New research projects seek to boost Scotlands well-being

New research projects seek to boost Scotlands well-being

Some of the brightest researchers from home and around the world will be able to develop their ideas here in Scotland, thanks to grants totaling over £1 million just awarded by The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE). Innovative research in areas such as healthcare, the ageing population and communications, is to be supported through the RSE, in partnership with key funders in the public and private sectors. Over fifteen new awards are to be announced at the annual Research Awards Ceremony held at the RSE in George Street, Edinburgh this evening.

The outcomes of just some of the latest projects include the development of:

  • Clinical and imaging information on stroke treatment gained from the largest patient cohort of its kind in the world (Carly Rivers)
  • Lasers for use in medical imaging (Paul McKenna)
  • A "Cellular" Memory Map to improve understanding of how memories are formed and lost (Kirsten Dickson)
  • An innovative Model demonstrating the impact of the factors which cause obesity (John Reilly)

Professor John Coggins, RSE Research Awards Convener said:

These are exciting times for the RSE and for Scotland as a whole with extra funding being provided to enable the Society to expand its Research Fellowships Schemes. This funding enables research to be conducted in areas which touch all of our lives in one way or another. We have again seen top quality applicants, from Britain and around the world, competing for the Society ’s much sought after Research Fellowships. It is reassuring to meet so many bright, enthusiastic, young researchers and important to the Society that we and our private and public funding partners are able to support them.

The Organisations and Trusts working with the RSE to fund these awards are:

BP Amoco; The Caledonian Research Foundation (CRF); The Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland The Particle Physics & Astronomy Research Council (PPARC); The Scottish Executive’s Education & Lifelong Learning Department (SEELLD); Scottish Enterprise; The JM Lessells Trust

The latest funding is part of the RSE’s successful Research Awards scheme which supports exceptionally talented academics and potential entrepreneurs. With support from The Scottish Executive and a broad range of private and charitable bodies, these highly competitive awards enables people with good ideas, across a spectrum of disciplines to research and develop their work for the good of Scotland and beyond.

RSE President, Sir William Stewart said:

Scotland has some brilliant young researchers. We must seek to support and harness their potential, offering good reasons for them to develop the best ideas here in Scotland for the good of the nation. Scotland’s social, economic and cultural wellbeing will, increasingly be shaped by the output of such individuals. Without vision, without innovation, without commercialisation, ahead of our competitors, the UK and Scotland risk losing out. One of the ways in which the Society is seeking to address and promote this initiative, and our vision for the future, is to enhance our ability to distribute funds and support those with the best ideas.

Support of bright young people and the promotion of innovative ideas, are central to the RSE. We can only dothis by working in partnership with other organisations, both public and private, which provide funds to make these awards possible, and I very much welcome this opportunity to thank them all. An independent, non party political organisation, we want to share a way forward with our supporters, for the benefit of Scotland. We are this year especially grateful to Scottish Enterprise which has substantially increased its funding for Enterprise Fellowships. The RSE will continue working to promote the well-being of Scotland.

A full summary of the new projects follows:

BP Research Fellowship

Dr Patrik Ohberg: Quantum information (University of Strathclyde).

The information encoded into quantum states, can be used to perform certain operations much more efficiently than a classical computer could do. Typical examples are search algorithms and factoring large numbers, important in cryptography. This research aims to investigate and further develop the quantum information theory using trapped degenerate quantum gases. The advantages of the macroscopic character of such gases will be applied to devise new strategies for quantum information processing. Specifically the many-body character of the trapped gases will be used to create macroscopic quantum states which will be manipulated using novel trapping geometries and the interaction between light and the atoms in the quantum gas.

