€12 Million Joint Investment Announced for US-Ireland R&D Programme Press Release

9 Apr 2020
Professor Thomas Walther, Head of Department for Pharmacology and Therapeutics

Dublin, Ireland - 9th April 2020: A joint investment of €12 million has been announced through a tripartite research and development partnership between the United States of America (USA), Republic of Ireland (RoI) and Northern Ireland (NI). The four awards announced will support more than 40 research positions across 10 research institutions, for three to five years. The US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership, launched in July 2006, is a unique initiative that aims to increase the level of collaborative R&D amongst researchers and industry professionals across the three jurisdictions.

These research projects include work that aims to enable next generation optical communication for a smart connected society; eradicate bone infection using cold plasma treatments; develop new approaches for the treatment of secondary hypertension and to identify a first pharmacological treatment for cerebral malaria, that may also help prevent and treat other hemorrhagic diseases or acute respiratory distress syndrome caused, for example, by the Covid-19.

The partner agencies in the Republic of Ireland are Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the Health Research Board (HRB) and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM). In Northern Ireland, the Health & Social Care R&D Division (HSC R&D), the Department for the Economy (DfE), and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) are partners. In the USA, it is facilitated by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). These organisations manage peer review and support US researchers through grants, on which the RoI and NI investigators are collaborators.

Welcoming the announcement, Prof Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “The continued success of the US-Ireland R&D Partnership Programme demonstrates the strong open relationship between our countries and highlights Ireland’s scientific standing internationally. I would like to congratulate all of the award recipients and their collaborators, who are forging innovation and discovery across the Atlantic, with the potential to greatly benefit our collective societies and economies.”

The programme, which uses a ‘single-proposal, single-review’ approach, focuses on prioritised thematic areas, including sensors, telecommunications, energy and sustainability, health and agriculture. The Irish components of research projects in the area of health are jointly co-funded by SFI with the Health Research Board (HRB). Commenting on the awards, HRB Chief Executive, Dr Darrin Morrissey, said: “The HRB is committed to supporting highly innovative international research collaboration through the US-Ireland R&D Programme. These new awards have strong potential to create new knowledge and address major health challenges in society and demonstrate the high calibre of researchers we have in Ireland.”

“This partnership creates research consortia that leverage investments by the three participating countries,” said Dr Roger Glass, Director of the NIH’s Fogarty International Center and Associate Director for International Research at NIH. “This not only advances cutting-edge science, but it also builds international collaboration in the best possible way.”

In congratulating the researchers on these awards, Prof Ian Young, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Department of Health in Northern Ireland and Director of Health and Social Care (HSC) Research and Development, said: “The US Ireland R&D Programme is important to HSC as it enables powerful international collaboration across Ireland and the US, producing world leading science and strengthening the global community to advance the health of our population.”  Trevor Cooper, Director of Higher Education in the Department for the Economy (Northern Ireland) said: “I welcome the announcement of these new awards under the US-Ireland R&D Partnership. They represent ground-breaking trans-Atlantic research which will help to drive forward the Executive’s goal of transforming Northern Ireland into an innovation economy.”

Under the programme, Dr Ivan O’Connell, MCCI Head of Precision Circuits in Tyndall National Institute, Connect SFI Research Centre-Funded Investigator, and previous SFI award winner, will lead a project to enable next generation integrated optoelectronics, to explore and develop energy-efficient, reconfigurable components for communication and sensing applications using nanomaterials. This project is partnering with Queen’s University Belfast (NI) and University of Utah (US).

SFI Investigator awardee, Prof Paula Bourke in University College Dublin (UCD), will partner with Queen’s University Belfast (NI) and Jefferson University (US). Together, this collaborative team will develop new therapies for orthopaedic Infection with antibiotic resistant microorganisms using cold plasma.  

In University College Cork, Prof Thomas Walther will lead research to identify a first pharmacological treatment for cerebral malaria, a severe neurological disease syndrome with a high mortality rate, especially in children. This project is partnering with Queen’s University Belfast (NI) and New York University School of Medicine (US).

Dr Michael Conall Dennedy, lead researcher at the adrenal research laboratory, National University of Ireland Galway, and an SFI-CÚRAM investigator, will partner with Ulster University (NI), Kansas State University (US) and the Translational Medical Device Laboratory (NUIG). Together this collaborative team of clinicians, scientists, engineers and mathematicians will research an image-guided approach for minimally invasive microwave thermotherapy (MWT) of aldosterone producing adenomas (APAs) for the treatment of secondary hypertension. They will also develop machine-learnt techniques for identifying APAs and monitoring therapy using nanocontrast technology.  

