Researchers at Byotrol plc and the University of Liverpool are set to investigate the anti-viral properties of seaweed.
The new project is a collaboration with industrial partner Byotrol plc and will focus on the potential use of anti-viral seaweed compounds in sanitising products, such as hand gels and household cleaners.
The team has been awarded £350K of funding by Innovate UK to carry out the work over the next 16 months.
Easily spread and immune to antibiotics, viruses are very difficult to eradicate and even more expensive to treat, with a limited number of anti-viral solutions. Despite rapid advances in medical and cleaning technology, viruses such as norovirus, influenza and coronavirus continue to pose a major threat to human health and cost the UK billions each year.
AIM-listed hygiene group Byotrol has, for some time, been investigating sustainably sourced anti-virals and has found certain forms of seaweed to have particularly good potential.
The University’s Molecular Virology Research Group will use their expertise to characterise the anti-viral component of the seaweed, evaluate the efficacy of a much broader range of seaweed species and determine its anti-viral mode of action.
Professor James Stewart, who is leading the project at the University of Liverpool, said: “The current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to develop new anti-viral countermeasures, especially ones that are environmentally sustainable. We are excited to be working with Byotrol on the development of these compounds.”
Dr Trevor Francis, Chief Technology Officer of Byotrol plc, said: “We are delighted that Innovate UK is supporting our research into the anti-viral properties of seaweeds and we are very pleased to be working on this project with Professor James Stewart’s excellent team at the University of Liverpool. It is a very exciting area of development for Byotrol.”/Public Release. The material in this public release comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.
Thinking of applying for the UKRI COVID-19 open call? As the pandemic progresses, UKRI and Innovate UK looking to fill gaps in the research and innovation landscape. Check out the list of priority areas and what’s already being funded before you begin;
Modelling, AI, digital and data approaches to understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigating its effects
- Data: preparation of data sets to defined quality standards for research; trusted research environments to make data widely available and enable data linkage for research with appropriate levels of privacy, security and transparent acknowledgment of representativeness; development of highly efficient data storage and transfer systems for rapid joint analysis of large data sets.
- Machine learning, deep learning and AI: to make actionable predictions from data and understand and mitigate against further waves of infection. Examples could include trust, data privacy and other ethical issues related to contact tracing, virus testing, workplace and wider societal monitoring, or predicting human behaviour.
- Modelling – new models for bio-molecular simulations, epidemiology, transmission in different environments, and effectiveness of barriers to infection; model validation, reproducibility and uncertainty quantification.
Engineering and physical sciences approaches for national recovery and transformation
- Technology development and adaptation to aid national recovery and new ways of working, including within industry and new working environments (e.g. home working).
- Understanding the effects of the pandemic on the energy transition towards net zero and how the UK will meet its energy demand and production requirements.
- Adaptable and reconfigurable manufacturing, to allow scale-up of COVID-19 related products quickly, efficiently and at volume.
Understanding, monitoring and controlling COVID-19 transmission
- Understanding, monitoring and controlling COVID-19 transmission in health and social care settings and systems: projects should include information on the effectiveness of current interventions and suggest the optimum raft of interventions
- Understanding and monitoring how viral transmission occurs: particularly indoors and within transport systems; projects should include information on the effectiveness of current interventions and suggest the optimum raft of interventions.
- Controlling transmission through better design and manufacturing of PPE or other protective materials (including recyclable and reusable), new anti-viral surfaces or cleaning methodologies; managing air and people flows and adapting urban environments.
COVID-19 in the environment
- What are the environmental factors (both natural and anthropogenic) which have a detectable effect on the transmission of the virus? Examples include air quality and weather. Projects should include information on the effectiveness of current interventions and suggest the optimum raft of interventions.
- How does the virus move through and persist in the environment (biotic, abiotic and built) to help understand and detect the potential for re-emergence? Projects should include information on the effectiveness of current interventions and suggest the optimum raft of interventions.
- Which environmental factors exacerbate or diminish the impact of the virus and the severity of the disease? Projects should include information on the effectiveness of current interventions and suggest the optimum raft of interventions.
