January 2015 Press Releases

Three-quarters of prostate cancer survivors suffer long-term side-effects according to Queen’s researchers

Three quarters of prostate cancer survivors suffer long-term side-effects including impotence, according to a new study led by Queen’s University Belfast.

In the biggest study of its kind, which took four years to complete, 3,348 men from across Ireland were surveyed. The survey found that over half (57 per cent) were left with chronic impotence while 16 per cent were living with urinary incontinence after treatment had ended.

The men interviewed were of all ages and had been diagnosed between two and 18 years ago. Results revealed different trends depending on the type of treatment: Impotence was highest (76 per cent) following radical prostatectomy (surgical removal of all or part of the prostate gland) while urinary incontinence was also highest (28 per cent) in this category.

While 42 per cent of brachytherapy (a type of internal radiotherapy) patients reported no ongoing symptoms, 43 per cent experienced chronic impotence and eight per cent suffered incontinence. Hot ‘flashes’ (41 per cent), breast changes (18 per cent) and fatigue (28 per cent) were reported more often by patients on hormone treatments.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in the UK with 40,000 new diagnoses every year. Lead author, Dr Anna Gavin, Director of Queen’s University’s Northern Ireland Cancer Registry said: “Prostate cancer currently accounts for a third of male cancer survivors in Northern Ireland and approximately 40 per cent in the Republic. While treatments for early prostate cancer have good outcomes and there is little difference in survival rates across treatments, what we found in this study was that there was a marked difference in side-effects, depending on the treatment. That now allows us to take the next step in trying to improve quality of life for men after prostate cancer. We were surprised by the extent of the problems men are facing on a day-to-day basis but this is a first step in addressing what can be very incapacitating and embarrassing difficulties.”

The study, which was carried out in partnership with the Republic’s National Cancer Registry of Ireland, was funded by Prostate Cancer UK, the Research and Development Office of the Public Health Agency (NI), the Health Research Board (ROI) and the National Cancer Control Programme (ROI). The survey has been published by the British Journal of Urology International and is available here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bju.13036/abstract;jsessionid=5E527C14CCFC0864899DC21949779D4A.f01t03

For more information, contact the Communications Office on 0044 (0)28 9097 5320 (Mon-Wed) or 0044 (0)28 9097 5310 (Thurs-Fri) or email comms.officer@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s engineers develop world’s longest ‘flat pack’ arch bridge

Civil Engineers at Queen’s University Belfast in collaboration with pre-cast concrete specialists Macrete Ireland have developed the world’s longest ‘flat pack’ arch bridge.


Based on the ‘FlexiArch’ system, the bridge is unique in that it will be transported to site in flat-pack form but when lifted, will transform under gravity into an arch. 


The bridge is due to be installed near Portsmouth in coming months and will span 16 metres (53 feet) over the Wallington River in Waterlooville, Hampshire. Made up of 17 units (1m wide) of pre-cast concrete, each weighing 16 tons, the bridge will take less than a day to install using a 200-300 ton crane in association with a lifting beam also designed and built in Northern Ireland.


If the alternative of a conventional arch had been utilised it would have taken months to construct and would have been much more costly. A FlexiArch bridge requires little maintenance and should last 300 years, compared to the projected lifespan of up to 120 years that accompanies a conventional bridge. It is the result of 10 years of research from the early 1990s in the School of Civil Engineering at Queen’s University Belfast. Queen’s was recently placed in the Top 10 of research intensive universities in the UK, and Civil and Construction Engineering at Queen’s was ranked third in the UK for research intensity.


There are over 50 FlexiArch bridges now in the UK and Ireland, including the three footbridges in parkland surrounding Newtownabbey Council building.


Professor Adrian Long, from the School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering at Queen’s University, who patented the FlexiArch concept in 2004, said: “This is a real milestone which has been reached as a result of the hard work, effective collaboration and the combined expertise of the Queen’s and Macrete team. We are delighted with this latest development and of how successful the FlexiArch system has become. Over 50 FlexiArch bridges have now been installed in the UK and Ireland where it has been found to be even more versatile than anticipated.


“The award-winning FlexiArch system is attracting international interest and this project is a reflection of the world leading research being undertaken at Queen’s and the effectiveness of our collaborations with industry and business.”

Macrete project manager, Abhey Gupta said:  “This innovative system is exceptional as it is easily transported in flat pack form and then rapidly installed on site. It is also unique as its strength does not depend on corrodible reinforcement, thus it should have a lifetime of at least 300 years whereas conventional bridges seldom achieve their design life of 120 years.”

The FlexiArch system has seen continuous investment by Macrete since they were granted exclusive licensing rights for the UK/Ireland in 2006. This plus the additional investment by Invest Northern Ireland has allowed Macrete to provide 70 person years of employment at the company’s headquarters in Toomebridge.

