News

Queen's University Belfast Launches New Social Charter Initiative

Description: The new Queen’s University Social Charter provides a platform to publically convey the University’s relevance, impact and commitment to the local community.   As part of the Social Charter, there will be 19 Signature Projects which span the University and reflect the extent of research and activity at Queen’s. These Signature Projects include global alliances for leading edge cancer research, ground-breaking research in children’s healthcare and developing future leaders and students helping in homework clubs across inner city Belfast. Professor James McElnay, Acting President and Vice-Chancellorat Queen’s University, said: “The Social Charter could be described as a social contract. Through it, we are shining a light on the significant contribution made by students and staff at Queen’s University. Since the University was formed in 1845, its impact has been deep and lasting. That impact has continued to grow and deepen regionally, nationally and globally. The Social Charter underlines our commitment to having a positive impact on both our people and our place.” Queen’s University Student President Stephen McCrystall said: “The Students’ Union and the Student Council warmly welcomes the Social Charter. We currently have 11,500 of our students involved in volunteering, clubs and societies, and our student body has a long and proud tradition of civic engagement, promoting equality and diversity, and campaigning for social justice. The Social Charter very much represents the strong collaborative spirit of Queen’s University and its students, and we look forward to continuing to build on the positive impact Queen’s is making.” One of the Social Charter’s Signature Projects is the Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation (CESI) Zones. The Centre works in sustained partnership with local communities and the professional and community organisations that support them. The Centre is innovative in its approach, pioneering new ways of thinking and innovative ways of working to address key challenges facing society. Dr Jackie Redpath MBE, Chief Executive of the Greater Shankill Partnership, said: “Queen’s is working with us through the Centre for Evidence and Social  Innovation to examine and evaluate what we are doing but also to guide what we’re doing and to bring best practice and what works to bear. We are absolutely delighted we are on this journey with Queen’s University – the Shankill and Queen’s walking together in a programme of transformation for children and young people.” The Social Charter has 3 principles and 7 themes. The 3 principles are leadership, positive impact on society and commitment to equality and justice. The 7 themes are:  Research with Impact, Education with Social Purpose, Breaking Boundaries to Produce New Knowledge, Civic Culture and Intercultural Dialogue, Equality and Excellence, Sustainability and Recognising and Rewarding Contributions from Students and Staff. Further information on Queen’s University Belfast’s Social Charter can be found at www.qub.ac.uk/social-charter.

