Top new research seeks to boost Scotlands well-being

Top new research seeks 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 totalling over £1 million, to be awarded on Monday, August 6th by The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE). Innovative research in areas such as healthcare, the environment, the ageing population and communications, is to be supported through the RSE, in partnership with key funders in the public and private sectors. A record number of twenty new awards will be announced when H.R.H The Duke of Edinburgh, attends the annualResearch Awards Ceremony being held at the RSE in George Street, Edinburgh.

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

  • A personal 3-D imaging system providing a new level of ‘intelligent’ display with 3-D realism, with application for computer games, medical imaging and video conferencing (Stuart McKay)
  • A palmtop device to assist anaesthetists and hospital personnel in the treatment and care of patients (Meurig Sage)
  • New understanding of how the Earth’s crust was formed (Nigel Kelly)
  • Drugs specifically designed to combat dental pain (David Andrew)
  • Our knowledge about memory, improving the quality of life of older people (Malcolm MacLeod)
  • A natural insecticide, through study of genetically modified crops (David Hopkins)
  • The anti-tumour effects of aspirin and non-steroidal drugs in coloerectal cancer(Lesley Stark)
  • A new understanding of climate change (Alun Hubbard)

Professor John Coggins, RSE Research Awards Convener said:

This year has again seen top quality applicants, from Britain and around the world, competing for the Society ’s much sought after Research Fellowships. More Scottish Executive Personal Research Fellows have been appointed than ever before. This has been made possible by the Scottish Executive Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Department. The Society has also awarded more Enterprise Fellowships this year, with the new sector of Microelectronics being added to the existing cohort of Biotechnology, Communications Technologies, Optoelectronics and Oil & Gas.

These are exciting times at the RSE with the extra funding being provided to enable the Society to expand its Research Fellowships Schemes. We look forward to appointing many more Research and Enterprise Fellows over the next few years in the hope that the research base in Scotland will go from strength to strength and that cutting-edge technology, developed in Scotland, can be commercialised to benefit the Scottish and UK economies. It is reassuring to meet so many bright, enthusiastic, young researchers at the Fellowships interview meetings and I am delighted, and honoured, to be the Society ’s Research Awards Convener at this time.

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. Through additional Scottish Executive funding announced late last year by First Minister Henry McLeish MP, MSP, more Research Fellowships are being made available this year than ever before, with eight new Scottish Executive Fellowships being announced on Monday.

The Research Awards ceremony will highlight the outstanding success of the RSE/Scottish Enterprise Fellowships programme. This scheme is responding to the need to commercialise the exceptional research taking place in Scottish universities in key areas such as optoelectronics and biotoechnology. Six new Enterprise Fellowships are being awarded in these fields and in Microelectronics and communication technology. Seven new businesses have been created in the past four years, currently employing over four hundred people in highly skilled positions. Seven hundred posts are expected to be created after three years. The new firms created so far are: Intense Photonics Ltd; Microemissive Displays Ltd; Surfactant Solutions Ltd; Edinburgh Biocomputing Solutions Ltd; Photonic Materials Ltd; Kymata Ltd; Intrallect Ltd.

RSE President, Sir William Stewart said:

We are all very pleased to have His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh here at the RSE particularly as this year is the 50th year of his being an Honorary Fellow. As a Society dedicated to the ‘advancement of learning and useful knowledge’, our portfolio is broad. Without innovation, without speed, 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 research awards portfolio.

Support of bright young people and the promotion of innovative ideas, are central to the RSE. We can only do this 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, and are this year especially grateful to the Scottish Executive which has substantially increased its funding for Research Fellows. The RSE is keen to contribute more to the well-being of Scotland – particularly in a post devolution context.

A full summary of the new projects to be announced on Monday follows:

BP Research Fellowship

Dr Matthew Costen:
Novel techniques in inelastic collision dynamics (Chemistry, Heriot-Watt)
Methods based on the absorption and emission of light, particularly from lasers, are widely used in measurements of gas phase molecules. They frequently involve rearranging the electronic structure, creating electronically excited molecules. High energy environments such as flames and technological plasmas used in the semiconductor industry also contain significant concentrations of these excited species. When an excited molecule collides with another molecule this electronic energy may be redistributed between the two, in a process called quenching. These processes are not well understood, yet are important in the modelling of flames and plasmas, and interpreting measurements using laser-based probes. We intend to develop two novel laser-based techniques, known as polarisation labelling spectroscopy and frequency modulated absorption spectroscopy, to study in detail the dynamics of collisions of important species in combustion systems.

