February 2013 press releases

400 construction jobs supported as Queen’s announces new Centre build
Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Peter Gregson; Gary Jebb; Norma Sinte & Prof Patrick Johnston, pictured before work begins on the new CEM site
Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Peter Gregson; Gary Jebb; Norma Sinte & Prof Patrick Johnston, pictured before work begins on the new CEM site

Queen’s University today announced that it has appointed O’Hare & McGovern as the main contractor for its £32M Centre for Experimental Medicine (CEM).

At the peak of construction the building of the Centre will support 400 jobs in the sector, including O’Hare & McGovern staff and other construction-related jobs. Work begins on site this week and is due for completion in spring 2015.

More than 110 new jobs will also be created for scientists and allied professions when the Centre opens.

The new CEM is being built on Queen’s Institute of Health Sciences campus on Jubilee Road, Belfast, where a number of dedicated, high quality research centres focused on cancer, infectious disease, public health and population genetics are already based.

The facility, which will have an internal area of 9,000m², will provide accommodation for some 330 members of staff specialising in research into finding cures for eye disease and diabetes, and the development of a global programme to aid understanding of the genetics of complex chronic diseases. The work of the Centre is a focus of Queen’s ambitious £140M Beyond fundraising campaign which will provide philanthropic funding to support research of global significance and importance.
The four storey building will be co-located with the existing Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology to encourage joint working and discovery between researchers.

Speaking at the announcement, Gary Jebb, Queen’s Director of Estates, said: “O’Hare & McGovern is one of Northern Ireland’s leading construction firms, and as such, Queen’s is delighted to appoint it as lead contractor for our new Centre for Experimental Medicine. In the last year, the University has invested over £35M in building projects, creating over 700 construction-related jobs in the local economy, and we are proud that today’s announcement reinforces Queen’s continuing commitment to supporting the Northern Ireland economy and especially the local construction sector.”

Eamon O’Hare, Managing Director of O’Hare & McGovern, said: “The construction industry is currently a very difficult sector to be operating in. We are delighted to have been awarded this contract to continue our longstanding relationship with Queen’s. The new centre will offer world class facilities for the University with exceptional design, construction and engineering. This announcement will help to secure jobs and offers an impetus to the local construction industry.”

Professor Patrick Johnston, Dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences added: “This new Centre will be a key driver for change in a range of health and biotechnology activities in Northern Ireland and further afield. Today’s announcement that construction is due to begin is good news for everyone in Northern Ireland as we can all look forward to benefitting from improved diagnosis and treatments of debilitating diseases."

Other companies who will be working on the CEM build as part of the design team include: Ostick and Williams, Belfast, and Ashen and Allen, London (Architect and Lead Consultant); WYG, Belfast (Mechanical and Electrical Engineer); Albert Fry Associates, Belfast (Civil and Structural Engineer); Turner and Townsend, Belfast (Quantity Surveyor); Faithful and Gould, Belfast (CDMC Co-ordinator); and Delap and Waller, Antrim (BREEAM Assessor).

The CEM is being funded through a series of grants and philanthropic donations from the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF), The Atlantic Philanthropies, The Wellcome Trust, The Wolfson Foundation, The Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust, Insight Trust for the Visually Impaired and The Queen’s University of Belfast Foundation.

Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke, Communications Officer. Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5310 or email comms.officer@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s alumni give £80K boost to students

An engineering project on the DeLorean electric car and a range of cultural events promoting Malaysian identity are just two of 19 student projects to have been awarded almost £40,000 from Queen’s University’s Annual Fund.

Queen’s Annual Fund raised over £84,000 last year from graduates, staff and friends of the University. Of this amount, £21,000 has been allocated to the University’s Scholarship Fund and £21,000 to Green Chemistry, a priority project in the Beyond fundraising campaign,  while the largest element, £42,000, is being used to enhance the student experience.

Speaking at the special dispersal ceremony, Natasha Sharma, Queen’s Annual Fund Manager, explained: “Through the Annual Fund our donors are making a tangible difference to the lives of current students. Awards ranging from £200 to £7,000 will greatly enrich the student experience of University and help develop the leaders of tomorrow.”

The colourful occasion was also used to launch the University’s next telephone campaign which is currently underway and which includes, for the first time, a dedicated campaign to raise funds for a new Queen’s Medical Fund to support Medical Education.

The Chair of Queen’s Annual Fund Committee, Professor Sean Gorman, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences, presented representatives of this year’s successful projects with certificates and commented on the latest medical initiative: “Thanks to our graduates and donors, the Annual Fund gives a major financial boost to a wide variety of projects and makes an immediate impact on the quality of the Queen’s experience for our students.

 “Support for the new Medical Fund will enable students to undertake summer studentships in our leading research centres and to consider taking an intercalated degree, focused largely on research,” added Professor Gorman.

Over 1,000 graduates made a gift to Queen’s last year, 400 of whom were new donors. Regular telephone campaigns ensure that Queen’s alumni are offered the opportunity to support innovative projects which are part of the recently launched £140 million Beyond campaign which is aiming to increase and enhance the impact the University makes on society and the economy, locally and internationally.”

Media inquiries to Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office; tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5321; g.power@qub.ac.uk

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Inside the mind of a serial killer with A Flavour of Psychology at Queen’s

The inner workings of the minds of some of the world’s most notorious serial killers will be the subject of just one of the talks available at a free psychology showcase at Queen’s University this week.

The Flavour of Psychology event at Queen’s on Wednesday 27 February offers the public and secondary school students an insight into the world of psychology. Talks will cover a wide range of topics including serial killers, the psychology of advertising and teenagers’ attitudes to sexual health.

The free one-day event, organised by the Northern Ireland Branch of the British Psychological Society (NIBPS) in partnership with Queen’s School of Psychology, will feature six top psychologists from around the UK and Ireland, who will showcase their ground-breaking work in different areas of psychology.

