Latest News

Latest News

Queen’s researchers in €2.25m international project to tackle diabetes-related blindness

The new €2.25m US-Ireland R&D partnership is bringing together a unique team of scientists and clinicians to develop a gene therapy approach with the aim of potentially reversing diabetes-linked blood vessel damage to the retina – the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Ultimately, the team hopes to prevent disease progression and restore visual function. Diabetes-related blindness, also known as diabetic retinopathy, is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the blood vessels in the retina. This global challenge affecting more than 90 million people is one of the leading causes of ‘new’ blindness in working-age adults in the UK. Existing therapies, such as laser treatment and monthly injections of drugs into the eye, are not effective for all patients and carry significant side effects and cost implications for the NHS. The research team is planning to overcome these limitations by developing a gene therapy approach based on the use of adeno-associated viruses (AAV) which insert genetic material at a specific site. This will enable long‑term delivery of a protein, called COMP-Ang1, to the retina. The researchers have previously discovered that this protein can protect the retina from damage during diabetes, but precisely how it does this remains unclear.   The team will investigate how COMP-Ang1 prevents inflammation, leakage from blood vessels and improves the function of the retina. They will also investigate the ability of COMP-Ang1 to enhance a stem cell therapy which the team at Queen’s has been developing over several years. Ultimately, it is hoped that COMP-Ang1 will facilitate the reversal and repair of diabetic damage to the retina. Dr Tim Curtis, from the Centre for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University, said: “During diabetes, blood flow to the retina is impaired and this is believed to trigger the development of diabetic retinopathy. Our aim is to examine whether COMP-Ang1 treatment is capable of preventing or reversing diabetic retinopathy by improving blood flow and vascular repair in the retina. Queen’s researchers are established leaders in diabetic retinopathy and we are delighted to be part of a leading international consortium tackling one of the major health challenges facing us today.” At the University of Utah, researchers will ascertain how the drug prevents inflammation in diabetic patients, using the smallest possible drug dose to achieve optimal long-term effect while minimising side-effects of toxicity. The researchers at Dublin City University will advance our knowledge of therapeutic viruses to ensure their improved efficiency for delivery into the eye. Research funding of €2.25m was received through the US-Ireland R&D Partnership Programme.  This research partnership is a unique arrangement involving funding agencies in the USA, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland which combine resources to enable the best researchers from Ireland and the USA to work together on research to address critical issues and generate valuable discoveries that will impact on patient care. Dr Janice Bailie, Assistant Director of the Public Health Agency’s HSC R&D Division, which is funding the Northern Ireland part of this project with support from the Medical Research Council, said: “We are delighted to be funding this project which will tackle an important problem affecting people with diabetes. We expect that the outcomes from this international research will lead to significant advances in the treatment of patients with diabetes-related blindness in the UK, Ireland and beyond.” The five-year programme will commence in April 2016.

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Queen’s planning experts call for regeneration to support reconciliation