SEELLD Personal Research Fellowship

Dr Peter Andolfatto: Population Genetics of the Drosophila melanogaster species group (ICAPB, Edinburgh)
Evolutionary processes, such as natural selection for adaptation, can be inferred from patterns of DNA sequence variability in population samples. A problem encountered when making these inferences is that purely non-adaptive processes, such as population size changes and restricted migration between populations can mimic virtually any form of selection. My aim is to construct better models of these non-adaptive processes for natural populations of Drosophila melanogaster and its close relative D.simulans, based on genome-wide DNA variability patterns.  These models will provide a better point of departure from which to assess the impact of natural selection at genes of interest.

Dr David Andrew: The central neuroanatomical representation of dental pain (IBLS, Glasgow) - from USA
Dental pain is one of the commonest pains experienced, and it is particularly important for Scotland because toothache and dental decay is now the leading cause for hospital admission in under 14-year olds. Although toothache is a serious problem, very little is known about the brain pathways that carry pain signals from the teeth. This project will study the chemicals that are contained in different groups of tooth nerves, which areas of the brain the tooth nerve fibres are connected to and whether different classes of dental pain nerve cells in the brain have different distinguishing features. This approach might lead to the development of pain-killers specifically for toothache.

Dr Sonja Franke-Arnold: Precision magnetometry utilising electromagnetically induced transparency (Physics, Strathclyde)
The detection of minute magnetic fields, including the field generated by human brain activity, continues to demand a greater sensitivity. By combining the effects of optical and magnetic fields on atoms, Dr Franke-Arnold intends to devise a realistic scheme for an optical precision magnetometer capable of reaching the associated quantum limit.

Dr Alun Hubbard:
Modelling the Ice-Sheet, Landscape, Climate System of Antarctica (Geography, Edinburgh) – from New Zealand
The monitoring and reporting of global environmental change is a topical international issue ‘fuelled ’by political and economic imperatives and an increasingly aware and vociferous public. Antarctica is central to this issue; it is not only the most isolated and inhospitable continent but hosts arguably the most sensitive yet productive ecosystems, exerts a profound influence on the earth ’s climate and is the single most influential factor controlling global sea-level. This RSE/SEELLD funded research will provide an informed contribution to this debate by the development of the first high-resolution numerical model of the Antarctic climate –ice sheet – sediment system to provide a comprehensive picture of the past and future dynamics, that is the style, frequency and magnitude response of the ice sheet to climatic changes. Through a controlled framework of model experiments which will be directly constrained by the latest onshore and offshore geological evidence as well as the palaeo-climate record contained within the deep ice-cores presently undergoing recovery, the research will address a number of key concerns: how the present Antarctic ice sheet configuration came to be established, its past fluctuations and most importantly, its criteria for stability and its future trajectory and impact on global sea-level under potentially warmer planetary conditions.

Dr Nigel Kelly:
What causes the clock to start ticking? Understanding the rates of mountain building (Geology, Edinburgh) – from Australia
Understanding the way the Earth ’s crust has formed and evolved requires the precise measurement of the ages of rocks and the events preserved in them. Using mineral clocks, or minerals that contain trace abundances of radioactive elements that decay through time, we can estimate when a rock formed or when a particular process may have affected the rock. The research I will be undertaking at the University of Edinburgh, with Professor Simon Harley, aims to define relationships between processes that affect the ‘isotopic clocks ’,in particular a mineral called zircon, and the chemical and textural characteristics of the zircon grains themselves. By utilising new and innovative microanalytical tools, applied to carefully selected geological materials, we hope to establish criteria by which scientists can not only state that a zircon has an age of ‘X ’million years, but tie this age to a particular geological process that started the isotopic clock ticking. This will lead to a better understanding of how our Earth is evolving, and has evolved through time.

How will knowledge about zircon be important in Scotland? This mineral is now used to ‘date ’the ages of most of the old rocks that make up much of Scotland. New work on zircon suggests that the NW Scottish Highlands are comprised of oldpieces of the Earth ’s crust that got together, or ‘amalgamated ’long after they formed in different places and at different times in the past –but we still do not know for sure when these amazing events occurred.

