Shared Island Funding awarded to medical device coating project

Researchers at NUI Galway and Queen’s University Belfast are investigating how attaching sugar molecules to plastics could help prevent and detect bacterial infections in medical devices (e.g. urinary catheters, endotracheal tubes). Certain sugar molecules can interact selectively with bacterial proteins, and the researchers plan to harness these interaction to make fluorescent materials which glow at first, darkening when they become compromised by bacteria, allowing clinicians to react faster to potential infections before they become a serious risk to patient health. Coating medical devices with these plastics would result in “smart” devices, giving doctors and nurses tools to reduce risks of infection, bring down healthcare costs and decrease the need for antibiotic use in hospitals.

Early-career researchers Dr Joseph Byrne (NUIG) and Dr Matthew Wylie (QUB) have been awarded €193,000 to spearhead the SUGARCOAT project, developing coatings for medical devices using polymers containing sugar molecules, with the support of senior colleagues Prof Abhay Pandit, Director of CÚRAM Centre for Medical Device Research, and Prof Colin McCoy, Head of School of Pharmacy in QUB. The project will bring together complementary expertise from chemistry, pharmaceutical materials science and medical device research to tackle the growing  challenge of hospital-acquired infections.

This project is part of the North-South Research Programme, announced by An Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD on 2 March 2022, as part of the Shared Island Fund. [Government Press Release]

Hospital-acquired infections are a major health concern for patients, and also incur significant expense to health systems across the island of Ireland, requiring longer hospital stays and antibiotic use. Patients requiring medical devices are at greater risk, often taking medicines that suppress their immune system making their bodies more susceptible to infection. Infections by dangerous bacteria, such as E. coli and P. aeruginosa have risen significantly in recent years, with medical device-associated infections account for up to half of healthcare-associated infections. Immunocompromised people and people with cystic fibrosis (CF) are particularly affected; Ireland, North and South have among the highest per capita CF incidence.

The rise of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria is an urgent problem highlighted by the World Health Organisation in recent years, decreasing the effectiveness of existing antiobiotics. It is estimated that across EU/EEA countries, 33,000 deaths per year in EU/EEA countries are associated with antimicrobial resistance, costing more than €1bn to health services. This project hopes to minimise the impact of this challenge by producing innovative device coatings, which will prevent or detect bacterial build-up on widely-used medical devices before they lead to infection in a patient.

Speaking about the funding award, Dr Joseph Byrne, Honorary Research Lecturer in the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, NUI Galway, said

“Prevention of bacterial infections is key to fighting the challenge of antimicrobial resistance and if this isn’t possible, then early detection through innovative sensing materials, would allow devices to be removed and replaced by healthcare professionals before infection becomes a more serious risk to patient health. Hospital-acquired bacterial infections are a major issue across the entire island of Ireland, and I’m excited to forge a new and lasting relationship with Matthew, Colin and their team in Belfast to deliver meaningful new tools in fighting this challenge.”

“My work in this area is largely fundamental chemistry research, and this funding is a great opportunity will allow me to partner with more patient-facing researchers and healthcare stakeholders to increase our societal impact. Building all-island collaborations through this Scheme will help us to unlock Ireland’s potential for innovation and cutting-edge science.”

Dr Matthew Wylie, Lecturer in Pharmaceutical Materials Science in Queens University Belfast added:

“We are delighted to receive this funding from the Shared Island Fund. The partnership between NUIG and QUB will not only support two early career researchers but will open up opportunities for collaboration with industry and clinicians in both the North and South of Ireland. Galway is home to a number of major medical device companies. We are excited to have the opportunity to pursue clinical translation of cutting-edge research developed right here in Ireland.

“The team at QUB have vast experience collaborating with medical device companies across the UK and Ireland and working closely with clinicians in Belfast. At the start of the project we will assemble a committee of key stakeholders building a consensus, North and South, to steer development of this innovative sensing technology to address antimicrobial resistance.”

About Shared Island Fund

Last year, €40m was allocated from the Shared Island Fund over five years for the North-South Research programme. This significant development is aimed at supporting the deepening of links between higher education institutions, researchers and research communities on the island of Ireland, delivering all-island approaches to research and innovation.