Images and information can be found on the Macrete website at http://www.macrete.com/flexiarch/flexiarch-projects and video of a FlexiArch bridge being installed can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQbBxY3BmSI

For further information, email Professor Long on a.long@qub.ac.uk

Media inquiries to Una Bradley (Wed) 028 9097 5320 or Michelle Cassidy (Thurs/Fri) 028 9097 5310 at Queen’s University Communications Office, or email comms.officer@qub.ac.uk


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Farry announces major redevelopment of Queen’s University Computer Science facilities

Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry today announced that, following the allocation of £7.49 million in funding, a major redevelopment and expansion of the computer science teaching facilities at Queen's University Belfast has commenced.

The redevelopment work is taking place on the site of the Bernard Crossland building on the Malone Road and will cost £14.98 million to complete, with the Department for Employment and Learning and Queen’s University contributing 50% each. The building is the main facility for Computer Science at Queen’s University.

Following the announcement, Minister Farry said: “With the number of Computer Science students attending Queen’s having almost doubled in the past two years to 1,350, this major investment in infrastructure and teaching represents a major boost for our economy and higher education sector. Our economy needs a constant supply of high quality graduates with computer science and software engineering skills if we are to be globally competitive.”

Dr Farry chairs the ICT Sector Implementation Group, which manages an Action Plan setting out the short, medium and long term actions required to ensure that the local ICT industry has access to the skilled workforce it needs to grow and flourish, both now and in the future.

The Minister continued: “Since I took up office in 2011, much work has been conducted to improve our skills base to the local ICT industry. There has been an increase of around 1,500 undergraduate places in local higher education institutions - all in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects. This is complemented by a 60% increase in publicly-funded PhDs in economically relevant areas.

“We have also increased applications for IT-related degrees at our local universities, developed IT apprenticeship schemes and created conversion courses and bespoke academies to encourage people into the sector.”

Welcoming the investment, Queen’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Patrick Johnston said: “The expansion of Computer Science is an institutional priority for the University and is closely aligned with the priorities set out in the Northern Ireland Programme for Government and the Department for Employment and Learning’s Higher Education and Skills Strategies.

"Our vision is that computer science teaching and research will be delivered in a hi-tech, flexible learning environment that encourages collaboration and innovation. Key to this is the integration of staff and students in a modern landmark building with increased computing resources and considerably more project space that will enhance the student experience and improve employability skills. This state-of-the-art facility will contribute to the vision of the ICT Industry in Northern Ireland to be a world class centre of ICT excellence.”

Construction work on the state of the art facility is scheduled for completion by April 2016 with its new modern facilities available to students for the start of the 2016/17 academic year.

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Queen’s University Belfast leads pioneering research into cyber security

A major new initiative to explore the growing area of cyber security and to examine the knock-on effects on society – legal, ethical and cultural – is to be established at Queen’s University Belfast.

The Leverhulme Interdisciplinary Network on Cybersecurity and Society (LINCS) will bring together researchers from two of Queen’s world-class centres of excellence: the Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) and the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice (ISCTSJ).

A grant of over £1 million from the Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarships scheme, matched by funding from Queen’s, will provide 30 doctoral students with three-year scholarships for LINCS, over the next eight years, in a clear demonstration of how Queen’s research impacts on society.

The first cohort of researchers will look at ten different areas of study; for example, how increasingly stringent border controls and information-sharing between different jurisdictions may impact on people’s mobility. Other areas of focus will include the use of surveillance such as drones and how it affects an individual’s right to privacy and the trust and authentication threats posed by the ‘internet of things’.

Director of ISCTSJ, Professor Hastings Donnan FBA said: “This project will offer a challenging, stimulating and integrated academic environment within which a new generation of scholars can pursue truly interdisciplinary research on pressing issues of global significance. It’s a precondition of Leverhulme that research must be groundbreaking and it’s a measure of its confidence in this project that Queen’s has matched the Leverhulme funding. This scheme will not only reinforce the interdisciplinary links that already exist between CSIT and ISCTSJ but will open up new avenues of inquiry, allowing researchers to develop new collaborations.”

Secure Digital Systems Director at CSIT, Professor Sakir Sezer said: “Researchers in CSIT recognise the social, legal and ethical implications of the future technologies they are developing and of their likely impact on social relations. Researchers in ISCTSJ similarly appreciate that interdisciplinary collaboration with scientists is essential if they are to anticipate the ethical, legal, political and psychological challenges raised by emerging technologies. LINCS will provide an integrated academic network for the next generation of scholars working in this area.”

CSIT is the UK’s Innovation and Knowledge Centre for secure information technologies and is housed within the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology at Queen’s University. The work of both CSIT AND ISCTSJ is multi award-winning and was instrumental in Queen’s being placed in the top ten in the UK for research intensity in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework assessment exercise.

The first cohort of LINCS researchers will begin work in September.

For more information, contact the communications Office on 028 9097 5320 (Mon-Wed) or 028 9097 5310 (Thurs-Fri) or email comms.officer@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s University Belfast in ground-breaking research to discover new planets

Scientists from Queen’s University Belfast have partnered with leading astrophysicists across Europe for a ground-breaking space research project that will form a crucial step in the quest to study small, rocky planets orbiting other stars and discover new planets.

The Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS) has achieved first light at the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Paranal Observatory in Chile, and will reach a level of accuracy never before attained under observatory conditions. A suite of highly sensitive telescopes – parts of which have been manufactured in Belfast – will search for 'transiting exoplanets’ which are planets that pass in front of their parent star and hence produce a small, periodic dimming of that star’s light. Only a few such very delicate observations have ever been made, but NGTS should provide many more opportunities.

NGTS will focus on discovering Neptune-sized and smaller planets, with diameters between two and eight times that of Earth, that orbit relatively nearby bright stars - making detailed follow-up of the planets possible. The NGTS data will flow into the ESO archive system and will be available to astronomers worldwide for decades to come.

Designed to operate in robotic mode, the Paranal site will continuously monitor the brightness of hundreds of thousands of stars in the southern skies and should reach a level of accuracy — one part in a thousand — that has never before been attained with a ground-based wide field survey instrument.

One of those involved, Dr Christopher Watson from the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “This is a truly exciting time and a major coup for Queen’s. NGTS will not only discover a whole host of new planets, including 'super-Earths' a little larger than our own planet, but some of these will be amongst the best planets with which to perform more detailed investigations. Are we looking at a rocky, terrestrial-like planet? What are their atmospheres like? It was not so long ago that answering such questions was unthinkable - NGTS discoveries will keep us occupied for many years."

Belfast-based Andor Technology, a spin-out company from Queen’s University and now a multinational with offices in China, Japan and the USA, has provided the scientific camera equipment at the Paranal site. These cameras are specially modified versions of the iKon-L 4 Megapixel CCD, combining additional near infra-red sensitivity with a capability to accurately quantify signal ranging from bright to extremely weak. Product Manager for scientific cameras, Dr Colin Coates said: “This is great for our company and great for Belfast. We have been supplying detectors to this prestigious consortium for several years, during which time Andor has become a very strong solution provider to the broader astronomy community.”

Professor Stephen Smartt, Director of the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen’s said: “Being part of this novel and ground-breaking project reflects Queen's global standing in astrophysics research. There is potential to make some remarkable discoveries with this system. The School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen's was recently placed 3rd in the UK for research intensity in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework exercise while the University as a whole was ranked in the top ten for research intensity. Our research scientists are making an impact in international projects and it’s tremendous to see Belfast-made detector technology at the heart of these machines."

This is the first private facility to be installed on Paranal. ESO already operates the Very Large Telescope (VLT) – the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory – at the site. The discoveries of NGTS will be studied further using other larger telescopes, including the VLT. In particular, it may be possible to probe the atmospheres of the exoplanets whilst they are in transit. At this time some of the star’s light passes through the planet’s atmosphere, if it has one, and leaves a tiny, but detectable, signature.

Along with Queen’s University Belfast, the NGTS Consortium is composed of academics from the University of Warwick, UK; the University of Leicester, UK; the University of Cambridge, UK; Geneva University, Switzerland; and DLR Berlin, Germany.

For further information, contact the Communications Office on 0044 (0)28 9097 5320 (Mon-Wed) or 00 44 (0)28 9097 5310 (Thurs-Fri) or email comms.officer@qub.ac.uk


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Queen’s research developing stem cells to prevent heart attacks and stroke

Cutting edge new research from Queen’s University Belfast is aiding in the global fight to prevent cardiovascular disease, one of the biggest causes of heart disease and strokes worldwide.

Dr Andriana Margariti, a researcher at Queen’s University’s Centre of Experimental Medicine (CEM), has established an innovative method of generating stem cells and using them to re-build damaged blood vessels in the human body that can lead to strokes or heart attacks.

From early 2015 Dr Margariti will lead a research team at the CEM that will build on her breakthrough by studying new ways to take cells from human skin and convert them into the stem cells.

The research has enormous potential to save the lives of thousands of people affected by cardiovascular disease, a class of diseases that involve the heart, blood vessels or both that are the leading cause of death in Northern Ireland, the UK and across the world.

It could provide unlimited numbers of fully functional stem cells that are compatible with the patient’s body and can be used in therapy to prevent disease or regrow blood vessels that have been damaged by disease.

Dr Andriana Margariti, researcher at Queen’s University Belfast’s Centre of Experimental Medicine (CEM), said: “The cause and progression of cardiovascular disease begins with the dysfunction of specialized cells that line our arteries.

“Understanding what causes this dysfunction and replacing these damaged cells will provide new therapies to treat these patients. We are proposing to generate functional cells based on this powerful new method to treat patients with cardiovascular disease”.

Queen’s University is one of the UK’s leading research-intensive universities, and just last month has been placed in the top ten in the UK for research intensity in the recent Research Excellence Framework assessment exercise. Dr Andriana Margariti is a newly appointed academic in the Centre for Experimental Medicine, which is based in Queen’s University Belfast’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences. She trained in King’s College London in an internationally-recognised institute for cardiovascular research. Her research has recently been published in the journal ‘Stem Cells’ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24627642  

Dr Margariti has received a grant from the BBSRC UK Research Council to further develop this project which is being run in partnership with Harvard Medical School, Boston and the University of California, San Francisco.

For media inquiries please contact Andrew Kennedy Communications Officer, 028 9097 5384, andrew.kennedy@qub.ac.uk

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