Dr Jason Smith: Single nanocrystallites in novel resonant microcavities; towards a triggered single photon source (Physics, Heriot-Watt)
The principal objective of the research is to develop a device which emits a single quantum of light on demand. The single photon source promises to be an important enabling technology for the science of quantum information, which is set to revolutionise information technology with new functionality such as verifiably secure communication and ultrafast parallel computing. The development of this device will involve such technological challenges as positioning a specially grown, nanometre-scale semiconductor crystal within a micrometre-scale optical cavity. To meet these challenges, the project brings together a unique combination of expertise in a team comprising physicists and chemists from Heriot-Watt and Manchester Universities.

CRF Biomedical Research Fellowships

Dr Mandy Jackson:
Molecular mechanisms that regulate the neuronal glutamate transporter EAAT4 (Centre for Neuroscience, Edinburgh) – from USA
Glutamate is one of the most important substances involved in the transmission of nerve signals in the brain and spinal column, but if it is not removed efficiently from the nerve endings, it can become toxic and damage the nerve cells. Failure of the glutamate transport systems is among the mechanisms thought to contribute to degeneration of the brain tissue and loss of brain function. Dr Jackson will be studying the biology of some of the proteins (particularly the recently-discovered EAAT4)that interact with and regulate the transport of glutamate in the brain.

Dr Lesley Stark:
Studies of the molecular effects of NSAIDs in colorectal cancer: implications for cancer prevention and novel drug discovery (Oncology, MRC Human Genetics Unit, Edinburgh)
Research will focus on specific aspects of the anti-tumour effects of aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in colorectal cancer. Each year in the UK, 20,000 people die from cancer of the large bowel. Although there is evidence that aspirin and NSAIDs may prevent the disease and even cause regression of early tumours, they cannot be prescribed on a population basis because of their detrimental side effects. Before alternatives can be developed, however, it is essential to understand more about the cellular processes involved and, in particular, the effect that these drugs have on a molecule called NF-kappaB and its role in the death of colon cancer cells.

Dr Robin Plevin: Generation of transgenic mice to study the role of proteinase-activated Receptor-2 in inflammatory disease (Physiology & Pharmacology, Strathclyde; at Centre for Genome Research, Edinburgh)
Inflammation is implicated in a number of major diseases prevalent today, including dermatitis, psoriasis, asthma and irritable bowel syndrome. Current treatments can relieve many of the symptoms in some of these diseases, but more effective drugs are needed. A possible target for the development of new anti-inflammatory treatments is PAR-2, a recently-discovered protein molecule that is found to be present in many layers of the skin, and in cells of the airways and intestine. By comparing normal and genetically-modified mice, Dr Plevin will be trying to clarify the role of this protein – whether it protects cells against, or contributes to the development of inflammation.

SEELLD Support Research Fellowships

Dr David Hopkins
: Decay of residues from GM plants in soils (Environmental Science, Stirling)
Understanding of the wider environmental effects of genetically modified crops has emerged as one of the major public concerns in recent years, yet rigorous scientific evidence upon which to base impact assessments is sparse. With colleagues in Canada, where modified crops are widely grown, Professor Hopkins plans a detailed study of the effect of plants with a modification that enables them to produce a natural insecticide normally present only by bacteria on the organisms that live in soils. The particular focus will be to understand better how, if at all, the modification affects the decay of plant residues in soils.

Dr Anthony Powell: Exploiting low-dimensionality in metal chalcogenides: electrical and magnetic properties of new materials (Chemistry, Heriot-Watt)
Many solids adopt structures in which atoms form two-dimensional sheets or one-dimensional chains that are held together by relatively weak forces. The presence of such low-dimensional structural units, often leads to physical properties that cannot be rationalised by extrapolation from laws that govern three-dimensional behaviour. Dr Powell will be investigating new materials in which the reduced dimensionality is expected to confer unusual electrical and magnetic properties. Materials to be studied include hybrid materials, in which organic molecules are organised by an inorganic host, a new family of magnetoresistive sulphides, with potential applications in data storage devices, and highly anisotropic electrical conductors and magnets.

Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland Support Research Fellowship

Dr Malcolm MacLeod:
Explaining memory performance in old age (Psychology, St Andrews)
Dr MacLeod will be examining the extent to which inhibitory mechanisms are implicated in memory performance in old age. The temporary inhibition of related items in memory is thought to play an important role in promoting the retrieval of desired information from memory by actively reducing the level of unwanted competition from related material. One of the possible reasons for declining memory performance in old age, therefore, may be an inability to inhibit effectively related competing information. The proposed research will inform the development of effective cognitive training strategies to enhance memory performance and thereby improve quality of life for those experiencing difficulties in remembering.