The report from the Planning for Spatial Reconciliation research team at Queen’s School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering calls for regeneration to operate in tandem with reconciliation. The report, entitled ‘Making Space for Each Other: Civic Place-Making in a Divided Society’ recommends criteria for planners to assess whether specific plans and development schemes are in compliance with the central goal of creating a shared and equitable society. The research was funded by the Special EU Programme Body under the EU's PEACE III programme. The research team at Queen’s worked in partnership with the Planning Policy Division of the Department of the Environment. Lead researcher Professor Frank Gaffikin said: “Planning is a key feature of the transformation to a shared society. Northern Ireland’s conflict centrally concerns disputes around territory, sovereignty, and identity. Planning is about the social shaping of space. Therefore, planning is not only relevant, but crucial, to the resolution of that conflict. “Our report questions whether the present institutional and policy environment will deliver the kind of peaceful and inclusive place that Northern Ireland can become. This is particularly relevant for Belfast which, while economically dominant in the region, has high shares of poverty, and sectarian and politically destabilising incidents. “The report recognises that planning itself needs to change. First, it has to get beyond the physical aspects, such as zoning for different land-uses. Rather, it should go beyond the traditional statutory functions of development planning and management to focus on linking the wide-ranging issues of good place-making. It should include area-based policy and initiatives relating to deprivation, education, economy, health and housing. In turn, all these aspects need to be embedded in an improved strategy to promote good relations. “Second, the duty to deliver planning has been returned to newly re-organised local government in Northern Ireland. The combination of new planning, new ways of doing planning, and new democratic structures for its delivery and accountability, offers unique opportunity for imaginative approaches to how we make good places, even in bad circumstances.  Regeneration needs to operate in tandem with reconciliation.” To underpin the proposed new planning model, the project identified a set of universal principles for development in a contested society. From these, it recommends criteria for planners to assess whether specific plans and development schemes are in compliance with the central goal of creating a shared and equitable society. The Shared Space Planning Principles are: No one has a right to claim any territory on behalf of a communal identity. All of the city should be considered as shared space. Since the city as a whole is every resident’s neighbourhood, urban policy and planning should be concerned to create a pluralist city for a pluralist people - open, connected, and inter-dependent. Civic values of equity, diversity, mutuality, and social cohesion should take precedence over those ethnic or community values, rooted in tribal partisanship. Capacity for such interlocking networks and good relations should be cultivated as a central mark of genuine community development. Initiatives concerning peace-lines and contested spaces should be considered within the regeneration of their wider environments. Development of disadvantaged areas requires a collaborative and co-ordinatedapproach involving cross-community local groups working with multi-agency teams to achieve deliverable outcomes, reviewed by an informed external body. Poor physical connectivity among neighbourhoods, and from those neighbourhoods to sites of employment, services and education, should be addressed as a priority. Road engineers need to acknowledge the role that they should play in helping to stitch the fragmented city back together again. New housing developments need to avoid the replication of single identity social and/or religious communities and should aim to create mixed neighbourhoods, well-linked to wider city opportunities. Such mixed developments, designed to create high-quality diverse communities, should become the model to help break down the social and sectarian divisions of existing city neighbourhoods. Location of key public services is crucial to their accessibility. Public services should be sited in areas that are securely accessible to all communities. The full report ‘Making Space for Each Other: Civic Place-Making in a Divided Society’ is available here: http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/PlanningforSpatialReconciliation/Publications/

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Experts call for increased action on protecting those with food allergies

That’s according to a report from a leading UK team of food safety experts, including Professor Chris Elliott from Queen’s University Belfast, who led the recent independent review of the UK’s food system. Professor Elliott, founder of Queen’s University’s Institute for Global Food Security, is co-author of a paper published in The Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Analyst, outlining a strategy to close the gaps in current processes for detecting and measuring allergens – substances in foods that can trigger an allergic reaction. The publication comes during the UK’s Allergy Awareness Week (25th April – 1 May). Food allergy is a rapidly growing problem in the developed world, affecting up to 10 per cent of children and 2-3 per cent of adults. Allergic reactions can range from a mild runny nose, skin irritation or stomach upset to severe anaphylaxis, which can be fatal. Food allergies have significant impact on quality of life and usually require lifelong avoidance of the offending foods. There are also burdens on health care, the food industry and regulators. Professor Elliott and Professor Duncan Burns, Emeritus Professor at Queen’s Institute for Global Food Security,   are among a team of experts led by Michael Walker from the Government Chemist Programme at LGC, which has outlined a ‘grand vision’ to address the key challenges in allergen measurement and analysis. They make a series of recommendations primarily addressed to the European Commission’s Health and Food Safety Directorate, DG Santé, aimed at securing a food chain which is reliable, resistant to fraud and ultimately safe for consumers. Professor Elliott is a world-renowned expert on food fraud and traceability and led the independent review of the UK’s food system following the 2013 horsemeat scandal. He said: “The food supply chain is highly vulnerable to fraud involving food allergens, risking consumer health and reputational damage to the food industry. Cross-contamination during production, processing and transport is also a problem. While efforts have been made to improve food labelling and introduce the concept of threshold quantities for allergens, these depend on being able to accurately detect and quantify allergens in the first instance. Gaps in the current system mean that it is difficult to achieve this. “This paper sets out a strategy to address those gaps and calls on the EC to take action in three particular areas. Firstly, the use of bioinformatics studies for modelling how best to predict what allergens present in foods, and specifically what quantities of these allergens, will adversely affect the health of someone with food allergies. Secondly, the development of reference methods which will provide a ‘gold standard’ for the detection and measurement of allergens in food. And thirdly, the production of reference materials which can support threshold decisions –samples of foods with known, controlled amounts of allergens present, to allow for checks on the accuracy of allergen testing methods.” Significant international effort and an inter-disciplinary approach will be required to achieve these aims and protect those at risk of food allergies. Lead author of the report, Michael Walker from LCG said: “If we fail to realise the promise of future risk management of food allergens through lack of the ability to measure food allergens properly, the analytical community will have failed a significant societal challenge. Our recommendations are complex with associated resource demand but rarely has such an exciting interdisciplinary scientific endeavour arisen as a solution to a key socially relevant problem.” The open access paper in Analyst is available here. End