Professor Peter Hepper from Queen’s will provide an insight into the murdering minds of serial killers. He said: “Psychology is the study of behaviour, and serial killing is one of the most extreme and bizarre behaviours that humans exhibit. It throws up many challenges for psychology to explain, ranging from our morbid fascination with serial killers to how an individual becomes a serial killer.

“My talk will explore how psychology contributes to our understanding of serial killers. We will discuss common myths, such as the belief that all serial killers are men - the truth is there are female serial killers, but they kill in different ways. Another common misconception is that serial killers ‘must be mad’ - in fact, they are very rational people, although clearly different from the rest of us.

“At Flavour of Psychology we will explore what serial killing is. We will attempt to get into the mind of a serial killer to examine why they kill in the way they do and how they manage to blend into society so well that we don’t know about them until it is too late.”

Other Flavour of Psychology talks include:

  • Professor Chris McCusker, Queen’s University, will discuss the rise in ‘talking therapies’ and the benefits for people with mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, as well as patients who are coping with physical illnesses such as cancer.
  • Fiona Rooney from leading Belfast advertising agency Lyle Bailie International will discuss the application of psychology in advertising.
  • Dr Mihela Erjavec from Bangor University, Wales, will give an insight in the Food Dudes programme which aims to change children’s eating habits for life.
  • Dr Michael Drumm, Head of Psychology at the Mater Hospital, Dublin, will describe the use of technology in mental health treatment.
  • Dr Marian McLaughlin, University of Ulster, will provide an insight into the reasons behind the poor sexual health of young people in Northern Ireland and the role of health psychology in improving this.

Professor Carol McGuinness from Queen’s School of Psychology, who is Chair of NIBPS, said: “The Flavour of Psychology day is a great way to get an insight into the broad and fascinating discipline that is psychology. I would encourage anyone with an interest in psychology to come along, and I hope that the talks on offer will inspire future generations of psychologists.”

The Flavour of Psychology event will take place at the Whitla Hall, Queen’s University on Wednesday 27 February from 9.15am-3.30pm. Admission is free but anyone who wishes to attend should book in advance by emailing n.ireland@bps.org.uk or calling 028 9097 4129.

Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke at Queen’s University Communications Office on +44 (0)28 9097 5320 email comms.officer@qub.ac.uk

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Student-led project teaches medics to handle with care

Health workers and patients across Northern Ireland are to benefit from a new initiative at Queen’s University which better prepares trainee doctors to safely move patients.

In addition to the risk to patients from incorrect handling, back injuries suffered by healthcare workers are estimated to cost the NHS around £400 million and account for 40 per cent of staff absences every year.

Now a third year Medical student at Queen’s, Matthew Anderson, under the direction of Dr Nigel Hart from Queen’s Centre for Medical Education, has developed an innovative, interactive e-learning package to train fellow students how to minimise the risk of injury when moving or handling patients.

Developed in collaboration with physiotherapists and nurses from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, the package uses text, image and video to demonstrate the correct techniques for moving and handling patients, as well as interactive questions to test the student. There are also personal accounts from people who have suffered lifting and handling injuries and the devastating impact this has had on their lives.

Dr Nigel Hart said: “This package delivers a complete message for all healthcare professionals to ensure a consistent approach to training. Previously training was delivered in a more piecemeal fashion through the various clinical attachments. Moving and handling has probably been under-prioritised in the medical curricula across the UK, evidenced by the specific inclusion of it as an item to be covered in the most recent version of the General Medical Council’s document Tomorrow’s Doctors.”

More than one third of NHS staff absences lasting over three days are caused by moving and handling injuries, resulting in significant costs to the health service through lost work days and, in some cases, early retirement due to ill health.

Director of Queen’s Centre for Medical Education in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, Professor Pascal McKeown, said:  “Training is essential to reduce the risk to both patients and staff. While it may not be the most glamorous of clinical skills, patient moving and handling is an essential component of high quality healthcare. This multimedia training package is a valuable resource for our Medical students. We hope to share it with colleagues across the health professions and with other Medical schools in the UK.

“E-learning is an important aspect of the medical curriculum at Queen’s, complementing traditional approaches to teaching and enhancing the learning experience for students. While patient handling has been successfully taught through traditional lectures for many years, this online resource provides a more reliable, verifiable and easily managed way to deliver this training to large numbers of students.”

Matthew Anderson, who is originally from Randalstown but now lives in South Belfast, led the project during a summer studentship at the Centre for Medical Education. Earlier this week, Matthew presented the project to some of the leading figures in the education of healthcare professionals at the Irish Network of Medical Educators annual meeting in Dublin.

Matthew said: “The back is one of the most likely places for an injury to occur through poor manual handling, so it is important to know how the spine works, the injuries that can occur, and how posture and biomechanics can have an effect on your spine.

“The online training has already been well received among Queen’s medical students and I hope it will be a valuable resource to those across the healthcare professions who assist patients with movement on a daily basis.

“The project gave me a valuable insight into the benefits of e-learning as a medical education tool, and I hope to develop this project further through another summer studentship later this year.”

The Centre for Medical Education at Queen’s oversees the delivery of a world-class training system for future doctors. The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust is now a Queen’s Hospital Campus and seven hospitals through Northern Ireland enjoy Queen’s Teaching Hospital status. For more information visit www.qub.ac.uk/schools/mdbs/medicine

For more information contact Anne-Marie Clarke, Queen’s University Communications Office, +44 (0)28 9097 5320 email comms.officer@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s medical students deliver fashion first aid

Queen’s medical students are urging the public to help them save lives on Monday evening (25 February) by joining them for their annual SWOT fashion show (Students Working Overseas Trust).