PPARC Enterprise Fellowship

Dr Grant Crossingham:
Scintispheres – The shape of things to come in gamma-ray spectroscopy (Physics & Astronomy, Southampton)
The project is to commercialise a new portable detector that can be used to identify materials from their natural radiation signature with higher resolution and sensitivity than previously possible. The applications for such a detector are in situations where remote sensing of the chemical properties of materials are required. This could be in the identification of materials within cargo that may be contraband or hazardous to transport or in environmental monitoring to determine the chemical distribution of different materials on a site. There are many other applications for this detector for which it will offer a large advantage over the detectors that are available at present.

Scottish Enterprise Fellowships

Dr Stuart McKay:
Personal Interactive 3-D Imaging System using a Novel Optical Screen (Mechanical Engineering, Strathclyde)
This Fellowship seeks to commercialise the work currently being carried out under a Scottish Enterprise Proof of Concept award for the development of a Personal 3-Dimensional Viewing System. The first product will consist of a desktop 3-D display device which provides the user with unsurpassed image quality and 3-D realism. The display will be "intelligent "with vision tracking being used to monitor user position and update the image accordingly; ultimately providing the platform for user interaction. The concept has multi-sector appeal, ranging from games and advertising to medical imaging, video conferencing and telepresence applications.

Mr Ben Hounsell:
Commercialisation of a high performance programmable processor for multimedia data processing applications (Electronic & Electrical Engineering, Edinburgh)
Continuing trends toward the integration of communication media, such as telecommunication and real-time video images in mobile devices, require systems capable of rapid data manipulation and adaptation to both the changing requirements of the user, and the changing environment in which the device is deployed. With this in mind, this fellowship proposes the commercialisation of adaptive, high performance programmable platforms, designed to provide high-speed dedicated signal processing for a wide range of System-on-Chip (SOC)multimedia applications.

These products aim to reduce development costs, and provide rapid time to market.

Mr Andrew Peacock:
Image Fusion Systems (Electronic & Electrical Engineering, Edinburgh)
The Human Visual System is very good at interpreting real world images, but is limited to detecting wavelengths in the visual spectrum. Recently, techniques have been developed which can combine images from different sensors, such as thermal IR and visual cameras, into a single image. This has a number of commercial possibilities that will be investigated in this fellowship.

Communications Technologies
Dr Meurig Sage:
Paraglide – mobile computing support for anaesthesia (Computing Science, Glasgow)
Based on pioneering work done in the EPSRC-funded Paraglide Project in the Computing Science Department at the University of Glasgow, this project is investigating the use of mobile palmtop computers to support anaesthetists in the capture of pre-and post-operative data. Current computerised support for these tasks is very limited. Paraglide technology allows anaesthetists and other medical professionals to improve decision-making and clinical audit by enabling them to enter data rapidly, review it on the palmtop device and to exchange patient and schedule information wirelessly with a variety of hospital information services. This project will develop and commercialise this technology.

Dr Chris Hillier
: Novel technology to assist the discovery of the next generation of cardiovascular drugs (Biological & Biomedical Sciences, Glasgow Caledonian)
‘Perf-Exion ’is a proposed automated, high-throughput, platform technology for the drug discovery process. This novel technology will utilise optical analysis and innovative methodologies to optimise gene transfection and allow functional screening of pharmacological candidates on isolated tissues. As well as providing a primary screen for novel gene therapies,‘Perf-Exion ’will be suitable as a secondary or tertiary screen for conventional drug discovery.

Dr Marie Claire Parker
: Enzyme-coated Microcrystals (Chemistry, Glasgow)
Dr Parker ’s research is focused on using protein-coated microcrystals in a range of commercial applications such as drug delivery, diagnostics and biocatalysis. Protein-coated microcrystals consist of protein molecules that coat the surface of small inert crystals, such as sugars and amino-acids. Their very small size (in the micron range)makes them ideal in drug delivery applications, particularly for delivering therapeutic proteins and peptides through the lungs to treat diseases such as diabetes, emphysema and osteoporosis. Only particles of a small enough size can penetrate to the bottom of the lung where they can be quickly and effectively absorbed into the bloodstream.


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