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2010-06-21: EU awards €18 million for cancer research at UCD

University College Dublin will lead two cancer research projects worth €18 million under the latest round of the EU 7th Framework Programme for Research (FP7).

Every year, between 7,500 and 8,000 people die of cancer in Ireland.

One of the projects, awarded €6 million by the EU, will investigate possible treatments for difficult-to-treat types of breast cancer.

“At present, there is a lack of targeted therapies for two poor-prognosis subtypes of breast cancer namely ‘triple negative’ breast tumors and invasive lobular carcinomas of the breast,” says Professor William Gallagher from the UCD Conway Institute who is leading this research. “Together these subtypes make up almost 25% of all breast cancers.”

“Our research will explore the role of kinases – the key regulators of cell function – in these types of breast cancer in order to develop therapeutic targets that may inhibit the rate of activation of kinases in cancer sufferers.”

The second project, awarded €12 million by the EU, will explore genetic mutations that lead to the development of cancer cells. This project will focus on understanding childhood cancers.

“The success of our funding application shows that Ireland can be a major player in the future research landscape of Europe,” says Professor Walter Kolch, Director of Systems Biology Ireland at University College Dublin, who is leading this research.

“This collaborative effort involves basic and clinical research groups across Europe. Using a systems biology approach we will draw on combined expertise to turn a wealth of genetic data into a roadmap for understanding the processes behind the development of cancer cells.”

According to Dr Stephen Simpson, Director of Life Sciences at Science Foundation Ireland, ‘the securing by UCD researchers of large-scale European investment is testament to their scientific ingenuity.’

“This latest success for Irish-based research demonstrates how strategic and targeted investment by agencies such as Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), the Higher Education Authority (HEA), Enterprise Ireland (EI) and the Irish Development Authority (IDA) contributes to a flourishing research environment and our international reputation,” he said.

“We have been successfully attracting world-leading researchers to these shores and have fostered greater levels of collaboration between the academic and commercial sectors – all of which is evidently bearing fruit. This announcement represents a hugely significant achievement by UCD and reaffirms its status as a leading research hub.”

“The fact that two SFI-funded PIs will lead these major EU investments is a testament to the strategy for research investment in Ireland’, said Prof. Des Fitzgerald, Vice-President for Research at UCD.

“Walter Kolch is the Director of the SFI Centre for Science Engineering and Technology for Systems Biology, an emerging science that brings together computational scientists and biologists to solve large-scale problems in biomedical research. As recognized by the EU grant, this has the potential to unravel complex questions such as the origin of rare tumours..”

“William Gallagher with his collaborator John Crown has developed an SFI Strategic Research Cluster that aims to identify biomarkers for cancer. The discovery of biomarkers for specific cancers has the potential to identify tumours early, aid in tailoring therapy and assist in detecting recurrence following treatment. This is a key objective in the EU strategy for developing innovative medicines and the award demonstrates Professor Gallagher expertise and reputation in this area.’

Both cancer research projects coordinated by University College Dublin and involving partners across the EU will run for five years.


Cancer is a disorder that can occur inside any cell in our body. Certain signals in the body encourage cells to grow while others cause them to differentiate. If this signaling is disturbed or faulty, cells are unable to process the signal and may grow uncontrollably – malignant cancer is an uncontrolled growth of cells that invade nearby tissues or break away to other parts of the body.

EU 7th Framework Programme for Research (FP7)

FP7 is a key tool to respond to Europe’s needs in terms of jobs and competitiveness, and to maintain leadership in the global knowledge economy. It runs from 2007 until 2013 and has a total budget of over €50 billion.

Knowledge lies at the heart of the European Union’s Lisbon Strategy to become the “most dynamic competitive knowledge-based economy in the world”.

The ‘knowledge triangle’ – research, education and innovation – is a core factor in European efforts to meet the ambitious Lisbon goals. Numerous programmes, initiatives and support measures are carried out at EU level in support of knowledge.

Activities funded from FP7 must have a “European added value”. One key aspect of the European added value is the transnationality of many actions: research projects are carried out by consortia which include participants from different European (and other) countries; fellowships in FP7 require mobility over national borders. Indeed, many research challenges are so complex that they can only be addressed at European level.

UCD Conway Institute

UCD Conway Institute of Biomolecular and Biomedical Research is a multidisciplinary centre for research funded by an initiative of the Irish Higher Education Authority; the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions (PRTLI). Founded in 1999, it brings together more than 550 research staff from all over University College Dublin and its associated teaching hospitals.

The UCD Conway Institute received funding from the Higher Education Authority and private donors under all three cycles of the Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions. The total funding committed was €92 million. A large part of the allocated funding was used to construct and equip a new research building, which became operational in September 2003. UCD Conway Institute was named after the first professor of biochemistry & pharmacology in UCD, Professor Edward J. Conway FRS (1894-1968).

Systems Biology Ireland

Announced by Minister Conor Lenihan in September 2009, Systems Biology Ireland at University College Dublin was launched with a commitment of €19.5 million from Government and industry.

A powerful new way to use the strength of computers and mathematics to understand biology, systems biology seeks to unravel the complexities of cells through the use of models that predict biological behaviours. The research being undertaken at Systems Biology Ireland aims to enable quicker and better treatments of a range of medical conditions, including various cancers and should allow for better therapies to be delivered more effectively to patients.

Systems Biology Ireland underpins Ireland’s extensive life science industry, including its pharmaceutical industry which employs 23,000 people and is responsible for more than 48% of the country’s export sales.

SBI is a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI)-funded Centre for Science, Engineering and Technology, SFI CSET, Systems Biology Ireland, is led by University College Dublin and is supported by researchers in NUI Galway.