August 2015 Press Releases

Leading Queen’s cancer specialist lands top role

A leading cancer expert from Queen’s University who is pioneering improved approaches for treating cancer with radiotherapy is set to become the next Vice-President of an international research society.

Professor Kevin Prise, Deputy Director of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queen’s, has been chosen as Vice-President-Elect of the US Radiation Research Society. He was elected via a ballot of all Society Members.

Professor of Radiation Biology, Kevin leads the Radiation Biology Group at CCRCB which is working on improved approaches for treating cancer with radiotherapy.  Professor Prise, in collaboration with Professor Joe O’Sullivan, Clinical Director, and Professor Alan Hounsell, Clinical Physics Research Lead, plays a major role in the Prostate-Cancer UK Movember Centre of Excellence at CCRCB which is researching new approaches for treating men who are likely to fail current treatments for prostate cancer.

Speaking about his appointment, Professor Prise said: “This is a rare privilege and exciting challenge, especially for a non-US member of the Society.

“This role is a great opportunity to profile internationally the work we are doing at Queen’s and the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology to improve outcomes for cancer patients.”

Professor Prise, living in Lisburn but originally from Aberdeen, will take up the position of Vice-President in September 2016 and will serve as President from September 2017.

Media inquiries to Queen's Communications Office on or 02890973087

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Sitting is as bad for health as smoking, claim Queen’s University researchers

Prolonged sitting is just as dangerous to your health as smoking, according to researchers at Queen’s.

It is now believed that sitting for long periods of time is linked to increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and even early death, and could be just as big a threat to public health, if not more so, than smoking.

The Queen’s researchers are part of a European consortium which has received a €4.5 million European Commission grant to help develop innovative ways to tackle sedentary behaviour and increase physical activity in older people.

Working with researchers in Spain, Denmark, Germany, France and Scotland, the four-year study will see the Queen’s team develop new ways of helping adults over 65 years of age to sit less and become more active, before testing them on 1,300 people in four European countries.

Dr Mark Tully, from the UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health at Queen’s University, is leading the project in Northern Ireland.

“Levels of sedentary behaviour increase as we age, which poses a significant threat to the health of our population, especially as Northern Ireland is set to face the largest increase in the number of older adults, than other UK countries.

“One of the biggest threats to health is the amount of time spent sitting. On average people spend over nine hours, or up to 80 per cent of their waking day, sitting down.

“Public health scientists have recognised the need to develop effective interventions to address the high levels of inactivity across ages, with sitting regarded as ‘the new smoking’,” he said.

One Canadian study has revealed that adults who spent most of their time sitting were 50 per cent more likely to die during the follow-up than those that sit the least.

And Queen’s researchers have already shown that mothers who sit more during pregnancy are likely to have heavier babies, while men who spend more time sitting at work have poorer kidney function.

Dr Tully continued: “During this study we hope to be able to identify effective methods to help our ageing society make positive lifestyle changes in order to improve their health and wellbeing. This programme will then be available for delivery through the health system in each of the member countries,” he added.

Some suggestions that could be used to help people be more active at work are treadmill and height adjustable desks, which allow users to alternate between standing and sitting. Indeed, Dr Mark Tully himself regularly uses his treadmill desk during his working day.

For further information please contact Claire O’Callaghan, Senior Communications Officer, Queen’s University Belfast on or 028 9097 5391. 

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Badger persecution does not reduce bovine TB risk in cattle

Illegal persecution of badgers does not reduce infection risk of bovine tuberculosis (TB) in cattle and may play a role in maintaining epidemic hotspots according to researchers at Queen’s University Belfast.

The Institute for Global Food Security collaborating with the University of Glasgow and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, found that illegal disturbance of badger social groups contributed significantly to new bovine TB breakdowns in nearby cattle herds.

The study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, and published in Natural Scientific Reports, found that about 5% of badger setts in Northern Ireland had recent signs of illegal interference or persecution. For example, recent digging indicative of badger baiting, sett entrances being blocked with soil, boulders and branches or being pumped full of slurry, setts being ploughed over or having farm debris dumped on top, damaged by livestock trampling, and development such as the construction of roads or newly built houses.

Dr David Wright, who led the study said “Whilst interference with badger setts was relatively rare it was clustered in known bovine TB hotspots in cattle and we hypothesised that those taking action against badgers may actually contribute to maintaining the disease. So we were interested in investigating the interaction of cattle and badgers in disturbed and undisturbed populations.”