COVID-19 Human – Animal interface
- Research on preventing transmission between animals and humans including future spill-over events through: surveillance and characterisation of SARS-CoV-2 in animal reservoirs and identifying the potential for reverse zoonoses; understanding virus maintenance and prevalence in animal reservoirs / intermediate animal hosts; understanding modalities of transmission between animals, and from animals (including companion animals) to humans, and how the virus may survive on various surfaces, including animal fur. Projects should include information on the effectiveness of current interventions and suggest the optimum raft of interventions
- Developing a One Health approach for future risk reduction strategies at the animal-human- environment interface including biosafety in food production systems and farms, and understanding the socio-geographic origins of zoonotic viruses.
Greening the recovery
- How can we quantify the impacts of the epidemic induced restrictions on the environment? Providing a baseline against which the environmental effects of economic and social recovery may be measured.
- How do we protect and build on the improvements made in the environment prior to the pandemic (e.g. pollution, greenhouse emissions) as the economy starts to grow again, and ensure future investment including in infrastructure embodies environmental ambitions?
- What are the environmental impacts / benefits of behaviour change due to the epidemic (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions; particulates and other pollutants) including any potential changes during recovery? For example, travel to work, use of green spaces? What are these impacts/benefits at local, national and global scales, and how can benefits be retained?
Policy and behavioural change
- What behavioural responses are most effective – singly and in combination – at reducing infection?
- Which behavioural responses are most effective in different risk environments at work, at home, during transport, etc (work in this area should include consideration of the viral load)?
Economic impacts and micro-, macro- and fiscal economic policy
- We continue to need more work on identifying those policies which will be effective in restarting the economy and encouraging recovery and long term renewal (including macroeconomic policies).
- How can we limit the ‘scarring’ effects of the pandemic, and its damage to human, natural, physical and social capital (including to vulnerable groups and across the regions and nations of the UK), and how can economic analysis and policy ensure improved future outcomes?
- What impact has the pandemic already had upon different parts of the UK, different organisations and sectors, work patterns, the make-up of the workforce, inter-sectoral flows and supply chains, and current and future demand for jobs, skills, and economic assets (such as office space and transport infrastructure)? What future impacts are anticipated, and what are the appropriate policy responses?
Social impact upon vulnerable groups and regions
- Research on the uneven epidemiological, economic, psychological and social impacts of the pandemic across society, with a particular focus on identifying those most at risk and how policy
making can best support them. Particular gaps are noted in relation to BAME communities and children and young people.
- Research on communities and how they help support vulnerable people, families and groups. This includes research to understand how civil society, the voluntary sector and faith groups have acted and how their actions have influenced community resilience.
Impacts of COVID-19 on cultural and creative sector
- The ‘digital turn’ in cultural consumption: opportunities and limitations.
- Impacts of creative/cultural sector on mental health and well-being under lockdown and during emergence from lockdown.
- Role of cultural and creative sector in emergence from COVID/post-COVID recovery.
Ethical, Regulatory and Human Rights issues in responses to COVID-19
- Ethics of prioritization of COVID-related healthcare decisions and interventions
- Data and AI ethics in relation to COVID-19 public health measures e.g. tracing apps
- Ethical dimensions of (un)equal impacts of COVID-related decision-making
- Ethical dimensions of pandemic response and policing activities
- Tensions between collective actions/obligations and individual and human rights
Communication and Public Health during the pandemic
- Design and the effective communication of official health guidance
- Identifying and creating trusted public health information sources
- Communicating a diversity of COVID-19 experiences
Mechanistic studies of the disease and its sequela
- Identification of key biomarkers of infection severity and immune protection; better understanding the immune response of asymptomatic disease carriers; identifying the effects of age, gender, ethnicity, health status and the influence of co-infecting respiratory pathogens on the immune response to primary infection. Projects should suggest the optimum raft of interventions.
- Virology, Immunity and Pathophysiology: research focused on defining critical biological/pathological parameters necessary for the prioritisation of preventative, supportive and/or therapeutic interventions. This includes understanding viral genotype/phenotype relationships, the immunology and immunopathology of the disease, the immunity generated post-severe, -mild and -asymptomatic infection and the persistence of that immunity. Studies should ensure they include relevant links to epidemiology or clinical expertise and where appropriate the established large-scale studies and consortia in this area.
- Mental Health and Neurological Consequences- Studies understanding the biological contributors of the disease, its management and/or isolation on mental health, mental illnesses, and neurological consequences, including assessment of the presence and pathology of the virus in the brain. Development of interventions to better manage mental health and neurological consequences.
- Transmission – Research that will enable better understanding of the nature of transmission of and exposure to the virus, including quantifying the infectious dose, understanding the relationship between viral RNA and the amount of infectious virus, duration of viral shedding,
transmission from asymptomatic cases and children, and understanding the role of aerosols, surfaces, buildings and their features.
- Settings: community epidemiology in non-health or social care settings, for example homes, workplaces, schools, universities, prisons and homeless hostels.
- Disease Susceptibility and Severity: understanding susceptibility of different populations (age, sex, ethnicity, demographics, occupation etc.), including vulnerable and marginalised groups such as the homeless and drug users. Characterization of the spectrum of clinical manifestations, both acute and longer term, and disease severity of SARS-CoV2 infections, including potential contribution of viral load, kinetics and genotype, sites of infection and associated immunopathology, variability in immune responses, collateral tissue damage, and associated factors (demographics, etc.).
- Control and Mitigation: research to understand social distancing measures that are most effective at preventing or reducing spread of SARS-CoV2, and how such distancing, shielding and isolation measures may be most effectively relaxed.
Intervention development and early evaluation, including experimental medicine studies
- Diagnostics: rapid point-of-care diagnostics for use at the community level in different settings and in the context of seasonal respiratory viral infection. Proposals will need to justify their added value robustly, in the context of significant existing activity, and to provide strong evidence in terms of deliverability and route to commercialisation, at scale and speed.
- Primary, Adjunctive and Supportive Therapies: development and evaluation, including experimental medicine studies, of the effect of primary, adjunctive and supportive interventions and therapies, including immune modulators. Proposals will need to be placed in the context of work already underway in this area, including as listed in the WHO directory of clinical trials.
- Vaccines: development and evaluation of investigational vaccines and passive immunological approaches, improved collaboration and comparison across different studies. Proposals will need to justify their case robustly for funding, against the significant existing international activity in this area.
Green energy supply in Africa is set for a major boost after the UK government announced winners of an investment package for the continent’s clean energy infrastructure at the African Investment Summit today.
Solar farms in Kenya, geothermal power stations in Ethiopia and clean energy storage across sub-Saharan Africa will receive funding and see leading UK scientists and financial experts working with their African counterparts to realise the continent’s huge potential for renewable energy.
With African energy demand set to rise by 60% by 2040, UK experts will help deliver green solutions for the continent’s growing energy needs, bringing clean energy to thousands of people and creating jobs and increased prosperity.
Business and Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsom said:
Our world-leading scientists and financial experts will work hand in hand with African nations to support their quest for energy security, powering new industries and jobs across the continent with a diverse mix of energy sources while promoting economic growth.
Speaking at the summit, Ms Leadsom emphasised the opportunity for many African countries to leapfrog coal power to cleaner forms of energy but stressed that more needed to be done to unlock investment.
A world-leader in reducing carbon emissions at home, today’s investment in global clean energy comes after the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced the £1 billion ‘Ayrton Fund’ for British scientists last Autumn to help developing nations reduce reliance on fossil fuels and reduce their carbon emissions.
As part of the initiatives announced today, the UK will support African countries with the technical skills and expertise they need in order to attract investment in renewable projects, getting innovative projects like wind and solar farms up and running. Close collaboration with African countries will be key as the UK gears up to host the UN climate talks (COP26) later this year.
UK funded projects in Africa include winners of the Energy Catalyst Competition, which has seen solar plants, energy storage batteries and hydro-power built in countries such as Botswana and Kenya; a £10 million programme which matches UK based green finance experts with project developers from developing countries to facilitate investment in clean energy projects; and the Nigeria 2050 calculator, a modelling tool designed by UK scientists to support the Nigerian government’s sustainable development planning.
Kenya is also set to benefit from a £30 million government investment in affordable energy-efficient housing which will see the construction of 10,000 low-carbon homes for rent and sale. This will support the creation of new jobs in Kenya’s green construction industry and help tackle climate change.
Over 50% of the UK’s energy production came from renewable sources last year, and with London’s expertise as the global hub for green finance, the UK is best placed to be Africa’s leading partner and help it harness its wealth of renewable sources as it moves away from coal power.
- Crohn’s Disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the intestine affecting people of all ages.
- There is an urgent need for technology to guide the use of powerful and expensive anti-inflammatory medications.
- Motilent has been awarded a prestigious UKRI grant to tackle this challenge.
