The EPSRC funded Research and Training Centre in Physical Sciences for Health was well represented in the finals of the Enterprising Birmingham Innovation competition, the final showcase of which took place on Wednesday 29th March 2017. First year PhD student Chris O’Shea and a team of academics were in the finals of the Most Innovative Collaboration competition, with a software product developed in collaboration with Cairn Research.
In addition to this, all three finalists in the Most Innovative Idea category were presenting ideas in healthcare technologies or biomedicine, highlighting the strength of these research themes at the University of Birmingham. As a centre, we collaborate with many of the finalists, and are thrilled the innovative research environment here at Birmingham has led to such success for them.
Enterprising Birmingham recognises the most innovative work at the university, rewarding those researchers who have identified a commercial opportunity in their work. Two categories of award were made on the day – Most Innovative Idea and Most Innovative Collaboration.
To succeed in the Most Innovative Collaboration category the entry must demonstrate significant and measurable benefit to an external partner, arising from a project using the specialist knowledge of the academics. Chris O’Shea, along with supervisors Dr Davor Pavlovic, Dr Kashif Rajpoot and Dr Rob Neely, collaborated on a project with Cairn Research – ‘High throughput, automated software for studying electrophysiology’.
The project developed two novel software solutions – PhotoMetrix and ElectroMap, for user-friendly analysis of fluorescence imaging data from experiments studying cardiac and neuronal electrophysiology. Fluorescence imaging for electrophysiology uses voltage sensitive fluorescent dyes and high-speed imaging to allow researchers to directly view the passage of electrical charge across tissues and cells, a technique known as optical mapping. This technique is used in research into cardiovascular disease – the major killer of over 65’s in the UK, and has the potential to be much more widely applied and lead to novel clinical findings. The products developed through this collaboration will allow researchers to more easily utilise optical mapping in their research, by removing the need for complex processing software to be custom produced by each lab.
Following on from the success of the collaboration so far, PhotoMetrix and ElectroMap will be further developed, and commercialised in conjunction with Cairn and Alta Innovations, the University of Birmingham research commercialisation company.
Dr Pavlovic said: “Optical mapping is a novel technique allowing detailed visualisation of conduction and morphology of bioelectrical signals in the heart, however data processing and analysis is complex and computationally challenging. Dr Pavlovic, a cardiac electrophysiology specialist, and Dr Rajpoot, computational scientist, partnered up with the aim of developing an integrated, high-throughput software for processing and analysis of optical mapping data that would allow easier take up of this exciting technology for research purposes. The project was identified by Cairn Research as an opportunity to increase access to this exciting research tool and they subsequently came on board as a partner for the Physical Sciences for Health EPSRC funded PhD programme. As part of this project, Christopher O’Shea, a PhD student, was nominated as one of four finalists for a best collaboration with industry award at the 2017 Birmingham Enterprise Innovation awards”
The pinnacle of the Innovation competition was the showcase event on Wednesday 29th March. Held in the Great Hall and the Bramall Concert Hall at the University of Birmingham, a diverse audience of University staff, alumni, public and private sector partners, funders, investors and the Birmingham business community attended. Guests enjoyed lunch and the opportunity to network whilst viewing posters showcasing the entries to the competition and meeting the researchers involved, followed by an opening keynote speech by Richard Bishop - Investor in Growth Businesses and University of Birmingham Alumnus.
The three finalists in the Most Innovative Idea competition then pitched their ideas to a Dragons Den style panel – all three finalists presented exciting ideas with the potential to have great impact in healthcare. Dr Owen Davies, Dr Sophie Cox and Professor Liam Grover, collaborators with the CDT from the School of Chemical Engineering presented VesiCure – an innovative cellular therapy using bioactive nano-sized particles to enhance bone regeneration, which has been shown to out-perform the current clinical gold standard in bone regeneration. Professor Paula Mendes, also a collaborator from the School of Chemical Engineering, then gave an excellent presentation – making an analogy with different coloured m&m’s to explain a current challenge in the detection of prostate cancer, and how her pioneering synthetic platform for sugar recognition is able to perform the detection more simply, effectively, and earlier than ever before.
The winning entry in the Most Innovative Idea category was presented by Dr Felicity De Cogan: NitroPep – a novel surface modification with the potential to help tackle the global problem of antimicrobial resistance by preventing bacterial growth on surfaces, thereby limiting their spread. Dr De Cogan presented striking results from a yearlong study of the use of the surface modification on a heavily soiled surface, showing that even after a year the growth of bacteria on the surface was greatly reduced, and could be applied to high traffic surfaces in hospitals for example, to reduce transmission of potentially harmful bacteria.
The development of all three of these innovative ideas here at the University demonstrates our strength as a centre for pioneering research in healthcare
Following the live pitches, Dr Samantha Decombel, University of Birmingham Alumnus and founder of FitnessGenes – an online DNA analysis platform, gave the second keynote speech of the day; a fascinating insight into her journey from a PhD in genetics to founding and running a successful DNA analysis business. As well as sharing the challenges and rewards of her path from a business perspective, the personal notes in her talk lent further weight to the inspiring atmosphere of the whole event.
Before the prizes were presented, the entries in the Most Innovative Collaboration category were showcased via short video presentations – click here to watch the presentation by Chris and team.
As a centre we are proud to collaborate with many of the academics represented in the finals of the competition, and congratulate all the finalists on their achievements.