Bovine TB has proven difficult to control and eradicate in cattle costing the UK Government more than £100M in annual testing, slaughter and compensation. The badger has been identified as a major factor contributing towards the difficulty of eradicating the disease as it is a wildlife reservoir of infection. However, the relative importance of badgers in maintaining the cattle epidemic is extremely controversial.

Both the British and Irish Governments have invested in large-scale regional badger culling programmes in an attempt to control the disease. In Britain, badger culling has been associated with a decreased prevalence of TB in cattle inside cull areas, but an increase in neighbouring herds such that the total impact has been judged negligible. Moreover, culling operations are expensive, have animal welfare implications, and are difficult to implement. The proposed reason for the limited effect is due to so called ‘perturbation’ as culls are never 100 per cent effective with surviving badgers migrating due to social group disruption spreading the disease as they go. Nevertheless, in the Republic of Ireland where badgers have been removed over larger, more isolated regions, it has been claimed that badger culling is effective in controlling the disease in cattle.

The new study found that farm-level risk factors, including the number of cattle movements, frequency of international cattle imports, previous bovine TB history and the proximity of neighbouring farms with a bovine TB history were far more strongly associated with new cattle herd breakdowns than measures of the badger population or badger persecution. This suggests that disease control could be improved further by increased frequency and accuracy of cattle testing, development of more sensitive tests and improved farm biosecurity.

Nevertheless, the risk of bovine TB breakdowns in cattle was significantly elevated in areas of high badger social group density and high rates of persecution through sett interference.

Dr Neil Reid, Lecturer in Conservation Biology at Queen's University, explained “The relationship between badger persecution and bovine TB in cattle could either be because persecuting badgers perturbs the population stimulating spread of the disease or farmers are more likely to persecute badgers if their livestock have previously had a TB breakdown. We can’t say which way round the relationship is but we can say that persecuting badgers certainly does not lower TB risk in cattle, it is illegal and may make the situation worse. Farmers should be aware of the risks incurred by disturbing badger setts.”

This is the first study to highlight the potential importance of badger population disturbance, rather than officially sanctioned Government culling, in sustaining the bovine TB epidemic in cattle.

For the full paper click here.

Media inquries to Queen's Communications Office on or 02890973091

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Queen’s University offers advice for A-level results students

Queen’s University has issued advice to students who will receive their A-level results today (Thursday 13 August 2015).

Jennifer Dwyer, Head of Queen’s Admissions and Access Service, said: “This can be an anxious time of year for students and we understand how important the decision to choose a university and the right course is, that is why it is essential that students and their families have as much information as possible at this time so they can make the right decisions for them.

"The University receives A-level and AS-level results directly from UCAS and candidates do not need to communicate their results to the University. Students will be contacted if any results appear to be missing. Those who did not take an examination listed on their application should let the University know without delay.”

Decisions made by Queen's, the University of Ulster, and Stranmillis University College are posted on a website hosted by Queen's and are updated twice each day.

The address is This also carries the most comprehensive details and is the simplest way to find out about the status of an application and Clearing vacancies. Details are also published on the UCAS website at

Applicants who achieve the exact grades or points specified in their conditional offer should have their place confirmed through UCAS following the publication of results. These applicants do not need to telephone the university or college. The only official notification is through UCAS which will advise applicants by email that there has been an update on Track. Successful applicants must log into Track to read their AS12 letter to find out what action they need to take. This varies depending on the preferences of individual universities.

Students who do better than expected can, through the Adjustment process, hold their offer while they look for an alternative course. It may be difficult, however, to find a vacancy on a high demand course. Full details are available on the UCAS website

Students who average out or narrowly miss the grades required may still be accepted for their original choice but, at Queen’s, the capacity of the University to do this has been restricted by decisions of the NI Executive to impose significant funding cuts on higher education budgets.

Please be assured that the priority of universities is to communicate decisions as quickly as possible and that every effort is made to accommodate as many applicants as possible on the course of their choice or a suitable alternative. Queen’s has provided all students holding offers with an Enquiry Form. This should be returned to the University as soon as possible if they want to be considered for an alternative course, in the event that they are unsuccessful for their original choice. Assuming Queen’s can help, a changed course offer would be made. This is simpler than going through Clearing.

