Research Round-up – March 2019

Welcome to the second of our new monthly feature series throwing the spotlight on our research success stories.

A computer-generated image of how our new research and experimental facilities on the outskirts of Leeds will look. Image: Atkins Architecture (Leeds)

A computer-generated image of how the new research and experimental facilities will look. Image: Atkins Architecture (Leeds). March 2019

The strength of our research is in making a real and telling difference to the world around us, by working across traditional boundaries to find innovative solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing society today.

Here we highlight some of latest projects being pioneered by the expertise and efforts of the highly talented research community at Leeds.

From grant awards to examples of outstanding interdisciplinary work and best practice, we’re keen to showcase your research achievements. See the foot of this article for details of how you can get involved.

Featured in this month's round-up

Green light for large-scale research plans

This month’s headline research news saw Leeds City Council’s Plans Panel give the green light to support our application to develop a site on the outskirts of Leeds that will host large-scale research and experimental facilities.

The facilities will provide space to collaborate with industry on major research initiatives, including large-scale experiments and testing in high speed rail and infrastructure materials.

The site will include our new Institute for High Speed Rail and System Integration, providing Leeds City Region with a major hub for high speed rail innovation in track infrastructure and dynamics, rolling stock technology and system integration.

The proposed plans will co-locate the Institute with the confirmed home of the new HS2 depot at Gateway45, to the east of the city, which will maintain and service the brand new high speed trains. Read more about this story.

Professor Mike Bennett and Dr Vania Dimitrova, who are exploring the use of Artificial Intelligence in the treatment of older people with chronic diseases

Researchers win €4.1m EU Horizon 2020 grant

Leeds academics will share a €4.1 million grant to explore the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to develop and implement effective intervention programmes for early palliative care for older people with chronic diseases.

The project – InAdvance – is a four-year research collaboration by an interdisciplinary team of academics from our School of Computing and the School of Medicine, as part of a European consortium involving 11 partners from seven countries.

The interventions will be developed to improve the quality of life for patients and their families and reduce the socio-economic impact of chronic diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The Leeds team will work closely with partners at St Gemma’s University Teaching Hospice and NHS Highlands in the UK, together with the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and the University of Valencia in Spain.

Dr Vania Dimitrova, the Leeds principle investigator for the project, said: “This offers an exciting opportunity to develop cross-Faculty working between medicine and engineering, which is part of a larger European research programme.”

Professor Mike Bennett, leading the Academic Unit of Palliative Care at St Gemma's Hospice, added: “Our previous research has shown that patients with non-cancer diseases have much poorer access to, and duration of, palliative care than those with cancer. This major EU funding will allow us to work with other academic partners to lead work on reducing these inequalities to benefit patients in Leeds and more widely.”

Professor Panos Bamidis, visiting professor in the Leeds Institute of Medical Education, said: “This project offers an exciting opportunity to strengthen the links between Leeds and the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, opening up new avenues for research on innovative use of technology to support patients, families and health professionals.”

Professor Pietro Valdastri (right) with some of his team trialling the robotic colonoscopy platform

Decade of research leads to first human robotics trials

New funding will lead to the first human trials of a robotics project 10 years in the making.

Cancer Research UK (CRUK) has announced a grant of £600,000 for a two-year feasibility study of Magnetic Flexible Endoscopes (MFE) – a robotic platform that may provide a painless and easier-to-use alternative to conventional colonoscopy.

If successful, this will advance CRUK’s vision of three in four people surviving cancer by 2034.

In the UK, colorectal cancer (CRC) is the second most common form of the disease by incidence and third in terms of the associated death rate, with cases anticipated to reach 340,000 by 2020.

Colonoscopy is fundamental to the management of CRC, having preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic roles. Most importantly, colonoscopy can detect and remove pre-malignant polyps to avoid progression to CRC, improving outcomes for patients, the NHS and society.

Colonoscopy is, however, painful and often performed under conscious or deep sedation. This increases patient risks and NHS costs, prolongs the procedure and requires specialised equipment. It is also challenging to perform, requiring long and expensive training for the operators.

Pietro Valdastri, Professor and Chair in Robotics and Autonomous Systems at Leeds, has been leading a team extensively testing and refining the MFE platform. Its capability to travel the entire colon in human subjects without the need for conscious or deep sedation in a time comparable with standard colonoscopy now needs to be demonstrated.

Together with joint lead applicant Dr Venkataraman Subramanian, Clinical Associate Professor and Honorary Consultant Gastroenterologist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, he will test the hypothesis MFE is safe and tolerable in humans and worthy of further clinical evaluation.

Professor Valdastri said: “I am really excited about this grant because it will support first-in-human trials (in Leeds) of the robotic colonoscopy platform that I have been working on for the past 10 years.

