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14 July, 2017 - 13:31 By Tony Quested

University honours new Cambridge ideas changing the world

Waterscope Alexander Patto

Cambridge University researchers’ continued impact on global healthcare, business and society were reflected in the winners of the latest Vice-Chancellor’s Impact and Public Engagement with Research Awards.

Medical and societal innovation potentially impacting millions of people on the planet figured large in the hall of fame.

The winning invention in the Impact Awards is an open source, 3D-printable microscope that forms the cornerstone of rapid, automated water testing kits for use in low and middle-income countries.

Dr Alexander Patto (pictured above), from the Department of Physics, is the creator of WaterScope and is already gaining global traction for the technology through his eponymous not-for-profit spin-out company.

Using an open-source flexure microscope, WaterScope is developing the water testing kits allied to affordable diagnostics to empower developing communities.

Its microscopes are being used for education, to inspire future scientists from India to Colombia. The invention is supporting local initiatives, with companies such as STIClab in Tanzania making medical microscopes from recycled plastic bottles.

Elroy Dimson CJBS
Elroy Dimson chairs the Newton Centre for Endowment Asset Management at Cambridge Judge Business School

Professor Elroy Dimson from Judge Business School wins for the ‘Active Ownership’ initiative which focuses on engagement with investee companies on environmental and social issues.

‘Active Ownership’ refers to commitment by asset owners and their portfolio managers to engage with the businesses they own, focusing on issues that matter to all stakeholders and to the economy as a whole, including environmental, social and governance concerns. By providing evidence to guide ESG strategy, Professor Dimson’s research has had a substantial impact on investment policy and practice.

Also honoured is Professor Nick Morrell from the Department of Medicine for a genetics initiative designed to prompt new treatments for lethal pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Severe high blood pressure in the lungs, known as idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension, is a rare disease that affects approximately 1,000 people in the UK.

The condition usually affects young women and average life expectancy is three to five years. Existing treatments improve symptoms but have little impact on survival.

Professor Morrell has introduced routine genetic testing for this condition, and found that one in four patients carry a particular genetic mutation associated with more severe disease and worse survival.

His research has identified new ways to treat the disease, the most promising of which is being commercialised through a university spin-out biotech company.

Other winners included a team of researchers from the Institute of Criminology – Professor Lawrence Sherman, Peter Neyroud, Dr Barak Ariel, Dr Cristobal Weinborn and Eleanor Neyroud  – for their Cambridge Crime Harm Index brainwave.

The index is a tool for creating a single metric for the seriousness of crime associated with any one offender, victim, address, community, or prevention strategy, supplementing traditional measures giving all crimes equal weight. The UK Office of National Statistics credits the index as the stimulus to institute its own, modified version from 2017.

Police use the Cambridge index to target highest-harm offenders, victims, places, times and days, differences in crime harm per capita differs across communities or within them over time, adding precision to decisions for allocating scarce resources in times of budget cuts.

Professor Catherine Barnard
Professor Catherine Barnard

A Vice-Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Award went to Professor Catherine Barnard from the university’s Faculty of Law.

In the run up to the EU membership referendum Professor Barnard developed a range of outputs to explain key issues at stake including migration, which forms the basis of her research, in addition to the wider EU law remit. 

Harnessing the timeliness of the political climate, Barnard’s videos, online articles, radio and TV interviews have supported her engagement across 12 town hall events from Exeter to Newcastle, an open prison and round-table discussions with various public groups.

She has also provided a number of briefing sessions to major political party MPs and peers. She has become a trusted public figure and researcher on EU law, Brexit and surrounding issues, ensuring that the voices of those key to the research process are heard and listened to.

Another winner was Dr Elisa Laurenti from the Wellcome/MRC Stem Cell Institute and Department of Haemotology.

Dr Laurenti has engaged over 2,500 people at six separate events with her stem cel robots activity. She collaborated with a researcher in educational robotics to produce this robot-based activity, which maps a stem cell’s differentiation to become a specific cell type. The activity has provided a platform for children, families and adults to discuss ethics and clinical applications of stem cell research.

Also on the victor’s rostrum was Dr Nai-Chieh Liu from the Department of Veterinary Medicine. Dr Liu has developed a non-invasive respiratory function test for short-skulled dog breeds, including French bulldogs and pugs, which suffer from airway obstruction. 

She has engaged with dog owners by attending dog shows, dog club meetings and breeders’ premises to break down barriers between publics and veterinarians working to improve the health of these dogs. As a result of this engagement, the UK French bulldog club and the Bulldog Breed Council have adopted health testing schemes based on Dr Liu’s research.

Dr Neil Stott CJBS
Dr Neil Stott, Cambridge Judge Business School

Dr Neil Stott and Belinda Bell from the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation at Judge Business School were other notable winners. Dr Stott and Miss Bell established Cambridge Social Ventures to embed research around social innovation into a practical workshop to support emerging social entrepreneurs. 

Since the first workshop in 2014, they have reached almost 500 people wanting to create social change by starting and growing a business. The team goes to considerable efforts to reach out to participants from non-traditional backgrounds and to ensure workshops are inclusive and accessible to a wide range of people by incorporating online engagement with work in the community.

The victorious Amalia Thomas from the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics researches photoelasticity, a property by which certain materials transmit light differently when subjected to a force. Amalia has developed an engaging exhibition for secondary school students comprising interactive elements, which uses photoelasticity to visualise force, work and power.

Another notable success earned a winning position for Dr Frank Waldron-Lynch, Jane Kennet and Katerina Anselmiova from the Department of Medicine and Department of Clinical Biochemistry.

Since the start of their research programme to develop drugs for Type 1 diabetes, Dr Waldron-Lynch, Ms Kennet and Ms Anselmiova have developed a public engagement programme to engage participants, patients, families, funders, colleagues, institutions, companies and the community, with the aim of ensuring that their research remains relevant to stakeholder needs

Amongst their outputs, the team has formed a patient support group in addition to developing an online engagement strategy through social media platforms. Most recently, they have collaborated with GlaxoSmithKline to offer patients the opportunity to participate in clinical studies at all stages of their disease.

All the prizes for the Impact and Public Engagement with Research Awards were presented at the Old Schools. 

Vice-chancellor Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, said: “These winning projects are all outstanding examples that reflect the tremendous efforts by our researchers to make a major contribution to society.”

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