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Why universities are good for your health

Press release issued: 6 October 2010

From preventing 100,000 cot deaths worldwide to pioneering a new treatment for heart disease, the wide-ranging, global impact of university research s being showcased at an event in Westminster.

Leading academics from the University of Bristol will demonstrate how their research has led to innovative and life-changing developments in health, the environment, communications, transport and for society, nationally and across the globe.

Hosted by the SETsquared Partnership, which also involves the Universities of Bath, Southampton and Surrey, the Changing Worlds event on 13 October will show how universities have made a difference with attendees including policy makers, major figures from industry, journalists and a key note speech by Minister for Universities & Science, David Willetts MP.

One of the success stories involves Bristol’s Professor Peter Fleming, hailed as a UK science pioneer thanks to the Government-backed Back to Sleep campaign, which advised parents on how to avoid the risk of cot death. Up until two decades ago, cot death claimed the lives of 2,000 babies in the UK every year; that number has since been reduced by 80 per cent.

Prof Fleming said: “Thanks to continued research at the University of Bristol and collaborations with different research groups, the work we do has enabled us to have had a considerable impact in over 30 different countries.”

Medical advances pioneered by collaborative efforts between University researchers and local hospitals include work led by by the University of Bristol and the Bristol Heart Institute to develop an innovative technique in heart coronary bypass surgery, known as beating heart surgery.  Discovered in 1995, the technique greatly reduces the risk of postoperative morbidity and has been adapted worldwide.

Other projects that form part of 20 case studies demonstrating how research has changed lives around the world include The Innocence Network, a global network that began in Bristol's School of Law, dedicated to overturning wrongful convictions, improving the criminal justice system and preventing future miscarriages of justice.  INUK now acts as an umbrella organisation for Innocence Projects in 26 UK universities, with around 500 staff and students working collectively on approximately 80 cases.

Also featured is the MoSSaiC project, established by Professor Malcolm Anderson and Dr Liz Holcombe from the School of Geographical Sciences, who working in partnership with communities in the developing world susceptible to landslides, developed a risk reduction programme that has helped thousands of the poorest people living in unplanned settlements.

And research directed by Professor Joe McGeehan at Bristol's Centre for Communications Research will be highlighted to show how his invention of the speech scrambler started a new era of higher police security, and how the encryption techniques involved allowed for the massive expansion of commercial and personal mobile phone usage we see today.

Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Guy Orpen said: "The research communities in the SETsquared universities have a strong track record of engaging with society in the delivery of significant benefits which improve the quality of our lives. The future for such engagement is bright - the supreme research quality is there, the partnership with society is in place, and the value it offers to both society and universities is clear to all involved.

“It is time to build upon the benefit universities and society derive from each other by continuing to invest in universities and the interface between them and the key agencies involved in deriving that benefit - industry and commerce, social enterprises and the public and third sectors. The prize is great in terms of the value to society and the UK is well positioned to reap that value.”

Further information

Please contact Aliya Mughal for further information.
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