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Press Release

Press release

Cultivating great research ideas for future health

12 April 2016

Four Irish researchers have secured €400,000 in Seed funding through the SFI-HRB-Wellcome Trust Biomedical Research Partnership to explore their own novel research ideas. These include a new instrument to monitor infant brain development, developing new models with potential to treat blood poisoning, understanding the link between gut bacteria and the central nervous system and establishing whether computerised neural networks can be used to comb genetic databases to identify genetic patterns in people with schizophrenia.

Introduced in 2015, the Seed Awards are once-off grants of up to £100,000 stg or euro equivalent, for up to two years. They enable many researchers to develop a novel research idea which could increase the chances of future funding applications.

Based in University College Cork (UCC), Dr Andriy Temko will design a novel low-cost instrument for monitoring infant brain development. Dr Temko says, ‘The development of a portable and easily accessible device to assess baby's brain functioning may revolutionize neuro-critical care of newborns worldwide, and particularly in resource limited settings of developing countries'.

Dr Dermot Cox in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) is developing more appropriate models to study blood poisoning in humans. At present, drugs treating blood poisoning show little hope for eradicating these infections however Dr Cox believes, that if we have better models to help understand the disease, we can then design better drugs to treat blood poisoning. He believes his work has the potential to revolutionise sepsis treatment by allowing us to better understand the cause of the disease. He adds, ‘The key to developing successful drug targets lies in truly understanding the cause of the disease’.  

Dr Dervla O’Malley’s team in UCC is focused on the complex relationship between gut bacteria and the central nervous system. Dr O’Malley says, ‘Research in this field is in its infancy but this project has enormous potential to help people with illnesses such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome which still has no identifiable cause.  Our research aims to examine whether the presence of different bacteria in our gut could be affecting our central nervous system and immune system in different ways. This could help us to better understand the causes of different gut diseases. Since September we have already generated exciting data which will be shared as an oral presentation at Experimental Biology 2016 in San Diego at the start of April’.

Speaking about the Seed Award scheme, Dr O’Malley adds, ‘Applying for the Seed Award was very straightforward, with a quick response and a short lag time to actually starting work’.

Dr Elizabeth Heron, Principal Investigator is working with Dr Carlos Pinto, Principal Analyst to exploit the large genetic datasets now available in order to train a computer network to recognise the genetic patterns of individuals with schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a serious psychiatric disorder that is known to be hereditary. Understanding the complex genetics of schizophrenia is an ongoing challenge.  The team will apply an artificial neural network of computer processors and which are modelled on the structure of animal brains to try and identify patterns. Dr Heron says ‘This is an exciting project and if successful, our method has the potential to assist in diagnosing schizophrenia and in identifying those who are at risk of developing the disorder’.  

Graham Love, Chief Executive at the Health Research Board says, ‘These are truly bold, innovative research ideas that can deliver better health or better care in the future’.

Professor Mark Ferguson Director General Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland welcomed the awards,

‘The SFI-HRB Wellcome Trust Biomedical Partnership recognises and funds outstanding scientists in the field of biomedical research.  Awards such as these will produce new knowledge which can help create improvements in the monitoring, treatment and management of our future health care, as well as creating future enterprise opportunities. I would like to congratulate the award recipients on their achievement through this highly competitive process’.

Researchers should note that the deadline for next round of Seed Award applications is 20 June 2016. For more information visit


For more information contact:

Gillian Markey, Communications Manager, Health Research Board
m + 353 87 2288514

Notes for editors

The Wellcome Trust, in partnership with Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Health Research Board (HRB), funds biomedical research in the Republic of Ireland under the auspices of the SFI-HRB-Wellcome Trust Biomedical Research Partnership. This initiative has been running since October 2010, and the partnership agreement has just been renewed by the funders until 2020.  Applicants based at eligible research bodies in the Republic of Ireland may apply for certain Wellcome Trust funding schemes and if successful will be funded 50% by the Wellcome Trust and the remaining 50% by the Health Research Board (HRB) and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. We support bright minds in science, the humanities and the social sciences, as well as education, public engagement and the application of research to medicine. Our investment portfolio gives us the independence to support such transformative work as the sequencing and understanding of the human genome, research that established front-line drugs for malaria, and Wellcome Collection, our free venue for the incurably curious that explores medicine, life and art.

The Health Research Board (HRB) is the lead agency in Ireland responsible for supporting and funding health research, information and evidence. We are motivated and inspired by our vision; Healthy people through excellent research and applied knowledge

Science Foundation Ireland funds oriented basic and applied research in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) which promotes and assists the development and competitiveness of industry, enterprise and employment in Ireland. The Foundation also promotes and supports the study of, education in and engagement with, STEM and promotes an awareness and understanding of the value of STEM to society and in particular to the growth of the economy.  See

#ScienceRising supporting Innovation 2020 – is a Science Foundation Ireland campaign that creates the connection for industry and individuals with science and innovation in Ireland.

Science Rising - – The Story

Ireland is a nation where curious minds live, learn and discover. Known as the land of famous writers, actors and musicians, Ireland is also home to esteemed inventors, explorers, scientists and leaders. Together we shape the future.  Science is part of our past, a past that is often overlooked, an immense part of our present and it is key to our success. There is endless potential still to be realised. The growing impact of Irish scientific achievement will make a difference in people’s lives, support industry investment, future proof our skill base and involve everyone in the potential of science and innovation. We will continue to question, imagine, collaborate, discover, answer and create. We will make a difference to Irish society and our economy.  More importantly, we will make a difference to humankind.

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