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DCU world class “early-warning” research on cancer, diabetes and heart disease gets €22.5m boost


Revolutionary new self-diagnostic devices to provide early warning of deadly and debilitating illnesses like cancer, diabetes and heart disease are the aim of a €22.5m Science Foundation Ireland research facility to be established at Dublin City University.

The Biomedical Diagnostics Institute will carry out cutting-edge research to develop this range of next-generation biomedical devices that will directly affect the quality of people’s lives worldwide over the next decades.

SFI will provide funding of €16.5m - the largest SFI funding ever granted in this kind of project - and six industrial partners will provide a further €6m through a scientific collaboration, positioning Ireland to make a major breakthrough in the €20 billion global diagnostics market.

The diagnostic devices and sensors will aim to detect minute concentrations of disease related molecules in biological samples like blood, saliva, and breath.

The programme led by DCU Professor Brian MacCraith will include top research scientists from Dublin City University, the Royal College of Surgeons, National University of Ireland, Galway and University College Cork.

They will use novel “markers” for human disease that can be detected by special consumer home-testing devices “well in advance of the onset of clinical symptoms,” says Professor MacCraith. “All the elements for a successful research environment have been put together. An exciting blend of scientists, teams, and industrial partners lends itself to a high probability of success.”

“Ultimately, the combined scientific challenge lies primarily in creating reliable, miniaturised systems in which the presence of very low concentrations of disease–related molecules in a sample of blood, urine, sweat, saliva and breath, can be detected with exquisite sensitivity, ” he added.

Launching the new research centre, the Minister for Enterprise and Employment Micheal Martin said: “These devices will detect life–threatening events long before a critical stage is reached. They will allow chronic diseases to be controlled more effectively, thereby reducing hospital stays and saving lives. In many cases, the devices will be linked via advanced communications technologies to monitoring services which will provide speedy expert assessment.”

The Medical and Device and Diagnostics sector represents a vibrant growth area within the Irish economy already, with over 40 companies in the field, including 13 of the top 25 medical device and diagnostics companies in the world. The sector now employs 22,000 and has been highlighted as of the areas in which Ireland can grow significantly.

At the launch, Dr William C Harris, Director General of SFI said this initiative would have far- reaching implications for the Irish economy. “The medical device and diagnostics sector represents a vibrant growth area – one in which Ireland can develop a position of competitive strength and critical mass.”

More than 50 scientists will be involved in the programme, the majority based at DCU with an additional 10 from the industrial partners.

There are five core scientific programmes led by three DCU Professors, Brian MacCraith, Robert Forster, and Richard O Kennedy, Professor Dermot Kenny of RCSI, and Professor Luke Lee from UC Berkley who will carry out an SFI funded research Professorship at DCU over the next five years.

The research will focus on the use of high sensitivity biochips for cancer detection and cardiac “wellness” as well as novel (blood) coagulation monitoring systems. This critical research programme has six industrial partners, Becton Dickinson and Company, Hospira Inc, Inverness Medical Innovations Inc, Analog Devices Incorporated, Amic AB and Enfer Technology Limited.

In 2004 Professor MacCraith’s research group won €5.6m from SFI to establish the initial team and carry out development work. Today’s announcement is for €16.5m from SFI initially, with the potential of further substantial additional SFI funding.

During the initial phase Professor MacCraith’s team has already made substantial progress giving Ireland a recognised leading role in sensor research. A new set of Intellectual Property principles has been developed to cover the commercialisation of discoveries. The new approach is based on an “inventor owns” model, with arrangements for shared discoveries, and a model which incentivises all parties.

Professor MacCraith says the IP principles fully protect DCU and partner interests as well the interests of Irish taxpayers who are ultimately providing most funding for the new centre.

Change in the way clinical services are delivered and in laboratory services as well as better-informed patients have resulted in a move to patient-centred care. These factors and pressure on costs have brought about a greater emphasis on primary care and reduced focus on hospitals to deliver clinical care.

In the longer term, the proposed research programme will lead to miniaturised devices that can be inserted inside the body for long periods to provide important information about the patient’s well-being using advanced e-health communications technology.

Another emerging area is the field of personalised medicine with tailored medical therapies devised after specific diagnosis of the genetic variation of the patient. The centre programme also includes key educational and outreach developments from primary to third level with health starter programmes for children, second level teacher and student internships, special undergraduate courses and a new postgraduate MSc in diagnostics.

Shane Kenny | alfa
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