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Top UK awards for Queen’s University engineers

The seven winners are all students at Queen’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. They are: Stephen Colbert from Dungannon, Cherie Gardiner from Belfast, Connor McShane from Newry, Alice Purcell from Limavady, Gareth Stephenson from Newry, and Conor Taylor from Ballymena, Christopher Bartolo from Wigan. The Advanced Leadership Awards Programme aims to provide support for engineering undergraduates in UK universities who have the potential to become leaders in engineering and who are able to act as role models for future engineers.  These awards help ambitious and inspiring engineering students to undertake an accelerated personal development programme while they complete their undergraduate studies.  All awardees receive £5,000 to be used over three years towards career oriented personal development activities. Dr Trevor Robinson from Queen’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering said: “We are delighted to announce that seven of our undergraduate students have been awarded Advanced Leadership Awards by the Royal Academy of Engineering.  “This is an amazing accomplishment given that only thirty-five Advanced awards were given out across the UK this year.  Individual credit must go to all of the award winners for their incredible achievement. “This year’s awards build on previous successes for Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering students from Queen’s who won a total of four awards in both 2015 and 2014 and three awards in both 2013 and 2012.” For more information on Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Queen’s visit http://www.qub.ac.uk/schools/SchoolofMechanicalandAerospaceEngineering/ Ends Photo caption:L-R Queen’s University students Conor Taylor, Cherie Gardiner, Connor McShane and Alice Purcell are among seven Queen’s students named among the winners of the Royal Academy of Engineering Advanced Leadership Awards.  

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McAleer & Rushe accommodation scheme gets go ahead

This follows the company being granted planning permission by the Council earlier this year to develop 476 student bedrooms in McClintock Street.  The Tyrone and London based developer will deliver the purpose-built student accommodation for Queen’s University Belfast, with a completion date of summer 2018. The latest approved project, will bring hundreds of jobs to the city and is a major boost for the local economy. The new accommodation will be wholly owned and operated by Queen’s and will follow the successful model already in place at the Elms Student Village. Queen’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Patrick Johnston said: “As an anchor institution in the city, this substantial investment again demonstrates the commitment of Queen’s to the development of Belfast as a learning city.  The continued growth of the University, and Belfast, is critical to the success of the knowledge economy.”   “As part of our ambitious plans for growth, this much needed student accommodation, within walking distance of Queen’s, city centre amenities and transport links, will ensure that the University continues to attract the brightest local, national and international students to study in Belfast.” McAleer & Rushe has rapidly attained a reputation of excellence in the development and construction of student housing in the UK and Ireland. It is well on target to deliver 7,500 student bedrooms, within just five years of entering the student sector. It is currently working on a number of major schemes across the UK for leading student housing providers such as Unite and Knightsbridge. End Photo Caption: Photographed at the McClintock Street site in Belfast, where McAleer & Rushe will develop 476 student bedrooms for Queen's University are: Queen's University's Vice-Chancellor, Professor Patrick Johnston (centre) and Director of Finance, Wendy Galbraith and McAleer & Rushe's Chief Executive, Eamon Laverty.

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Over 600 people to attend Brexit impact debate at Queen’s University Belfast

Over 600 people will attend a public debate around ‘The Economic Implications of Brexit in Northern Ireland’ at Queen’s tomorrow (Tuesday, 26 April). The evening event, which will be one of the largest public Brexit debates held in the UK, is being organised by the Centre for Irish Business and Economic Performance in Queen’s University Management School; The Chief Executives Club at Queen’s and the Nevin Economic Research Institute. Those attending will hear Dr Edgar Morgenroth, Associate Research Professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute, outline the possible implications of a Brexit for Northern Ireland, following the publication of his recent report on the impact for the Republic of Ireland. Following his presentation, he will join Dr Esmond Birnie, Chief Economist, PwC; Angela McGowan, Chief Economist, Danske Bank and Paul MacFlynn, Economist, Neven Economic Research Institute, in a panel discussion chaired by BBC Northern Ireland’s Economics and Business Editor, John Campbell. Speaking ahead of the event, Dr Anthony McDonnell, Director of the Centre for Irish Business and Economic Performance in Queen’s Management School, said: “We won’t be telling people how to vote, but we do hope that this event will enable those attending to make a more informed decision on the economic side of the argument. Dr Edgar Morgenroth’s work is most the most advanced piece of work on the subject.” People can follow the discussion on the night and add their thoughts by using #BrexitNI on Twitter. Anyone interested in attending the debate, which takes place between 5.45-8.00pm in the Whitla Hall, Queen’s University, should email Brenda.Carabine@qub.ac.uk.  Please note that the number of remaining places is limited.