The purchase of just one ticket, which includes entry to the show and aftershow party, can cure 81 people of Malaria. Last year, the event raised £37,000, which medical students brought with them directly to hospitals and medical centres in Kenya, Tanzania, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

Comedian Colin Murphy and Belfast City Beat DJ Emma Fitzpatrick will host the show, while students model the latest ranges from high-street stores and designer boutiques.

SWOT President, Kate Duncan said: “It might be a night of fun and fashion, but ultimately we are saving lives. This show helps Queen’s students to go to countries and deliver help where it is needed. Last year’s fashion show won Queen's Students’ Union Event of the Year, the Queen's Volunteering Excellence award for Event of the Year and the Board of Irish College Societies Event of the Year, so we really have a lot to live up to.  But our amazing committee and models have been preparing and rehearsing for months, giving up hours of their time and putting so much enthusiasm into every aspect of the show, we are sure it will be bigger and better than ever. 

“As fourth year medical students everyone’s time is important, but not as important as the number of lives we can save, so it makes it all worthwhile.”

Tickets to the show, priced £27, are available in advance from Queen’s Students’ Union reception.  The show begins at 7.30pm on  Monday, 25 February, in the Whitla Hall at Queen’s University.

Media inquiries to Judith Rance, Communications Office. Tel: 028 9097 3091 or email j.rance@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s students awarded Asidua Scholarships worth £25,000
Asidua Chief Operations Officer, Angela Canavan (centre) with Queen’s students Jake Mercer, Michael Drury, Andrew Kingston and Andrew Fletcher
Asidua Chief Operations Officer, Angela Canavan (centre) with Queen’s students Jake Mercer, Michael Drury, Andrew Kingston and Andrew Fletcher

Leading Belfast based IT software and telecoms services provider, Asidua, has today announced that four of Northern Ireland’s brightest Computer Science and Engineering students have been awarded places on their prestigious Scholarship Programme.

Launched in 2008 in co-operation with Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Ulster, the Asidua Scholarship Programme aims to attract fresh talent into the N.Ireland IT sector, by offering successful Computer Science and Engineering students an unrivalled packaged worth up to £25,000. 

In addition to paid bursaries, the programme helps supplement the academic learning from University with real-life business experience through paid placements and full time job opportunities after graduation. 

Since 2008 Asidua, an Investor in People Gold company, has successfully awarded 16 scholarships to local students. This year, the Belfast based IT software and telecoms services provider has announced that 4 more of Northern Ireland’s brightest IT and Engineering students – Andrew Fletcher, Andrew Kingston, Jake Mercer and Michael Drury – will be joining their prestigious Scholarship Programme.

During a recent award ceremony, each of the scholars were formally welcomed to Asidua by Chief Operations Officer, Angela Canavan. “I would like to welcome Andrew, Michael, Jake and Andrew to Asidua and congratulate them on their outstanding achievement of being awarded places on our prestigious Scholarship Programme.”  Angela continued: “Each year the standard of applications to the programme increases in both quantity and quality, and I am confident that each of our newly selected scholars will have a bright career with Asidua.”

The award ceremony, which was also attended by family members and representatives from Queen’s University Belfast, allowed the new scholars an opportunity to meet future work colleagues and discover more about the company from current and previous scholars; many of whom have since returned as Graduate Engineers.
Speaking during the event, Director of Education at Queen’s University Belfast, Dr Lillian Greenwood, described the programme as “an excellent example of how seriously Queen's University Belfast and Asidua take the development of future professionals in the IT and technology sectors.

“The ability to study at university and combine it with the professional experience gained at Asidua leads to highly skilled, better prepared graduates. The skills learned by the award winner strengthens their academic development by being given the opportunity to put theory into practice- key to becoming a well rounded professional.”

New Asidua scholar Michael Drury agreed by adding: “I was very interested in the type of work that the organisation was engaged in and believed that the experience I could gain from working with Asidua would be very beneficial to my degree as well as my future career in IT.”  Queen’s Electrical and Electronic Engineering student Jake Mercer continued: “I applied as soon as I could.  I hope to take every opportunity to learn and develop as an engineer and I have no doubt that in the future I will have benefited from this unique and invaluable experience.” 

Queen’s Computer Science student, Andrew Fletcher was also excited to have been awarded a place on the prestigious programme and outlined his aims for the future. “As an Asidua scholar, I want to fully grasp every single opportunity available to me so as to allow me to further my technical skills and my development as a whole. I aim to further build my computing skills to a level far above that attainable solely in the class-room, by working in this world class setting alongside experienced IT professionals on innovative projects.”

The four new Asidua scholars will continue with their first year studies at Queen’s University Belfast and will return in the summer to begin their first placement with the global IT software and telecoms services provider.

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Queen’s study shows psychotropic drug dispensing increases on entry to care homes
Lead researcher on the Queen’s study, Aideen Maguire, who is based in the Centre of Excellence for Public Health Northern Ireland
Lead researcher on the Queen’s study, Aideen Maguire, who is based in the Centre of Excellence for Public Health Northern Ireland

A study by Queen’s University Belfast has found that the dispensing of psychotropic drugs to older people in Northern Ireland increases on entry to care homes.

According to the study, due to be published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, antipsychotic drug dispensing in older people more than doubled from 8.2 per cent before entry to care homes to 18.6 per cent after entering care.

The study was carried out by researchers from Queen’s Centre for Public Health in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences.  It analysed prescribing data for over 250,000 people, aged 65 years and over living in Northern Ireland from 2008 to 2010, and looked at drug uptake within the older population during the transition from community to care.

The study revealed that psychotropic drug use was higher in care homes than the community, with 20.3 per cent of those in care homes dispensed an antipsychotic in January 2009, compared with 1.1 per cent of those in the community.

