DCU has teamed up with Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft to provide Irish industries with a complete path to producing lab-on-a-chip technologies.
The Irish science community – particularly those based at Dublin City University (DCU) – this week celebrated the official start to a relationship with a world-leading research organisation, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (the Fraunhofer Society).
The opening of the Fraunhofer Project Centre (FPC) for Embedded BioAnalytical Systems at DCU marked the climax of a two-year courtship between Europe’s largest application-oriented research body, Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), and the Dublin university.
It’s a symbiotic relationship with each nation gaining from the other. Fraunhofer stands to benefit from access to DCU’s biomedical diagnostics expertise, and the Irish centre can offer a complete roadmap to commercialisation via the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology (IPT) in Aachen, Germany.
‘We looked for good people and we found them in Dublin’
– PROF FRITZ KLOCKE
“To meet the challenges of the future, I think it is essential to team up good people,” said Prof Fritz Klocke, executive director of Fraunhofer IPT. “We looked for good people and we found them in Dublin. And the location is also very nice here in Dublin because it provides an environment where we have the big companies – the big pharmaceuticals and all the other big companies – and we thought that it is an ideal place to come.”
The FPC will directly support 12 new research positions under the stewardship of centre director, Prof Jens Ducrée.
Researchers at the centre can not only look forward to international collaboration and the mutual exchange of information and expertise with researchers across Fraunhofer’s global network, but they can also bank on commercial viability and industry-led development.
Ducrée has already led extensive market research into sectors such as medtech, agri-food and biotechnology, which tells him that the next big thing will be these “microfluidic devices that can quickly and cost-efficiently sense bio-samples for various purposes – for industrial applications, for wellbeing, for healthcare, in your doctor’s office and so on.”
The FPC is not simply an academic exercise, it’s a highly commercial one.
The lab-on-a-chip technologies being developed at FPC have been hailed as revolutionary thanks to their multiple applications and rapidly decreasing cost of production. In February, researchers at Stanford University Medical Center created a lab-on-a-chip device that costs just one cent to make using a regular inkjet printer.
The DCU centre will focus on developing lab-on-a-chip components for point-of-use testing of microfluidics (eg tiny samples of blood or water), which can be put to use in personal healthcare, pharmaceutical production, life sciences research, quality testing and environmental monitoring.
It’s the high potential of commercialisation of this research that made DCU president Prof Brian MacCraith confident of Government support for the FPC. The €5m investment to establish the centre comprises €2.5m from SFI’s coffers matched with €2.5m from Fraunhofer over the next five years.
To ensure a continuous commercial pipeline, DCU – positioning itself as ‘Ireland’s university of enterprise’ – has already started linking in industry partners such as Analog Devices, an American semiconductor and electronics manufacturer with a base in Limerick.
“We’ll be looking at and have already [begun] dialogue with quite a number of industry partners in developing devices for pharmaceutical production, devices for biomedical diagnostics, devices for food analysis,” said MacCraith.
MacCraith assures that industry partnerships at the FPC and DCU are equally open to SMEs and large multinational corporations “to go all the way along from a problem statement to advanced precision manufacturing of devices at scale”.
“This is really more about opportunities than barriers and I think industries will find this a very attractive proposition,” he said.