neuron disease. In its next phase “we’re able to apply some of the discoveries, the learnings, that we made on those diseases to other disease areas”.

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The funding would enable them to do more research on multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and on genetic causes of brain diseases. “These are often conditions that emerge early in childhood, and can have devastating impacts on child development.”

The investment will have a transformative impact on I-Form, its director Denis Dowling said.

Digital tools could reduce energy and material usage “and in the longer term can improve the performance of the products that are made”.

There was an increasing shortage of raw materials in advanced economies, Prof Dowling added. “So we have to be very smart how we use these materials, how we minimise our use, and at the end of our product life how we get them back and reuse them again.”

BioOrbic director Kevin O’Connor said their research was enabling the creation of a sustainable economy. “The bioeconomy is where the Irish economy is going to go; the fossil economy is going to disappear.”

VistaMilk director Donagh Berry said their funds would be divided between basic research in providing long-term solutions and applied research benefiting farmers and food processors more immediately. “A lot of our research is focusing on climate solutions. We all acknowledge the 25 per reduction in carbon expected by 2030. But we’re also looking at technologies that are going to bring us to 2050 once we’ve exhausted those technologies by 2030.”

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue, who announced the funding, declined to comment on an investigation into misconduct allegations made by senior staff against SFI director general Prof Philip Nolan, on the basis of “a process [is] under way. It’s just not something I can comment on today.”

The allegations have been denied by Prof Nolan, who is due to take over an expanded national research agency, Research Ireland; an amalgamation of SFI and the Irish Research Council.

Asked if the controversy was undermining public confidence in the SFI, a State agency funded by €200 million annually with taxpayers’ money, he said the dynamism and innovation within the organisation was evident from research being showcased at the event in the Mansion House. “We look forward to that continuing,” he added. The new funding was an endorsement of the SFI approach to research with a high degree of collaboration across third-level institutions, State agencies and industry, with four exemplar projects getting backing on this occasion.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Patrick O’Donovan was not able to attend the event because of the death of his mother.

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