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Latest News

First ever Belfast Festival of Social Sciences is launched

The first ever Belfast Festival of Social Sciences, which offers a fascinating insight into some of the country's leading social science research, is being launched this week (Saturday 1 November). The week-long Festival, which is a partnership between Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University and is part-funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), includes public debates, conferences, workshops, interactive seminars, film screenings and virtual exhibitions. The Festival aims to highlight how social science research makes a difference and influences our social, economic and political lives - both now and in the future.  Some of the events include: I’m a psychologist get me out here!, an interactive workshop for 12-15 year olds to look at understanding emotion; Outdoor Scientists, a programme introducing school children to nature; and So you think you know about poverty?, an event to tackle myths around the nature and extent of poverty. Scott Rutherford, Director of Research and Enterprise at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “At Queen’s we are committed to making a positive impact on society.  This festival serves to illustrate how social science research makes a difference by shaping public policy, making the economy more competitive, as well as giving people a better understanding of 21st century society. This festival allows the public the chance to see and experience how our social science research is advancing knowledge and changing lives.” Professor Cathy Gormley-Heenan, Director of the Institute for Research in Social Sciences (IRISS) at Ulster University, said: “At Ulster University Social Science forms an integral part of our approach to shaping futures through both teaching and practice. From big ideas to the most detailed observations, social science affects us all everyday – at work, in school, when raising children and within our communities. We are delighted to jointly bring a week of valuable events that is open to everyone to come and discover, discuss and celebrate the diversity and contribution social sciences make in society.” The festival runs from Saturday 1 November until Saturday 8 November across various locations in Belfast and Derry. For a full programme of events, visit: http://www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/ResearchEnterprise/ResearchDevelopment/TrainingandEvents/UpcomingEvents/BelfastFestivalofSocialSciences/ Media inquiries to Queen’s University Communications Office on comms.office@qub.ac.uk and 028 9097 3087.

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Queen’s University researchers call for earlier diagnosis of autism

Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast have called for earlier diagnosis of autism on the back of increasing evidence that earlier interventions have more positive outcomes. Professor Karola Dillenburger, from Queen’s School of Education, led a three-year research project which analysed early behaviour interventions in children with autism. The research found that professionals were reluctant to diagnose autism early out of fear of labelling young children with what has traditionally been viewed as a lifelong condition. Many children are put on waiting lists rather than offered early diagnosis. Professor Dillenburger argues that early behaviour analytic interventions were not only more medically hopeful – arguing that early support can improve quality of life for children with autistic spectrum and their families – but more ethical. Professor Karola Dillenburger from Queen’s School of Education said: “What our research has shown is that autism could – and should – be diagnosed much earlier than is common practice. International evidence shows that early applied behaviour analysis-based interventions are effective and can change the trajectory of autism for a significant majority of children. “Early diagnosis does not only take advantage of the plasticity of the brain during early development, it is also a prerequisite for social and financial supports for families affected by autism. Our findings were that children with autism and their families were at higher risk of poor mental health, poverty and social exclusion than other families. “What we also discovered is that the prevalence of autism is higher than previously thought – parents of 3.5 per cent of 11-year-olds were told their child has autism.” The Queen’s researchers based their findings on a secondary analysis of data collected by the University of London for the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), a longitudinal general population survey of 18,522 children born in the UK in the year 2000. Professor Dillenburger and her team found that by the time these children were three years of age, physical difficulties such as walking on level ground were ten times higher in children later diagnosed with autism than in other children. Speech and language difficulties as well as hearing problems were four times more prevalent for these children. Very early indicators included difficulties at birth and problems with verbal and motor behaviours during the first year of life. The research also found that behaviour problems were significantly more widespread in these children and the gap widened considerably over time; children with autism were significantly more unhappy with their lives and reluctant to attend school. Behavioural challenges can be addressed and prevented much more easily in younger children, argue the researchers, preventing these poor outcomes. In conclusion, Professor Dillenburger said: “Our key finding was that children later diagnosed with autism showed early health problems, indicating that early diagnosis is both possible and necessary.” Nichola Booth of the charity Parents, Education and Autism Therapists NI (PEATNI) welcomed Queen’s findings, saying: “The findings of this research further cement the importance of early diagnosis. When we focus on the individual early we can provide relevant support and design tailored interventions to ensure that individuals with autism and their families can have a better quality of life.” The full research, which was supported by the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) can be read at: http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/17518423.2014.964378   For more information contact Queen’s University communications officers Una Bradley (Mon-Wed) on 00 44 (0)28 9097 5320 or Michelle Cassidy (Thurs-Fri) on 00 44 (0)28 9097 5310 or email comms.officer@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s tackles global food fraud in new online course