Queen’s University researcher wins prestigious 2017 Newton Prize

Description: The Newton Prize is awarded to just five winners throughout the world for research that supports the economic development and social welfare of developing countries. Dr Trung Duong, who is originally from Vietnam and now based at the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology at Queen's, won the prestigious accolade and £200,000 prize money for his scientific breakthrough - an integrated heterogeneous wireless system capable of transmitting during extreme weather conditions. In Vietnam, 70 per cent of the country’s population is at risk from natural disaster, particularly the rural and urban poor. In the past two decades, disasters have claimed more than 13,000 causalities and caused £5.2billion of damage. Solutions Power cuts and signal blackouts are common during natural disasters and can cause difficulties for emergency services but Dr Duong’s team has come up with a solution to the problem. They have designed an integrated heterogeneous wireless system (IHWS), which is robust in disaster scenarios, coping with issues such as physical destruction of telecommunication networks, lack of power supply and network congestion. The system also provides early warning of natural disasters by detecting water level, vibration and wind. In cities, the IWHS can detect increases in dust, temperature, noise and carbon dioxide levels. Dr Duong will now use the prize money to develop his research further, creating an innovative cross-layer solution which can be used by telecommunications service providers. He commented: “I am very happy that I have been able to make a positive impact in Vietnam and to give something back to the country that I grew up in – our research at Queen’s University Belfast is helping to solve many problems for the citizens of Vietnam." He added: “I am so pleased to have won the 2017 Newton Prize. Natural disasters are a big problem not just in Vietnam but throughout the whole world and the impact is worse for those in remote and isolated areas with no access to the ICT facilities that are essential to providing vital warning information and aiding in rescue missions. “This prize money will allow myself and my team to develop the system further and to work with the key telecommunications companies in Vietnam. By doing so we can provide citizens with better warning, measurement tools and education initiatives.”  Prestigious Congratulating Dr Duong on his award, Acting President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, Professor James McElnay, said: “I am delighted that Dr Trung Duong has been awarded the prestigious 2017 Newton Prize. Dr Duong’s work is a great example of the world leading research taking place at Queen’s University Belfast and the Newton Prize is a strong endorsement of the important role our researchers play in tackling major global issues. “Dr Duong’s research is making a positive impact on the lives of many people living in Vietnam and I am proud that his innovation and expertise has been recognised on the world stage.” British Ambassador to Vietnam, Giles Lever, said: “International cooperation with a diversity of ideas, views and good practice plays a very important role in research and innovation. As a dynamic emerging economy with a strong vision of the importance of science and innovation in human development, Vietnam is a natural partner for the global Newton Fund. By working together and leveraging each other's strengths, we can achieve more than what we would achieve alone. I am excited to think about the future possibilities, and look forward to a bright future for the Newton Fund Programme Vietnam." Dr Trung Duong received his award from The Newton Fund at a ceremony in the Vietnam Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) today (Wednesday 16 November) with the attendance of the British Ambassador in Vietnam and Deputy Minister of MOST. The Minister for Universities, Science and Research Jo Johnson will also host a UK event in London in early December to celebrate the first year of the Prize and to announce the 2018 Newton Prize countries.

Urgent Call to Tackle Killer Disease on World COPD Day

Description: Over one hundred patients, healthcare workers and politicians across the UK and Ireland have come together on World Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) day (Wednesday 15 November) to launch an integrated project to tackle the killer disease which takes over 600,000 lives in the EU every year. €7.7m has been awarded by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), responsible for managing the EU’s INTERREG VA Programme, for a pioneering cross-border research project designed to better understand and alleviate the impact of this killer lung disease. The project known as ‘BREATH’ (Border and REgions Airways Training Hub), launched today in Dundalk, brings together experts from Queen’s University Belfast, the Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) and University of the West of Scotland. BREATH Lead, Dr Keith Thornbury from Dundalk Institute of Technology said: “The project brings together world-class researchers, scientists and clinicians who will help address the causes, treatment and potential prevention of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.” COPD is now the third biggest killer in the UK. Although smoking and air pollution remain the key contributing factors, genetic influences and early life events including infection, poor nutrition and impaired lung growth are now considered important factors responsible for COPD. Urban areas of Northern Ireland, Dundalk and West Scotland are considered ‘hotspots’ where the prevalence of COPD cases is up to 62% higher than the national average and as such, are represented by the regions taking part in this project.  Dr Lorcan McGarvey, Consultant Respiratory Physician from the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University Belfast and clinical lead for the programme explains: “COPD-related hospital admission is higher in Ireland than any other developed country. In Northern Ireland, COPD is the second most common reason for emergency admissions to hospital and the number rises during the winter months, causing a significant number of premature deaths. Progress in treatment has been limited and it continues to impose a huge healthcare burden.” COPD is an incurable respiratory condition characterised by progressive narrowing of the airways and irreversible structural damage leading to breathing difficulties and lung failure. Despite the huge health challenge that the disease presents, it is still a relatively under-resourced and under-researched illness. Throughout the five year project, over 30 researchers and doctoral students will work together not only to better understand COPD but to raise awareness of the disease to help encourage preventative measures and timely treatment and disease management. Gina McIntyre, CEO of the SEUPB added: “This cross-border project will help to meet some of the core objectives of the INTERREG VA Programme in terms of creating invaluable PhD-level research that will enhance the Health & Life Science sector across three regions. This exciting initiative will have a direct impact on the lives of thousands of citizens living across Northern Ireland, Ireland and Western Scotland.” Nicola Roe, a BREATH doctoral student from Queen’s University Belfast said: "My grandfather was diagnosed with COPD 6 years ago. Before then, I knew very little about COPD but quickly came to realise how disabling this disease can be. It was difficult seeing him struggle with daily routine tasks as simple as walking, climbing the stairs and cooking, even sleeping was a struggle.” She added: “In addition to having a staggering impact on the quality of life of sufferers, COPD exerts a huge economic burden on society and costs the EU over €380bn every year.  I am delighted to be part of this team of world-class experts who together will thrive to make a difference to this disease. In addition to progressing my research project, I am looking forward to reaching out to schools and communities to raise awareness of this disease so that early diagnosis can be made to improve survival rates and combat this disease.”

