Thursday 4th November 2021 – Science Foundation Ireland today announced the winners of the prestigious 2021 Science Foundation Ireland Awards which recognise key leaders in Irish research at its annual Science Summit.
In advance of Science Week, the Summit with the theme Creating Our Future takes place virtually for the second year running allowing members of Ireland’s research community to come together online to discuss challenges and celebrate the significant contributions made over the past year.
Acknowledging the award winners Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, said:
The annual SFI Science Awards is an opportunity to recognise some of the very best achievements of our research community. I want to congratulate the award winners on their significant achievements, as well as their dedication and determination, in what has been another eventful and challenging year for our research community. I am confident that their success will be a source of inspiration to their peers and, more importantly, to the next generation of researchers in Ireland. I would particularly like to congratulate Prof William Gallagher as our 2021 SFI Researcher of the Year. At Science Foundation Ireland we very pleased to see the superb quality of research that our funding enables. By working closely together, the Irish research community continues to be impactful, inspirational and world-leading.”
This year there are eight categories in total:
SFI Researcher of the Year 2021
Recipient: Professor William Gallagher, University College Dublin & Conway Fellow, UCD Conway Institute
Commenting on receiving the Award Professor William Gallagher stated: “I am greatly honoured to receive this prestigious award. I am indebted to the various members of my research group, both past and present, along with other colleagues in academia and industry across the world that I have had the great pleasure to collaborate with. One in two people in Ireland will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime. Indeed, practically every family in the country is being or has been affected in some way by this complex collection of diseases, including my own. Our cancer research work has been focused on taking new discoveries from the laboratory bench and bringing them closer to clinical implementation. I would like to especially acknowledge the patients which have contributed their precious clinical samples for analysis, SFI and other funders, UCD for providing a rich environment for research and innovation and my family, particularly my wife Catherine, for their tireless support.”
Professor William Gallagher is a Full Professor of Cancer Biology at University College Dublin (UCD) and Deputy Director of Precision Oncology Ireland, a large-scale SFI Strategic Partnership Programme involving five academic institutions, six cancer charities (including the Irish Cancer Society) and eight companies (www.precisiononcology.ie). He is currently leading OPTi-PREDICT, an SFI Investigator Programme focused on identification and validation of prognostic biomarkers for early-stage breast and prostate cancer. From 2016-2021, Professor Gallagher was Director of the UCD Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research, one of Ireland’s largest biomedical research facilities. From 2013-2019, he was the Director of BREAST-PREDICT, which was the first Irish Cancer Society Collaborative Cancer Research Centre (CCRC) to be funded (www.breastpredict.com). This country wide CCRC, which was supported to the level of 7.5 million euro and involved six academic institutions, as well as Cancer Trials Ireland. From 2009-2014, Prof. Gallagher was also a co-PI and Deputy Co-ordinator of a major SFI-funded Strategic Research Cluster, Molecular Therapeutics of Cancer. He has co-ordinated three Marie Curie Industry Academia Partnerships and Pathways (IAPPs) projects under FP7, namely TARGET-MELANOMA, FAST-PATH and SYS-MEL. Prof. Gallagher was also co-ordinator of a large-scale, multi-million euro, FP7 collaborative project, entitled RATHER. Prof. Gallagher has received numerous awards for his research and innovation achievements in the oncology arena, including the NovaUCD 2011 Innovation Award, the inaugural Irish Association for Cancer Research Medal in 2017 and the SFI Entrepreneurship Award in 2019. He has filed/been awarded multiple patents and has acted as consultant for a wide variety of industrial parties within the biomedical sphere. Prof. Gallagher has co-founded two molecular diagnostics companies, OncoMark Ltd. and OncoAssure Ltd., the former being acquired earlier this year. Currently, Prof. Gallagher is a primary driving force behind the All-Island Cancer Research Institute (AICRI), which is creating an overarching framework for cancer research across the entire island of Ireland (@AICRIproject).
SFI Outstanding Contribution to STEM Communication Award 2021
Recipient: Presented to IUA and THEA in recognition of the science communication undertaken by the Research Community who informed the general public on all aspects of COVID-19 though sustained engagement and evidenced based communication on local and national media, social media and discussions at various levels in our society.
