University opens for business

University opens for business

Over 200 people are expected to descend on King’s College today for an event spotlighting cutting edge technology at the University of Aberdeen.

Open for Business – a showcase of the University's world class portfolio of commercially focused research activity – takes place between 12 noon and 6pm at Elphinstone Hall, and features a host of fascinating demonstrations, exhibitions and presentations. A number of the projects on show arose from the highly successful Proof of Concept Programme funded by Scottish Enterprise.

Initiatives that business community members and other visitors can see and hear about include:

  • A pioneering device that controls the buoyancy of underwater vehicles. The Variable Buoyancy System (VBS), a compact lightweight unit, was designed by researchers at the University's Oceanlab. Dr Phil Bagley, a senior research fellow, said, "The VBS enables sub-sea technologies and equipment to be used more efficiently and increases the time available for useful work, with resultant cost savings and productivity improvements. It offers a genuine service enhancement to providers of existing sub-sea technology services."

  • News about a medical breakthrough that could potentially offer a cure to common allergies, as well as arthritis, diabetes and thyroid disease. Mark Vickers, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, explained, "We have discovered how a common human virus hides from the immune system by making peptides that 'trick' the immune system into thinking that infected cells are healthy and should be left alone. This effect is so strong that linking these peptides with the targets of autoimmune diseases and allergies switches off the immune responses causing those diseases." His team are now incorporating these peptides into new vaccines that offer the opportunity of treatment or even a cure."

  • A revolutionary robotic arm used to assess children with a wide range of developmental conditions including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, general learning disability and developmental coordination disorder. Dr Mark Mon-Williams from the School of Psychology is heading up the team behind it. He said, "No reliable assessment tool currently exists for these conditions. Our tool is highly portable, economic to produce and its application requires only minimal training."

  • An update on efforts to identify a genetic cause of autism. Dr Zosia Miedzybrodka, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Genetics and her group have received two grants from the Scottish Executive to further their research, which could ultimately improve the diagnosis of autism and help doctors to advise families about risks to other children. "It is also a key to understanding how differences in levels of expression of genes within the brain leads to the pattern of problems recognised as autism, and thus to the development of novel therapies," said Dr Miedzybrodka.

  • Work that has seen scientists build new bones in the lab to help combat osteoporosis and fractures. Dr Iain Gibson, a Research Fellow at the School of Medical Sciences, said, "Our research and technology has the ultimate aim of providing surgical solutions to orthopaedic surgeons for repairing or replacing diseased or damaged bones. This is essential as the population are living longer and are more active than previous generations. We use a variety of technologies ranging from nanotechnology to using electric fields to produce 'synthetic bones' in the lab. This involves using aspects of chemistry, physics, engineering and biology to do this, and we are establishing ourselves as leaders in Scotland in this area."

  • How the study of sea sponges could lead to more effective drug delivery in the body. Professor Marcel Jaspars, Chair in Chemistry, explained, "It can be difficult to get drugs to where they are needed most. New medicines can be very effective but can be even harder to deliver. We are developing a generic method that can achieve the delivery of bio-molecules (genes, proteins) and small molecule drugs to the site of action. The method is based on natural material obtained from a Mediterranean sponge, but as this is unsustainable, we are reproducing this unique material in the laboratory. The potential applications of this delivery tool could be far reaching with impact on gene therapy, protein therapeutics and small molecule drugs."

  • Ongoing activity at the University's Institute of Energy Technologies (iET). Its Director, Professor Paul Mitchell, said, "The research, development and demonstration activities of over 100 staff in the University are focused to meet the needs of the energy industries through the Institute of Energy Technologies." The six main areas covered are Renewable and Energy Efficiency Research; Decommissioning and Safety Engineering; Economics, Law and the Workplace; Environment and Planning; Engineering Solutions for Oil and Gas Recovery; and Characterisation of Oil and Gas Reserves. "The industrial relevance of our research is demonstrated by the strong list of energy-related spin-out companies," added Professor Mitchell.

  • Cannabis research that could result in better drugs for key diseases. Dr Ruth Ross, Institute of Medical Sciences, said, "The marijuana plant and preparations derived from it have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. In Aberdeen, we are making novel compounds that selectively tune the 'endocananbinoid' system, thereby heralding a new generation of lead compounds with potential for the treatment of pain, inflammation, osteoporosis, obesity and mental illness."

  • The development of a natural mosquito and midge repellent. Professor Jenny Mordue, School of Biological Sciences, said, "Mosquitoes and midges bite some people more than others, but why? We have discovered that people who are not bitten produce more of certain key chemicals from their skin. Our aim is to discover whether such natural host masking chemicals can be used as human derived repellents."

  • Technology that uses sunlight to clean dirty water while simultaneously generating electricity. Dr Donald Macphee is one of a group of scientists from the Department of Chemistry involved in the project. He said, "With an increasing world population and recent EU legislations on improvement of water quality, the water industry must move towards more efficient and sustainable processes for treatment of organic pollutants from industrial processes and agricultural activities. We have developed a novel solar-powered water purification technology that into be integrated into the final polishing stage of the water treatment cycle. Our Photo- Electrocatalytic Fuel Cell (PECFC) degrades highly persistent organic pollutants and generates small electric currents."

Professor Dominic Houlihan, University Vice-Principal for Research and Commercialisation, said, "Open for Business is a true flagship event and one we hope will lead to new link ups between the University of Aberdeen and the major industry sectors of medicine and health care, renewable energy and oil and gas.

"We strongly encourage an entrepreneurial spirit at the University and today's event is part of a multi-pronged, ongoing strategy to consolidate our growing reputation as a hub of innovation and discoveries."

For more information on the full Innovate programme see http://www.abdn.ac.uk/innovate/

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