Medicine and health research spotlighted at Trinity Innovation Awards

23 Feb 2022

Prof John O'Leary and Prof Linda Doyle. Image: Paul Sharp

This year’s Trinity Innovation Awards went to researchers working in a wide range of areas, from flooding to neuroscience.

Leading researchers and innovators from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) were recognised for contributions to their fields at the Trinity Innovation Awards 2021 yesterday evening (22 February).

The annual event, which was deferred from last year due to Covid-19, saw nominees win in various categories for their research and commercial success in a broad range of fields including law, botany, computer science, economics and pharmacy.

“Trinity research is delivering creative solutions in areas such as flooding, housing, neurodegenerative diseases, crop yield and deaf studies,” said TCD provost Prof Linda Doyle. She added that the event celebrates “the success of our researchers and demonstrates the value of Trinity Research and Innovation’s technology transfer expertise”.

The headline Provost Innovation Award was given to Prof John O’Leary, a professor of pathology who leads an investigator group at TCD with an international reputation in the area of virally driven cancers, particularly cervical, ovarian, prostate, head and neck cancers.

Doyle said at the in-person event that O’Leary is a clinician and scientist who divides “his time half and half” to manage both sides of his career – academic and clinical. O’Leary is also a consultant pathologist at St James’s Hospital and director of pathology at The Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital.

“What you have here is an amazing academic whose work really, really matters, impacts patients’ lives [and] is out there in the field,” Doyle added. “Many of his group’s discoveries are now used in routine pathology practice today.”

Over the past 29 years, O’Leary has studied disease processes and how they affect patients with a focus on developing precision medicine. His work has helped better understand molecular pathways in disease and develop a new toolbox of technologies to aid recovery.

O’Leary said he was honoured to receive the Provost Innovation Award but that the recognition was not just for him. “It is for a research group of outstanding scientists that have made a considerable contribution to the cancer field and have led transformative, innovative research over the past 19 years here in Trinity College,” he said.

Leonard Hobbs, director of Trinity Research and Innovation, said that many TCD researchers and innovators have gone on to accomplish commercial success “by collaborating with industry in transferring knowledge, expertise and intellectual property or by exercising their entrepreneurial skills in the formation of investible spin-out companies”.

Trinity spin-outs have raised more than €200m in the last three years and created high-value jobs, according to Hobbs, who added that TCD produces a quarter of all such spin-out companies from Ireland’s third-level sector.

Companies that have spun out of the university recently include CaliberAI, Parvalis Tx, Vertigenius, CropBiome and Biologit.

Award winners 2021

Prof Ian Robertson, a professor emeritus of psychology at TCD and a former dean of research at the university, went on to win the Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to neuroscience and science communication.

A co-director of the Global Brain Health Institute, Robertson is also a founding director of the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience. He is an internationally recognised author and works to protect the world’s ageing population from threats to brain health.

Dr Helen Sheridan, Dr Mary Bourke and Ronan Lyons won under the Societal Impact category for their work in a range of fields, including harnessing therapeutic and commercial uses from Irish bog plants, alleviating future flood damage, and research into the housing crisis in Ireland.

The Campus Company Founders awards went to Dr Gavin O’Doherty of mental health platform SilverCloud, Dr Julie Kelly of Neuropath and Dr Graham Cross of nanoscience research company Adama.

Meanwhile, the Inventors awards were given to Prof Trevor Hodkinson and Dr Brian Murphy of the School of Natural Sciences, and Dr Matthew Campbell of the School of Genetics and Microbiology.

Hodkinson and Murphy are inventors of two patent families joint with University College Dublin that protect microbial technology intended for agricultural use, primarily as seed coatings to increase crop yield. Meanwhile, Campbell focuses primarily on the molecular biology and physiology of the vasculature associated with neural tissues, and founded Exhaura in 2019.

Dr Rocco Lupoi and Dr John Dinsmore were recognised in the Ones to Watch category, noted as entrepreneurial academics whose research is most likely to result in the next Trinity spin-out, commercial license deal or industry engagement.

Prof Danny Kelly and Prof Anne-Marie Healy were awarded in the Industry Engagement category for their achievements in successfully building relationships and collaborating with industry.

Kelly leads a multidisciplinary musculoskeletal tissue engineering group and has secured more than €18m in research funding, while Healy has been awarded €10m in competitive grant income and has a record of industry engagement with big pharmaceutical companies.

Prof David Taylor and Prof Lorraine Leeson won under the Consultancy category for their contribution to transferring knowledge to an enterprise partner via the Consult Trinity programme. Taylor’s work involves studying material behaviour of biological materials while Leeson’s work highlights ongoing inequalities experienced by the deaf community in Ireland and abroad.

A new award category, Partner Recognition, was bagged by Jamie Cudden for being a key driver of the Smart Docklands partnership between Dublin City Council and the Connect research centre at TCD.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic