An Irish team which is leading research activities across Europe in the emerging field of molecular communications and the creation of an EU-wide Molecular Communications (CIRCLE) network is launching the project to a global audience of their peers at the ACM Nancoom conference in the US tomorrow, Tuesday (September 22).

The CIRCLE project team will also provide a support infrastructure for coordination of research in the emerging communications area across Europe, they will tell the two day conference in Boston, Massachusetts. CIRCLE will coordinate key work in  pioneering areas such as shrinking cancerous tumours and detecting threats to crops across the globe.

The €500,000 Irish-lead project is financed under the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme as part of the highly competitive Future and Emerging Technology (FETOpen) funding scheme.

Speaking ahead of the launch, CIRCLE’s coordinator, Dr Alan Davy of the Telecommunications, Software and Systems Group (TSSG) at Waterford Institute of Technology said the theoretical and experimental basis of molecular communications involves a broad range of disciplines including ICT, Biology and Medicine.

They chose the ACM Nanocom conference as the Launchpad as it is the foremost event in the specific research area and all the key players from around the world are there.  The TSSG team has previously published and presented their research at the conference and are also presenting at the conference this year where Dr Davy will chair a session.

The molecular communications research field seeks to leverage biological phenomenon at the molecular level such as inter cell communication, usage of the immune system, bacterial DNA transfer, neuronal signaling and calcium signaling, to build a communications infrastructure for nano-scale devices that can be deployed and coordinate sophisticated operations within biological systems such as the human body. This research is considered a key enabling technology for a plethora of highly disruptive applications, Dr Davy said.

“An example of ongoing research activities is the theoretical and experimental investigation into an intra-body sensor network enabling the networking together of advanced tumor treatment techniques for diseases like cancer.

“The combined detection and treatment techniques include circulating tumor cell (CTC) detection in the bloodstream, injection of genetically modified bacteria into the tumor mass, real time monitoring of the tumor evolution and bacteria transcriptome, proteome, and concentration in time and body organs, thus leading to a plethora of highly disruptive treatment techniques to be developed,” Dr. Davy added.

Partners in the CIRCLE project include Ireland, the UK, Spain, Belgium, Turkey, Italy, Finland and the Netherlands.  Dr. Davy says everyone wants to play their part but it is important that they work together to get the best results.

“The challenge at this time lies in the fact that without a clear and coordinated research agenda for the community, advances in this highly disruptive technological space may be some 50 years away.

“The research being coordinated by this project can have a highly disruptive impact on how medical treatments interact with biological systems such as the human body, from high precision drug delivery to nano-scale medical procedures.

“The CIRCLE project will serve to coordinate ongoing research activities in the area of molecular communications to lay the foundations for the development of disruptive applications within the next 20 years. CIRCLE is a critical first step along this path”.  

TSSG’s Kevin Doolin is Chief Operations Officer and the Director of European Union projects at the innovation hub. He says the successful, TSSG-led CIRCLE project as well as two other significant projects, AQUASMART and the €6m Cognet project which was also recently awarded Horizon 2020 backing, all augur well for the future of TSSG and Ireland as a key research hub.

“We started out in the EU space here at TSSG in 1996 so we have nearly 20 years of experience in this area. We know how to interpret calls and pull the best partners together. But it is still extremely difficult. The competition has gone through the roof in Horizon2020.

“The expectations from the European Commission have gone sky high. You really need to score top marks with every single bid. We have a great team together here and have now reached a position where industry leaders are coming to us, not only looking for solutions to their problems, but they’re asking too for our assistance in applying for funding.

“We’ve put together a world-class team of 140 staff now and have built an entire innovation ecosystem which includes everyone from blue sky thinkers and applied researchers to expertise in commercialisation of the results and assisting spin-outs. The competition is intense; the Commission is constantly raising the bar so we are continuously raising it higher in-house.”

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