A new online course at Queen’s University Belfast is set to examine global food fraud. The five week course entitled ‘Tackling the Global Food Crisis: Supply Chain integrity’ will examine the complex area of food security, with a focus on how a sustainable future can be achieved. The five-week online course which is free and open to anyone, anywhere in the world will cover topics including food fraud, pollution and climate change. The course will also explore the implications of an increasing population, the increasing affluence of South East Asia and the competition for 'high quality foods' which previously went to Europe and the United States. Delivered by a team of academics, the course will be headed up by Professor Chris Elliott, Director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University. Professor Elliott recently completed the Government report on the UK’s food supply chain published by the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in the wake of the horsemeat scandal. Professor Elliott, Director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University, said: “Many complex factors are playing a role in food security or as some prefer to call it now, food insecurity. Throughout this five week course we will investigate the pollution of our soils and waterways as well as looking at the challenges for the future to supply food of sufficient amounts, safety, quality and authenticity. “We as consumers have a heightened awareness of what is in our food, where it comes from now and in the future. The globalisation of food production and threats from climate change means that the risk of contamination, due to accidental or deliberate acts have heightened substantially. We will delve into these issues and are looking forward to a lively debate throughout the five weeks of the course.” The course, which is the third Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to be delivered by Queen’s, begins on 17 November 2014 with support from the Centre for Educational Services and Information Services. To watch the trailer and register for the course visit: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/global-food-crisis Media inquiries to Queen’s University Communications Office on comms.office@qub.ac.uk and 028 9097 3091. 

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Music therapy reduces depression in children and adolescents

Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast have discovered that music therapy reduces depression in children and adolescents with behavioural and emotional problems. In the largest ever study of its kind, the researchers in partnership with the Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust, found that children who received music therapy had significantly improved self-esteem and significantly reduced depression compared with those who received treatment without music therapy. The study, which was funded by the Big Lottery fund, also found that those who received music therapy had improved communicative and interactive skills, compared to those who received usual care options alone. 251 children and young people were involved in the study which took place between March 2011 and May 2014. They were divided into two groups – 128 underwent the usual care options, while 123 were assigned to music therapy in addition to usual care. All were being treated for emotional, developmental or behavioural problems. Early findings suggest that the benefits are sustained in the long term. Professor Sam Porter of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s University, who led the study, said: “This study is hugely significant in terms of determining effective treatments for children and young people with behavioural problems and mental health needs.” Dr Valerie Holmes, Centre for Public Health, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences and co-researcher, added: “This is the largest study ever to be carried out looking at music therapy’s ability to help this very vulnerable group, and is further evidence of how Queen’s University is advancing knowledge and changing lives.” Ciara Reilly, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust, said: “Music therapy has often been used with children and young people with particular mental health needs, but this is the first time its effectiveness has been shown by a definitive randomised controlled trial in a clinical setting. The findings are dramatic and underscore the need for music therapy to be made available as a mainstream treatment option. For a long time we have relied on anecdotal evidence and small-scale research findings about how well music therapy works. Now we have robust clinical evidence to show its beneficial effects.” The research team will now look at the data to establish how cost-effective music therapy is in relation to other treatments. The research findings will be presented at a conference in Riddel Hall at Queen’s University Belfast today (Thursday 23 October 2014). Media inquiries to Claire O’Callaghan, Senior Communications Officer, Queen’s University on 028 9097 5391 or c.ocallaghan@qub.ac.uk

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Virtual e-Cancer hospitals could benefit thousands of patients