About the project
Motilent has been awarded a UKRI grant to improve the way Crohn’s Disease is managed in adults and children.
A total of seven projects led by many of the UK’s leading institutions were funded as part of the £16 million call designed to enable the development of disruptive technologies to improve outcomes in chronic and challenging disease areas.
Working with Great Ormond Street Hospital, University College London (UCL), University of Nottingham (UoN) and IBDrelief, Motilent will develop an improved method of assessing medical imaging data from MRIs of Crohn’s disease patients, while incorporating a range of time and cost saving advances for a routine MRI test.
Approximately 180,000 people live with Crohn’s disease in the UK and there is no cure. Flare ups are managed with powerful but expensive immunosuppressive medications, which have a high failure rate. This project will help ensure the right patients are receiving the right medications at the right time for them.
This image shows three types of MRI scan of the same patient with severe Crohn’s Disease. The blue box represents the area of disease (thickened bowel on the left, low motility in the middle and bright inflamed bowel on the right). The blue circle shows normal bowel. These images are currently interpreted subjectively by Radiologists. The goal of the project is to quantitatively assess the data produced by MRI so smaller changes can be detected to fine tune patient treatment.
What the project partners say
Alex Menys, CEO Motilent: “This project has been a long time in the works and brings together a fantastic and dedicated team with the ability to deliver this exciting programme of work. We’re going to be developing a tool for the radiologist to generate an objective score for Crohn’s Disease activity based on well validated parameters that are currently too time consuming to perform clinically.”
Professor Stuart Taylor, Consultant Radiologist, UCL: “MRI plays an very important role in diagnosing Crohn’s disease as well as treatment planning and monitoring. Interpretation is relatively subjective and time consuming. The software developed in this project will increase both the accuracy and speed of MRI interpretation which will be a significant advance.”
Dr Tom Watson, Consultant Paediatric Radiologist, GOSH: “I am routinely asked to image children as young as 4 with Crohn’s Disease. Imaging the bowel in children can be extremely challenging. An MRI scanner is an intimidating place for an adult let alone a child and on top of that, children need to be still for upwards of 30 minutes using conventional scanning protocols. These protocols often require injection of drugs to highlight areas of inflammation. This requires needles which increases the anxiety for our children with Crohn’s. For me, high quality, high speed imaging without the need for injections would be a huge leap forward. At GOSH we’ll be taking the latest advances in adult imaging and analysis and ensuring they’re relevant to our paediatric population.”
Dr. Gordon Moran, Consultant Gastroenterologist, UoN: “This project is going to help me get a quantitative score for Crohn’s Disease activity which especially in the small bowel is hugely important for assessing treatment response with powerful expensive medications. We’re also going to be able to tie our existing work in fibrosis imaging at UoN into a new protocol expanding the clinical utility of the technique.”
Seb Tucknott, CEO of IBDrelief, said: “This project is really exciting and could have some big benefits for patients with Crohn’s disease in the small bowel, helping them to receive more targeted treatments in a more timely fashion. At IBDrelief we are passionate about ensuring that patients are involved in every stage of research and development to achieve the best outcomes possible, so we are delighted to be working with Motilent and partners to make sure this project helps make a big difference to patients as well as clinical teams.”
What happens next?
This project is now well underway and we’ll up providing regular updates. Follow us on Linkedin or Twitter or email us at email@example.com.
Our partners can be found at:
Motilent is a medical imaging technology company that aims to make some of the latest and most exciting image analysis technologies available to the researchers who can use them to make the important scientific advances required to advance our understanding of gastrointestinal disease.
Sano Genetics is beginning to reshape the discussion about what happens to your sequenced DNA thanks to a software platform which links the public to the genetic research community.
The company’s personalised medicine platform links researchers with individuals’ genomic profiles, crucially putting the individual in charge of access to their own sequenced data.
Formed in 2016, Sano’s three co-founders – Patrick Short, Will Jones and Charlotte Guzzo – met while doing PhDs at the university. Patrick was studying mathematical genomics and medicine, Will computer science and machine learning with a focus on image data in biology, and Charlotte finance, neuroscience and the genomics of childhood cancer.
“We started working on the company in late 2016 as a hobby – a side project,” says Patrick at the company’s base at the Bradfield Centre on Cambridge Science Park. “We saw a couple of problems we thought we could help solve. One was that it was challenging getting hold of genomic data so new approaches were very important.