Queen’s historian launches a new book on the history of the future

Description: Using evidence from both science fiction and popular science writings by figures such as Wells and Asimov, the book entitled: ‘A History of the Future: Prophets of Progress from H. G. Wells to Isaac Asimov’ by Professor Peter Bowler, Emeritus Professor of the history of science, from the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s, has been published by Cambridge University Press. The book, a first on such a wide scale, is an historical survey of twentieth-century futurology, drawing on popular science writing, early science fiction and literary dystopias to provide insights on cultural debates that serve as background to our modern concerns about the future impacts of technology. Professor Bowler demonstrates how modern disagreements about the benefits and disadvantages of new technologies were often prefigured in earlier debates, and that there have always been optimists predicting a wonderful future and pessimists worrying about potential disasters. Speaking about the topics the book will discuss Professor Bowler, said: “A History of the Future is a wide-ranging survey of twentieth-century predictions about future technologies and their potential impact on society. It throws new light on the interactions between science, culture and society that will interest historians, science-fiction fans and anyone seeking background for our modern concerns about the technological future.  “It also shows how difficult it is to make successful predictions. Some technologies remain in the realm of imagination, some work in principle but not in practice, and some are simply made redundant by the success of rivals. Television was predicted decades before it was practical, mass aviation was called for but no-one knew whether aeroplanes or airships would work best, and no one predicted the jet engine or radar”. The book, which is now available from Blackwell’s bookshop at Queen’s University Belfast and Amazon UK, has been featured as Times Higher Education’s ‘Book of the Week’ and in the New Statesman.   

Queen’s astronomer leads international team to ground-breaking fiery explosion in a distant galaxy

Description: The explosion, called PS1-10adi, seems to prefer active galaxies that house supermassive black holes consuming the gas and material around them. Leading an international team of researchers, Dr Erkki Kankare, from the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen’s, is lead author of the study which has been published in Nature Astronomy. Dr Rubina Kotak, Professor Stephen Smartt and Dr Ken Smith from Queen’s are co-authors of the study, which is advancing knowledge in this area on a global scale. Using telescopes on La Palma and Hawaii, Dr Kankare detected an explosion that was so energetic, it must have originated from one of two sources: an extremely massive star – up to several hundred times more massive than our Sun – exploding as a supernova, or from a lower mass star that has been shredded by the ultra-strong gravitational forces close to the supermassive black hole. The explosion was discovered 2010, but due to its slow evolution, it could be monitored for several years. Explaining the findings, Dr Kankare commented: “If these explosions are tidal disruption events - where a star gets sufficiently close to a supermassive black hole's event horizon and is shredded by the strong gravitational forces - then its properties are such that it would be a brand new type of tidal disruption event. If they are supernova explosions then their properties are more extreme than we have ever observed before, and are likely connected to the central environments of the host galaxies. The supernova group at Queen’s University Belfast has long-standing expertise in supernova science and were immediately able to recognise PS1-10adi as an unusual transient. The team has also discovered at least five more candidates worthy of further study. Dr Rubina Kotak, co-author of the study, commented: “Now that we know what we are looking for, we are particularly excited that we will find more transients such as PS1-10adi in larger datasets from upcoming facilities. This means that we are in a fantastic position to pin down their origin, and this will help to piece together more clues of how these events come about.” The international team included research institutes from Finland, Sweden, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Chile, and the US.  

