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Dr Cathal Kearney has been awarded a €1.375 million European Research Council’s (ERC) Starter Grant for ground-breaking research to combat diabetic foot ulcers.

The grant supports researchers across Europe to set-up their own teams and pursue potentially life-changing innovations. This year, 406 grants were awarded to various European projects and Dr Kearney received one of just two given to Irish institutions.

Out of the 422 million diabetic population, up to a quarter are at risk of suffering from diabetic foot ulcers in their lifetime. These wounds are very difficult to heal and can lead to infection or even amputation; it is estimated that every 30 seconds a limb is amputated as a result of a diabetic foot ulcer.

In Ireland alone, 2,400 people were hospitalised in 2015 with the condition and 451 of these cases resulted in amputations.

Dr Kearney, Principal Investigator in the Tissue Engineering Research Group, RCSI received the funding for his research titled ‘BONDS: Bilayered ON-Demand Scaffolds for diabetic foot ulcers’.

The goal of this research programme is to develop a new technology-driven device, made of a sponge-like material, that will support the body’s own cells to grow new tissues to repair skin damage on the foot caused by ulcers.

DNA will be delivered inside the device and will then direct cells that enter the device to heal the wound.

Speaking about the funding, Dr Kearney said: “I am honoured to have been awarded this prestigious research grant from the ERC. In Ireland, it is estimated that €70 million each year is spent on the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers, with almost one in five cases resulting in amputation.

“This research has the potential to change that for the better for people with diabetes not only in Ireland but across the world”.

Dr Kearney has previously secured the prestigious Fullbright scholarship to attend MIT and Harvard University, the Marie Sklowdowska-Curie Fellowship at RCSI, and he also won the RCSI President’s Teaching Award 2017.