“The second was data privacy and putting people at the heart of the research process. It’s important people know where their data is going when they sign up for a test.
“We have a duty as scientists to ensure that people are involved in the research and I think it’s really important to give people ownership of how their data is being used – this is very much the DNA of Sano.
“Users can be comfortable and confident because there’s full visibility in the process.”
So how, I ask Patrick, can genomics reassure the public that there won’t be a social media-style model – as discussed at a recent public event – where consumer data is collected, then sold to third parties and used to target them with products and services related to their genetic circumstances?
“In terms of the business model I strongly believe you get better data if people trust you – trust is essential if you’re doing business today,” Patrick replies. “People are beginning to understand that this is big business and you can’t always trust the way things turn out, so we have a dashboard which enables you to see who is accessing your data, and whether you want to allow them to access it – similar, for instance, to allowing people to opt-out of political ads on Facebook, or saying you don’t want companies to use your data to sell you ads for, say, Coca-Cola… it’s important to get the system right at the start so people are in control.”
Sano Genetics’ public-facing dashboard involves uploading your data which is then matched to any research in progress.
If it matches, researchers may want to acquire it to further their understanding of specific disorders, but the dashboard user retains ownership of his or her data and chooses whether to give permission for any organisation to use it in their research. The user can then track the research as it progresses.
“With our dashboard anyone who’s already had their genome sequenced can upload it to their profile, it takes two minutes,” says Patrick, “and if they haven’t had their genome sequenced they add their details and we match them to where they can get their genome sequenced for free.
“It’s not always successful, researchers are working to strict guidelines, but the more people and research projects we have the easier it becomes to match.”
If researchers are interested in your medical profile but you haven’t had your genome sequenced then Sano Genetics can send you a sequencing kit, which includes a saliva test. The sample is then sent to the research organisation which decides whether to have the genome sequenced.
The platform is investment-friendly and the company closed a £500,000 seed funding earlier this month.
“The first investor was Seedcamp, then Cambridge Enterprise, plus quite a few Cambridge investors, with angels from Cambridge and London.
“The money is for hiring smart people mostly – we’re building a software platform which requires software engineering, bioinformatics, and science communication skills – and a small bit of capital expenditure on sequencing kits.”
The seed round was announced soon after a name change: the founding trio originally incorporated the vehicle as ‘Heterogeneous’ in 2017. So what happened?
“It was felt that Heterogeneous was a bit unwieldy, scientists know the word [‘diverse’ or ‘varying’] but others don’t,” Patrick says, “so we had a look at it from a practical perspective.”
Heterogeneous officially became Sano Genetics on April 9.
“The legal change had happened before, and the trademark was registered months earlier. ‘Sano’ means ‘health’ in Latin and many Romance languages.”
The wider connotations of health include a commitment to ethical standards. An organisation such a Sano Genetics, with a baked-in ethical code, is very welcome, but isn’t it time for an industry regulator?
“It’s a hard one,” says Patrick, “because it’s very challenging for regulators to keep up with the pace of technology, so companies also have to self-regulate.
“It’s not enough to say ‘it’s the wild wild west out there’. We have an internal framework for the reports we create and research we support.
“So for instance in breast cancer or cardiovascular disease you can see good progress in using genetic testing but other disorders – such as Alzheimer’s – what you can do once you know you are at risk is much less clear, and is much more in the research phase.
“We as a company really focus on aspects where you can really trust the science and provide information that is both interesting and actionable. That’s where we can make a difference.
“We think of what we are doing as direct-to-consumer research.
“Rather than selling reports to everyone, we focus on research areas where we know we can make an impact.
“Right now people can sign up for four specific research projects on the platform – psoriasis, muscular dystrophy, Phelan McDermid syndrome and a study on stomach ulcers resulting from taking aspirin.”
If you or your family suffer from any of these you may find the Sano Genetics platform of particular interest.
“We have 2,000 participants enrolled on the platform now,” adds Patrick. “We also have several patient group partnerships, so we can reach many more by working with them.
“They’re primarily in the UK, Europe and the US, but could be anywhere. You’ll often find people are really engaged in finding research, and there are people dedicating their lives to improving research in rare disorders.”
Very true. And to the names of those improving research in rare disorders can now be added that of Sano Genetics.