Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

RCSI and AMBER success in EU funding to grow potential spin out companies

05 February 2015

Professor Fergal O’Brien awarded €150,000 in funding through ERC Proof of Concept grant

Professor Fergal O'Brien, Head of the Tissue Engineering Research Group, Deputy Director of Applied Research at RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and Deputy Director of AMBER, has been announced as a recipient of the European Research Council (ERC) "Proof of Concept" grant. This funding will provide Professor O’Brien with up to €150,000 in funding over 18 months to help bridge the gap between his existing frontier research and its commercial applications. 260 applicants from across Europe had applied for the first round of funding through the grant.

Professor O’Brien’s funding will help to establish the innovation potential of his original idea for which he already received €2 million in ERC funding in 2009. His project, entitled 'miRNA-activated Scaffold Technologies for Cartilage Regeneration', is focused on developing an advanced therapeutic for cartilage repair. Damage to the cartilage on joints can result in osteoarthritis which affects millions of people worldwide.

Commenting on the award, Professor Fergal O’Brien said, ‘I am delighted to be awarded the “Proof of Concept” grant. This project is focused on developing an advanced therapeutic for cartilage repair. We proposed to combine a biomaterial from my lab designed specifically to support cartilage cells with a form of gene therapy, called micro-ribonucleic acids (microRNA), which can enhance the genes associated with healthy tissue, while blocking the ones associated with disease.’

‘Adult articular cartilage has a limited capacity for repair so when damaged it can lead to joint degeneration and ultimately osteoarthritis. The idea of using miRNAs as therapeutics is extremely appealing as we can potentially switch on the genes associated with cartilage repair while switching off those associated with degeneration. Depending on the further results of this project we hope to bring this to market with industry partners.’

Professor Valeria Nicolosi, another researcher based at AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) funded materials science centre, hosted in Trinity College Dublin, was also a successful recipient of a “Proof of Concept” grant for her project, entitled 'Ink-Jet printed supercapacitors based on 2D nanomaterials'.

EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Carlos Moedas said: ‘Europe has plenty of world-class research, but not enough of it reaches the marketable product stage as commercialised, pioneering goods and services. The Proof of Concept grants will enable some of our top research to compete with the best innovations out there. This will help improve our ability to bring innovations to market, boost competitiveness and create the jobs and growth needed in Europe.’

The purpose of the “Proof of Concept” grant is to assist researchers, who have already been awarded an ERC grant, with costs relating to activities such as establishing intellectual property rights, investigating commercial and business opportunities (e.g. setting up a start-up) or technical validation (e.g. carrying out clinical tests).

RCSI is among the top 50 most international universities in the world (Times Higher Education University World Rankings, 2014-15). It is a not-for-profit health sciences institute focused on education and research to drive positive change in all areas of human health worldwide.  RCSI is headquartered in Dublin and is a recognised College of the National University of Ireland. In 2010, RCSI was granted independent degree awarding status by the State, which enables the College to award degrees alongside its traditional powers to award licentiates.