New labs to bring ‘blue sky’ vision research closer to market

State-of-the-art facility unveiled at WIT’s €4m Vision Research Centre

Friday, 20 February 2015: Mr Paudie Coffey TD, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, opened officially two state-of-the-art laboratories at Waterford Institute of Technology’s (WIT) €4 million Vision Research Centre which houses the Macular Pigment Research Group (MPRG).

The new labs will support the MPRG’s ambition to generate viable industry for the south east by developing more efficient methods of harvesting lutein, a nutrient essential for optimal vision and protection against the world’s leading cause of blindness – Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD).

According to Prof John Nolan, Principal Investigator of MPRG, “The global demand for lutein is growing rapidly as people begin to understand the importance of this nutrient for eye heath and general wellbeing. With the aid of our new and specialised world-class laboratories, and funding from the European Research Council (ERC), we are investigating efficient ways to generate and obtain lutein from natural sources. This is important because we are currently dependent on the marigold flower, which is highly seasonal and country dependent. If this project is successful we will greatly advance science in this area and generate opportunity for major industry in Ireland.”

Opening the new labs, Minister Coffey said, "I want to congratulate Prof John Nolan and his team in WIT. For over twelve years, the MPRG has been at the cutting edge of eye nutrition research worldwide and the group’s most recent research publications underlines the huge asset the MPRG is for this country and Waterford more specifically.

"In the last year alone, the Howard Foundation has committed €1 million to support the continuation of research by Prof Nolan and his team. This support shows yet again that Waterford can be at the centre of global research and can compete successfully internationally.”

Present at the opening, Alicia O'Rourke representing the European Research Council (ERC) said "Excellence in research is a top priority for the European Union. ERC funding helps bring about new and unpredictable discoveries – the kind that can form new industries, markets, and increase our quality of life. By funding top researchers, like Prof Nolan, the ERC is helping to keep Europe on the map of global competitiveness."

Commenting at the launch, Dr Alan Howard, Chairman of the Trustees of the Howard Foundation, England said, “The Howard Foundation is delighted to support financially the building of the Howard Laboratory at Carriganore House. It will be a great advantage to have the study of macular pigments in one location and it will help maintain the tremendous growth taking place in this important and valuable area of research”.

According to Dr Ruaidhrí Neavyn, President of WIT, “The MPRG is a shining example of how academic research can have a real impact on society. Over the years, Prof Nolan has helped countless people struggling with their sight and it is both rewarding and exciting to see his research grow and expand into new areas.”

The Howard Laboratory (Analytical chemical laboratory) and the Darwin Laboratory (Biotechnology Laboratory) are the latest additions to the Vision Research Centre which houses the MPRG. The construction of both laboratories was supported by the Howard Foundation, England, Nutrasight Consultancy Ltd (Waterford Company) and the Waterford Institute of Technology.