SEELLD Personal Research Fellowships

Dr Paul McKenna: Investigations in Laser-Induced Nuclear Physics (University of Strathclyde).
Research at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (Oxfordshire) using one of the most powerful laser systems in the world (the VULCAN facility) has shown that high intensity lasers can be used to induce nuclear reactions. A short, ultra-intense, laser pulse focused on matter produces unique and exotic plasma conditions. Huge acceleration gradients are induced, leading to the production of high energy particles and radiation, including beams of ions, neutrons and gamma-radiation. This research will establish, through a program of experiments at local, national and international laboratories, how progress made on large-scale lasers such as VULCAN can be transferred to modest ‘tabletop’ higher repetition rate lasers. This is important for the design of dedicated laser systems for the acceleration of particles. Particularly interesting applications of this science include the future development of laser-based ion accelerators for oncology and for the production of sources of short-lived radioactive isotopes for use in Positron Emission Tomography, a powerful medical imaging technique.

Dr Kirsten S. Dickson: Molecular mechanisms underlying memory (University of Edinburgh from USA).
The human brain is made up of billions of nerve cells (neurons). The complex connections between these neurons (synapses) are thought to act as the storage units of memories. Alterations between synapses occur in response to brain activity, and underlie higher cognitive function. However, it remains unclear what molecular mechanisms are involved in these changes. Recently, a large number of molecules present at synapses have been identified, aided in large part by the human and mouse genome sequencing projects. Some of these molecules can be locally synthesised and deposited at particular synapses, in an activity-dependent manner. Of these locally synthesised molecules, one has been previously linked to a human cognitive disease (Fragile X mental retardation) and one to memory formation. This research aims to identify other locally regulated molecules, and characterise their roles in human cognitive function. The long-term aim of this project is to create a "cellular" memory map, allowing a better understanding of both how memories are initially formed and also eventually lost.

SEELLD Support Research Fellowships

Dr Tim Wess: Determination of structure function relationships in the extracellular matrix: understanding supramolecular relationships in collagen based architectures (University of Stirling).
Collagen is the most abundant protein in animals where it is an essential component of tissues such as skin, bone, tendon, aorta cartilage and cornea. The molecular structure of collagen is rope like, In order to fulfil its role as a material that provides the essential stiffness to many tissues, these individual molecules must be arranged in a number of hierarchical structures that eventually form a tissue. The aim of this research is to understand the contribution of different levels of supramolecular organisation in tisues such as tendon. This research requires specialist X-ray technology currently only available in Grenoble France that allows intense beams of X-rays to reveal the structural organisation that gives each collagen based tissues its inherent strength.

Dr Ian Gent: Algebraic Constraint Programming (University of St Andrews).
Constraint programming is a widely used technique for solving hard problems such as scheduling, timetabling, and many other commercially important problems where some objective has to be achieved within some constraints. While this technique has developed within artificial intelligence, we have recently found that it has very close links with group theory, often viewed as a research area in pure mathematics. The proposed research is to investigate these links in a new research area that could be called "Algebraic Constraint Programming". The particular focus is to introduce more efficient methods for constraint programming, thereby using pure mathematics for the everyday solution of hard problems.

Dr David Hutchings: Dispersion Control in Photonic Microstructures for Ultrashort Optical Pulse Applications (University of Glasgow).
This project will provide new insights into techniques for obtaining ultrashort optical pulses routinely from semiconductor lasers. Such insights are key to extending data rates beyond the terabit limit in the telecommunications network systems of the future.

Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland Personal Research Fellowships

Dr Margaret Lai: Helping brain cells save themselves (University of Edinburgh).

Stroke is a major cause of neurological disability and death in old age. While some brain cells die immediately after the stroke, the majority of brain cells are killed by secondary events. However, drugs designed to stop these secondary events are not effective in human studies. An alternative to stroke treatment may be to boost the survival of brain cells by amplifying their own intrinsic protective pathways. This project will be clarifying the role of a steroid receptor, the mineralocorticoid receptor, which is rapidly increased when brain cells are injured and appears to enhance survival. Finding ways of enhancing this endogenous protective response may provide a novel and more effective treatment for stroke.