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Queen's helps trial new treatment to extend life of cystic fibrosis patients

Researchers from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (BHSCT),were part of an international research team who showed that a combination of two drugs - Lumafactor and Ivacaftor – can improve lung function and reduce hospital treatments for cystic fibrosis sufferers. The team carried out clinical trials in centres across the world with over 1,100 people who have the most common form of cystic fibrosis, F508del, a life limiting genetic disease which can affect the lungs, liver, pancreas and kidneys. The results of the combination drug trial showed: A reduction in the number of hospital courses of antibiotic treatment An improvement in patient’s breathing tests Improvements in patient’s weight and in quality of life The combination treatment, which has been developed by Vertex, a pharmaceutical company based in Boston MA, is now undergoing assessment for approval and clinical use. Co-author of the research, Professor Stuart Elborn, from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s, said: “These results represent a further major advance in finding treatments which correct the basic problem in cystic fibrosis and improve the lives of patients living with the condition. “This is the latest example of the commitment of researchers and staff at Queen’s and the BHSCT to advancing knowledge and achieving excellence for the benefit of everyone in society.” The international research team who carried out the study involved scientists from the UK, Ireland, the United States, Australia, Italy, France and Canada.

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Local teachers given valuable insight into new career pathways for pupils

The briefing, which also gave teachers the opportunity to meet with leading employers, coincided with the launch of the new www.qub.ac.uk/Connect/Teachers website from Queen’s earlier this week. The valuable online resource provides a hub for Careers teachers to help their pupils maximise their career prospects, engage with the University and keep up-to-date with the latest study opportunities at Queen’s. Queen’s currently has almost 800 students and more than 5,000 alumni from Londonderry. While in the city, University representatives had a positive meeting with the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to reaffirm the University’s commitment to engaging with Derry’s schools, business and civic community.   Queen’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor David Jones, who leads the University’s engagement with schools and employers, said: “Events like this provide an invaluable forum for teachers to meet with university and business representatives, to explore how to maximise our young people’s higher education and career prospects and to discuss how we can meet the developing needs of employers in growing the economy here. “In the face of an increasingly globally focussed Northern Ireland, a new and reshaped Executive, and the impending outcome of the referendum on EU membership, our young people are facing an increasingly changeable careers landscape. I am delighted that at Queen’s we are able to drive the conversation around these crucial areas and ensure everyone is aware of the opportunities available.” The deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, said: “We can only develop a strong and sustainable economy if we are fully aware of the current and future needs of employers.  “I commend Queen’s University for bringing people together in Derry and the North West to look at current and future job opportunities.  "I encourage our young people to take time to establish what options are available to them and what skills and qualifications they will require in the future to make the transition from education to the workplace. “This is a great example of partnership working, between employers and educators which should enable us to better match supply with demand and provide young people with the necessary skills and qualifications to compete for jobs and pursue their chosen career.” The meetings with Careers teachers follow Queen’s announcement that it is investing a further £55 million to secure its position as a global leader in education and research, and ensure a world class experience for its students. Currently 95 per cent of Queen’s graduates are in employment or further study within six months of graduating, and the University has links with over 3,000 employers around the globe and more than 200 partner institutions across the world at which its students can study. Confirming the University’s commitment to young people in the North West, Professor Jones continued: “Our recent investment announcement reaffirms Queen’s commitment to attracting the best young people from across Northern Ireland and ensuring they can become skilled, knowledgeable and work-ready graduates. The quality of our graduates is the number one selling point when attracting investors to Northern Ireland, and we look forward to continuing our work with schools and employers to ensure that together we are maximising the potential of all our young people.” Laura Jackson, Partner at BDO Northern Ireland, who attended the event, said: “At BDO Northern Ireland, people are at the heart of how we do business and we recognise as a firm the importance of identifying, recruiting and developing future leaders. This is why we are proud to take part in and support such a valuable relationship with Queen’s University. In reaching out to careers teachers in our schools, we can work together as employers and education bodies to better equip our students for the world of work.” Angela McGowan, Chief Economist at Danske Bank, who also spoke to those attending the event, added: “Today’s young people will shape and drive Northern Ireland’s future economy. At Danske Bank we recognise the need for successful businesses and educational institutions to work together to bring accurate information around skills, employment opportunities and entrepreneurship to local schools. There are opportunities for every young person in Northern Ireland’s economy, everyone has a role to play in making this region an economic success and no one should feel excluded or left behind. We hope to bring that message to each and every pupil.” For more information on study opportunities at Queen’s visit http://www.qub.ac.uk/home/StudyatQueens/ Ends Photo caption: Professor Adrienne Scullion, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; Queen’s University with Deputy First Minster, Martin McGuinness and Professor David Jones,  Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education and Students, Queen's University Belfast.

