Two professors from University College Dublin have received the renowned Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Award at the Annual SFI Science Summit on November 7th. The researchers received the awards for their ground-breaking innovations in the scientific sector. Among ten Awards winners, Professor Kevin O’Connor UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science and Director, Beacon, the SFI Bioeconomy Research Centre, received the 2019 SFI Researcher of the Year Award while Professor William Gallagher, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science and Director, UCD Conway Institute, received the 2019 SFI Entrepreneurship Award. 

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Pictured Above: Professor Kevin O’Connor and Professor William Gallagher receiving the prestigious awards.

Professor O’Connor’s work focuses on the development of technologies to convert waste plastics to biodegradable ones, and the biotechnological production of hydroxytyrosol, a molecule boosting health. The innovation of his research, a result of collaboration with industries in the field, has been the development of a technology that converts a dairy by-product in to an organic acid. The technology has now been patented and implemented “in a world first second generation dairy biorefinery” that has been funded with over €30 million from the EU and industries. This breakthrough is supporting the growth of Ireland’s bioeconomy and evidences how scientific collaborations are offering solutions “to address global and societal bioeconomy challenges” says Prof. O’Connor. It also signals an advance in sustainability and Ireland’s competitiveness nationally and internationally.

The other winner of the SFI Award is Professor William Gallagher. The originality of his research achievement consists in identifying biomarkers of breast cancer and other cancers which allowed the establishment of the company OncoMark. Thanks to private and EU funds, the company managed to validate its lead product, OncoMasTR, by using tumour tissue from affected patients. OncoMasTR is a test used for diagnosing early-stage breast cancer in order for patients to avoid unnecessary chemotherapy. The product was developed through the collaboration between Prof. Gallagher and his team, and Professor Adrian Bracken from Trinity College Dublin. As a result of this cooperation the technology is now patented by both universities to the company. The strong collaboration between the scientific community and the industry has been crucial for the development of this new technology. In fact, it allows working towards clinical implementation and commercialisation of the product.

Being honoured with two distinguished Awards demonstrates the potential and innovation of the scientific community at UCD. In this regard, Professor Orla Feely, UCD Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Impact stated that “the presentation of these prestigious Awards reflects the strength and impact of research and commercialisation activities taking place across UCD.”


Alessia Mennitto – Reporter