“We have designed our platform to be painless, extremely easy to use and disposable. This will make colonoscopy – a crucial procedure to diagnose and treat colorectal cancer – available in secondary healthcare centres, as there is no need for sedation, skilled operators and expensive equipment to clean reusable endoscopes.”

PhD opportunities to transform healthcare through AI

Leeds has announced 50 fully-funded PhD researcher places to unlock the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in medical diagnosis and care.

A new centre for doctoral training (CDT) will be created, with a focus on the early detection, diagnosis, treatment and care of cancer. It follows new Government funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) to train the next generation of AI healthcare pioneers.

Professor David Hogg, leader of the new centre and professor of Artificial Intelligence at Leeds, said: “AI has the potential to make a real difference to patients with chronic diseases, such as cancer.

"Early detection is critically important, identifying those at risk of cancer before symptoms appear, as well as identifying lifestyle changes that would reduce long-term risk.

“We can also ensure AI increases the reliability of diagnostic services, through faster and more accurate digital radiology and pathology, and it can provide clinicians with targeted and tailored care for each patient.

“We are recruiting talented students from a range of backgrounds, from across science, engineering and health. While we will be focusing on cancer, where Leeds has an outstanding research and clinical reputation, our PhD graduates will be equipped with broad skills in AI to innovate in diagnosis and care – in cancer and beyond.”

Researchers will work with key national partners, including Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (LTHT), the NHS and industry.

LTHT is one of the largest teaching hospitals in Europe. It is known as a major centre of cancer research, with a world-renowned biomedical research facility and a leading clinical trials research unit.

Dr Christopher Herbert, Director of Operations: Research and Innovation at LTHT, said: “We believe AI will transform the way medicine is practiced and how patients are managed during the next 20 years, and we want to be at the forefront of that revolution.”

The investment in this doctoral training centre builds on the University’s well-established track record in transferring cross-disciplinary research ideas into world-leading clinical practice and products.

The CDT in Artificial Intelligence for Medical Diagnosis and Care will welcome its first cohort in September.

Leeds hosts immersive technologies workshop

Finding areas of common interest for future research development in immersive technologies is the aim of a new workshop.

Hosted by the School of Media and Communication at Leeds, Stepping into the story for good? Exploring the opportunities and challenges of immersive storytelling is being held in Clothworkers North Building from 8-10 April.

The workshop will bring together academics and immersive media practitioners to explore how we might develop immersive storytelling practices to foster forms of positive change for individuals and society.

Immersive technology attempts to emulate a physical world through the means of a digital or simulated world, including virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Our new Centre for Immersive Technologies works with partners from the public and private sectors to drive innovation in this field. We work across a range of disciplines to help companies and organisations use VR and AR for maximum benefit and competitive edge.

Among the many workshop speakers will be Dr Faisal Mushtaq, providing an overview of the research agenda and working with the Centre for Immersive Technologies.

Contact Sarah Hall to let her know which days you will be attending.

The Fixing Fashion report investigates sustainability in the fashion industry

Fixing fashion? Sustainability and social justice in the clothing sector

Research led by the School of Design has contributed to a report by Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).

The cross-party committee has been investigating sustainability in the fashion industry and has called on the Government to make fashion retailers take responsibility for the waste they create.

Launching a new report – Fixing fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability – it suggested a ‘one penny producer responsibility charge’ on each item of clothing could pay for better clothing collection and recycling.

The report also called for a reform of taxation to reward companies that offer clothing repairs and reduce the environmental footprint of their products.

Research regarding the sustainability of the fashion industry, conducted by Dr Mark Sumner, is cited in the new report

Leeds research was submitted to the EAC during the course of its information gathering and School of Design lecturer, Dr Mark Sumner, gave evidence in person. The research carried out by Dr Sumner, in collaboration with colleagues Professor Louise Waite (School of Geography) and Dr Matthew Davis and Dr Hinrich Voss (Leeds University Business School), is extensively cited in the report.

The researchers said: “The fashion industry is complex and global and has positive as well as many negative impacts on society and the environment.

“The EAC research has helped to identify a number of responsible brands and organisations, which are attempting to address a number of difficult problems associated with materials, the supply chain and workers, as well as the major issue of end-of-life clothing waste from consumers.

“Those brands acting responsibly and significantly are outnumbered by those that appear to be ignoring the issues facing the industry. It is clear more work must be done by the industry, and those that are acting responsibly need support and encouragement from government and consumers, while those who have a more cavalier approach to business need to be more firmly held to account.”

Brexit fears regarding UK’s United Nations influence

The UK needs to demonstrate its added value to the United Nations and adopt a principled and values-driven foreign policy if it is to maintain its current influence if it leaves the EU, according to a report released by UNA-UK.

The report – Global Britain in the United Nations – is the outcome of a research project by academics from the Universities of Leeds, Manchester and Southampton on behalf of the United Nations Association, funded by the British Academy.

The researchers interviewed 29 participants, including UN diplomats, UK officials and individuals from non-governmental organisations. They found that the UK faces “considerable challenges in maintaining its current level of influence once it has exited the EU”.

The report states: “Brexit will have an impact on the UK’s standing at the United Nations. British diplomats will perform strongly but they will lose political capital because they are less able to align their campaigns in the Security Council and the General Assembly with the influence of their colleagues in Brussels.”

The report suggests the impact of Brexit can be offset and the UK’s influence maintained if the UK invests in multilateralism and provides clear, principled, values-driven leadership.

Professor Jason Ralph, from Leeds, who led the research project, said: “Our report shows there is widespread confusion about what ‘Global Britain’ means, and doubts about the UK’s capacity to deliver the resources to back up its diplomatic leadership.”

The Rt Hon Stephen Timms, Dr Jörg Haustein and Professor Emma Tomalin with fellow panellist Emma Bridger (USPG) and moderator Professor Carole Rakodi (University of Birmingham)

Project report launched at Houses of Parliament event

The Houses of Parliament was the prestigious location for the launch of the final report of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-funded research network Keeping Faith in 2030: Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Following the final conference at SOAS University of London, a panel discussion in the Jubilee Room at Westminster was chaired by the Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP and hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Faith and Society. The event was also attended by Hilary Ogbonna, programme specialist at the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Action Campaign.

The research network, led by Professor Emma Tomalin from Leeds and Dr Jörg Haustein (SOAS), investigated the engagement of religious actors with the SDG process in Ethiopia, India and the UK.

Overall, the project found little engagement with the SDG consultation and implementation processes, but considerable interest into how the SDG framework might be useful as an advocacy platform.

More about the network and its final report can be found on the project website.

Grant winning team will study self-harm in teenagers

A team from the School of Medicine has been awarded a grant of £230,000 to study self-harm in teenagers.

Working with colleagues from University College London (UCL) and Kings College London (KCL), they will undertake a systematic review and individual patient data meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials (RCT) of interventions for self-harm in young people.

Self-harm is a major public health concern, with risk of repetition high and suicide the second most common cause of death in 10 to 24-year olds, after road traffic accidents.

However, there is still no clear evidence of an effective treatment intervention that will reduce the likelihood of further self-harm if someone has already self-harmed, including from the largest RCT addressing the issue – the SHIFT trial – which was led by the School of Medicine.

Existing research has offered the same treatment to groups of young people who have self-harmed in different ways and for different reasons. This new study will aim to identify sub-groups of young people for whom specific types of therapeutic interventions may be effective, thus providing clearly defined research recommendations for future clinical practice and RCTs.

The team will be led by Professor David Cottrell with Professor Amanda Farrin, Dr Rebecca Walwyn, Alexandra Wright-Hughes (Leeds Institute of Clinical Trials Research) and Judy Wright (Leeds Institute of Health Sciences).

N8 ‘police-datathon’ to predict future crime areas

The N8 Policing Research Partnership (N8PRP) is holding what has been described as a ‘police-datathon’ to unearth future crime issues.

N8PRP’s Data Analytics strand is hosting a Mobilising Data event with a difference – it has no agenda and all delegates must participate in order to shape the day.

The ‘un-conference’, which takes place at the Park Plaza Hotel in Leeds on Monday 25 March, begins with everyone setting the priorities for the day by sharing their challenges with the group, who then vote on what they want to work on or feel most equipped to help with.

The internationally renowned expert in crime prevention, Professor Gloria Laycock OBE, founding Director of the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science at University College London (UCL) and who ran UCL's Centre for Security and Crime Science, will set the scene in asking participants to think how data can be best used to predict how it can best serve society in the future.

Steph Abraham, Project manager at N8PRP, said: “The aim of the day is to ensure that everybody wins via the co-production of better evidence-based policing and more impactful university research. Put simply, it’s a police-datathon because we are bringing together police practitioners, university researchers and ‘data’ experts to discuss data, research and policy priorities, data science and technological capacity.”

The N8 Research Partnership is a collaboration of the North’s eight leading research universities, including Leeds. It seeks to pioneer new collaborations and engagement, develop programmes of world class interdisciplinary, translational research that deliver real world impact, and promote research capabilities within the North.

Book your place at the N8PRP event or contact Steph Abraham for further information.

Research Spotlight video

Learn more about some of the incredible work taking place at Leeds in our new Research Spotlight video, available on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

How to feature in future round-ups

Please contact Internal Communications if you or one of your colleagues would like to appear in this monthly feature.

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