UCD researchers secure €2.35m

Enterprise Ireland leads the national support network for Horizon 2020, working to increase participation in the EU’s main instrument for funding research in Europe.

SiriusXT, a University College Dublin (UCD) spin-out, along with two of the university’s researchers, have been awarded €2.35 million in funding for a disruptive photonics technology project through Horizon 2020, the EU’s research and innovation programme.

The researchers, assistant professor Nicola Fletcher from UCD School of Veterinary Medicine and professor Dimitri Scholz, director of biological imaging, have partnered with SiriusXT in an international project, CoCID, which has received a total of €5.67 million in funding to date.  

The aim of the four-year CoCID (Compact Cell-Imaging Device) project is to provide insights into the cellular origins of viral diseases including; hepatitis C, hepatitis E, herpesvirus and SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and to aid in the development of novel therapeutics using the company’s novel soft x-ray microscope.

Changes in a cell’s shape and in the shape of its internal organelle, are important influencers on the cell signalling mechanisms that underpin disease causation.

“Soft x-ray microscopy is an extremely exciting, potentially game changing technique that will allow us to visualise virally infected cells in exquisite detail”

For this reason, 3D imaging of the internal structure of whole and intact cells is playing an increasingly important role in helping scientists to understand diseases. The only technology that can image through the whole substructure of an intact cell, is low energy x-ray microscopy.

Based on research carried out at the UCD School of Physics over many years, SiriusXT has developed and patented a miniaturised soft x-ray source, allowing it to build the first commercial, lab-scale, soft x-ray microscope.

This breakthrough is revolutionising the cell imaging market by opening up access for a proven imaging modality to thousands of disease researchers worldwide including those partnering in the CoCID project.

“This project award not only helps fund the advancement of our SXT-100 microscope, it also allows SiriusXT to collaborate closely with European leaders in virology research to demonstrate the benefits of soft x-ray microscopy in progressing their understanding of pathogen infection pathways,” said Tony McEnroe, co-founder of SiriusXT.

The CoCID project will enable UCD researchers to gain early access to the SiriusXT soft x-ray microscope as part of the core imaging facility at the UCD Conway Institute.

In addition assistant professor Nicola Fletcher will use the soft x-ray microscopy as one of the four CoCID use cases to accelerate research studies into understanding cross-species transmission mechanisms of the hepatitis E virus.

Nicola Fletcher added; “Soft x-ray microscopy is an extremely exciting, potentially game changing technique that will allow us to visualise virally infected cells in exquisite detail.

“We will investigate the mechanisms by which hepatitis E virus, an emerging infectious disease that is transmitted to humans from infected animals, infects cells from different species. The ultimate aim is to explore new treatment options for this important viral infection.”

SiriusXT, a NovaUCD supported company, was co-founded by Dr Kenneth Fahy, Dr Paul Sheridan, Dr Fergal O’Reilly and Tony McEnroe in 2015 as a spin-out from the UCD School of Physics. The award-winning company, which is also an Enterprise Ireland high potential start-up, has now raised over €12 million in grant and equity funding.

In addition to SiriusXT and UCD, the other CoCID project partners are; Heidelberg University Hospital Molecular Virology and Heidelberg University Centre for Organismal Studies in Germany, University of Jyväskylä, Finland; Centro Nacional de Biotecnologia and Alba Synchrotron – Mistral Beamline in Spain.

By Stephen Larkin

Published: 12 October, 2020