Biodesign Institute appoints director for new Biodesign Europe

portrait of Nicholas Dunne

Nicholas Dunne, the new director of Biodesign Europe.

In 2013, Arizona State University and Dublin City University signed a Transatlantic Higher Education Partnership, building on this history of collaboration and leveraging our complementary skills and cultural differences. The partnership provides students and researchers with unique education and research experiences while making a positive impact on communities in Arizona and Ireland.

In the research sphere, the ASU Biodesign Institute is a world-renowned research center that develops and exploits nature-inspired solutions to address global health, sustainability and security challenges. The focus of this institute is well aligned with the DCU research strategic objective of translating scientific knowledge into economic and societal benefits.

In the context of this Transatlantic Partnership, Biodesign Europe is being established at DCU to develop collaborative applied research programs exploiting the complementary underpinning research strengths at both the ASU Biodesign Institute and DCU across the following research areas of healthcare technology, sustainable manufacturing, biotechnology, bioanalytical systems and sustainability for health.

Crucially, Biodesign Europe will work closely with Biodesign at ASU to help translate scientific discoveries into the market, where they can benefit society as a whole. DCU’s research activities have a long-established track record of enterprise engagement in terms of undertaking collaborative projects with industrial partners. In this context, Biodesign Europe will benefit from the excellent technology transfer expertise to leverage the commercial potential of the applied research activities.

Nicholas Dunne, a biomaterials engineer and full professor at DCU, is the newly appointed executive director of Biodesign Europe. He brings to this role his significant leadership and management experience as director of DCU’s Centre for Medical Engineering Research.

We sat down with Dunne to discuss the focus of Biodesign Europe, how it will work in tandem with Biodesign ASU and where he plans to take it in the future.

Question: What are some of Biodesign Europe’s goals, and how will you work with Biodesign ASU to accomplish them?

Answer: Biodesign Europe, in essence, will mirror the same principles and values as the ASU Biodesign Institute, which works in the space of high-level fundamental science at the lower technology readiness levels. DCU has a long-established record of developing fundamental-based research programs and progressing key technology up the technology readiness levels to a commercial endpoint. DCU is very well connected in the spaces of innovation, industrial engagement and entrepreneurial exportation.

Although the initial period will focus on creating Biodesign Europe around the complementary research expertise of ASU Biodesign Institute and DCU, our longer-term vision is to collaborate with other universities and research institutes that share our principles and values of developing and exploiting nature-inspired innovations at the intersection of engineering, biology and computing to address global health, sustainability and security challenges. For example, we need to leverage our strategic partnerships with the European Consortium of Innovative Universities and the Young European Research Universities Network, which are European networks of young universities that are innovative and entrepreneurial in their thinking concerning education and research.

We also need to be engaging with industry and end-users, and within Ireland, we have 20 of the top 25 multinationals globally working within the space of biopharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical device technology, and information and communications technology.

Q: Are there opportunities for students to get involved?

A: Yes, having undergraduate and postgraduate students involved is very much part of the model for Biodesign Europe. We are currently linking up with principal investigators that work at ASU and DCU and building research programs that work within the grand goals of Biodesign.Those projects will specifically involve postdoctoral researchers and postgraduate and undergraduate students. Over the next 12 to 24 months, we will explore the potential to have postgraduate student secondments between both universities and even potentially undergraduate students within the teaching pathways of biomedical engineering as well.

Q: Why are you excited about this new role?

A: I think it is a truly awesome opportunity to undertake really exciting research programs between two like-minded universities that are both innovative and entrepreneurial in their strategic thinking for research, teaching, enterprise engagement and social responsibility. I have only been at the ASU Biodesign Institute twice, but both times I have come away with my mind blown by the quality of research that is being conducted in the ASU Biodesign Institute and the enthusiasm of the ASU principal investigators when discussing potential opportunities for Biodesign Europe.

Although DCU and ASU are very different in terms of size and scale, I think there is significant added value in the two of us working together on large-scale research programs as we bring very different, but complementary research expertise, resources and industry contacts to the table.

Q: What is your initial vision for Biodesign Europe?

A: Following my visits to ASU, I have met with the leadership and principal investigators from the ASU Biodesign Institute, and I have an excellent understanding of the potential opportunities for research collaborations between the five faculties at DCU, in particular the faculties of engineering and computing and of science and health, and the ASU Biodesign Institute. Over the first 12-18 months, I have specific key objectives to build on the current academic relationships between ASU and DCU and bring them under the umbrella of Biodesign Europe.

In terms of building on current research activities, through consultation with the appropriate contacts at ASU Biodesign Institute and DCU, I will lead and direct several strategic seed-funding calls that will enable research teams from ASU Biodesign Institute and DCU to discuss potential research ideas and scope out research programs that will lead to the submission of joint proposals to strategic funding calls managed by the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Health and Science Foundation Ireland in the first instance.

To ensure that Biodesign Europe remains true to its principles and values to develop and exploit nature-inspired solutions at the intersection of engineering, biology and computing that can benefit society as a whole, we will set up a transatlantic academic-industrial strategic advisory group of key opinion leaders that represent the five areas of research that Biodesign Europe is built upon.

In parallel with building on current research activities, I will develop a shared vision for Biodesign Europe, which will be articulated through effective branding and a focused web and social media presence. The vision for Biodesign Europe will be used as a springboard to build on current research activities and develop new research collaboration within ASU and DCU and as a litmus test for discussions with long-standing industrial partners and potential funders.

Q: Why are partnerships like the one between ASU and DCU important?

A: At a time in which forming research partnerships has perhaps never been easier, it has also never been more important or necessary.

The rate of internationalization is growing rapidly, with unhindered communication channels and relatively inexpensive travel. Universities and research institutes across the world are already seeking to make the most of the possibilities this presents by forming global partnerships and fostering relationships with other institutions. And ASU and DCU are no different in this regard.

As a result of the expansion of communication methods and the ease of international travel, academics and researchers are finding it easier than ever to collaborate with their foreign counterparts, making the exchange of academic knowledge, research ideas and resources much simpler to organize. The ability to share ideas, develop and collaborate on research projects is essential for academic and scientific accomplishment, in addition to finding innovative solutions to address global challenges. Constructively challenging accepted principles and ideas is central to their development, and international research collaborations help to facilitate this.

I strongly believe that the strategic research partnership between the ASU Biodesign Institute and Biodesign Europe at DCU will contribute greatly to academic and scientific progress by developing collaborative applied research programs exploiting the complementary underpinning research strengths across the areas of healthcare technology, sustainable manufacturing, biotechnology, bioanalytical systems and sustainability for health.

More Science and technology


Buffalo in an open landscape surrounded by mountains.

New study captures 6M years of African mammal fossil history

The East African Rift Valley is a fossil-rich area, reaching across Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, that preserves the most…

Man smiling and holding a model of the moon.

55 years of lunar exploration continued by SESE professor

On July 21, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin famously took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” when they…

Older person seen from behind, seated in a wheelchair in a bedroom, looking out a window.

When skeletons hold secrets: ASU project helps identify hidden elder abuse

When the death of an older adult is considered suspicious, their body is sent to the Maricopa County Office of the Medical…