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Queen’s placed 1st in the UK for intellectual property commercialisation

The latest results, place Queen’s first, ahead of the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, the Institute of Cancer Research and Imperial College London, based on total IP revenues (IP income plus sales of shares). The annual survey captures a broad range of knowledge exchange metrics including engagement with businesses and the revenues that are generated through the wide range of interactions universities undertake with organisations.  Its findings inform the strategic direction of 'knowledge exchange' activity that funding bodies and higher education institutions in the UK undertake. It is the latest in ‘UK firsts’ for Queen’s commercialisation which is also ranked number one in the UK for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships with more than 350 partnerships to date.  Queen’s had 40 active partnerships in 2014-15. Through QUBIS, the commercialisation arm of the University, Queen’s has created over 75 spin out companies some of global importance – and those companies have been responsible for the creation of around 1,700 high-tech private sector new jobs.  Just last year, Queen’s spinout, Kainos, was listed on the London Stock Exchange with a market capitalisation of £225 million.  It is one of two publicly listed companies emanating from the University in recent years. Director of Research and Enterprise at Queen’s University Belfast, Scott Rutherford, said: “Queen’s has a track record of strong performance in knowledge exchange activities which have proven and substantial economic benefits.  These results show that based on total IP revenues originating from Queen’s spin-outs and licensing activities, the University is considered as a leading institution in turning business ideas into wealth.  “This data reflects the strong commitment by Queen’s to supporting our home grown businesses, to helping attract foreign direct investment here and to driving the creation of new, innovative and technology rich companies. This announcement underlines our track record in delivering genuine economic outcomes for Northern Ireland, nationally and for our partners around the world.” Find the details on the survey here *2014/15 data requires a subscription purchase

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Queen’s University Microbiologists Unmask the Hannibal Route Enigma

Microbiologists based in the Institute for Global Food Security and School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast have recently released results that may have answered one of ancient history’s greatest enigmas:  Where did Hannibal cross the Alps? Hannibal was the Commander-in-Chief of the Carthaginian army during the Second Punic War with Rome (218 –201 BC). He famously led his troops (thirty thousand men, just thirty seven elephants and over fifteen thousand horses and mules) across the Alps to invade Italia - bringing the Roman army to its knees.  While the great general was ultimately defeated at Zama in 202 BC, this campaign is rightly regarded today as one of the finest military endeavours of antiquity.  We can say, in retrospect, that these events ultimately shaped the future Roman Republic, eventually with Caesar morphing into the Empire, and therefore into European civilisation as we know it. For over two thousand years, historians, statesmen and academics have argued about the route Hannibal took across the Alps.  Until now, no solid archaeological evidence has been forthcoming.  However, this week – publishing on-line in the Journal Archaeometry – Queen’s University’s microbiologist Dr Chris Allen and his international team of colleagues, led by Professor Bill Mahaney (York University, Toronto), have finally provided solid evidence for the most likely transit route that took Hannibal’s forces across the Alps via  the Col de Traversette pass (~3000 m).  This crossing point was first proposed over a half century ago by the biologist and polymath Sir Gavin de Beer, but has not previously been widely accepted by the academic community.  Using a combination of microbial metagenome analysis, environmental chemistry, geomorphic and pedological investigation, pollen analyses and various other geophysical techniques, the researchers have shown that a ‘mass animal deposition’ event occurred near the Col de Traversette - that can be directly dated to approximately 2168 cal yr BP, i.e. 218 BC.  Dr Chris Allen, from the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “The deposition lies within a churned-up mass from a 1-metre thick alluvial mire, produced by the constant movement of thousands of animals and humans. Over 70 per cent of the microbes in horse manure are from a group known as the Clostridia, that are very stable in soil - surviving for thousands of years.  We found scientifically significant evidence of these same bugs in a genetic microbial signature precisely dating to the time of the Punic invasion.” The research project was conducted in collaboration with a leading group of researchers, based also in the Republic of Ireland, Canada, USA, France and Estonia.  

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