Queen’s Researchers Make Killer Superbug Breakthrough

Description: Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast together with the University of Vienna have discovered that treatment for the antibiotic resistant bacteria Klebsiella pneumoniae could lie within our bodies’ natural defences. Multidrug resistance of microbes poses a serious global threat to human health. Globally, 700,000 people die every year due to antimicrobial resistance. The bacteria Klebsiella pneumoniae causes a number of infections including sepsis, urinary tract infections and pneumonia. As Klebsiella becomes more resistant to antibiotics, these common infections are becoming increasingly difficult to treat, which has led to the World Health Organisation recently declaring an urgent need for new therapeutics to be discovered for Klebsiella. Professor Jose Bengoechea from the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University Belfast and one of the lead researchers explains: “Klebsiella pneumoniae is of particular concern as it can cause infections such as bladder infections and pneumonia and has mortality rates of 25-60 per cent. Antibiotics that were previously used to treat these infections are no longer effective meaning treatment options for common illnesses are becoming increasingly limited.” However, a recent discovery by researchers at Queen’s University and the University of Vienna could radically change the approach to treating this common infection. The research findings, published in the high profile journal PlosPathogens, show that interferons, naturally produced in our bodies, are fighting back against the bacterial Klebsiella infection. Professor Bengoechea explains: “Interferons are well known weapons found within our bodies that fight against infections caused by viruses. This pre-clinical study has found that interferons are being produced to fight against the infection caused by Klebsiella, which is fast becoming resistant to treatment by antibiotics.” The research has discovered how immune cells arriving at the site of infection communicate and join forces to eradicate Klebsiella during lung infections. The study suggests that future therapies of severe Klebsiella infections could target the immune system, rather than the pathogen itself. Professor Bengoechea added: “These findings indicate that we can focus on therapy that manipulates interferons to fight Klebsiella, maximising our bodies’ natural resources to treat disease and reducing the need to use antibiotics for these infections. Further investigations are needed but these are encouraging results and open new avenues of research to fight this killer infection. ” This timely discovery coincides with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) ‘Antibiotic Awareness Week’ (13 – 19 November 2017), during which WHO are raising awareness of the dangers of the global threat of antibiotic resistance, to avoid a return to a time before the discovery of antibiotics when infectious diseases were the main cause of mortality. The research study was led by Queen’s University Belfast in partnership with the University of Vienna as part of the EU INBIONET project, funded by the BBSRC. 

Queen’s to play host to NI’s first Being Human Festival of the Humanities

Description: The Being Human Festival is a nine-day national celebration of big ideas, big debates and engaging activities for all ages through a number of events, led by the University of London in partnership with the Arts & Humanities Research Council and the British Academy. This year, only five Being Human hubs have been awarded across the whole of the UK. The hub at Queen’s will be based within the School of Arts, English and Languages, and led by Dr Franziska Schroeder, Senior Lecturer, Impact Champion and Head of Music Performance at the university. Entitled ‘Belfast Celebrates the Humanities’, the Queen’s hub will present seven exciting events on the theme of ‘Lost and Found’ running from the 19-24 November 2017. Each event will explore an aspect of humanities-based research and has been developed in conjunction with a range of Northern Ireland wide community partners such as Tinderbox Theatre Company, the Ulster Museum, Public Records Office Northern Ireland, Belfast Exposed Gallery and TheatreofplucK. Speaking ahead of the festival Dr Schroeder, said: “We are thrilled to be Northern Ireland’s first ever Being Human hub as it is a fantastic opportunity for Queen’s to showcase our humanities-based research, as well as our partnerships with diverse organisations across Northern Ireland. “We have created a varied programme comprising workshops, screenings and discussions looking at diverse themes as wide-ranging as kidney transplantation, hearing loss, conflict, teen issues, ageing and histories of the First World War. The events are free, open to the general public, and will provide an understanding of how the research being carried out at Queen’s has an impact and relates to everyday life.” The UK-wide Being Human Festival will take place from 17-25 November 2017, with more than 200 events happening across the UK. For more information on the festival and to register for the events taking place at Queen’s, please visit: http://go.qub.ac.uk/beinghuman