One of the UK and Ireland’s top experts in personalised medicine, Professor Mark Lawler from the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s University Belfast has highlighted how initiatives that promote the sharing of genetic data and the creation of virtual e-Cancer hospitals have the potential to benefit thousands of patients around the world. These ground-breaking initiatives will be discussed at a global event in San Diego today (Sunday 19 October). Professor Lawler will address members of the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH) on Cancer Core Europe, a visionary approach by 6 European Institutions to create virtual e-Cancer Hospitals, where data sharing between different centres can maximise success in diagnosing and treating cancer.  Creating a shared data resource significantly increases understanding of how cancer occurs, speeds up the completion of   successful clinical trials, thus facilitating more rapid and  effective therapies to be delivered for cancer patients. Also being discussed is the European Organisation for the Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) project that uses our knowledge of the genetics of cancer cells to drive innovative pan European clinical trials. Professor Mark Lawler, Chair in Translational Cancer Genomics at Queen’s and EORTC ambassador, said: “Co-operation and data sharing is the key  to both of these initiatives – rather than   competing against each other as we may have done in the past, we are now competing against our common enemy … cancer .” “GA4GH is an international coalition, dedicated to improving human health by maximizing the potential of genomic medicine through effective and responsible data sharing.  It has the potential to revolutionise how we use genetic and clinical information and information technology to deliver benefit to patients with a wide range of diseases.” Professor David Waugh, Director of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s, said: “Collaborating with global initiatives such as GA4GH and EORTC emphasise the international standing of Queen’s research efforts and allow both scientists and ultimately patients to benefit.” Queen’s University is a founding member of the GA4GH, which now has over 220 Alliance members from 30 countries, and Professor Lawler is a member of the GA4GH Clinical Working Group. Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University, Professor Patrick Johnston, said: “We are proud to be a founding member of this unique alliance and to be making a significant contribution as it gains global recognition.  It aligns with two of our key strengths, cancer research and data analytics and has the potential to transform the global health landscape.” The GA4GH conference is part of the 64th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics running until Wednesday. Ends Media inquiries to Queen’s Communications Office on 02890973087 or comms.office@qub.ac.uk

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Queen’s student named Study USA Student of the Year

Queen’s University Belfast Law student Cara Heaslip spent a year studying business at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. Cara was named Student of the Year after achieving top academic marks and for an essay highlighting how her experience has helped further her employability. Speaking about the award, Cara who is originally from Crawfordsburn, said: “It is such an honour to receive this award and as I look back on my time in the US, I can genuinely say it was a life-changing experience. “I go into my final year at Queen’s with newfound skills – including both people and business skills -  both of which will help maximise my career prospects. They say the best teacher is experience and through Study USA I have learnt more than I could ever have imagined. “Thank you to Dr Farry and DEL for funding the programme over many years – and also thanks to the British Council and in particular, the Study USA team, for giving me the opportunity to be part of such an incredible experience." She was among 70 students from Northern Ireland to successfully graduate from the programme and was honoured at 20th anniversary celebrations at Titanic Belfast last Friday (October 17). Study USA, formerly known as the Business Education Initiative, is managed by British Council Northern Ireland on behalf of the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL). Since its formation in 1994, the initiative has sent 1800 students from Northern Ireland to all four corners of the United States where they have successfully completed a year studying business at one of 140 institutions. To celebrate two decades of the programme, the anniversary celebrations brought together the programmes most recent graduates, alumni from each year of the programme and their employers, as well as welcoming Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry and guest speaker, Elizabeth Dibble Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in London. This year, the Student of the Year Award was sponsored by leading audit firm, KPMG Northern Ireland. Jon D’Arcy, Chairman of KPMG Northern Ireland said: “KPMG is delighted to sponsor the Study USA Student of the Year award especially as, over the years, a number of our people have participated in this programme as undergraduates.   “Study USA provides our young people with an invaluable opportunity to step outside of their comfort zone; to live and study in another country; learn new skills; get involved with community projects; and generally boost their employability.” For more information on British Council Northern Ireland or Study USA, visit http://nireland.britishcouncil.org

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Queen’s in international ‘attosecond’ science breakthrough

Scientists from Queen’s University Belfast have been involved in a groundbreaking discovery in the area of experimental physics that has implications for understanding how radiotherapy kills cancer cells, among other things. Dr Jason Greenwood from Queen’s Centre for Plasma Physics collaborated with academics from Italy and Spain on the work on electrons, which has been published in the international journal Science. Using some of the shortest laser pulses in the world, the researchers used strobe lighting to track the ultra-fast movement of the electrons within a nanometer-sized molecule of amino acid. The resulting oscillations – lasting for 4,300 attoseconds (billion-billionths of a second) – amount to the fastest process ever observed in a biological structure. Dr Greenwood said: “Explaining how electrons move on the nanoscale is crucial for the understanding of a range of processes in matter as it is this charge which initiates many biological, chemical and electrical processes. For instance, the charge produced from the interaction of ionizing radiation with DNA and its subsequent ultra-fast movement can lead to damage of the DNA and cell death which is exploited in radiotherapy to treat cancer. This knowledge is therefore important for understanding the action of radiotherapy beams in cancer treatment. “Being able to describe how light interacts with electrons on these timescales could also lead to improvements in how light is converted into electricity in solar cells or faster microprocessors which use light rather than electrical signals for switching transistors. “This research will hopefully open up the emerging field of attosecond science which seeks to understand how ultrafast electrons play a key role in chemistry, biology and nanotechnology. This is very early research but this new field of ultrafast light-induced electronics is likely to have an impact in biology, chemistry and materials in the next five to ten years. Practical applications down the line may include improvements in cancer radiotherapy, highly efficient solar cells and much faster computer processors.” The research was carried out by Queen’s School of Mathematics and Physics in collaboration with the Politecnico Milano, the Universidad Autónoma of Madrid, University of Trieste and Institute of Photonics and Nanotechnologies IFN-CNR of Padua, Italy. The full paper can be read here: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/346/6207/336.abstract For more information contact Queen’s University communications officers Una Bradley (Mon-Wed) on 00 44 (0)28 9097 5320 or Michelle Cassidy (Thurs-Fri) on 00 44 (0)28 9097 5310 or email comms.officer@qub.ac.uk