SFI Early Career Researcher of the Year 2021
Recipient: Dr Dara Stanley, University College Dublin
Dr Dara Stanley is an Assistant Professor in Applied Entomology in the School of Agriculture and Food Science at UCD. Dara graduated from Trinity College Dublin with a BA Mod (2008) and PhD (2013) in Botany, before conducting postdoctoral research at Royal Holloway University of London and University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. She joined NUI Galway as a Lecturer in Plant Ecology in 2016, before moving to UCD in 2018. As an ecologist, she currently leads a research team investigating questions around plant and pollinator ecology, conservation, contribution to crop production, public perceptions, and interactions with pesticide use and climate. She was the first to demonstrate that low, field-realistic levels of pesticide found in the nectar and pollen of crops can affect the pollination services provided by bumblebees to plants, which was published in Nature in 2015. She currently holds an SFI Career Development Award for the SUSPOLL project (Sustainable pollination in a changing world), and co-ordinates the large scale DAFM funded PROTECTS project (Protecting terrestrial ecosystems through sustainable pesticide use). Her work has been published in Nature, PNAS, Nature Communications and Current Biology, and she has received early career researcher awards from both the Royal Entomological Society and the British Ecological Society. She is also committed to science communication and public engagement with science and has co-organised Soapbox Science in Ireland since 2017.
SFI Industry Partnership Award 2021
Recipient: Professor Garry Duffy, NUI Galway in partnership with Boston Scientific
Garry Duffy is a Professor of Anatomy and Regenerative Medicine and the Vice Dean for Research and Graduate Studies in the College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences at NUI Galway. He leads the Duffy Lab within Anatomy and the School of Medicine at NUIG and is a funded investigator in CÚRAM - the SFI Centre for Medical Devices SFI research and AMBER - the SFI centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering research. He has a longstanding collaboration with Boston Scientific through leading 3 EU consortia projects (AMCARE, DRIVE and DELIVER) over the last 8 years funded by FP7 and Horizon 2020 which brought together over 100 researchers to work on developing cell and medical device-based therapies for chronic diseases. The industry-academia collaboration is growing from strength to strength with continued student and staff exchange as well as impactful new solutions being translated to the bedside through rigorous testing. In 2016, he completed an SFI funded Industry Fellowship with the Corporate Research team and Dr Aiden Flanagan at Boston Scientific. As part of that team, he contributed to new intellectual property which was recognised by an internal IMAGINEIF innovation award. This exposure to the industrial mindset early in his academic career gave him the confidence to lead the development device-based solutions for disease. He is a co-founder of 1 spin-out (www.feeltect.com) and 2 early-stage campus companies and a co-inventor on technology supporting one other.
SFI Best International Engagement Award 2021
Recipient: Professor Barry O’Sullivan, University College Cork
Barry O’Sullivan is a full professor at the School of Computer Science & IT at University College Cork. He is the founding director of the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics at UCC, director of the SFI Centre for Research Training in AI, and principal investigator at the Confirm SFI Research Centre for Smart Manufacturing. He is a previous recipient of the SFI Researcher of the Year Award (2016).
Professor O'Sullivan works in the fields of artificial intelligence, constraint programming, prescriptive analytics (operations research), ethics, and public policy. He frequently contributes to global Track II diplomacy efforts related to AI. He is a co-founder of Stimul.ai.
Professor O’Sullivan served as Vice Chair of the European Commission High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence from 2018-2020. The HLEG-AI defined Europe’s approach to Trustworthy AI. Professor O'Sullivan is a Fellow and a past President of the European AI Association, and a current member of the Executive Council of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. He chairs the Advisory Board of the GRACE project at Europol, and advises the Leuven.ai institute at KULeuven (Belgium) and the Computational Sustainability Network (USA).
In 2019 Professor O’Sullivan was appointed by Ireland’s Minister for Health to the Health Research Consent Declaration Committee. In 2020 he was appointed Chair of the Oversight Board of Health Data Research UK (North), led by the University of Liverpool. In 2021 he was appointed by the Minister for Health as Chair of the National Research Ethics Committee for Medical Devices.
SFI Commercialisation Award 2021
Recipient: Dr Elaine Spain and Dr Kellie Adamson, Novus Diagnostics Ltd
Dr. Elaine Spain, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer at Novus Diagnostics Ltd., holds a PhD in Physical Inorganic Chemistry from Dublin City University with >10years ultrasensitive electrochemical sensor expertise.