Any student unable to gain admission to either their firm or insurance choice, and who is not offered an acceptable alternative course, will be eligible to participate in the Clearing process. Details of Clearing vacancies appear in the national press, on and on university websites. Students must be pro-active, as Clearing vacancies usually disappear quickly.

Alternatively, some students may decide to repeat one or more subjects and reapply for 2016 entry. Any student considering this option should check with the institution concerned about receiving an offer as a repeat candidate, and remember the entry requirements may be different.

Jennifer Dwyer added: “It is crucial to make decisions sensibly at this time of year and not to accept alternative courses, or Adjustment or Clearing places without careful consideration. There are many people who can help. Students unsure about which option to pursue should discuss their situation carefully with their parents, their school or college or the Careers Service of the Department for Employment and Learning.”

Telephone Support Lines

Queen’s operates these lines to ensure that students receive the guidance they need.

The telephone number to use is 028 9097 3838 (multiple lines) andlines will open from 9.30am to 6.00pm on Thursday 13 and Friday 14 August. Further information (including weekend opening times) can be found online at

On Monday 17 August, a personal advice session will be held in the Whitla Hall, Queen’s University between 2.00 pm and 5.00 pm.

Full details and FAQs are available at


Media inquiries to Queen’s Communications Office. Tel: 028 90 97 3091 or email

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National award for Queen’s cancer researchers

Cancer experts from Queen’s University Belfast have received a major award exceeding £3.6M from Cancer Research UK aimed at developing a national digital pathology programme to assist and accelerate the delivery of Precision Medicine in the UK.

The CRUK Accelerator Award brings together a consortium of cancer pathologists, biologists and immunologists from the Belfast Cancer Research UK Centre, who will work in partnership with researchers from the Universities of Southampton, Manchester and Newcastle, University College London and the Institute of Cancer Research.

Already recognised as experts in identifying faulty genes and molecules in tumours, the Belfast team will now lead this nationwide research programme dedicated to expanding the application and use of digital pathology to quantify specific tumour markers. The programme will be supported using software from PathXL, a Queen’s University spin-out company which specialises in high resolution imaging of tumours and cloud-based digital pathology.

Queen’s Professor David Waugh, Director of the Centre for Cancer Centre and Cell Biology, said:  “The selection of this research programme submitted by the Belfast CRUK Centre is further proof that Queen’s cancer researchers are at the cutting edge of the latest innovations to improve outcomes for cancer patients across the world. Through this new research programme we will develop knowledge that can inform the targeted use of immunotherapeutic agents in cancer patients.”

“We are thrilled to receive this award and I congratulate my colleagues Professor Manuel Salto-Tellez and Professor Peter Hamilton, in leading this successful bid. It is further recognition of the powerful alliance that our Centre is forging with local and international industry to deliver new advances in cancer care”.

Queen’s University Belfast will also lead the education and training programme in pathology that underpins the national network.

Professors Salto-Tellez and Peter Hamilton, Professors of Molecular and Digital Pathology respectively at Queen’s University, added: “Traditionally, researchers have used standard slides to examine tissue cells under the microscope. However, in recent years our research at Queen’s has pioneered the way to exploit digital technology to revolutionize the way we look at tumours, enabling us to obtain a deeper understanding of the cancer and provide a more detailed diagnosis to clinicians, as well as better tools for our scientists”. 

Professor Hamilton said: “This award demonstrates how Belfast has been leading in digital biotechnology for cancer research and diagnostics.  This CRUK funding will allow Belfast and the wider UK team to accelerate cancer discovery using these novel technologies, promote their application in clinical practice and maintain Belfast CRUK Centre’s reputation as a world leader in digital molecular pathology”.

Des Speed, CEO of PathXL, said: “We are delighted that this innovative research project is progressing to implementation, and are looking forward to working with all centres in the consortium.

“It is very exciting to be at the forefront of this UK-wide strategy for digital and molecular pathology in cancer, which has the potential to drive dramatic change. This award is further recognition that Northern Ireland is leading the way in developing digital pathology, and of the strength of the PathXL software platform.”

Researchers from each of the collaborating UK academic institutes will meet at Queen’s University on 19 and 20 August to launch this new initiative.