Lead researcher on the Queen’s study, Aideen Maguire, who is based in the Centre of Excellence for Public Health Northern Ireland said: “Although drug dispensing is high in older people in the community, we have found that it increases dramatically on entry to care. This study showed that the high uptake of psychotropic drugs observed in care homes in Northern Ireland cannot be explained by a continuation of drug use initiated in the community prior to entering care.

“With an ageing population globally it is important that we look at the reasons behind this type of increase following admission to care. Antipsychotic uptake in Northern Ireland is similar to that in the rest of the UK and Ireland, and this study highlights the need for routine medicines reviews especially during the transition into care.”

Other key findings of the study included:

  • Of the 250,617 people studied, 6,779 (2.7 per cent) experienced a transition into care during 2008-2010.
  • The psychotropic drugs prescribed to patients included in the study were being prescribed for the first time for many.
  • Six months after admission, 37.1 per cent of all new residents had received at least one prescription for a hypnotic drug, 30.2 per cent for an antipsychotic, and 24.5 per cent for an anxiolytic.
  • 1.1 per cent of those living in the community were dispensed at least one prescription for an antipsychotic in January 2009, (7.3 per cent for a hypnotic, and 3.6 percent for an anxiolytic).
  • Hypnotic drug dispensing increased from 14.8 per cent to 26.3 per cent after entering care.
  • This study shows that use of psychotropic medication in a small proportion of residents of care homes was a continuation of a prescription that had been started before entry, but one in six individuals with no history of psychotropic drug use in the six months before entry had been exposed to at least one antipsychotic prescription within six months of entering care.

Professor Carmel Hughes from the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s added: “This is an important study of national and international relevance, as with an ageing population, quality of care for older people is an ongoing public health concern.

“The number of older people entering care across Ireland is predicted to increase in the next 10 years, and studies further predict a 69 per cent increase in the Irish population aged over 65 years from 2006-2021, and a 40 per cent increase in the those aged over 65 years in Northern Ireland in the same time frame.  With a globally ageing population, it is vitally important that we look at the reasons behind the increase in the prescription of psychotropic drugs in care homes.”

For further information on the Centre for Public Health and Centre of Excellence for Public Health Northern Ireland is available online at

For media enquiries please contact Claire O’Callaghan on +44 (0) 28 9097 5391 or 07814 415 451 or at c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk

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New Appointment for Queen’s University Vice-Chancellor

Professor Sir Peter Gregson, President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast has been appointed Chief Executive and Vice-Chancellor of Cranfield University, the UK's only all graduate university, and will take up his new position on 1 August 2013.
He has led Queen's through a period of unparalleled progress and achievement since his appointment as President and Vice-Chancellor on 1 August 2004. From entry into the Russell Group of leading UK universities in 2006 to the strategic recruitment of some 60 professors in the last three years, enhancing academic quality has been the cornerstone of his leadership at Queen's.
The recent opening of the Northern Ireland Molecular Pathology Laboratory, securing some £32m of funding for the Centre for Experimental Medicine and becoming a strategic partner of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) are just three examples of the unique contribution that Queen’s makes to enhance the economic health and well-being of not only Northern Ireland but society more widely.
Speaking of his time at Queen's, Sir Peter said: "I have derived enormous pleasure from working with so many talented, committed and exceptional colleagues across the University, including our students, staff and members of the Governing Body.  Queen’s is a powerhouse of learning and enterprise, an exceptional University with a distinguished heritage.
“At Queen's, we have the privilege of serving the people of Northern Ireland in so many ways - through our contributions to culture as reflected in the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry; to healthcare through the award-winning Centre for Cancer Research; and to economic development through our new portal for business at Riddel Hall."
Pro-Chancellor and Chair of Senate, the Governing Body of Queen’s, Sir David Fell said: "Sir Peter has led Queen's with distinction.  He has positioned the University to have global impact through high quality education and translational research and this is an impressive legacy.  In 2006, he led Queen’s into the Russell Group as one of the UK’s leading research intensive universities.
“Under Peter’s leadership, Queen’s has secured external recognition of its outstanding contribution and achievements on numerous occasions.  In 2009, we were awarded Entrepreneurial University of the Year and, in 2011, we were awarded our fifth Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for Northern Ireland’s Comprehensive Cancer Services Programme.”
Pro-Chancellor Rotha Johnston added: "Peter and his wife Rachael have made a remarkable contribution to developing a collegiate University with so many crucial links to society, not only here in Northern Ireland but nationally and internationally."
Speaking of his new role, Professor Gregson said: "As a long-standing champion of the power of university-business-collaboration, I look forward to leading Cranfield with its very close links to business but I will always look back, with fond memories, to my time at Queen’s.” 
Media inquiries to Kevin Mulhern, Head of Communications. Tel: +44(0)28 90 97 3259 or email k.mulhern@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s University announced as new partner in Futurelearn during Prime Minister’s India visit

Queen’s University Belfast has been announced as one of the new partners in Futurelearn, the UK’s first provider of free, open online courses from multiple top-ranking institutions.

The announcement was made as six of the Futurelearn partners take part in a major business and skills mission to India with the Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Futurelearn, which is owned by The Open University (OU), has signed an agreement with the British Library (BL) to develop online courses using BL resources. In addition, Queen’s University Belfast and the universities of Bath, Leicester, Nottingham, and Reading have now joined the existing partners bringing the total number to 18.

Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales all now have universities in Futurelearn. Welcoming the news, the Prime  Minister said: "Britain boasts some of the best universities in the world. This innovative new offer led by The Open University will mean that Indian students can access some of the best teaching and learning online from their home in Mumbai or Delhi. I'm delighted that Futurelearn is expanding to include more British universities and the British Library. I hope it will encourage many more Indian students to take the next step and study with a UK university."

