IRR Early Career Innovator 2019

5 June 2019

Dr Sofia Ferreira-Gonzalez has been named the winner of this year’s IRR Early Career Innovation Competition for her proposal to reduce liver transplant complications.

Dr Sofia Ferreira-Gonzalez

Sofia, a postgraduate researcher based at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, was inspired by her research on liver disease and transplantation. Her project aims to design a novel tool which transplant surgeons can use to determine whether a liver is at risk of developing Ischemic Cholangiopathy – a common complication following liver transplantation which often results in liver failure.

The competition was part of the annual Regeneration | Innovation symposium, held on Tuesday 14 May, which aimed to inspire and nurture commercialisation opportunities across the Institute for Regeneration and Repair (IRR). All early career researchers (PhD students, post docs and research fellows) were invited to take part and submit their own innovative project proposals which would translate their basic research into new medical practice.

Sofia and fellow finalists Katie Smith and Dr Caroline Chauché, both from the Centre for Inflammation Research, pitched their project ideas to a panel of industry experts. The panel were impressed by all three pitches but judged Sofia’s proposal as having the greatest potential to reach the clinic. They praised her viable and accessible solution to a very clear, unmet need in liver transplantation and applauded her vision of what the tool would look like.

“All three finalists gave superb and engaging pitches showcasing innovative translational research with the potential to improve patient outcomes in allergic asthma, multiple sclerosis and liver transplantation.  It was fantastic to see these researchers engage so competently with translation and innovation so early in their research careers.  Congratulations to each of them and of course to Sofia as the IRR Early Career Innovator of 2019!”

Sofia has won funding of £5,000 to further develop her idea, which must be spent within the next 12 months. Sofia, along with the other two finalists, will also receive support from the University’s research translation and commercialisation team to develop their project plans and explore alternative funding opportunities.

The panel of industry experts included Dr Elizabeth Roper of venture capital firm Epidarex Capital, Dr Lysimachos Zografos, Wellcome Entrepreneur in Residence, Edinburgh Innovations and Dr Salka Rasmussen from global healthcare company Novo Nordisk.

From protein-based therapeutics to biomarkers, the three exciting finalist projects showed how truly impactful research is underpinned by great science and vision, but only achieved with detailed understanding of the subtleties of the roadmap from bench to bedside. I was delighted to see all the candidates’ amazing energy and drive and looking forward to helping with the development of the projects.

Reflecting on her win, Sofia described it as an extremely positive experience and called on fellow colleagues to take part in future years.

Being part of the Institute for Regeneration and Repair and having the opportunity to develop my own project has been an incredible experience. I have learnt how vital it is to think outside the box and never to shrink away from a challenge! I would definitely recommend to other researchers that they enter the competition next year.

Last year’s winner, PhD student John McKendrick, has used his prize fund to further progress his proposal for a new treatment to restore salivary gland function. He has identified and characterised markers of salivary gland stem cells which are being investigated as a potential cell therapy to reverse damage caused by autoimmune conditions and therapeutic radiation in head and neck cancer patients.