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Science Foundation Ireland to invest €72m in four new projects

Range of areas covered include 3D printing, manufacturing and biomaterials

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) is to invest €72 million in four new world class research centres which will address a range of areas including smart manufacturing, biomaterials, 3D printing, and rare disease diagnosis and treatment.

This brings to 16 the number of research centres funded by SFI while the organisation is to seek funding for an additional four later this year.

In line with Innovation 2020, the government’s five-year strategy for research and development, science and technology, the network of SFI Research Centres is aimed at building critical mass in strategic areas of research strength and addressing the needs of enterprise.

The first seven SFI research centres were established in 2013 and a further five were established in 2015.


"The research centres are absolutely delivering on their mandate", says SFI director general Mark Ferguson.

“They are making important scientific advances, enhancing enterprise and industry, developing critical skills, supporting regional development, and enhancing Ireland’s international reputation.

"They are winning very competitive research grants – one third of EU Horizon 2020 funding coming to Ireland has been won by SFI research centres. Overall, the research centres have won €100 million in EU funding, and their research is published in the world's best scientific journals."

The economic impact is also impressive.

“They are also an important engine for the economy; companies engaged with the SFI research centres are located all over Ireland and globally”, Ferguson adds.

“They are engaged in more than 500 collaborative research agreements with over 300 industry partners involving an industry commitment of €50 million. They also help address skills needs with researchers from the centres going on to work in companies here in Ireland. In addition, 14 new spinout companies have come out of the centres. They are delivering on their mandate for academic research, economic impact, and for society.”

High bar

It was always the intention to expand beyond 12 centres.

“We believe that about 20 would be right for a country the size of Ireland”, Ferguson explains. “We ran a competitive call for proposals for new centres last year. We set a very high bar for success. They had to be based on excellent science and have a very strong industry and societal impact.”

The proposals were subject to a rigorous international peer review process and eight projects requesting a total of €164 million in SFI funding were shortlisted for final assessment.

“Despite the standard being exceptionally high, all eight were deemed to be fundable. Currently, SFI only has sufficient funding for the top four but we are seeking additional budget for the other four. Overall, the four projects selected involve €72 million in SFI funding with a further €38 million coming for more than 80 industry partners.”

The four new centres are Confirm, Beacon, Deantus, and Future Neuro. Confirm will address smart manufacturing, IT and industrial automation systems and is led by Prof Conor McCarthy of the University of Limerick; Beacon will explore the use of biological resources as alternative materials to finite fossil resources and is led by Prof Kevin O'Connor of UCD; Deantus will look at innovative techniques and processes in additive manufacturing or 3D printing and is led by Prof Denis Dowling of UCD; led by Prof David Henshall of RCSI, Future Neuro will address the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of chronic and rare neurological diseases.

The new research centres involve strong collaborative partnerships between research bodies in Ireland with funded researchers participating from institutions including Athlone Institute of Technology, Beaumont Hospital, Cork Institute of Technology, Dublin City University, Mater Hospital, Maynooth University, NUI Galway, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Teagasc, Temple Street Children's Hospital, Trinity College Dublin, Tyndall National Institute (UCC), University College Cork, University College Dublin, University of Limerick and Waterford Institute of Technology.

The four other proposals approved in principle involve collaborative partnerships with over 100 companies who have committed €60 million funding to the centres.

The projects are: Milk, which will look at innovative technologies to support the production of dairy products from pasture, to cow to food; H-Sys will look at mapping the molecular causes of human diseases using systems biology; Innate will tackle inflammation and innate immunology; while Bio-Logic will look at advanced biopharmaceutical manufacturing.

“We have identified four proposals of strategic national importance that meet the stringent criteria of scientific excellence and impact,” says Ferguson.

“We have got really excellent researchers and more excellent research proposals than we can fund at present. That is a good problem to have in many ways. Over the coming months we will be working to seek additional funding to support these four SFI research centres that have been approved in principle.

“The commitment of industry and academic bodies to come together to develop these new SFI research centres clearly demonstrates the potential economic and societal impact of the planned research.”