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Ireland senior cabinet minister visits Northeastern to promote research partnership with University College Dublin

The institutions will begin their research collaboration in health care with two themes: “Building a healthy world” and “Transforming through digital technology.”

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02/16/24 – BOSTON, MA – Simon Harris, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science of Ireland, tours the EXP and ISEC buildings on Northeastern’s Boston campus on Feb. 16, 2024. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Northeastern University has expanded its longstanding undergraduate partnership with University College Dublin of Ireland to include research and doctoral education.

As part of the collaboration, the universities will jointly fund five new joint research projects that address global challenges in health care. 

The official announcement of those projects was made Friday during a visit to Northeastern’s Boston campus by Simon Harris, Ireland’s minister for further and higher education, research, innovation and science.

David Madigan, Northeastern’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said the research partnership is very important to the university and has been in the works for over a decade.

“This isn’t an overnight thing,” Madigan said. “In fact, it’s actually 10 or 15 years in the making from some perspectives.”

Northeastern’s strategy, the provost said, is to double down on high-impact research and University College Dublin is a big part of that.

Harris said the expanded partnership is a significant step forward for both universities.

“We’re really excited about the difference this is going to make to society because, of course, that’s what all research is about,” Harris said. 

Northeastern and University College Dublin have long partnered at the undergraduate level with the schools hosting each other’s students and providing countless experiential learning opportunities.

Expanding that collaboration to include research and doctoral education is a significant investment, Madigan and Harris said. 

Health care research is an area of strength for both schools, according to Colin Scott, registrar and deputy president and vice president for academic affairs at UCD.

The institutions will begin their research collaboration with two themes: “Building a healthy world” and “Transforming through digital technology.”

The five collaborative research projects were selected out of 23 very strong applications, Madigan said. 

The goal, he said, is to provide the projects with seed money, then allow the researchers to apply for grants through Horizon Europe, a European Union scientific research initiative, and other external sources.

Northeastern professor Rebecca Carrier and University College Dublin professor David Brayden will partner on one of the new research projects.

Carrier, associate chair for research in the chemical engineering department, will collaborate with Brayden, an advanced drug delivery specialist at UCD’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

Their proposal is titled, “Examining the interaction of a silica-coated nanoparticle containing insulin with a human-derived intestinal organ-on-a-chip.”

Carrier said she has been wanting to work with Brayden for many years and expanded Northeastern-UCD partnership will make that happen.

“This really opened up an amazing opportunity,” Carrier said. “I can’t really think of a way that I would have been able to kind of get this off the ground otherwise.” 

Justin Manjourides, an associate professor of health sciences at Northeastern, met Patricia Maguire, a professor of biochemistry and director of the Institute for Discovery at UCD, on a trip to the Dublin campus.

“We found out that both of us have strong research interests in maternal health,” Manjourides said.

Maguire developed a novel non-invasive blood-based diagnostics platform that uses machine learning. She was looking for a way to reduce incidents of preeclampsia, which is a persistent high blood pressure condition that develops during pregnancy or postpartem. Meanwhile, Manjourides, who is a biostatistician, was interested in studying biomarkers for predicting preeclampsia.

Manjourides also serves on the leadership teams of two centers at Northeastern — the PROTECT Center, which studies exposure to environmental contamination in Puerto Rico and its contribution to adverse pregnancy outcomes, and the Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes Program.

Manjourides and Maguire will receive seed funding for a joint research project titled, “Sample Sleuth: Active Learning for Optimal Biomarker Sampling Strategies in Clinical AI.” 

“We’ve been collecting data for 13 years now, lots of maternal health data that we have not done much with,” Manjourides said. “We really see this as the start of a collaboration between these two centers at Northeastern and Patricia’s lab.”

The visiting Irish delegation also included Síghle FitzGerald, consul general for New England, and Colm O’Reardon, Ireland’s higher education secretary general, who toured the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex and new EXP research complex, the university’s hub for collaborative research.