Dr. Kellie Adamson, Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer at Novus Diagnostics Ltd., holds a PhD in Diagnostics & Therapeutics from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland with >10years biomaterials expertise.
With 6 years research and >1.4M grant funding Elaine and Kellie co-invented a patent pending technology which combines novel nanotextured surfaces, electrochemical sensing and centrifugal microfluidics. In 2019, Elaine and Kellie co-founded Novus Diagnostics Ltd. to commercialise the technology as a first product, SepTec, a diagnostic platform that detects sepsis causing pathogens from whole blood in minutes instead of days. SepTec, will help tackle the global challenge of sepsis which kills >11 million people every year; more than breast cancer, prostate cancer and AIDS combined.
The team have won multiple societal impact, deep tech and innovation awards including the U.S. National Academy of Medicine’s Healthy Longevity Catalyst Award, SFI’s Future innovator Showcase “Futurescope Pitch Winner”, MedFIT’s "Most innovative Start-up in Europe", and Enterprise Ireland’s Big Ideas “One to Watch Award”. In 2020 Novus was awarded a place on the Medtech innovator accelerator and €50k EIT headstart prize.
In October 2020, Novus Diagnostics was the only Irish company (0.9% Success rate) to be awarded €7.4M grant and equity blended financing from the European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator pilot which is currently funding critical product design, development and commercialisation activities.
SFI Mentorship Award 2021
Recipient: Professor Helen Roche, Director UCD Conway Institute, Full Professor of Nutrition / Nutrigenomics, UCD Conway Institute & UCD Institute of Food & Health, University College Dublin
Helen trained in Human Nutrition, Dietetics and Molecular Nutrition. Her Nutrigenomics team focus on Precision Nutrition – specifically the impact of diet on metabolism and inflammation, in obesity, type 2 diabetes (T2D), non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and obesity related cancer. Nutrigenomics uses state-of-the-art 'omics' to investigate the molecular effects of diet on health – to provide hard evidence. Whilst nutrition plays a critical role in health and disease, too often the mechanistic basis is lacking – we seek to fill that evidence gap.
Her recent SFI Investigator Award entitled ‘Diet, Immune Training and Metabolism’ in collaboration with Dr Fred Sheedy and Prof Suzanne Norris (TCD) determines the impact of diet and metabolism on Innate Immune responses in NAFLD. She is co-PI in several multidisciplinary programmes. ‘ImmunoMet’ addresses interactions between nutritional status, metabolic health and the gut microbiome, in collaboration with Prof Paul O’Toole (UCC / Microbiome Ireland). In Precision Oncology Ireland Roche’s team are determining if/how the ‘dietary environment’ potentiates obesity related cancer risk, with Prof Jacinta O’Sullivan (TCD) and Dr David Gomez-Matallanas (Systems Biology Ireland, UCD).
Helen has supervised more than 30 PhD scientists and a similar number of post-doctoral researchers. As Conway Director a key personal remit has been to foster Emerging Investigator success, in UCD facilitating recent Ad Astra appointee achievement.
In Europe, Prof Roche has led several initiatives relating to Food, Nutrition and Health. She chaired the Scientific Advisory Board of the European Healthy Life Healthy Diet Joint Programming Initiative (2015-2019). Advises UK and US grant agencies, including Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and UK Nutrition Research Partnership. She is a board member of the RCSI Hospital Group. Helen is also Visiting Professor of Nutrition at Queen’s University Belfast.
SFI Research Image of the Year Award 2021
Image title: Colloform Sphalerite
Recipient: Aileen Doran, PhD / Postdoctoral Researcher in Economic Geochemistry, iCRAG SFI Research Centre in Applied Geosciences & School of Earth Sciences, University College Dublin
An example of colloform sphalerite from the Lisheen deposit, southern Ireland. Lisheen mine (closed in 2015) was Irelands second-largest known base metal deposit, and it was mined for zinc and lead. Sphalerite is a common ore mineral for zinc, which is a valuable metal required for many green technologies (e.g. wind turbines, solar panels). Ireland is currently one of Europe’s top suppliers of zinc. Often, sphalerite can display textures such as these (colloform growth), with variations in colour generally linked to trace element variations. Image was taken using a transmitted light microscope at UCD School of Earth Sciences. Scale included.