New research finds that Brexit is already having an effect on local communities

Description: The report, which has been published today (Friday 10 November), is based on survey and focus group data from a study conducted in the summer of 2017, presents eight core findings that are highly relevant to the current stage of the Brexit negotiations. The research was conducted and authored by Dr Katy Hayward from the Centre for International Borders Research at Queen’s University Belfast, who is among a group of leading academics from the University working on the subject of Brexit and its potential impact on the island of Ireland. “This study is the first to explore the anticipated effects of Brexit specifically on the Central Border Region, which is the region currently most exposed to risks rising from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU,” Dr Hayward noted, “Socially, politically, economically and in very practical ways – people living closest to the border will be the ones who feel the effects of any change to the nature of the border most acutely and they are already anticipating what this might mean.” The study incorporated responses from across the eight local authority areas of the Central Border Region including: Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon; Cavan; Donegal; Fermanagh and Omagh; Leitrim; Mid Ulster; Monaghan and Sligo. Respondents ranged in ages from 16 to over 85 and came from a range of occupational and community backgrounds. Shane Campbell, CEO of ICBAN, commented: “We were not seeking to revisit the Leave/Remain debate in this study but rather to get a better understanding of the views of people whose voices are otherwise rarely heard in the discussion about the post-Brexit future for the Region.” The report not only reveals the types of concern that are felt by people on both sides of the border regarding Brexit, but also demonstrates the levels of integration that currently exist in the Region. It finds that ‘leave’ voters in Northern Ireland are just as likely as ‘remain’ voters to cross the border regularly and to enjoy the benefits of an open border as it currently exists. One of the most striking findings from the report is that, although much cross-border movement today is as a consequence of EU membership, most respondents associate the open border with the success of the peace process. A consequence of this is that many respondents associate any change at all to the status of the border as being a backwards step in the peace process. Respondents on both sides of the border described how Brexit is already having an impact on their lives; for some it is in the decisions they are making about where to locate their homes or business, for others it is in the ‘reawakening’ of memories of the hard border of the past. “So many of our respondent expressed such a deep and genuine sense of frustration, vulnerability, and voicelessness in the face of this impending but as yet uncertain change. It is imperative that these concerns are heard and addressed now, at this critical time in the negotiations and by all political representatives in the border region,” said Dr Hayward. Mr Campbell added: “It is very good that local authorities around the border are leading the way in identifying these shared community concerns; it is now in the hands of the governments and the EU to respond to these clearly-articulated challenges.” The report, Bordering on Brexit: The views of local communities in the Central Border Region of Ireland/Northern Ireland, is available to view/download from Queen’s University Belfast’s Brexit Resource Guide www.qub.ac.uk/brexit/ and the ICBAN website www.icban.com.