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President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins to visit Queen’s

President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins will be Guest of Honour at Queen’s University Belfast on Thursday evening (23rd October). President Higgins will launch Remembering, Forgiving and Forgetting, an event the following day, at which members of the public are being invited to discuss the balance between remembering, forgiving and forgetting the past. On Thursday evening at Riddel Hall at Queen’s, President Higgins will deliver a keynote address on the theme of Remembering, Forgiving and Forgetting. During the event, Poet Pádraig Ó Tuama, newly appointed Leader of the Corrymeela Community, will also recite from his canon of work. The Remembering, Forgiving and Forgetting event on Friday (24th October), in The Great Hall at Queen’s, is organised by the University’s Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice, and forms part of the University’s commitment to civic engagement through the Civic Conversations at Queen’s programme. Academics from the Institute are encouraging members of the public to register and join in the discussion on Remembering, Forgiving and Forgetting, which has been created in partnership with The Corrymeela Community, the Community Relations Council, Reconciliation Fund of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and the Compromise After Conflict Research Programme from the Leverhulme Trust. The free event includes speakers who have direct experience of these three themes from societies emerging out of conflict across the world, including Colin Parry OBE, founder of The Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace who will address forgiveness; Professor Thomas Brudholm, University of Copenhagen, a leading academic on the Holocaust, who will address remembering and Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, University of Free State, who served on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and who will address forgetting. The morning lectures will be chaired by Bronagh Hinds, from DemocraShe, a community development and peace group based in Belfast. In the afternoon, the BBC’s William Crawley will chair a panel discussion consisting of Jude Collins, journalist; Rev John Dunlop, former Moderator of Presbyterian Church in Ireland; Paul Gallagher, Victim and Survivor Group; Alistair Little, Beyond Walls Project; Dawn Purvis, Healing Through Remembering Project; and Jennifer McNern, Victim and Survivor Group. The event will close with some final reflections from Rev Lesley Carroll, a member of the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group on the Past, and Susan McEwan, from Corrymeela. Speaking ahead of the visit by President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins, Queen’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Patrick Johnston said: “President Higgins is recognised around the world for his work in the promotion of peace and democracy. He has been a keen supporter of universities and their role in working towards the elimination of inequality and securing a prosperous and peaceful future for societies. We are therefore deeply honoured that he has agreed to join us at Queen’s to launch the second of our Civic Conversation events. “The Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice (ICTSJ), symbolises Queen’s commitment to supporting positive change in society and providing an arena in which our legacy issues can be openly discussed.” Professor John Brewer from Queen’s ICTSJ has organised the Remembering, forgiving and forgetting event. He added: “We are delighted President Higgins is joining us to launch our event. It is an important endorsement of our Civic Conversations at Queen’s programme and its importance for all those who wish to have their voices heard on legacy issues in a non-political and wholly civic arena. “When we come to realise that learning to live together is not automatic and does not follow naturally once violence has ended, managing the problems legacy issues cause becomes vital to stabilising our community and to progressing healing and reconciliation in society. At Queen’s we are proud that we can facilitate and encourage that process.” Remembering, Forgiving and Forgetting takes place on Friday, 24 October in The Great Hall at Queen’s University Belfast. The event is free and open to all with refreshments provided. Pre-registration is required and participants can register at http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/isctsj/ Media inquiries to Communications Office. Tel: +44 (0)28 90 97 3091 or email comms.office@qub.ac.uk  

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New research at Queen's into sexual services