Announcing the awards, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, said: “These awards will support the Government’s Shared Island vision by bringing researchers from all corners of the island together to work on pioneering projects over the next four years, and is not only strengthening existing relationships, but is fostering new research partnerships.

“I’m particularly impressed by the high level of interest and the calibre of the proposals, and I am confident that these cross-border collaborations will further strengthen the island’s reputation for innovation and research excellence”.

Sixty-two collaborative research projects between academics and institutions in Ireland and in Northern Ireland were awarded a total of €37.3 million under the first funding call from the North-South Research Programme, which is a collaborative scheme funded through the Government’s Shared Island Fund. It is being administered by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) on behalf of the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

Announcement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eT0sV2TjrAo

Chemistry talks now supported on ResearchSeminars

Since working on Project Anansi as part of the Lindau Sciathon event, I’ve been very interested in the prospect of implementing a platform that would allow chemists to share open access webinars, thus broadening their audience globally. See the previous posts [1 and 2] for more details on why. Anansi partnered with the team in MIT who had developed http://ResearchSeminars.org earlier in 2020 to expand their platform to support other disciplines (including Chemistry and Economics).

I worked together with @AnywhereChem in order to develop a list of sub-topics in chemistry, which are now listed on ResearchSeminars website. Please see below an email I have circulated asking people to consider adding content. The flyer is available here [PDF].


Make chemistry seminars and conferences accessible worldwide: ResearchSeminars.org

Dear colleagues

I would like to draw your attention to a new resource now available to chemists to both share and discover webinars, talks, conferences and more, which are happening online all around us: http://ResearchSeminars.org/info

This strange year with its lockdowns and travel restrictions has been very difficult, however one silver lining has been a golden age in online chemistry talks on every topic imaginable, available right at your desk. It has become clear that online research talks, seminars and conferences are here to stay in one form or another, even as many other aspects of our work return to normality. This will continue to benefit researchers and students, particularly those who are not based in big universities or large cities, including researchers in the developing world. However, it is still very challenging to keep up-to-date with all these interesting events with different hosts advertising in different ways, and making sure you don’t miss the most relevant talks.

ResearchSeminars.org can be a solution to that obstacle. Some mathematics researchers at MIT built this free site, which is available to all and has valuable search tools, such as filtering by topic and language. Thanks to our positive interactions with the founders, since September, the site is accepting Chemistry talks. This is in addition to its use to great effect by researchers in Physics, Maths, Biology, Economics and Earth Sciences, which were supported since earlier in 2020, now totalling thousands of talks. Adding listings is easy (requires a free account) and will amplify the possible audience of your events once chemists start using this resource in earnest. Making our seminars and events “open access” is a positive step and ought to be the default choice unless a speaker does not wish to (e.g. presenting unpublished results). I know from my experience of organising a seminar series during lockdown that many of our speakers welcomed the opportunity to invite guests and promote their talk more widely when given the option to share a link on Twitter.

During this year, Twitter has been a great resource for keeping up to date with online events. For nearly 6 months, @SuperScienceGrl kept an index of upcoming webinars in addition to an ongoing list of chemistry conferences. The Twitter account @AnywhereChem was set up in response to the glut of exciting talks online, in order to share them far and wide and make sure no one missed out. Many of us benefited from this increased publicity alerting us to relevant talks. It is not sustainable to rely on just a few individuals, however, to keep the entire community up to date. ResearchSeminars.org provides the opportunity for event organisers themselves to commit to posting their timetables in a central database, making it easier for others like @AnywhereChem to publicise further from there.

I am asking you to seriously consider adding any upcoming events you are organising to ResearchSeminars.org and give researchers around the world an opportunity to find out more about what is happening in your university, research group or organisation. If you are planning to attend an online event in the near future, please forward this email to the organiser and see if they will take part. And most importantly, check in to see if any events in your field are occurring soon. This is a great opportunity to open the doors of seminar halls around the world and to the benefit of all.

Please find attached a flyer highlighting the main points and advantages of this new platform. I encourage you to forward this further to your network and to get in touch if you have any questions.