Professor Sir Peter Gregson, Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, said: “Queen’s is delighted to be a partner in this exciting collaboration, which will extend access to our high quality educational content to students around the world. Increasing accessibility to higher education is an objective to which Queen’s is committed and this important initiative has the potential to provide opportunities to new audiences worldwide, including those who might not normally engage with universities.”

Welcoming the new partners to Futurelearn, Open University Vice-Chancellor, Martin Bean said: “We’re in the middle of an exciting time for higher education in which anything is possible. I am delighted that these iconic institutions - the British Library and five top universities - have joined us on our journey to make Futurelearn the world’s best source of free, open, online courses. I’m convinced that Futurelearn will quickly become a great, innovative British export. We’re building on the country’s 800-year history of higher education to deliver a best in class teaching and learning experience that will benefit students all over the world”.

Simon Nelson, CEO of Futurelearn, said: “I am thrilled that more of the UK’s top institutions have joined Futurelearn, which will bring the best of UK teaching to students worldwide. Until now, this market has been dominated by companies based in the US, but with 18 UK partners, we are determined to provide the smartest and most engaging online learning experiences and revolutionise conventional models of education.”

Futurelearn was launched on 14 December 2012. It is an online platform that will make courses from the UK’s best universities and institutions available online for free. It will establish the UK as a global leader in online higher education (HE), offering world-class UK university courses to students throughout the world.

In addition, it will strengthen the UK HE Sector by:

  • Maintaining the world-leading brand of UK HE, which currently has 18 of the top 100 universities
  • Building an international growth opportunity within the UK HE sector, where direct exports in 2008/09 were £7.9bn
  • Building innovation in UK HE by developing world-leading online teaching and learning practices.

British Library Chief Executive, Roly Keating said:
“FutureLearn is an exciting development in higher education, with the potential to enable mass access to valuable resources and teaching anywhere in the world, for free. As the home of a growing set of unique and valuable digital resources, the British Library is looking forward to partnering with The Open University and widening access to our collections for even more researchers online worldwide as the initiative develops.”

Futurelearn was launched by The Open University and the new partners join existing partners from the universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Exeter, King’s College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton, St Andrews and Warwick.

The first Futurelearn courses will be open to students in the second half of 2013.

Media inquiries to Kevin Mulhern, Head of Communications. Tel: +44(0)28 9097 3259, m07813 015431 or email k.mulhern@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s tells public how to help fight ‘invasive aliens’

Scientists from Queens University Belfast are hosting an Invasive Alien Species Conference on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week in the Courtyard at Clandeboye Estate Bangor.

Members of the public are being invited along to an “Ask the experts” discussion from 8.00pm – 9.00pm on Tuesday 19 February, where they can find out how to identify and control Japanese knotweed, Giant Hogweed, Rhododendron and Himalayan Balsam, which are classified as one of the 100 worst non-native invasive species in the world. They can also learn more about biosecurity and how to prevent the spread of these alien invaders.

This event is funded by the CIRB project based at Queen’s University Belfast. The CIRB project (Controlling Priority Invasive Non-native Riparian Plants and Restoring Native Biodiversity) is funded through the EU’s INTERREG IVA Cross Border Programme managed by the Special EU Programmes Body with co-funding provided by the Department of Environment Community and Local Government in Ireland and the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland. 

Catherine McGavigan, Research Fellow in Queen’s University’s School of Biological Sciences, stated ‘These invasive plants grow rapidly and take over the riverbank preventing the growth of our native species and restricting access for river users.  In winter these species die back, leaving the riverbanks prone to erosion. Soil from the eroded banks can clog fish spawning sites reducing trout and salmon populations. The CIRB Project’s aim is to raise awareness of how to identify and control invasive plants, so that together we can prevent further environmental, economic and social damage and we can once again visit and enjoy our beautiful river habitats’.

These plants are not restricted to riverbanks. Many are found in urban areas. Japanese knotweed was introduced in the early 19th century, as an ornamental plant from Japan, but is now spreading rapidly throughout the UK and Ireland. Its shoots can penetrate impermeable surfaces, causing serious damage to buildings, walls, roads and footpaths and blocking drains. Under Schedule 9 of the Wildlife Order (NI) 1985, it is an offence to plant or cause it to grow in the wild. This places a duty of care on landowners to prevent the further spread of this plant onto adjacent land.

Giant Hogweed is dangerous to human health. The sap contains a phototoxic chemical. In sunlight, touching or even brushing up against the plant with bare skin will cause burning and blistering. The chemical can remain active in the skin and blistering may persist for up to six years.   In children the reaction can be severe and they may need hospital treatment.

For further information contact Catherine McGavigan on 07796856709 or email c.mcgavigan@qub.ac.uk


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Queen’s study aims to use stem cells to help save sight of diabetes sufferers

Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast are hoping to develop a novel approach that could save the sight of millions of diabetes sufferers using adult stem cells.

Currently millions of diabetics worldwide are at risk of sight loss due to a condition called Diabetic Retinopathy. This is when high blood sugar causes the blood vessels in the eye to become blocked or to leak. Failed blood flow harms the retina and leads to vision impairment and if left untreated can lead to blindness.

The novel REDDSTAR study (Repair of Diabetic Damage by Stromal Cell Administration) involving researchers from Queen’s Centre for Vision and Vascular Science in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, will see them isolating stem cells from donors, expanding them in a laboratory setting and re-delivering them to a patient where they help to repair the blood vessels in the eye. This is especially relevant to patients with diabetes were the vessels of the retina become damaged.

At present there are very few treatments available to control the progression of diabetic complications. There are no treatments which will improve glucose levels and simultaneously treat the diabetic complication.

The €6 million EU funded research is being carried out with NUI Galway and brings together experts from Northern Ireland, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Portugal and the US.

