By Graham Gillespie
NUI Galway have secured €419,585 in funding from Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) for a research project which involves developing technology to help detect bacterial infections more quickly.
The research will be carried out by Dr Joseph Byrne and a PhD student, who Byrne will recruit himself. Work will begin in April with the funding supporting the project for four years.
This funding is part of the SFI’s Starting Investigator Research Grant scheme which has invested a total of €10.8 million euro to aid 20 researchers and 20 PHD students.
The proposed technology will help identify pathogenic bacteria, which in a medical setting will enable doctors to treat infections faster. As a result, this could help tackle rising antibiotic resistance. This research could also have applications in areas such as food safety and water contamination.
Speaking to SIN, Dr Joseph Byrne pointed out the potentially wide-ranging applicability of this research.
“The technology should be generally applicable to detecting these kinds of bacteria wherever they crop up. So while my primary goal is for a medical diagnosis usage, it could also have a role to play in environmental protection and food safety,” he said.
Byrne will work on developing chemical sensors to detect specific proteins that are produced by bacteria.
“We can then use these sensor molecules to make a device, which should interact with a clinical sample to change colour or fluorescence and give us some sort of readout that tells a doctor if there’s problematic proteins in the sample,” Byrne explained.
This project will see Byrne and his PHD student collaborate with the NUI Galway School of Chemistry and the CÚRAM research centre here on campus. Having CÚRAM in Galway was a “big reason” why Byrne applied for this grant in NUI Galway.
The School of Physics will also be involved, they will develop 3D printing technology which will be used in the project.
Byrne said that he believes Galway is an ideal location to carry out such research due to the city’s prominent role in the medical device industry in Ireland.
“Galway jumped out as having the necessary expertise and necessary connections to the medical device industry,” he said.
“It’s the perfect environment to take this research from beyond the lab bench towards application.
“The chance to develop a partnership with a company or create a company to allow us to commercialise this technology and bring some revenue back to the Galway taxpayer, this is really what makes Galway stand out.”
Kildare native Byrne will return home to Ireland for the project from Switzerland, where he was in Bern on a Marie Curie Research Fellowship.
In Switzerland, his research involved carbohydrate derivatives and Byrne believes this experience will stand to him in this new project.
“I learned a lot more about carbohydrate chemistry which is going to play an important role in how I tackle my research question in this new grant,” he said.
“I also learned a lot of leadership skills through supervising students whilst on the Marie Curie Fellowship.”
Byrne also explained how securing funding is the “hardest part of a research career,” and that this SFI grant now provided him with stability.
“I’m really looking forward to four years of uninterrupted research, where I know where I am, I know where I’m going and I know what I’m trying to achieve,” he said.
Meanwhile, Minister of State for Trade, Employment, Business, EU Digital Single Market and Data Protection, Pat Breen TD, praised the awarded researchers at the SFI launch.
“These innovative projects demonstrate the impressive cutting-edge research taking place across Ireland, which has significant potential to positively advance Ireland’s economy and society, and further solidify its reputation as a world-leader in scientific advancements.”
Image: Marcus Morris via Health.mil