2012 UCL Grand Challenges Small Grants awards

Up to £5,000 per project was awarded to 20 proposals through the 2012 UCL Grand Challenges Small Grants Scheme.

The scheme funds projects that lead to, or support, cross-disciplinary collaboration under the broad headings of Global Health, Sustainable Cities, Intercultural Interaction and Human Wellbeing.

Proposed projects must be innovative and aimed at achieving research impact (through scholarly output, public engagement, influence on policy and practice, enterprise activity and/or translational research). Collaboration must be between staff based in different UCL departments, and can involve external partners.

Please see details below of awards made under each UCL Grand Challenge.

  • The funding available to UCL Grand Challenges Small Grants scheme has been generously augmented by a gift from UCL alumna Dr Carol Bell (Institute of Archaeology).
  • The funding available to UCL Grand Challenge of Global Health projects in this scheme has been generously augmented by a gift from UCL alumnus Dany Farha (BSc SCORE 1992).

UCL Grand Challenge of Global Health (GCGH)

The Role of Migration Process in Dengue Determinants and Dynamics of Transmission: A cross-disciplinary approach

GCGH Themes: Climate Change & Health, Vulnerable Populations, Social Determinants of Health/Health Equity, Infectious Diseases

Lead: Dr Andrew Hayward (UCL Infection & Population Health)

Main collaborator: Dr Maria Kett (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health)

Additional collaborators: Dr Adriana del Pilar Pacheco-Coral, PhD student (UCL Infection & Population Health); Dr Julio Davila-Silva (UCL Development Planning Unit); Professor Mark Marsh (MRC Cell Biology Unit and Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology at UCL)

Project: Dengue is a major global health problem largely affecting urban areas. Latin America has the highest rate of disease. Tackling Dengue requires a multidisciplinary approach, for example: social sciences and epidemiologists to understand risk behaviours and spread; biologists to understand vector, viral and host factors affecting disease transmission and outcome; architectural design impacting on vector control and climate change science to understand vector expansion.

Aim: To maximise future UCL research impact in the area of Dengue through encouraging multidisciplinary collaborations across UCL and between UCL and Colombia (2nd highest number of cases in Latin America).


  • UCL-wide workshop for scientists of any discipline to present their work on Dengue fostering cross-disciplinary understanding and collaboration
  • develop academic collaborations between Colombia and UCL initially focussed around the development and implementation of a pilot project investigating Dengue in displaced populations in Colombia. This pilot will be conducted by a UCL PhD student funded by the Colombian Agency for Science and Technology Development. Work will incorporate qualitative studies of knowledge and attitudes towards Dengue and its control and quantitative surveys of personal and household level risk factors including vector surveys and assessment of architectural factors favourable to the vector life cycle.

Are We Underestimating Childhood Malnutrition? A mathematical model to examine current methods of estimating prevalence in surveys

GCGH Theme: Vulnerable Populations

Lead: Dr Sonya Crowe (UCL Clinical Operational Research Unit)

Main Collaborator: Dr Andrew Seal (UCL Centre for International Health & Development)

Project: Childhood malnutrition is a global public health problem with serious consequences for individuals and societies. Population surveys are used to estimate/monitor malnutrition prevalence and guide resource allocation for treatment programmes. The measured prevalence is therefore a critical statistic.

We have recently noted that estimates of malnutrition prevalence are strongly affected by ‘cleaning criteria’ applied to raw data. These are used to exclude extreme values that might represent measurement or data errors. However, they can also exclude children who are, in reality, very small (or large).

Cleaning criteria are not standardised and the impact of different criteria on prevalence estimates is unknown, so comparisons of surveys that adopt different criteria can be misleading. Given how critical survey results are to both policy and research, this is a significant problem that leads to inconsistent and potentially inappropriate implementation of malnutrition treatment programmes.

We will use existing datasets to develop a mathematical model to quantify how different data cleaning criteria affect malnutrition prevalence estimates. This will enable researchers and policymakers to quantify how malnutrition prevalence obtained using one set of cleaning criteria would have differed had another been used. This information will facilitate improved decision-making in research and policy.

Burns as a Result of Violence against Women: Where crime science meets global health

GCGH Theme: Vulnerable Populations

Lead: Dr Jyoti Belur (UCL Security & Crime Science)

Main collaborator: Dr David Osrin (UCL Centre for International Health & Development)

Additional collaborator: Dr Nayreen Daruwalla, Director, Prevention of Violence against Women and Children, Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action, Mumbai, India

Project: Death by burning may result from accident, homicide or suicide. In India, available data indicate that females die of burns at much higher rates than males. Such deaths are often suspected to be non-accidental consequences of economic abuse, dowry-related deaths being a well-known example. We are currently auditing admissions to a Mumbai burns unit. Of 60 women, over a third had non-accidental burns (mostly inflicted by spouses). Only three have decided to file First Information Reports with the police.

Our pilot project will address two questions. How do fire-related deaths of women in India come to be classified as accidents, homicides or suicides? And, can new knowledge about circumstance provide evidence for initiatives to reduce fire-related deaths through changes in the opportunity structure?

The notions that opportunity is a cause of crime, and that changes in opportunity (as opposed to disposition) can produce changes in levels of crime are tenets of situational crime prevention. Our pilot study will uncover the opportunities and precursor indicators of violence in burns-related cases in two cities, Mumbai and New Delhi. In addition, we will examine the roles of the medical profession and the police in the process of classification of cause of death.

Inclusion Health: An international symposium on health for excluded groups including homeless people, refugees and asylum seekers, travellers and sex workers

GCGH Theme: Social Determinants of Health/Health Equity

Lead: Dr Andrew Hayward (UCL Infection & Population Health)

Main collaborator: Phil Astley (UCL Bartlett School of Construction & Project Management)

Additional collaborators: Dr Nigel Hewett, Medical Director, and Alex Bax, CEO, London Pathway Charity

Project: An international symposium to provide a learning event for participants, raise the profile of homeless health, and identify gaps in our knowledge about homelessness and health. Hosted in the UK, the event will bring together people with an experience of homelessness with doctors, nurses, other healthcare professionals and researchers working with homeless people to develop improved approaches to integrated care for homeless people.

Key to understanding how to develop more patient-centred services is an understanding of the many different places where homeless people can or should access care. Practical experience and research findings from the USA and Europe will be presented to build understanding of the positive roles health services can play in the lives of homeless people, identifying and assessing the best emerging models of integrated care that we can find.

The symposium will make recommendations on how to improve specialist education and training for staff working with homeless people, to make sure they have the skills and expertise to properly care for our patients. It will explore models for service user involvement in, and leadership of, the design of healthcare solutions. It will bring together emerging knowledge of how physical environments can inhibit or enhance healing for the most disadvantaged.

Quality Improvement and Innofusion: A North–South exchange of ideas

GCGH Theme: Getting Evidence into Policy

Lead: Dr Bejoy Nambiar (UCL Centre for International Health & Development)

Main Collaborator: Dr James Mountford, UCL Partners

Additional collaborators: Dr Amanda Begley, Director of Innovation & Diffusion, UCL Partners; Prof Donald Peebles (UCL Institute for Women's Health); Dr Henry Potts (UCL Centre for Health Informatics & Multiprofessional Education); Prof Katherine Fenton, Director of Nursing, UCLH; Prof Anthony Costello (UCL Centre for International Health & Development); Tim Colbourn (UCL Centre for International Health & Development)

Project: The project will bring together the UCL Centre for International Health & Development and UCL Partners to explore ideas and innovations for improving quality in maternal and neonatal healthcare that can be used in developing country settings, and additionally learnings from developing settings which might inform practice in London/developed settings.

UCL Partners’ focus is on deploying changes to healthcare delivery and research to deliver measurable improvements in population health status and outcomes for individual patients, and on driving value in care delivery (maximizing useful outcomes per pound spent). UCLP also has work focused on innovation and its diffusion to scale at pace, and on measurement and improvement of quality at whole pathway level across a system. Women’s health is one of 11 clinical programmes within UCLP and has an active focus on improving maternity care.

Similarly, the UCL Centre for International Health & Development has experience working in quality improvement of health systems and communities in resource poor settings in Asia and Africa.

The project will explore some of the areas of convergence and divergence between settings and accordingly develop proposals for collaborative work through a north-south partnership. It will explore options for collaboration so that some of the learning, innovations for improving the quality of healthcare services in rural Asia/Africa.

Building a Prototype, Low-Cost Electrical Impedance Tomography System

Lead: Dr Paul Shearing (UCL Chemical Engineering)

Main collaborator: Professor David Holder (UCL Medical Physics & Bioengineering)

Project: Electrical Impedance Tomography (EIT) is emerging a real alternative to more costly CT and MRI scanning to provide three-dimensional scans of a patient, which can be used for diagnostic purposes. While the resolution EIT is not close to either CT or MRI, it is crucially inexpensive and portable and provides sufficient resolution to act as a useful diagnostic tool for stroke victims. EIT has the potential to replace these techniques for stoke haemorrhage diagnosis and can be applied quickly and routinely saving crucial time compared to CT scans, which will often have long waiting times.

To date EIT equipment has utilised expensive precious metal electrodes, or complex mechatronic devices. While these devices are still much cheaper than conventional brain scanning MRI or CT they are none the less too costly to include as standard issue ambulance/paramedic equipment.

We aim to prototype an EIT device built from low-cost, metal loaded conducting polymers which will be sufficiently inexpensive to carry on board ambulances – this will enable rapid tomography of a stroke victim en route to hospital. This will save crucial time. In addition this low-cost tomography tool may find application in developing economies where tomography tools are not commonplace.

International Interdisciplinary Colloquium on Law and Global Health

Lead: Emeritus Professor Michael Freeman (UCL Laws)

Main collaborator: Dr Sarah Hawkes (UCL Institute for Global Health)

Additional collaborator: Professor Belinda Bennett, University of Sydney

Project: To convene a major two-day international interdisciplinary colloquium at UCL on Law & Global Health. This will draw on UCL expertise and attract participation from scholars in several disciplines and from many countries, including the developing world. It is envisaged that there will be about 20 papers. OUP is committed to publishing a book of the papers in 2013.

The colloquium is believed to be the first specifically to link law and global health, and will draw on UCL’s strengths in these disciplines. The primary focus will be on the developing world, on justice and the role of law, including international law. Issues of governance more generally will also feature. A central theme will be the limits of law; examples will be drawn from infectious diseases, tobacco control, climate change and bioterrorism. It is hoped that the colloquium will stimulate further collaborative work both within UCL and beyond.

Previous GCGH Small Grants

UCL Grand Challenge of Sustainable Cities (GCSC)

Whose Olympics? Transformations in urban open spaces and the legacy of London in 2012

GCSC Theme: Olympic Legacy

Lead: Matthew Wood-Hill (UCL Development Planning Unit)

Main collaborators:

Gynna Millan (UCL Development Planning Unit)
Steph Patton (UCL Anthropology, Manager, MyStreet: Doc in a Day, Open City London)
Dr Michael Stewart (UCL Anthropology)

Additional collaborators: Etienne von Bertrab (UCL Development Planning Unit)
Prof Muki Haklay (UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering)

Project: This project seeks to explore the potential of visual mapping methodologies (video and social media) to understand the impact of the London 2012 Olympics on open spaces in the city. The project therefore seeks to capture the ‘moment in time’ nature that the event provides to explore the specific questions ‘Whose Olympics? And whose London in 2012?'

GCSC (Wood-Hill) Whose Olympics?

The contentious use and ownership of open spaces in London is receiving increasing attention in the public eye. Since 2008 the Justice in the Green project has explored mapping techniques on the fringes of the Olympic site, revealing certain disconnects between legacy planners’ intentions and the aspirations of local residents and users of open spaces. Attention given to the Games has not focused explicitly on the changing importance of urban open spaces in enabling greater inclusion in the Olympic experience.

The project will operate through an online platform hosted by the established MyStreetFilms portal created by UCL Anthropology in association with Open City London. Our proposed platform, ‘MyOlympics’, will use this existing network to call for contributions from members of the public to visually map how open spaces in London are being transformed by the Olympics and related events, and how individuals are specifically experiencing these spaces during and immediately after the Games as the legacy begins to take shape. The anticipation in the build-up to the Olympics and the ‘feel good factor’ generated during the event ensures a high level of public and media interest. What happens in the period immediately after the event offers fertile grounds for continued research.

Ephemeral Cities: Sustainable research into non-sustainable urban objects

GCSC Theme: The Cultural City

Lead: Dr Richard Taws (UCL History of Art)

Main collaborator: Dr Jann Matlock (UCL French and SELCS)

Additional collaborator: Dr Barbara Penner (UCL Barlett School of Architecture)

GCSC (Taws) Ephemeral Cities: Sustainable Research into Non-Sustainable Urban Objects

Project: Our project will create a network of scholars in Europe and North America working on ruin, obsolescence, waste and demolition in modern cities. UCL Grand Challenges funding will support two focused interdisciplinary workshops and site visits designed to establish research connections and develop international dialogues. A website will accompany the workshops and a published collection of papers will disseminate this research to a wide public and generate international frameworks for future collaborations.

We begin with the premise that sustainable cities must contemplate their pasts as well as their futures. While researching the ephemeral aspects of cities might seem antithetical to an analysis of the sustainable city, we argue that the broken and the ruined, the ephemeral and the short-lived, the torn-down and the wasted, are crucial to policy as well as practices of sustainability. Ephemeral Cities will provide a historical and contextual investigation of buildings, objects, images and spaces that either fell by the wayside or were never meant to last. Investigating how ephemerality came to stand for the experience of urban life, we will ask how lessons from the past might help us meet the challenge presented by our own discarded objects in the cities of the future.

Community Participation in City-Wide Planning: Comparing London and Johannesburg

GCSC Theme: London

Lead: Dr Barbara Lipietz (UCL Development Planning Unit)

Main collaborator: Prof Mike Raco (UCL Bartlett School of Planning)

Additional collaborators: Prof Jennifer Robinson (UCL Geography); Prof Michael Edwards (UCL Bartlett School of Planning); Prof Susan Parnell (UCL Geography)

GCSC (Lipietz) Community Participation in City Wide Planning

Project: This project aims to understand the processes shaping the possibilities for community voices to contribute to long-term strategic planning for sustainable urban development. It will consider how democratic modes of governance shape long-term strategic planning and city visioning in two different contexts, London and Johannesburg, through a systematic comparison of the recently published Revised London Plan (2011) and Johannesburg’s Growth and Development Strategy 2040 (2011) to explore:

  • the democratic and participatory processes through which the strategies were produced. Do these reflect wider international definitions of a ‘good governance’ agenda and meet expectations of democratic urban governance?
  • the extent to which the strategies reflect the interests of local stakeholders (including neighbourhood, community-based organisations and advocacy groups) and, specifically, whether the contents of the plans reflect local residents’ concerns for sustainable development, especially in post-financial crisis contexts.

The project will be among the first systematic academic interrogations of the revised London Plan, meeting UCL’s wider mission to ‘contribute to the vibrancy and development of London as a world-leading city’ and its commitment to supporting community inputs to making sustainable cities. It will pilot an initiative to develop comparative methods and interpretive frameworks in urban governance appropriate for an international approach to urban studies.

Developing Urban Water Reuse Networks in the UK: A cross-disciplinary research initiative

GCSC Theme: Sustainable Resources

Lead: Dr Fuzhan Nasiri (UCL Bartlett School of Graduate Studies)

Main collaborator: Dr Sarah Bell (UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering)

GCSC (Nasiri) Water Reuse Networks poster

Project: Globally, reclaimed water is increasingly supplied for various uses due to aggravating water shortages caused by growing urban communities and climate change, more stringent wastewater effluent standards, and the expanding availability of high-performing and cost-effective water reclamation technologies. In the United Kingdom, however, there has not been a consistent and considerable pattern of urban water-reuse because historically there has been a sufficient supply of water. With highly increasing water demand in the South-East and more droughts due to climatic change, there is growing public and political consensus to establish water-reuse networks as part of a sustainable cities agenda. At present, the projects within the UK have focused on building and development-scale water re-use. However, greater opportunities exist, at a larger scale, with urban water reuse networks, to rebalance water use and demand, tap into unconventional water resources and improve the economic and environmental performance of urban water supply systems.

This project serves as a pilot study to investigate the feasibility, costs, and benefits of developing water reuse networks in urban areas with a particular emphasis on London. The aim of this pilot study is to develop a multi-university EPSRC research network and proposal by July 2012.

New Loos for London?

GCSC Theme: Sustainable Resources

Lead: Tse-Hui Teh (UCL Bartlett School of Planning)

Main collaborator: Dr Barbara Penner (UCL Bartlett School of Architecture)

Additional collaborators: Dr Sarah Bell (UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering); Virginia Gardiner, Loowatt

GCSC (Hui) New Loos for London poster

Project: Our proposed workshop responds to the peculiar silence about sanitation systems in relation to sustainability. Discussions around sustainable cities focus on issues like farming, recycling, and water conservation, all of which intersect with sanitation and resource recovery, but rarely address them. New Loos for London? holds that sanitation must be part of any meaningful strategy for sustainable cities.

Our project aims to explore the viability of dry sanitation in London. In an age of water, energy and fertilizer scarcity, dry sanitation requires fewer resources to transport and treat waste than waterborne systems and offers improved nutrient recovery. A two-day invited workshop brings together key figures from bodies that deal with waste and sewers, entrepreneurs and designers developing alternative systems, cultural commentators, and interested members of the community. It will allow a focused exchange of information and views about the main technological, social, logistical and political implications of such schemes.

New Loos for London? develops on Tse-Hui Teh’s PhD research about London which found that some environmentally aware citizens were already using “yellow mellow” toilet flushing techniques to conserve water. This project aims to build on their informal efforts by considering how to implement dry sanitation systems at a community level.

Learning Room Design Project

GCSC Theme: Sustainable Resources

Lead: Dr Murray Fraser (UCL Bartlett School of Architecture)

Main collaborator: Dr Camillo Boano (UCL Development Planning Unit)

Additional collaborators: Nasser Golzari and Yara Sharif, Palestine Regeneration Team (PART)

GCSC (Fraser) Gaza Learning Room poster

Project: The project is to design an entirely new building type called the ‘Learning Room’, which is being conceived in this first instance as helping with reconstruction in the Gaza Strip. It is conceived as a prototype for a series of annexes to existing schools that can be applied in many countries if the prototype proves successful.

There are two key aims for the Learning Room: firstly, to provide a community centre where residents can meet together to discuss urban regeneration plans; secondly, to act as a knowledge base for innovative forms of sustainable construction that can help with rebuilding in conditions of chronic lack of building materials, energy, water etc. We are also currently writing a self-build manual to help Gazans create low-energy dwellings when rehousing, and the Learning Room will thus act as the location where this knowledge can be disseminated. Families rebuilding their houses will be able to study different forms of construction and low-cost passive energy-saving devices. It will act as a ‘community laboratory’ in some of the poorest and toughest places on earth.

A test site has been identified for a prototype Learning Room in a school in the Zaytouna neighbourhood of Gaza City, with that project being funded by UN-Habitat with support from the Palestinian Housing Council, Gaza University, Islamic Relief and other bodies.

UCL Grand Challenge of Intercultural Interaction (GCII)

Archaeology, Heritage and Civilisation in Iraqi Kurdistan

GCII Theme: Civilisations

Lead: Dr David Wengrow (UCL Institute of Archaeology)

Main collaborator: Prof Karen Radner (UCL History)

Additional collaborators: Dr Mark Altaweel (UCL Institute of Archaeology); Prof Mike Rowlands (UCL Anthropology)


Project: UCL has an unprecedented opportunity to conduct archaeological and anthropological fieldwork in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Following decades of conflict and a genocidal campaign against its inhabitants in the 1980s, the region is now a focus of major investment and is rapidly becoming a hub of international research. Environmental and cultural regeneration are high on the agenda of local authorities, as is the investigation of the area’s rich, but surprisingly unexplored, archaeological and cultural heritage, and the parallel development of museums and tourism.

The Shahrizor Plain, where UCL has been permitted to work, lies in the province of Suleimaniya, within the heartlands of what was once referred to as the ‘Cradle of Civilisation’; the region in which farming, urban life and literacy began. The current project is in early stages of development, but already involves staff from three UCL departments as well as the newly established department at UCL Qatar, with its focus upon archaeology, museums, heritage and the fostering of intercultural relations in the Middle East. Over the longer term, this project will provide a major vehicle for linking UCL’s expertise across these fields and applying them in an area where they are badly needed.

Negotiating Religion: Inquiries into the history and present of religious accommodation

GCII Theme: Religion & Society

Lead: Dr François Guesnet (UCL Hebrew & Jewish Studies)

Main collaborator: Dr Uta Staiger (UCL European Institute)

Additional collaborators: Dr Claire Dwyer (UCL Geography); Dr Myriam Hunter-Henin (UCL Laws); Prof Cécile Laborde (UCL Political Sciences); Dr Robert Morris (UCL Constitution Unit)


Project: This series of four workshops will discuss the complex processes through which religious communities create or defend their place in a given commonwealth, both in history and in our world today. The focus is on communities' ability to formulate and present their claims, to identify potential spokespeople and their addressees, to secure their institutions and assert their physical and political presence, as well as on the epistemological, political and social conditions facilitating or complicating processes of negotiation.

The four workshops are:

  • Negotiating Religion: European legacies, European challenges
  • Accommodating Religious Communities in Contemporary Europe: Constitutional and philosophical dimensions
  • Negotiating Religion in Urban Space
  • Legal Frameworks: Schools and religious freedom

Grey Areas: Between art and the law

GCII Theme: Human Rights

Lead: Ms Carey Young (UCL Slade School of Fine Art)

Main collaborator: Dr Ralph Wilde (UCL Laws)

Project: The field of human rights is a new vein of research for me, but is highly appropriate given my ongoing artistic research interests in the growing influence of corporations and the legal sphere on to individual and collective subjectivity, and the relationship between law and ideas of ‘reality’. The small grant would provide seed funding for the research, development and production of a small body of artwork which could be exhibited within public exhibitions commencing in 2012–2013.

I would like to engage with Dr Wilde’s research into legal ‘black holes’ (otherwise termed ‘legal vacuums’ or ‘extra-legal zones’) – the often-used term for extraterritorial situations such as military ‘black sites’ or the US detention centre at Guantanamo. I am particularly interested in Dr Wilde’s writings, which problematise and critique the idea of ‘legal black holes’. Particularly interesting to me is Dr Wilde’s view that law is not ‘missing’ from such zones, contrary to much of the literature, and that the application of human rights law may not be the universal salve it is commonly expected to be.

I also envisage using the research phase to look into other human rights issues which also extend my previous research interests, with the idea to develop a major solo exhibition proposal on a human rights theme. I am also interested in the emerging field of human rights law which deals with transnational corporations, as ‘non-state actors’, with regard to human rights, in particular looking at complicity between states and transnational corporations with regard to slippages in human rights protections. Whilst seeing human rights as a contested field, I would like to interrogate the neoliberal idea that we should leave it to the marketplace to regulate corporate behaviour around human rights. I envisage this will lead to ideas for other artistic works.

Where Next for Social Media: How do we bring together theory and practice?

Lead: Dr Simon Lock (UCL Science & Technology Studies)

Main collaborator: Professor Claire Warwick (UCL Information Studies)

Additional collaborators: Dr Jon Agar (UCL Science & Technology Studies); Dr Anthony Watkinson (UCL Information Studies); Dr Steve Cross, UCL Public Engagement


Project: In a very short space of time online social media platforms have become pre-eminent tools of intercultural interaction, supplementing and even displacing many older systems and customs. This project brings together dispersed communities within UCL who research social media platforms. The aim is to share expertise, transfer theory and practice, and pool our intellectual resources in ways that lead to fruitful new collaborations across the university and new ways of using social media for research interactions with stakeholders outside of the academy.

The problem to be solved involves silos. Academics work in disciplinary silos. In those silos, wheels regularly get re-invented and customised jargon and practices thicken the walls. From the outside UCL itself can be viewed as a silo. We know with certainty that research is being conducted on social media and political and social engagement, ideas of privacy, identity, personalization of information, methods of surveillance, notions of public sphere, and corporate control and storage of data. We also know a great many colleagues are investigating new technologies as tools for dissemination and engagement.

With so much going on in the subject area, a clear opportunity exists for opening up the silos and sharing expertise to develop.

This project uses the 'town meeting' model to get our network started. At the same time, we will initiate some desk-based research to pool together scholarship and identify common themes. Finally, we run some workshops so the network can digest the results and identify avenues for further work. Throughout, we’ll use our understanding of these tools to disseminate and engage.

