UCD’s Prof William Gallagher named SFI Researcher of the Year

4 Nov 2021

Prof William Gallagher, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science. Image: UCD

Cancer biologist William Gallagher was one of several researchers recognised at the annual award ceremony.

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) has announced the winners of its annual awards, which recognise key leaders and innovators in Irish research.

At a virtual ceremony today (4 November) as part of its Science Summit, SFI awarded the top prize of Researcher of the Year 2021 to Prof William Gallagher.

Gallagher is a full professor of cancer biology at University College Dublin (UCD) and deputy director of Precision Oncology Ireland. He is also the former director of UCD’s Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research.

He has coordinated many cancer research projects over the years, and is currently leading an SFI Investigator Programme focused on identifying and validating prognostic biomarkers for early-stage breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Gallagher previously won SFI’s Entrepreneurship Award for his work with OncoMark, a breast cancer diagnostic start-up he co-founded that was acquired earlier this year.

The cancer researcher said today that he was honoured to receive SFI’s award and was indebted to other researchers and colleagues.

“Practically every family in the country is being or has been affected in some way by this complex collection of diseases, including my own,” he added. “Our cancer research work has been focused on taking new discoveries from the laboratory bench and bringing them closer to clinical implementation.”

Gallagher received one of eight awards this afternoon. Prof Mark Ferguson, outgoing director general of SFI, said these annual awards are an opportunity to “recognise some of the very best achievements” of the research community in Ireland.

“I want to congratulate the award winners on their significant achievements, as well as their dedication and determination, in what has been another eventful and challenging year for our research community.”

The winners from the other sever categories were:

SFI Outstanding Contributions to STEM Communication Award 2021

This was presented to the Irish Universities Association and the Technological Higher Education Association in recognition of the entire research community who kept the public informed about Covid-19 through media engagement, social media and public communications.

SFI Early Career Researcher of the Year 2021

This award went to Dr Dara Stanley, assistant professor of applied entomology in the School of Agriculture and Food Science at UCD.

She has a background in botany and ecology and is currently leading a research team investigating plant and pollinator ecology, including conservation, contribution to crop production, public perceptions, and interactions with pesticides and climate.

Stanley is also involved in science communication and public engagement, and is one of the organisers of Soapbox Science in Ireland.

SFI Industry Partnership Award 2021

Garry Duffy, professor of anatomy and regenerative medicine at NUI Galway, received this award for his work with Boston Scientific. He has collaborated with the company through three EU projects over the past eight years, bringing together more than 100 researchers to work on cell and medical device-based therapies for chronic diseases.

Duffy is also vice-dean for research and graduate studies at NUI Galway’s College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences and is a funded investigator at Cúram, the SFI research centre for medical devices. He is one of the co-founders of university medtech spin-out FeelTect.

SFI Best International Engagement Award 2021

Barry O’Sullivan, who was previously named Researcher of the Year, is full professor at the School of Computer Science and IT at University College Cork (UCC). He is also the founding director of Insight, the SFI research centre for data analytics.

O’Sullivan works in the fields of AI, analytics, ethics and public policy, and was previously vice-chair of the European Commission High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence, which defined Europe’s approach to trustworthy AI. He recently co-founded Stimul.ai, a start-up leveraging AI expertise to tackle the issue of hospital waiting lists.

SFI Commercialisation Award 2021

This went to Dr Elaine Spain and Dr Kellie Adamson, the co-founders of Novus Diagnostics, a start-up that has received backing from the European Innovation Council.

They have commercialised their research into a product called SepTec, which screens blood to detect and identify sepsis-causing pathogens within 15 minutes.

SFI Mentorship Award 2021

Prof Helen Roche is current director of the UCD Conway Institute and is full professor of nutrition and nutrigenomics at the university.

Her research team focuses on precision nutrition and the molecular effects of diet on health. She has supervised more than 30 PhD scientists and a similar number of post-doctoral researchers.

SFI Research Image of the Year 2021
An image of colloform sphalerite, showing gold and black patterns.

Image: Aileen Doran

Aileen Doran, a postdoctoral researcher in economic geochemistry at SFI’s iCRAG research centre and UCD, was recognised for her image of colloform sphalerite.

Using a transmitted light microscope at the UCD School of Earth Sciences, she captured an example of colloform sphalerite from the Lisheen deposit in the south of Ireland.

Lisheen used to be mined for zinc and lead, and sphalerite is a common ore mineral for zinc. Sphalerite can display textures such as the colloform growth captured above, with variations in colour generally linked to trace element variations.

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Sarah Harford was sub-editor of Silicon Republic