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£20 million to fight virtual crime and treat our ageing population

Fighting virtual crime, treating an ageing population, and turning research into commercial enterprises, will be the focus of a £20 million investment announced today by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

This new investment will create two new centres in areas where world-class scientific breakthroughs have already been achieved. These ‘Innovation and Knowledge Centres’ (IKCs) will mix business knowledge with the most up-to-date research to harness the full potential of emerging technologies – ensuring the UK is first to develop this cutting-edge research.

The two new centres will be based at Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Leeds. Belfast’s new centre will work to secure our information architecture, and safeguard the trustworthiness of information stored electronically, including countering malicious ‘cyber-attack’. The University of Leeds Centre will work on regenerative techniques and technologies to treat the common ailments of an ageing population.

EPSRC’s Chief Executive, Professor David Delpy, said "Taking exciting research from the university laboratory to the commercial sector through close collaboration with user stakeholders is vital to ensuring the UK's economy continues to be innovative and globally competitive.

EPSRC is strongly committed to supporting universities in commercialising their outstanding research and I applaud the innovative approach taken by the successful applicants, and all competing universities."

Minister of State for Science and Innovation, Lord Drayson, said “More public money than ever before is being spent on world leading research into the strategic challenges facing the UK – such as the world’s ageing population and security.

He continued: “The investment in these two new Innovation and Knowledge Centres will foster an entrepreneurial environment where ground-breaking research can mix at an early stage with business and potential customers, to provide a clear commercial strategy for accelerating its impact on the economy. This is exactly what the UK needs.”

Improving our “cyber security”

Currently, with around 1 trillion devices with the ability to access the internet, connectivity has never been easier. However, with global connectivity comes global vulnerability in terms privacy, security and trustworthiness of information. Secure information technologies are vital in the 21st Century information age if the relentless developments in computer, communications and network technologies are to continue. “Cyber-attack”, including financial and economic attack, is arguably now a very serious national and international issue.

Belfast’s new IKC will develop secure solutions to a number of particularly modern problems – from protecting mobile phone networks to the creation of secure ‘corridors’ for the seamless and rapid transit of people, circumventing the need for conventional security at airports

Treating an ageing population

The University of Leeds IKC will focus on healthcare innovation, in particular the emerging field of regenerative therapies. The centre will pioneer physical and biological treatments to help patients deal with a variety of ailments that will affect an active, but ageing population.

Researchers are working on using emerging novel technologies in biological scaffolds, nano-biomaterials and self-assembling peptides to enhance and accelerate the regeneration of tissues by harnessing the power of endogenous stem cells.

Applications for the research are numerous, with clear opportunities in treating cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as aiding those with musculoskeletal disease. The team are also working on a range of longer-lasting hip replacements.

Turning ground-breaking research into commercial enterprises

The Innovation and Knowledge Centres will foster an entrepreneurial environment where ground-breaking research can mix at an early stage with business and, in some cases, the customer to provide a clear commercial strategy for accelerating its exploitation.

Focussing on exciting and emerging research areas, fast-tracking sophisticated technologies will bring a ‘first-mover’ advantage in an area of already proven commercial opportunity.

The centres will ensure the UK is able to capitalise fully on the research, generating significant local and national benefits. The centres will become ‘self-financing’ within five years.

The centres will also provide opportunities for students to develop, with Leeds’s centre alone offering opportunities for 50 innovation fellows and 50 innovation PhDs.

Jane Reck | alfa
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