For more information on the programme, visit Full list of awards attached.



Full project details below. For further information, please contact:

Donna McCabe, Science Foundation Ireland

  1. +353 (0)1 607 3042 / 087 6756845

US-Ireland R&D Programme project details:

Project tittle and award details

Lay Abstract

Title: Enabling next generation integrated optoelectronics with free-form metamaterials based on graphene


Lead applicant: Dr Ivan O’Connell


Co-applicants: Dr Hamza Shakeel (NI) and Prof Berardi Sensale-Rodriguez (US)


Lead institution: Tyndall National Institute


Value of award €442,860

DfE funding ca. £300,000

NSF funding ca. $380,000


Partner institutions:

Queen’s University Belfast (NI)

University of Utah (US)



The aim of this project is to explore and develop compact, energy-efficient, silicon-compatible, reconfigurable optical components for communication and sensing applications on the basis of integrating two-dimensional materials with nanophotonic structures designed through the recently proposed free-form metamaterials concept. The researchers will extend their previous work on passive components to active devices, with the goal of experimentally demonstrating monolithic integration of a series of graphene-based devices with improved performance. 


This work will enable next generation optical communication, extending the reach and capability of existing fibre optical communication networks. In addition, the development and integration of optical sensors and will enable a smart connected and informed society.


Title: Cold Plasma therapies for Orthopedic Infection


Lead applicant: Prof Paula Bourke


Co-applicants: Prof Brendan Gilmore (NI), Prof Theresa Freeman and Prof Noreen Hickok (US)


Lead institution: University College Dublin


Value of award: €817,953

(co-funded 50/50 with HRB)

HSC R&D funding £500,000

NIH funding $3.4 million


Partner institutions:

Queen’s University Belfast (NI)

Jefferson University (US)

Infection following orthopaedic implant is a life threatening and devastating complication to the reconstructive surgeries that are routinely performed to restore mobility and functionality to a huge patient population. New therapies to combat antibiotic resistant microorganisms and stimulate the patient’s own immune response to combat their infection are required.

The aim of this project is to eradicate bone infection using cold plasma treatments tailored for high antimicrobial activity as well as stimulating immune responses.

Title: Targeting the compromised brain endothelial barrier function during cerebral malaria with AT2 receptor agonists


Lead applicant: Prof Thomas Walther


Co-applicants: Prof Alan Stitt (NI) and Prof Ana Rodriguez (US)


Lead institution: University College Cork


Value of award: €882,088 (co-funded 50/50 with HRB)

HSC R&D funding ca. £500,000

NIH funding ca. $1.7 million


Partner institutions:

Queen’s University Belfast (NI)

New York University School of Medicine (US)


The proposed research aims to identify a lead compound which can stimulate specific intracellular signalling through the AT2 receptor to mediate essential protection of endothelial integrity during cerebral malaria to prevent this life‐threatening pathology. Reinforcement of a functional cell barrier through the modulation of specific receptors may even prove to be a key target for prevention and treatment of other hemorrhagic diseases affecting other organs, such as viral hemorrhagic fevers (Ebola) or acute respiratory distress syndrome caused e.g. by the Covid-19. 


Title: Treating Primary Aldosteronism-Induced Hypertension via Microwave Thermal Therapy


Lead applicant: Dr. Michael Conall Dennedy


Co-applicants: Prof Liam McDaid (NI) and Prof Punit Pakrash (US)


Lead institution: National University of Ireland Galway


Value of award: €906,219.6 (co-funded 50/50 with HRB)

HSC R&D funding ca. £310,000

NIH funding ca. $1.4 million


Partner institutions:

Ulster University (NI)

Kansas State University (US)

The commonest specifically treatable cause of high blood pressure is known as primary aldosteronism (PA). This is a condition of hormonal excess whereby the kidney retains salt and water to increase blood pressure. It is caused by small benign nodules on the adrenal gland called aldosterone producing adenomas (APA). Surgical removal of APAs can cure complicating high blood pressure.


In this study, the team of researchers will develop new methodologies for diagnosing and treating aldosterone producing adenomas which avoid the need for surgery and improve patient outcomes and experience.



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