Engineering Network secures funding for vital research into diagnosis and treatment of life threatening diseases

An engineering network, set up as part of the Welsh Government’s ‘Science for Wales’ initiative, has proved to be a significant support in aiding scientists to secure competitive EU investments into Welsh Universities

As Wales achieved its €50 million EU research and innovation goal from across universities and businesses last October; two projects funded as part of the National Research Network (NRN) in Advanced Engineering and Materials (AEM) have gained recent success securing £1,090,000 through the EU’s largest research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020.

Owen Guy

Professor Owen Guy, Director of the Centre for Nanotechnology in Swansea University, heads one of the two NRN AEM projects that will benefit from this win. As one of the eleven partner institutions in a €3.5 M H2020 Marie Curie Training Network led by Plymouth University, a fund of £470,000 is granted for Wales-based research at Swansea University.

With research focusing on the development of healthcare technology to enable early diagnosis and with present work focusing on the early findings of Alzheimer’s disease; competitive grants such as this are significant in providing opportunities to develop science solutions on an international stage.  Aiding collaboration with multiple international research groups such as the Marie Curie Training Network is crucial in attracting high quality researchers to assist in their research developments -something this grant will deliver.

“This grant represents a unique opportunity to link with leading European research groups and industry partners, to develop diagnostic technology related to Alzheimer’s disease. The Marie Curie Training Network programme will also deliver a generation of 13 highly-skilled, creative and entrepreneurial Fellows across the network, setting them on a path to successful careers in academia or industry” – Professor Owen Guy, Swansea University

Securing funding such as this is crucial in developing the diagnosis and treatment of such diseases and with 850,000 people currently affected by Alzheimer’s in the UK alone and with figures set to rise to 1 million by 2025; this fundamental research is crucial to future benefits that will be brought to both science and society in terms of supporting the development of healthcare technology.

“It has enabled us to develop a platform technology which can be taken forward for a range of sensor applications. The network grant will take our research to the next level, ultimately benefiting industry and society as the sensor technology developed feeds into commercial products.” – Professor Owen Guy.

For scientists within universities being part of a network such as the NRN AEM is proving a vital backbone to funding their research and gains of grant applications. This pan-Wales network, led by Swansea University, in conjunction with Cardiff and Bangor University and industry lead TWI Ltd, aims to promote research excellence across a wide spectrum of engineering challenges in Wales. The network is the right platform to ensure Welsh scientists and their respective researches are on the forefront of the research environment worldwide.

“Our NRN research has provided the foundation for our involvement in this prestigious project. The NRN AEM has developed an outstanding PhD researcher, Ryan Bigham, whose exciting work on graphene sensor devices has pioneered some of the critical technology which will be taken forward by the Marie Curie partnership.” – Professor Owen Guy, Swansea University

Cristiano Palego

Dr Cristiano Palego, of Bangor University, also heads one project that will see benefit from this win. Collaborating with French and Italian Universities, Universities of Limogues and Padova, as well as fellow Bangor academics and Welsh-based enterprise Creo Medical Ltd. to secure a total of €4 million in EU funds, Dr Palego’s win of £620,261 to Bangor University is not only a positive reflection on Wales’ stance on the international stage for scientific research but will allow innovative developments, in his field of medical engineering, with the investment in high tech equipment used to create and translate future cancer treatments .

I would hope this can be a door opener for future opportunities. Myself, my School and ultimately Wales are likely to benefit in terms of the potential to attract talented researchers and increase competitiveness. It will allow me to establish my own bioelectric lab both in terms of equipment and expertise, which will be quite unique in Wales” – Dr Cristiano Palego, Bangor University

With Dr Palego’s research focusing on advancements in medical devices to aide doctors in detecting pathogens and malignant cells through non-invasive means; identifying niche areas such as this are significant in pushing engineering research forward and securing those sought after funds in to Wales.

However with the current success rate of these grants standing at 4% it is not an easy path to achieving such funding. Requiring copious amounts of time, collaboration and expertise a network such as the NRN AEM is proving to be a positive link between academics and fund providers in securing grants to further research.

 “The NRN AEM has been very supportive, notably by funding some consultancy service, which has definitely helped with this success. 

Moreover the NRN has set the conditions for me to reach out to international partners. The NRN AEM support allowed me to get some preliminary testing done; making the case for enticing a new partner into the consortium.” – Dr Cristiano Palego, Bangor University

Funding projects across a wide range of topics from fundamental science to manufacturing processes and product development in areas such as Medical Microsystems, Energy Systems and Smart Materials to name a few the NRN AEM aims to keep targeting competitive investment, such as Horizon 2020, to aid the support of Welsh infrastructure in the hope of putting Wales at the forefront of engineering ingenuity.

Visit http://www.ernw.ac.uk/ | http://www.ernw.ac.uk/cy/index.htm.

Set up in 2013 the National Research Network (NRN) is a collaborative network, led by Swansea University in partnership with Cardiff University, Bangor University and TWI that seeks to bring academics and industrial leaders in the key fields of advanced engineering and materials, life sciences and low carbon energy and the environment together. Its primary purpose is to support the aspirations of the Welsh Government’s Science Strategy for Wales to establish an effective platform for breakthrough research in these fields. The Network gained £7M of funding from the Welsh Government and HEFCW as part of the Ser Cymru (Stars Wales) initiative | http://gov.wales/topics/science-and-technology/science/growing-research-in-wales/national-research-networks/?lang=en

Picture 1: Professor Owen Guy, Director of the Centre for Nanotechnology in Swansea University

Picture 2: Dr Cristiano Palego, Senior Lecturer in Smart Sensors and Instrumentation,   Bangor University