Dr Anthea Innes: Older peoples’ lives in remote and rural areas of Scotland: An exploration of life events, health and social status (University of Stirling).
The importance of hearing the voices of older people is a fundamental principle underlying this research. Older people’s voices are often muted in the research literature. This is especially true of older people living in remote and rural Scotland. This project aims to develop an understanding of the lives of older men and women living in remote and rural areas of Scotland. This will be achieved by:

  • A systematic review of the literature pertaining to the lives and well-being of older people living in remote and rural areas in other countries
  • In-depth life history interviews with sixty older people living in rural Scotland
  • A thematic analysis of the experiences of older people in rural Scotland

Despite the projected increase in the numbers of older people in Scotland in the future, research has been limited to a partial inclusion of older people’s views on services. The proposed research will contribute to the current gap in knowledge about the lives of Scotland’s older people in rural areas. The findings from the study are likely to be of interest to older people themselves as well as practitioners and policy makers seeking to promote quality of life for older people in remote and rural Scotland.

Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland PhD Studentships

Mr Alan Gow: Life history factors affecting cognitive decline with age (University of Edinburgh).
It is apparent in everyday life that there are many adults who grow old and remain as alert and active as when middle aged. However, there are also those whose mental faculties are not spared by the ageing process. With an ever increasing aged population, this decline has become more of an issue, and as such the discovery of remediable determinants of cognitive ageing is now a major task facing researchers in intelligence. Mental decline is associated with dementia, poor quality of life, and an economic burden to society particularly in the area of healthcare provision. The present research will contribute new data to an existing cohort who participated in a survey of their intelligence when aged only 11, and have since been followed up into their early eighties. The focus will be on both educational and social factors from midlife that mediate the change in cognitive function in later life. Such determining factors may include health, lifestyle, occupational and social factors from throughout the lifespan. If it is possible to identify the factors causing the mental decline associated with old age, then it may be possible to allow intervention in future generations at an age when such implementations can still have an impact on later function. It is an often reported fact that a high quality of life in old age is in part determined by avoiding the decline of one's mental functions, and an association has even been found between the probability of survival into old age and intelligence. Thus such research has as its main aim the hope of leading to improvements in overall quality of life by discovering alterable factors.

Miss Carly S Rivers: In acute ischaemic stroke, is imaging better than time from onset for determining response to thrombolytic treatment? (University of Edinburgh).
Stroke is the 3rd commonest cause of death, very costly to the NHS, 50% of strokes occur in people aged over 72, 1/3 die and 1/3 are permanently dependent. Stroke is not declining as people live longer. The awardee states that, despite this, stroke research is grossly under funded with many unsolved problems. 80% of strokes are due to a blocked blood vessel in the brain. "Clot busting" drugs may improve outcome, but may also cause severe bleeding and worse outcome. Use of these drugs is based on time after stroke, but the appearance of the brain on scanning might be a more direct way of assessing the chances of recovery. Magnetic resonance (MR) brain imaging could help distinguish definitely dead from still salvageable brain, but new studies are needed to determine this more precisely. The awardee will perform detailed analysis of the MR brain images at different stages after acute stroke with information on how bad the stroke was, whether the blood flow in the brain improved or not, and how well the patient recovered. This will be the largest patient cohort of its kind in the world to date with vitally important combined clinical and imaging information. The proposed multidisciplinary research group is world class, and is running a "clot busting" drug trial. The awardee will learn clinical research and imaging methodology, to add to her basic neuroscience skills to develop a career in neuroscience imaging research.

Miss Claire Fitzsimons: An old measurement in a new setting: the use of transient changes in oxygen uptake during exercise as an indicator of cardiorespiratory fitness in frail elderly people (University of Edinburgh).
Scotland’s population is growing older. By 2031 it is predicted that one quarter of the population will be aged sixty-five or over. As a result, the number of individuals with chronic disease and disabilities is rising dramatically. The development of effective interventions for the maintenance of physical independence in frail elderly people istherefore crucial. Physical fitness training represents one such intervention, but there is little data available for the frailest and oldest members of our community, (particularly for aerobic training). One reason for the lack of information is the lack of an appropriate test with which to assess the effectiveness of aerobic training. The usual measurement techniques, involving maximal exercise, are simply not suitable. This research will investigate a well known but rarely studied, measure of cardiorespiratory fitness derived from the transient changes in oxygen uptake during ‘comfortable’ self-paced walking and determine whether it is suitable for studies of the effects of exercise training in frail elderly people.

Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland Research Studentship

Miss Janine M. Cooper: Provoked Confabulations Distinguish Patients with Early Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) from Normal Elderly (University of Aberdeen).
Confabulation consists of verbal statements and actions which are unintentionally incongruous with the history, background and present situation of an individual. They appear on a background of selective memory impairment including the neurodegeneration of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The aim of this study is to develop a psychometric instrument to detect confabulation in patients with AD with the hope that this approach may usefully distinguish early cases of AD from mild stable cognitive impairment and normal ageing. The instrument will enable various forms of memory to be assessed including memory for personal events as well as memory for factual information. On completion on the behavioural analysis the awardee hopes to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to discover what areas of the brain are associated with the phenomenon of confabulation. Through detecting AD in the earliest stage of the disease process, symptomatic drugs may be administered more effectively thus improving the quality of life of the ageing population.

CRF Biomedical Research Fellowships

Personal Research Fellowships 2002-2005

Dr Archa Hannah Fox: Biochemical characterisation of paraspeckles: a novel nuclear domain (University of Dundee).
The cell nucleus contains several small structures important for the normal functioning of the cell. The structure and function of many of these sub-nuclear bodies are known, nucleoli for example, are responsible for producing ribosomes. The function of the recently-discovered sub-nuclear structures, ‘paraspeckles’, is not yet known, although they have been shown to contain at least three important proteins and are extremely mobile within the nucleus. This suggests that they might play a significant part in gene expression or the processing of RNA. During her Fellowship, Dr Fox aims to determine the cellular function of the paraspeckle proteins and the paraspeckle compartment.

Dr Hilary Anne Snaith: Investigation of the role of mod5p to improve understanding the cellular polarity in fission yeast (University of Edinburgh).
Our bodies are made up of billions of cells with different shapes and each specialised to perform a different function. Many of the cellular building blocks which regulate cell shape and orientation in complex organisms are also used by simple unicellular organisms like yeast. Fission yeast are small, rod-shaped cells which only grow at their ends. This growth pattern is regulated by an elaborate network of interacting factors involving two key proteins. One is anchored at the ends of cell where it modulates growth and shape; the other is an essential part of the molecular ‘anchor’ for the other, but details of the anchoring mechanism are not clear. During her Fellowship, Dr Snaith will be using the fission yeast, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, to discover how the second protein anchors the first and thereby help to improve understanding of how cells establish and maintain shape and are able to perform their specific functions.

Support Research Fellowship 2002-2003

Dr John Reilly: The contribution to obesity risk of energy expenditure, physical activity and genotype (University of Glasgow).
An epidemic of obesity occurred in British children in the 1990s, probably as a result of declining levels of physical activity and increased sedentary behaviour. This epidemic will, however, cause a great deal of ill health in childhood and will herald a substantial future burden of adult ill health, especially from cardiovascular disease. The relative contribution to later obesity risk of the many factors involved - genetics, level of physical activity, energy expenditure and early-life influences such as type of infant feeding and age at weaning - are not clear. Being able to clarify the part played by each of these factors and their possible interdependence would lead to major clinical and public health advances, particularly in Scotland, which has a high prevalence of obesity and related diseases such as coronary heart disease and type II diabetes. Dr Reilly intends to investigate these factors in turn and devise a statistical model which will allow the integration of all the data and comparison of their relative contribution to the risk of obesity in later life.

PPARC Enterprise Fellowship

Miss Joy McKenny: Accurate reproduction of surface structure via the vacuum forming technique (University of Durham).
During this fellowship Ms McKenny plans to commercialise a novel technique of vacuum forming surfaces. This will initially be applied to the production of mirrors for use on ground based atmospheric Cherenkov telescopes. The technique will also be adapted for other applications.


Follow Us: