The Research Excellence Framework 2014 has seen research assessed for quality and impact. The results of the REF will be used by the funding bodies, who between them allocate about £2 billion per year of research funding to UK universities, based on the quality and volume of each university’s research.
The University of Dundee’s School of Engineering, Physics and Mathematics made three submissions to the REF 2014: Civil Engineering, General Engineering (incorporating physics and biomedical engineering) and Mathematics. The following case studies show some of the ways researchers at the school have created substantial economic and social impacts for a wide range of stakeholders.
Using Mathematical Modelling to Improve Cancer Treatment
Multidisciplinary mathematical modelling led by Professor Mark Chaplain and Dr. Fordyce Davidson from the Division of Mathematics, along with colleagues from Cyclacel Ltd., led to obtaining a better understanding of the link between drug-dose and drug-efficacy in a class of cell-cycle-specific anti-tumour drugs called Aurora kinase inhibitors. The novel mathematical models of Aurora kinase inhibitors developed by the cancer modelling group in Dundee were of direct relevance to the development of Cyclacel’s early-stage drugs. Specifically, the drug CYC116 (an Aurora Kinase inhibitor) is in a Phase 1 trial in patients with solid tumours. The pharmacokinetic/ pharmacodynamic (PK/PD) model of CYC116 drug action was a useful tool in selecting starting doses for clinical trials, in predicting possible toxicity, and in selecting sampling times for biomarkers. The model may assist in design of later-stage trials, in design of combination protocols, and in individualising treatment protocols to optimise response against tumours with defined gene expression patterns.
Improving business performance using mathematical optimisation
Research led by Professor Roger Fletcher resulted in the development of a suite of algorithms that are now widely used throughout industry. An algorithm of fundamental importance constructed by Fletcher and co-workers is the filter method – a radically different approach to solving large and complex nonlinear optimization problems typical of those faced by industry. The filter method is now utilised by a variety of high-profile industry end-users including IBM, Schlumberger, Lucent, EXXON, Boeing, The Ford Motor Company, QuantiSci and Thomson CSF. The use of the filter method has had a significant economic and developmental impact in these companies through enhanced business performance and cost savings.
Understanding air flow leads aids complex train and road tunnel design
Civil Engineering at the University of Dundee has industrial impact at the heart of its research activity. For example, world-leading research on fluid flows in pipes by the team led by Professor Alan Vardy has found direct practical application in fields as diverse as road/rail tunnel design practice and offshore engineering. Professor Vardy has participated in the design of many of the world’s longest road and rail tunnels and he has worked extensively and successfully with industry partners on the detection and location of blockages in offshore pipelines. His flagship software ThermoTun, which predicts air flows, pressures and temperatures in complex train tunnel systems, is licensed internationally by many major engineering consultancies. His software (MPVC) controls ventilation systems in seven Japanese road tunnels and his oil pipeline software (PipePulse) is used currently in the offshore oil industry to identify and clear flow obstructions in pipelines.
Using computational tools for construction productivity enhancements
Another outstanding example of the impact achieved by the research in civil engineering is provided Construction Management Research Unit (CMRU), directed by Professor Malcolm Horner. This group has successfully exploited its research into productivity improvement, the costing of the lifetime costs of construction projects and the assessment of sustainability of construction developments through a University spin-out company, Whole Life Consultants Ltd. The commercialisation of the research has led to substantial contracts from national and international clients, with sales exceeding £1M since the company’s inception. The focus of the impact has been in developing computational tools to forecast labour productivity; this progress has demonstrably been attractive for companies and national and international agencies who have increased turnover and profitability dramatically as a result of adopting these tools.
Advancing Keyhole surgery through the development of new instrumentation
Dundee is home to one of the pioneers of keyhole surgery, Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri. His work has been substantially aid through the development of new surgical instruments and has led to major commercial interactions with Karl Storz, one of the world’s leading endoscopy and keyhole surgery device manufacturers. Sir Alfred work has also had impact on national and international surgical guidelines and the training of surgeons form all over the world. Keyhole surgery has dramatic impacts on surgical outcomes and recovery times.
Treating arterial disease using new bypass devices
Work by Professors Peter Stonebridge and Graeme Houston on new types of arterial graft was based on inducing spiral flow patterns in artificial devices which mimic the flow within healthy arteries. These are used in bypass operations where blockages in the artery are causing health issues. The work led to a company being founded, now called Vascular Flow Technologies, and has resulted in a significant worldwide sales, which in turn have led to improved graft survival rates over conventional grafts and reduced rates of amputation and surgical re-intervention.