New research by Queen’s University is the first time people involved in selling and buying sexual services have been directly approached in relation to prostitution policy in Northern Ireland and their views sought on the legal framework. Lead researcher Dr Susann Huschke, Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice, said: “The issue of prostitution has received considerable interest in Northern Ireland over the last year, mainly due to the proposal within Lord Morrow’s Private Member’s Bill (Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill) to criminalise paying for sexual services. This study, commissioned by the Department of Justice, aims to fill some of the existing research gaps by conducting a mixed methods study of prostitution in Northern Ireland.” Welcoming the research report Justice Minister, David Ford said: “Next week the Assembly will consider Lord Morrow’s Bill. Lord Morrow and I share a determination to do all we can to address the misery of human trafficking and modern day slavery, and we have worked closely to agree on almost all of the Bill’s provisions. However, we differ over Clause 6 of the Bill, which, if adopted, will change the existing law from criminalising the purchase of sex from a prostitute subjected to force, to criminalising the purchase of sexual services in any circumstances. “My position is that I don’t believe that the complexities of prostitution can be adequately addressed in a single clause in a Bill. Instead, the law and policy surrounding the distinct issue of selling or purchasing sexual services should be considered separately, in detail, and with the benefit of properly informed research.” The Minister continued: “Earlier this year I commissioned Queen’s University to carry out research into prostitution in Northern Ireland and I have now received their final report. The research has established that the framework of prostitution in Northern Ireland is more complex and diverse than the picture generally painted. I have, however, seen no evidence to suggest that the change proposed by Lord Morrow would reduce the incidence of trafficking. Indeed the report contains evidence to suggest that criminalising the purchase of sex, as a single clause in this Bill, may create further risk and hardship for those individuals, particularly women, involved in prostitution.” The research found that: only 2% of sex workers who responded to the survey supported criminalising the purchase of sex; 61% of NI-based sex workers in the survey thought it would make them less safe; 85% believed that it would not reduce sex trafficking; only 16% of respondents to the client survey said it would make them stop paying for sex altogether. For more information download the report at http://www.dojni.gov.uk/index/publications/publication-categories/pubs-criminal-justice/independent-research-into-prostitution-in-northern-ireland.htm  

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Fungal infections a worldwide catastophe according to Queen’s researchers

Fungal diseases which are killing 150 people every hour across the world have become a worldwide catastrophe, according to researchers at Queen’s University Belfast. They join researchers from several countries across the world in an effort led from University of Manchester in a global call for policy makers and health agencies to address the problem of fungal diseases which result in the death of 300 million people worldwide every year. Dr Ronan McMullan from Queen’s University Belfast and Dr Eileen Dorgan from Belfast Health and Social Care Trust have been collaborating with GAFFI (Global Action Fund for Fungal Infections); an international organisation set up last year to highlight what doctors believe is a worldwide catastrophe that is growing year on year.  Researchers believe that the problem could be halted with widespread access to diagnostics, antifungal medicines, medical training and better patient awareness. Dr Ronan McMullan from the Centre for Infection and Immunity in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s, said: “Among Ireland’s population fungal infections are estimated to affect around 117,000 people every year. The majority of these infections are recurrent vaginal candidiasis (‘thrush’) with an estimated 95,000 episodes per year. Although life-threatening infections among patients in ICU, as well as patients who have undergone transplantation or had leukaemia, are less common with just over 1,000 infections per year these are an important problem.” “The challenge in Ireland is mostly related to increasing awareness among both the public and doctors as well as developing and implementing cutting-edge diagnostic tests to enable these infections to be diagnosed and treated more promptly.” GAFFI’s founding President is Dr David Denning, Professor of Infectious Disease in Global Health at the University of Manchester. He said: “Fungal disease is the Trojan horse – the silent, unappreciated global catastrophe on an scale no one has grasped until recently. For example, after TB as many as 20 per cent of patients develop lung fungal infection, which slowly progresses to death over five years, unless arrested with treatment, an estimated burden of 1.2 million people worldwide. Severe asthma with fungal allergy could account for half of the 350,000 deaths from asthma each year, yet it is treatable with antifungal drugs. Blindness caused by fungal infection of the eye affects over 1 million adults and children globally yet the tools are not available for rapid diagnosis and treatment for millions of people. “Skin fungal infections affect a billion people worldwide. Fungal meningitis and pneumonia kills in excess of 1 million patients with AIDS every year, including many children, before treatment for HIV can begin to work. In its first year, GAFFI has drawn a roadmap for fighting fungal infections globally, for the first time.” In the last 12 months GAFFI has identified and estimated the burden of fungal disease in almost 40 countries, including both NI and RoI, successfully lobbied the World Health Organisation to include two life-saving drugs on the Essential Medicines List and convinced the World Medical Association to address governments across the world to improve diagnostics and treatments of fungal disease. Media inquiries to Queen’s Communications Office on comms.office@qub.ac.uk and 028 9097 3091.

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