Professor Alan Stitt, Director of the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science in Queen’s and lead scientist for the project said: “The Queen’s component of the REDDSTAR study involves investigating the potential of a unique stem cell population to promote repair of damaged blood vessels in the retina during diabetes. The impact could be profound for patients, because regeneration of damaged retina could prevent progression of diabetic retinopathy and reduce the risk of vision loss.

“Currently available treatments for diabetic retinopathy are not always satisfactory. They focus on end-stages of the disease, carry many side effects and fail to address the root causes of the condition. A novel, alternative therapeutic approach is to harness adult stem cells to promote regeneration of the damaged retinal blood vessels and thereby prevent and/or reverse retinopathy.”

“This new research project is one of several regenerative medicine approaches ongoing in the centre. The approach is quite simple: we plan to isolate a very defined population of stem cells and then deliver them to sites in the body that have been damaged by diabetes. In the case of some patients with diabetes, they may gain enormous benefit from stem cell-mediated repair of damaged blood vessels in their retina. This is the first step towards an exciting new therapy in an area where it is desperately needed.”

The research focuses on specific adult stem-cells derived from bone-marrow. Which are being provided by Orbsen Therapeutics, a spin-out from the Science Foundation Ireland-funded Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI) at NUI Galway.

The project will develop ways to grow the bone-marrow-derived stem cells. They will be tested in several preclinical models of diabetic complications at centres in Belfast, Galway, Munich, Berlin and Porto before human trials take place in Denmark.

Queen’s Centre for Vision and Vascular Science is a key focus of the University’s ambitious £140m ‘together we can go Beyond’ fundraising campaign. It is due to expand its Vision Sciences programme further when the University’s new £32m Wellcome-Wolfson Centre for Experimental Medicine opens in 2015. Along with vision, two new programmes in Diabetes and Genomics will also be established in the new Centre which is set to stimulate additional investment, lead to further global collaborations and create more opportunities for new health and biotech companies in Northern Ireland.

Further information on the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science at Queen’s is available online at http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentreforVisionandVascularScience/

For more information please contact the Communications Office at Queen’s University Communications Office on +44 (0)28 9097 5320 /  +44 (0)7814 415 451 comms.officer@qub.ac.uk

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Tony Blair sends message to teachers at Queen’s Sharing Education event

Tony Blair will today tell teachers and policy makers attending a Sharing Education event at Queen’s University Belfast that he believes a better future lies in educating young people to respect different faiths and cultures.
In a video message that will be shown at Queen’s Sharing Education Conference, which is examining the delivery of religious education in Northern Ireland, Mr Blair will tell delegates: “If we want to create a more peaceful and harmonious world then we have to start by educating young people not just to tolerate, but to respect, those of a different faith and culture to their own.”
The former Prime Minister has prepared the message for delegates on behalf of his Tony Blair Faith Foundation which promotes respect and understanding about the world’s religions through education and multi-faith action.
At today’s Sharing Religious Education event in Riddel Hall, representatives from his Foundation will join experts from across the world to speak about the different ways in which religious education is delivered.
Mr Blair will say his Face to Faith programme is “Linking schools the world over, from Brisbane, to Beirut to Belfast,” and that he believes it has “many things in common with a shared approach to religious education in Northern Ireland.”
He will also convey to those attending the event about his hopes for working together, saying: “I really hope we can work together so that our young people are properly equipped with the skills and attitudes and understanding that they will require in the world today.”
Currently in Northern Ireland, more than 10,000 school pupils from 150 schools across Northern Ireland are benefitting from Queen’s successful Sharing Education Programme which was launched in 2007. Funded by the International Fund for Ireland and the Atlantic Philanthropies, it aims to find new ways of sharing education in order to create new curriculum-based educational opportunities and in doing so sustain contact among pupils from different communities to help promote understanding and reconciliation.
Speaking ahead of the event, Tony Gallagher, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Academic Planning, Staffing and External Relations at Queen’s, said: “Today’s event comes at a time when, following years of division and separation, interest in sharing and collaboration in education is growing.  The Executive’s Programme for Government has ambitious and laudable targets relating to the promotion of Shared Education, while on the ground, more and more schools are forming collaborative partnerships in order to improve the educational outcomes of their pupils.
“Tony Blair’s message today serves to highlight that the delivery of Religious Education is a global issue, and we are proud that the School of Education at Queen’s can continue to show leadership in this area by facilitating discussions around the opportunities for enhanced shared religious education, and shared education more generally.”
More information on the Sharing Education Programme at Queen’s is available online at http://www.schoolsworkingtogether.co.uk/
Media inquiries to Lisa McElroy, Senior Communications Officer. Tel: 028 90 97 5384 or m07814 415 451

Listen to Tony Blair interview.?

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Tony Blair - Shared Education
Queen’s boosts future of sporting stars with new Elite Athlete Programme

Queen’s University has launched a new Elite Athlete Programme (EAP) to provide ten lucky students, who are competing at the top levels of their sport, with a support package worth up to £8,000 per year.

The new Programme from Queen’s Sport has been established to provide exceptional students, both existing and prospective, with a platform to achieve both their sporting and academic goals.

Today’s announcement is the latest addition to a suite of over 120 sports scholarships already available to Queen’s students through its Rugby, GAA and Soccer Academies and its Ulster Bank Sports Bursary scheme.

Successful applicants will have access to a significant contribution towards fees, accommodation and international competition costs throughout the athlete’s time at Queen’s, scholarships, individual academic support and career advice, lifestyle management, a catering and nutritional budget, expert coaching and the very best in athlete support services.

Highlighting the importance of the EAP launch, Queen’s Sports Development Manager, Karl Oakes said: “Queen’s is now in a position both locally and internationally to attract the very highest achievers in sport and academia across these islands and further afield. Our new Elite Athletes Programme is designed to cater for those athletes who are truly exceptional and who deserve to be supported in their academic and sporting careers so they can stay on course to achieve greatness in their chosen sport. Queen’s hopes to play a major role in the development of such athletes, not only throughout their time studying but long after they graduate.”