Queen’s historian releases biography on Oliver Cromwell’s advisor

Description: ‘John Owen and English Puritanism: Experiences of Defeat’, by Crawford Gribben, Professor of History from the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics at Queen’s University, is being published in paperback by Oxford University Press on 28 December 2017. The book shines a light on a fascinating historical character whose pivotal political and religious role in seventeenth-century England has been greatly overlooked, and provides a compelling account of the crucial part he played in the rise and fall of the idealistic and anti-royalist republic which was established by Cromwell and his followers in the wake of the second English Civil War. Talking about the central role John Owen played in history, Professor Gribben said: “Owen was not dissimilar to Thomas Cromwell who rose from poverty to become a top advisor to Henry VIII of England. Owen ascended from relative obscurity to become highly influential in both religious and political circles, helped by considerable intellect, strategic savvy and pragmatism. “Owen became not only one of the most important Puritan religious leaders of that era, but also a trusted confidante and close advisor to Oliver Cromwell. This biography offers new insight into the religious politics that lay behind the execution of King Charles I, the establishment of an English republic, which lasted from 1649-60, and Cromwell’s invasions of Ireland (1649) and Scotland (1650), in all of which John Owen was involved.” Professor Gribben’s research into John Owen was funded by the Irish Research Council as part of a larger project on the origins of religious radicalism. Explaining why he was drawn to Owen’s story, Professor Gribben added: "With around eight million words in print, John Owen is one of the most prolific writers in the seventeenth-century. He is also one of that century's most important religious and political thinkers, whose ideas have shaped the modern world in important ways. He was one of a handful of people who created the short-lived experiment in republican government - a revolution he accidentally destroyed. Owen spent the last two decades of his life dealing with the horrific consequences of his mistake." ‘John Owen and English Puritanism: Experiences of Defeat’ by Crawford Gribben, which is already available in hardback, will be available from Oxford University Press: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/john-owen-and-english-puritanism-9780190860790

Queen’s University Belfast Research Could See Exercise as a Prescribed Medicine

Description: The Global Action Plan 4 Global Prostate Cancer (GAP4) will bring together 150 researchers around the world to share their expertise to improve the life chances of prostate cancer patients and is led by The Movember Foundation. A pilot study carried out by the Edith Cowan University in Western Australia in 2016 demonstrated that high intensity training could be a powerful tool to prolong the lives of prostate cancer patients. Dr Nicolas Hart, who led the research commented: “The study was able to show that a high intensity exercise program was safe, feasible, and enjoyed by advanced prostate cancer patients, including those with bone metastases, while preserving their physical function and improving their quality of life. We are delighted that these observational findings will allow us to rigorously test whether exercise can extend patient survival using a high intensity exercise program in a worldwide study thanks to an investment of £8.84m Australian dollars (over £5.1m) from the Movember Foundation.” The global clinical trial aims to recruit 866 patients across three continents in a collaborative effort to share data and biological samples by leading scientists and clinicians to accelerate health outcomes for men with prostate cancer. Men with advanced prostate cancer will be placed on a high intensity exercise regime, tailored to their level of fitness. Researchers will work together to determine if high intensity aerobic and resistance training alongside the ‘standard’ psycho-social support offered to prostate cancer patients will lead to increased overall survival. Dr Gillian Prue, who is leading the study at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “We know already that physical activity plays a significant factor in maintaining our health and fitness. Exercise can help alleviate the common symptoms associated with having cancer treatment such as pain and fatigue, but we are now delighted to be working with experts around the world to not only to help men with prostate cancer feel better, but to try and actually boost survival rates. The overall aim is that exercise will be prescribed alongside traditional treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy at a global level.” Dr Suneil Jain from Queen's University added: “This is very exciting research. Many standard treatments cause side-effects including weight gain and loss of muscle bulk. High intensity interval training may make men fitter, improve their quality of life and even prolong their survival. This study is the largest of its kind ever to be performed in prostate cancer.” Queen’s University have been awarded additional funding from the Health and Social Care Research and Development Division (HSC R&D) of the Public Health Agency (PHA) to target patients with advanced prostate cancer who would otherwise be excluded from the research. Dr Prue said: “High intensity training may not be suitable for all men with advanced prostate cancer, particularly among those with additional health conditions. Alongside the global intervention, in collaboration with Professor Marie Murphy an exercise scientist from Ulster University, we will develop a low intensity walking programme for men who cannot participate in the Movember trial to assess the feasibility of low intensity exercise as a way to improve the quality of life and reduce symptom burden for these men.” Dr Janice Bailie, Assistant Director of the HSC R&D Division of the Public Health Agency added: “This initiative represents an excellent co-funding opportunity to support the availability of the global GAP4 study to patients in Northern Ireland. It also enables those patients not suitable for participation in the main study to become involved in a programme with similar potential benefits.”