For further information please contact Queen’s University Communications Officers Anne-Marie Clarke (Mon-Wed) on 028 9097 5320 or Michelle Cassidy (Thurs-Fri) on 028 9097 5310 or email

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Queen’s University research to help improve ex-military personnel’s transition to civilian life

Queen’s University Belfast has been awarded more than £96,000 to explore the experiences of military personnel involved in counter-insurgency operations and ultimately aid their transition back to civilian life.

The two-year study, funded by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), will be led by Queen’s University’s Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice, which aims to support the pursuit of peace and social justice through world-class research.

While previous research has investigated the experiences of armed forces who have taken part in ‘conventional’ forms of armed conflict, this will be amongst the first to focus solely on those involved in counter-insurgency (COIN) operations. It is intended that the research findings will be used to help influence policy makers and service deliverers in their work with the re-integration of the ex-Service community back into civilian life.

Lead researcher Professor John Brewer, who is Professor of Post-Conflict Studies at the Institute, said: “Counter-insurgency (COIN) operations are different from conventional warfare between nation states because they involve trying to deal with internal, civilian insurgency while also trying to militarily defeat several disconnected armed groups rather than formal armies.  On the completion of COIN operations there is rarely a national narrative of celebration and honour, so ex-COIN personnel return to civilian life without the public fanfare that accompanies the ending of conventional warfare.  As such, their experiences are distinctly different to those involved in more conventional wars, which can affect their re-integration when they eventually leave the armed services and seek to settle back in to civilian life.

“We are familiar with COIN operations in Northern Ireland, but counter-insurgency operations are widely associated with wars of independence, with decolonisation, and contemporary operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are very different cases and the research will explore the experiences of COIN personnel in three cases over time: Britain’s wars of decolonisation in the 1950s and 1960s, the UDR in Northern Ireland in the 1980s, and Afghan veterans today. COIN personnel involved in these conflicts will be interviewed by Queen’s researchers.

“COIN operations have become increasingly familiar in modern warfare. As such, there is an urgent need to understand the experiences of COIN personnel so as to inform the development of policies and support structures post-service. The research will help us in trying to make a difference to the lives of armed force personnel and their families when coping with a return to civilian life.”

The Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT) was established to help ex-Service men and women make a successful transition back to civilian life. This latest project was prompted by a call within FiMT’s Transition Mapping Study published in 2013 for further ‘results-focused research’ to address the experiences of those who have been involved in COIN operations.

Ray Lock, Chief Executive of the Forces in Mind Trust said: “The UK’s armed forces have considerable experience of both counter insurgency and major combat operations.  This project for the first time will allow us to understand how the very different characteristics of the two types of operations, affect people’s ability to transition successfully into civilian life.  I’m certain the findings will provide clear insights for both policy makers and service deliverers.”

For more information on Queen’s University’s Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice visit


Media inquiries to Anne-Marie Clarke (Mon-Wed on +44 (0)28 9097 5320) or Michelle Cassidy (Thurs-Fri on (0)28 9097 5310) at Queen’s University Communications Office or email

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Queen’s University researchers play ‘tag’ with cheetahs

A team of international researchers, including Dr Michael Scantlebury, from the School of Biological Sciences, Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, have conducted research revealing techniques used by predators and prey – with some surprising results.

The study, published this month in the journal eLife examines what determines the outcomes of predator-prey interactions in wild animals and how both predators and prey can best increase their chances of success.

The study was a joint collaboration with zoologist Professor Rory Wilson and sports science expert Dr Iwan Griffiths from Swansea University, and South African researchers Dr Johnny Wilson and Dr Gus Mills, looking first at how mass should affect an animal’s speed and cornering ability.  

Although it is recognised that larger animals tend to be able to run faster, the study highlighted how larger animals actually have to exert greater forces to turn but have relatively less capacity to provide the necessary force for this than smaller animals.

To see how this theory played out in the wild, Dr Scantlebury, Dr Wilson and Dr Mills equipped nature’s fastest land animal, the cheetah, with accelerometers to look at how they dealt with variously sized prey.

The tagged cheetahs chased everything from small hares to large wildebeest and ostrich and, true to predictions, were found to turn more often and more sharply when pursuing smaller prey.

Dr Scantlebury said: “This truly shows how both predators and prey are involved in an evolutionary arms race important for each of their own survival - to catch dinner or avoid being eaten”

“Predator chases are governed by fundamental principles, which include not being able to turn abruptly if you are travelling fast, or indeed if you are large.”

Media inquiries to Queen’s Communications Office, on or 028 9097 3091.

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