Students studying and competing at Queen’s already have access world-class facilities following the recent completion of a £20 million investment in sport which has seen the transformation of the facilities at Upper Malone and an extensive upgrade of the University’s Physical Education Centre (PEC). The facilities will be in use in 2013 as part of the 2013 World Police and Fire Games. Basketball and handball events will be staged at the PEC, while Upper Malone will have Gaelic football, soccer, rugby and softball.

Online Applications for the EAP are now open via www.queenssport.com  for current and prospective students of Queen’s University Belfast. The final date for applications is Friday 23 February 2013. Places on the scheme will be confirmed by the end of March 2013 subject to the conditional offers and returning students in September 2013.

Providing a life-changing experience that will raise all students’ aspirations and equip them with the ability to achieve their full potential, is a key focus of the University’s ambitious £140m 'together we can go Beyond' fundraising effort. Further information on Beyond is available online at http://www.queensfoundation.com/

For further information please contact: Karl Oakes on k.oakes@qub.ac.uk 02890681126 or visit the Queen’s Sport Website: www.queenssport.com

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£3M generates new sustainable energy research at Queen’s
Professor Christopher Hardacre
Professor Christopher Hardacre

Leading chemists from Queen’s University have been awarded £3million to create new methods of sustainable energy and to create technologies which will lower the cost of power.

Already the UK leader in Green Chemistry research, the team, from Queen’s School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, will also work on transforming fossil fuel resources more efficiently and improving energy storage.

The funding has been announced by David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, as part of a UK-wide investment of £12.9 million by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to create a UK Catalysis Hub. The Hub will focus on supporting UK economic growth while helping reduce CO2 emissions, produce cleaner water and generate more sustainable energy.

Catalysis science is at the heart of today’s industrial processes. Virtually all the manufactured goods we consume, have, at some point in their manufacture, involved the use of a catalyst to speed up the chemical reactions as this makes their production possible on commercial and useful timescales.

Professor Christopher Hardacre from the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Queen’s is leading the Catalysis for Energy aspect of the Hub said: “This funding is tremendously important as the world urgently needs to develop greater sustainability and efficiency in energy use. Queen’s will focus on converting renewable sources such as solar and biomass into chemical and electrochemical energy for use in power generation, for example, fuel cells for cars and mobile phones to domestic and commercial combined heat and power systems.  By studying the overall processes involved we will be able to see how making changes to them can improve efficiency and develop systems for clean, reliable energy.”

Queen’s is already partners with some of the world’s leading industrial giants, including the Malaysian petro-chemical company Petronas, which chose Queen’s as the base for its only European-based university research laboratory. Its expertise in Green Chemistry has also made the area a focus of the University’s ambitious £140M Beyond fundraising effort which is aiming to help Queen’s build on its excellence in globally recognised areas of research.

Speaking about the new Catalysis Hub, David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science said:  “Catalysis science is vital for many areas of the UK economy, from food production to pharmaceuticals. This investment will provide a focal point for the UK’s leading expertise in this area, helping scientists further develop their skills and undertake cutting edge research to drive sustainable growth.”

David Delpy, Chief Executive of EPSRC, said: “The UK has some outstanding researchers in the field of Catalysis, and it is a vital field for UK industry with a major role to play in the creation of new or improved processes. That is why EPSRC is strategically investing in this Catalysis Hub. Building on our previous initiatives, it will draw academics and institutions together to further enable cross-disciplinary research, and create a critical mass of activity which will enhance the international standing of the UK catalysis community and help it address the major challenges faced in the Physical Sciences, Energy, Manufacturing and Healthcare themes.”

The new UK Catalysis Hub will be divided up into four different themes: Catalyst Design, Catalysis for Energy, Environmental Catalysis and Catalysis for Chemical Transformations.

Separately, Professor Christopher Hardacre, has been awarded the inaugural IChemE Andrew Medal in recognition of his contribution to the field of heterogeneous catalysis. He will be presented with the prize, at the Institution's first Chemical Engineering and Catalysis conference in London in June. Professor Hardacre's research is recognized as world-leading and brings together chemical engineers and chemists.

Further information on the work of the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Queen’s is available online at www.ch.qub.ac.uk

For media enquiries please contact Claire O’Callaghan on +44 (0) 28 9097 5391 or 07772 649 694 or at c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s study reveals new cancer cases in Northern Ireland on the rise
Dr Anna Gavin
Dr Anna Gavin

Over 8,300 new cases of cancer (4,250 in men and 4,100 in women) were diagnosed on average each year in Northern Ireland between 2007 and 2011, according to the latest statistical release from Queen's Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, Cancer Incidence and Survival Statistics for Northern Ireland 2007-2011.

These statistics reveal that the latest figures are up almost a third from an average of 6,300 cases per year between 1993 and 1997. In addition, there were on average 3,050 cases per year of non-melanoma skin cancer.

According to Dr Anna Gavin, Director of Queen's Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, an ageing population is the main reason for the increase, with the risk for most types of cancer being greater in older people.

Speaking about the latest figures, she said: “In another study just last week we revealed that only 11 per cent of those surveyed in Northern Ireland were aware that cancer risk is generally much higher among older people. We all need to do what we can to raise awareness of this increased risk by talking to our older friends and family members and encouraging them to go to their GPs when they first become notice anything out of the ordinary. ”

Dr Gavin also revealed that five-year survival rates have improved by almost ten per cent. She added: “Between 2002 and 2006 51 per cent of patients diagnosed survived five years or more, compared with 41.6 per cent of patients diagnosed between 1993-1996.”

The statistics also reveal that cancer levels are different in different social groups. A large proportion of the difference is due to lung cancers and caused by smoking. Lung cancer rates were almost three times higher in deprived areas – 80 out of 100,000, as opposed to 30 out of 100,000 in non-deprived areas.