UCL Grand Challenge of Human Wellbeing (GCHW)

Development of Rapid Prototypes for Muscle Augmentation Using Magnetic Actuation

GCHW Theme: Technology & Wellbeing

Lead: Dr Richard Day (UCL Internal Medicine)

Main collaborator: Dr Gaetano Burriesci (UCL Mechanical Engineering)

Additional collaborators: Dr Anton Emmanuel (UCL Internal Medicine); Prof Quentin Pankhurst (UCL Physics & Astronomy)

Project: Faecal incontinence results from defective anal sphincter muscles. It is a frequent condition, affecting >0.5 million people in UK and is associated with devastating consequences. Treatment options are limited and in general do not deliver long-term therapy.

We have shown in vitro that mechanical force applied to human rectal smooth muscle cells is a growth promoting stimulus, an effect we believe can be harnessed for regeneration of sphincter muscle.

Based on these observations, the aim of the project is to develop a series of prototype devices that can be used to restore continence via regeneration and conditioning of sphincter muscle. The device will apply a novel form of magnetic actuation, capable of delivering an oscillating mechanical force to sphincter smooth muscle cells. This will provide a growth promoting stimulus for sphincter muscle regeneration.

The therapeutic approach offered by the proposed device is unique and offers the possibility of restoring sphincter muscle function, something that has not been achieved with existing therapies aimed at restoring continence.

Tracking Activity in Relation to Disease: Using smartphone technology to create novel epidemiological tool

GCHW Theme: Technology & Wellbeing

Lead: Eva Macharia (UCL Institute of Child Health)

Main collaborator: Prof Tim Cole (Institute of Child Health)

Additional collaborators: Dr Sean Wallis (UCL English Language & Literature); Dr Chris Williams (UCL Business)

Project: We aim to develop and validate the use of smartphone applications to track activity in relation to disease (TARDIS).

TARDIS applications will empower patients to use smartphones to track serial symptom data and generate individual disease profiles. Individual profiles will be accumulated to a central database, collating longitudinal and cross-sectional data on the cohort of interest. These comparative data will be a valuable resource for doctors and researchers.

Rationale: For the TARDIS prototype, we will study gastro-oesophageal reflux (GOR) in children. GOR is a common, chronic and complex condition affecting up to 5% of children. Treatment comprises multiple, stepwise interventions involving feeding modulations, medications and surgery. Serial assessments are required, in which physicians take clinical histories and progress reports from caregivers. This is repetitive and prone to reporting biases. Paper questionnaires are also used. However, these have limited validity and are inconvenient for serial assessments. TARDIS applications can be effective for serial assessment of individuals and economic data gathering in large cohorts.

Method: We will identify demographic, co-morbid and symptom variables relevant to the description of GOR. We shall develop and pilot a TARDIS application for GOR, thus demonstrating the use of smartphone applications as patient-held epidemiological data collection tools.

Indoor versus Outdoor Running: A comparison of those who exercise in different environments, how they relate to their bodies when they do so, and what this suggests about the future promotion of public health through exercise

Lead: Dr Russell Hitchings (UCL Geography)

Main collaborator: Dr Courtney Kipps (UCL Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health)

Additional collaborators: Dr Alan Latham (UCL Geography); Dr Eleanor Tillett (UCL Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health)

Project: This project is a collaboration between clinicians (with expertise in the physiological effects of exercise and health promotion) and cultural geographers (with expertise in using qualitative methods to understand how people relate to the various contexts through which they live).

Straddling these two very different disciplines, our project will evaluate whether two distinct ‘cultures’ of recreational running can now be said to exist (one indoor and one outdoor). More specifically, this project will compare the differing ways in which those who run indoors on treadmills and those who run outdoors understand the experience and effects of running in these two sites, how they relate to their bodies during this activity, and how running fits within their wider lifestyles. Unaware of previous comparative research of this type, our contention is that such research will generate fresh insights about how recreational running is organised and experienced today.

Our aim is to use them in crafting a much larger study of how different forms of health-enhancing exercise might be encouraged. The background belief is that, as wider societies become increasingly sedentary, an appreciation of how recreational running is now experienced could help identify various new ways of helping others become more active.

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