Kind regards,
Dr Joseph Byrne, School of Chemistry, NUI Galway

[See press release from MIT about the initial launch of ResearchSeminars in May 2020 here]

Call for abstracts for ICI Online Postgrad Symposium

In light of many cancelled events this summer, postgraduate students have missed out on opportunities to share and discuss their research with others. The Institute of Chemistry of Ireland Postgraduate Chemistry Research Symposium has been launched in a bid to address that. Joe and Mark Kelada (ICI Young Chemists representatives) are co-chairing a committee of postgraduate volunteers from various Irish third-level institutes in organising this event, scheduled to take place on Wednesday 9 September 2020.

Abstracts for oral presentations, flash talks and poster presentations are invited before 26 August 2020. See more details at: http://iciPostgraduateResearchDay.wordpress.com.

Joe and Adele selected to attend Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting

Joe and our colleague Adele Gabba, both from NUI Galway’s School of Chemistry, have been selected to attend the prestigious meeting of Nobel Laureates and emerging scientists from around the world in 2021. The pair will represent Ireland at the 70th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting on the island of Lindau in Germany.

From the NUI Galway press release: Dr Byrne and Dr Gabba will join a selected group of 660 outstanding early-career scientists from 101 countries, who will meet with 68 Nobel Prize winners in the fields of chemistry, medicine and physiology, and physics. Selection to attend this week-long meeting offers a once-in-a-career opportunity to share their research and ideas with Nobel laureates and a wide network of future scientific leaders.

Dr Joseph Byrne is an Honorary Research Lecturer in the School of Chemistry, who is in the first year of a Science Foundation Ireland Starting Investigator Research Grant project, developing luminescent glycoconjugate materials for detection of bacterial infections.

Dr Adele Gabba recently graduated with a PhD in Chemistry and currently works as a research assistant in the group of Professor Paul Murphy, School of Chemistry at NUI Galway. She will begin a prestigious Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship in MIT in the coming months.

Dr Gabba and Dr Byrne were among six scientists nominated by the Irish Research Council (IRC), before going through a rigorous international selection process, through which only half of nominees were ultimately invited to attend. They will receive a grant from the Irish Research Council to enable them to attend the meeting, which takes place from 27 June-2 July 2021. The meeting was scheduled for this summer, but due to the outbreak of COVID-19, it has been postponed until 2021, while an interactive online programme of events will take place this year to fulfil the Lindau Foundation’s mission ‘Educate. Inspire. Connect.’

Joe said:

“This meeting is unique in putting the most ground-breaking scientists of recent decades and early-career researchers around the same tables for a week. With little-to-no distraction from the outside world, it is ideal for transferring ideas and sharing challenges between generations and countries as well as different disciplines. I am looking forward to building new relationships with other chemists, but also biochemists, physicists, medical scientists, who I could collaborate with to tackle challenging scientific questions of international relevance in the future.”

Adele said:

Dr Gabba said: “Being selected to attend a Nobel Laureate Meeting is a small life dream come true! I have been certainly looking forward with immense excitement for June, so I have to confess the news of the postponement for COVID-19 came along with a bit of disappointment. Despite my childlike eagerness, I think the organising committee took the right decision. I am sure all attendees will see that waiting and, most of all, the reason behind it, as an opportunity to reflect deeply on the importance of bringing together researchers with a different background in an interdisciplinary meeting. Problems that impact our society are mostly extremely complex, we will succeed in solving them only if we put our brains and best efforts together.”

Well done, Ian – and now the shutdown!

Congratulations to Ian Murphy on submitting the thesis for his undergraduate research project in the group. He was a great addition to the team and achieved far and beyond what was required. We’ll miss having him in the lab. Best of luck in your exams!

The team: Ian, Joe and Karolina

That said, we’ll miss having a lab at all. The end of the 4th year projects co-incided with the shutdown of non-COVID-19 related research as we all transition to working from home for the forseeable future, in order to flatten the curve of the pandemic in Ireland. Here’s a photo of the team, snapped after one of our last group meetings before the shutdown

Research groups around the world will be reducing their research activity a lot over the coming months, just like everyone else, but hopefully it will be worth it and will keep many people safe.