Dr Gavin said, “Lung cancer is a preventable disease if tobacco use was reduced. The release has shown a fall in numbers among men but not among women”

“If the lung cancer incidence rates of the most deprived areas were the same as in the least deprived, there would be 180 fewer cases of lung cancer in women and 220 fewer cases in men diagnosed each year.”

Other key findings included in the release are as follows:


  • Overall cancer incidence rates for 2007-2011 were 448 cases per 100,000 males in the Northern Ireland population, and 375 cases per 100,000 females.


  • During 2007-2011 the most common cancer in women was breast cancer with 1,208 cases diagnosed each year (118 cases per 100,000 females).
  • This was followed by colorectal cancer, with an average of 522 cases diagnosed each year.
  • Among women, diagnosis rates for breast, lung and malignant melanoma cancer are increasing over time.


  • During 2007-2011 the most common cancer in men was prostate cancer with 1,007 cases diagnosed each year (106 cases per 100,000 males).
  • This was followed by lung cancer (630 cases) and colorectal (522 cases).
  • Among men, diagnosis rates for malignant melanoma cancer are increasing over time, while those for lung cancer are decreasing.

 Survival rates:

  • Five year survival rates for patients diagnosed from 2002-2006 were as follows: female breast (80.1 per cent), colorectal (52.4 per cent), prostate (84.1 per cent), lung (10.8 per cent). These survival rates have all shown improvement compared to patients diagnosed in the period 1993-1996, though only slightly for lung cancer. Improvements are expected to continue in the period 2007-2011.  

 Socio-economic background:

  • Female-breast cancer, prostate cancer and malignant melanoma incidence rates were higher in the more affluent areas of Northern Ireland, while male-colorectal, cervical and lung cancer incidence rates were higher in the most deprived areas.


The full release is available online at: http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/nicr/CancerData/ 


For more information contact Anne-Marie Clarke on +44 (0)28 9097 5320 / 0777 264 9694 email comms.officer@qub.ac.uk


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Scientists come to the land of the giants - East Tyrone and South Derry
Patrick Morrison
Patrick Morrison

Scientists are appealing for people whose families originate from the East Tyrone and South Derry areas to take part in screening for a genetic condition that may lead to excess growth or ‘gigantism’.

Doctors and Scientists from Queen’s University Belfast and Queen Mary, University of London, are calling on adults from these areas to take the opportunity to have their DNA tested for an altered gene which can cause the body to produce too much growth hormone.

The 1,500 year old altered gene is thought to be particularly prevalent in South Derry and East Tyrone.

While most people who carry the gene do not experience any health problems, it can lead to acromegaly – a condition in which a benign enlargement of the pituitary gland causes excess growth of muscles, cartilage and bones. This excess growth can lead to other complications, including loss of side vision and hormone disturbances.

It is estimated over two thirds of those who carry the mutation do not develop the condition and therefore have no idea they’ve got it.
Researchers want to identify carriers so that they, and their families, can access screening and treatment if necessary, to help prevent potential health problems in the future.

Professor Patrick Morrison, Honorary Professor of Human Genetics at Queen’s University Belfast will visit the area. He said: “The particular gene mutation for which people will be screened is for a gene called AIP, which causes abnormal growth of the pituitary gland. It was first identified in 2011 in patients from South Derry and East Tyrone who are living with ‘familial acromegaly’ – an inherited form of acromegaly or ‘gigantism’.

“People with the gene may not necessarily be tall but they may have other health conditions which could be linked to this altered gene. Anyone who is found to carry the gene will be offered confirmation of the result, follow-up advice and, if necessary, treatment to help prevent future health complications which may result from the condition. The screening involves giving a saliva sample by spitting into a tube. It is free, takes just 10 minutes and there is no need to book.”

The gene at the heart of the study is the one which caused 18th century patient Charles Byrne, born near Cookstown and known as the ‘Irish giant’, to grow to over seven and a half feet tall. Sophisticated genetic calculations identified that Charles Byrne and the living patients who were found to carry the gene shared a common ancestor, and that the mutation is about 1,500 years old.

Marta Korbonits, Professor of Endocrinology at Barts and the London School of Medicine Queen Mary, who is leading the work said: “Since we discovered the mutation, a number of patients from Northern Ireland with acromegaly have been screened for it. We also know, however, that over two-thirds of those who carry the mutation do not develop the condition and therefore will have no idea that they carry the gene abnormality. This is why it is important to look at the local general population in the geographical area from where many of the patients originate from.

“Testing in the general public will tell us more about how widespread the condition has become. But further than that, it will enable us to help those carrying the mutation by providing better advice and medical follow-up to prevent disease in their family.”

Tyrone businessman, Brendan Holland from Killeeshil was one of the patients in Professor Korbonits original study who was found to carry the AIP mutation. He has been supporting the team in their new venture to test the general public.

Mr Holland said: “I wanted to, in some way, recognise the wonderful work Marta and her team have done and continue to do. If this research proves as successful as we hope, people can deal better with such a serious illness.”

Participants will receive information about their test results. Those individuals thought to carry the genetic abnormality will be referred to Professor Morrison at the Genetic Clinic in Belfast City Hospital for further advice and confirmation of the test result. Further family screening can then be arranged.

Screening will take place on 8th and 9th February (8am-8pm) in Tesco carpark, Cookstown, and on 1st and 2nd March (8am-8pm) in Tesco carpark, Dungannon.
For more details on the study visit www.fipapatients.org/population

Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke at Queen’s University Communications Office on +44 (0)28 9097 5320 email comms.officer@qub.ac.uk or Katrina Coutts, Queen Mary, University of London on +44 (0)20 78827943,  +44 (0) 781 7989532  or k.coutts@qmul.ac.uk

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