Credit: University of Glasgow

World Changers: October

By Charlotte Christian

The Glasgow Guardian takes a monthly dive into the world changing research being carried out on campus.

The past month has heralded yet more innovation from the University of Glasgow. Semester one has truly begun and with it, the teaching that promises that one day, we too will become “world changers”. Meanwhile, ground-breaking research sees the University further cement its academic prowess and mission to shape a better world. 

A new study led by Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH) in partnership with the University of Glasgow, revealed that over 300,000 ‘excess’ deaths in the UK can be attributed to government austerity policies. Researchers reported that compared to what trends predicted, an additional 335,000 deaths were observed across Great Britain between 2012 and 2019. Statistical analysis revealed that despite previously improving mortality rates, trends changed for the worse following the implementation of austerity policies in 2012. Notably, in Scotland the rates of premature death among the 20% most deprived populations increased by 6-7% amongst men and women, this follows previous premature mortality decreases of 10-20% in prior decades. The study adds further quantified evidence of the profoundly damaging and shameful impact of government austerity policies. Professor Ruth Dundas, Professor of Social Epidemiology at UofG stated “This study shows that in the UK a great many more deaths are likely to have been caused by UK Government economic policy than by the COVID-19 pandemic”. 

UofG researchers are being recognised at the global level for the ground-breaking research they are undertaking. Particularly Professor Kostas Tokatlidis, holding the Cathcart Chair as Director of Research for Molecular Biosciences, who has been elected to the prestigious Academia Europaea (Academy of Europe) for his work in Mitochondrial Biology. Professor Tokatlidis has pioneered discovery of multiple novel mechanisms of mitochondria biogenesis. His seminal work has researched how mitochondria biogenesis underpins diseases such as neurodegeneration, cancer, and diabetes. Alongside his research, he has co-founded a global Mitochondrial Collective to encourage global interdisciplinary collaboration on mitochondrial research. Currently, Professor Tokatlidis is leading the establishment of a new Mitochondrial Integrative Research Centre in Glasgow to potentially develop new mitochondrial-targeted approaches for therapeutic applications. Such recognition of Professor Tokatlidis work highlights University of Glasgow’s impressive contributions to mitochondrial research. 

In an unexpected but very Scottish venture, researchers at UofG have developed a new ageing test that could become the gold standard for whisky producers. Chemists and bioscientists at the University have discovered a way to use tiny gold particles to measure the maturity of whisky- a key challenge to whisky producers. Currently, whiskey distillers have to employ experienced master blenders that sample the casks in a labour intensive and expensive way. But, as Dr Will Peveler of the University’s School of Chemistry explained, “What we’ve been able to do for the first time is show that the ageing-related chemistry of the whisky controls the formation of gold nanoparticles. That has allowed us to develop a unique ‘fingerprint’ not just for types of whisky we tested but also for how whiskies mature over time.” In the future it is hoped that this initial finding can be developed into a quick, easy, and portable kit to measure whisky maturity in a less expensive and faster manner.

The University of Glasgow has also led a study revealing the first major insights into the high-neurodegenerative risk among former international rugby players. The research was led by Prof Willie Stewart, a consultant neuropathologist and Honorary Professor at the University, and represents the largest scale study to date on the impact of contact sports on brain health. The research demonstrates that although former rugby players may live longer than individuals from the general population, they were at higher risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease. It demonstrated that risk of a dementia diagnosis was doubled and that there was over a 10-fold risk of motor neuron disease diagnosis.

University of Glasgow is showcasing artwork of Australian First Nations children as part of a landmark search for their stolen artwork. The University’s Hunterian Museum has partnered with John Curtin University to call on the Scottish general public to join the global search for the precious artwork created by Australian First Nations children who were forcibly removed from their families by the Australian government in the 1940s. This marks a landmark step in Australia’s truth-telling journey and would be a symbolic step towards reconciliation. 

Researchers have been making gains in the world of computer science and security with UofG experts developing an AI-driven thermal attack system that reveals passwords in seconds. Computer security experts created the system ‘ThermoSecure’ to illustrate the growing problem that cheaper thermal imaging cameras and easier access to machine learning can pose to cybersecurity. Dr Mohamed Kamis, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Computing Science believes that such easy access to these tools makes it likely that “people around the world are developing systems along similar lines to ThermoSecure in order to steal passwords”.  As ThermoSecure is capable of successfully revealing 86% of passwords 20 seconds after a thermal image of surfaces were taken, it is vital that computer security science remains atop of developing technologies to mitigate risk. Dr Kamis is part of a team currently building an AI-driven countermeasure system. 

In further forward-looking research, the New Horizons fund has been awarded to 5 new projects led by University engineers and computing scientists. The fund, provided by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC), awards grants of up to £200,000 to support cutting-edge research. The research projects in the University’s College of Science and Engineering are wide-ranging. Professor David Flynn will address the potential use of innovative new technology for photodynamic therapy in cancer treatment. Dr Chong Li and Professor Martin Weides will investigate integrating wireless technology in quantum computer technology – a global first. Dr Rair Macedo and Professor Martin Lavery plan to research further into advanced quantum computing to create a more secure and truly quantum internet. Dr Graham McDonald, Dr Jake Lever, and Professor Iadh Ounis are developing machine learning models to enable extraction of useful information from clinical notes of medical researchers whilst protecting sensitive patient data. Professor Roy Vellaisamy will explore new applications of topological insulators in artificial intelligence which may have applications in energy harvesting. Such research demonstrates the innovative environment at the heart of the University.


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