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Newton Prize 2020: winners announced

  • UK and international experts join forces to tackle health, climate and development issues
  • Projects aim for sustainable impact through science, research and innovation
  • £1.5 million follow-on funding to be split among six projects across five countries

Six winners of the Newton Prize 2020 were announced at a virtual international event on Wednesday 04 November.

Winning projects were selected from a shortlist featuring 27 research and innovation projects between the UK and Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, South Africa, and Turkey.

The Chair’s Prize for up to £500,000 went to a UK-South Africa project, developing safe, affordable and reliable energy for families living in informal settlements.

The annual Newton Prize recognises pioneering research and innovations that come from international partnerships, with each project helping to solve global development challenges.

UK science minister Amanda Solloway said: 

"We know that international collaboration improves the quality of research. And as our R&D Roadmap makes clear, we want to bring down barriers and create opportunities to help UK researchers to collaborate with the best minds, wherever they are based.

"The projects shortlisted and celebrated through the Prize here today are testament to this ambition.  They show what can be achieved when collaboration is supported – as well as the real-world impacts that partnered research delivers, across a wide spectrum of challenges."

Four prize winning projects were supported by the British Council. Chief executive Sir Ciarán Devane said:

"The Newton Prize is a great opportunity to recognise and celebrate the important research that is undertaken to address global developmental challenges. It demonstrates how international research partnerships and networks, created through the Newton Fund, contribute to welfare and sustainable long-term growth in partner countries and globally. Many congratulations to the winners."

 

Country Prizes

UK-EGYPT: NEW TOOLS TO DIAGNOSE AND TREAT LIVER CANCER

Liver cancer is the most common type of cancer in Egypt due to the prevalence of associated conditions such as Hepatitis C, obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. All of which are steadily rising in developing countries. Poor understanding of how the disease develops in people affected by these chronic conditions is a major obstacle to preventing liver cancer.

Researchers from Newcastle University and Minia University in Egypt are trying to identify new diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers – molecules, genes, or characteristics that indicate the presence or severity of disease in the body – to halt the progression of the disease. Results have led to a collaboration with Cancer Research UK and Medimmune Alliance to develop a diagnostic/therapeutic antibody, which could improve the life expectancy of more than half of liver cancer patients.

Project leads: Professors Fiona Oakley and Helen Reeves, Newcastle University and Dr Marco Zaki, Minia University, Egypt

Delivery partners: British Council and the Cultural Affairs and Missions Sector, Ministry of Higher Education & Scientific Research, Egypt

 

UK-JORDAN: FAYNAN’S CULTURAL HERITAGE OFFERS ROUTE TO SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

Jordan has few natural resources and faces numerous challenges, such as water shortages and the Middle East refugee crisis. It also boasts spectacular sights and a rich history. Tourism is critical to its economic growth, but action is needed to ensure its benefits are received by local communities and the cultural and natural landscapes of Jordan are preserved.

This project, based in an impoverished region of southern Jordan called Faynan, is showing how cultural heritage can be used to support sustainable development via ecotourism with low-cost investment and benefits directly to the local community.

As well as showcasing Faynan’s recent past in a local museum, the team supports six schools by providing teacher training in cultural heritage. A new heritage trail has been established for tourists and schools highlighting some of the most impressive and important archaeological sites in the region.

Project leads: Professor Steven Mithen, University of Reading and Dr Fatima Al-Nammari, University of Petra, Jordan

Delivery partners: Arts and Humanities Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Jordan

 

UK-KENYA: IMPROVING DIAGNOSIS OF MATERNAL INFECTIONS

Rates of maternal complications such as sepsis, still births, premature delivery, new-born sepsis, and new-born deaths are high in Kenya. A strong contributing factor is maternal infection with pathogens such as Group B hemolytic streptococci (GBS). Successful treatment of infections relies on fast and accurate diagnosis, but current methods are time-consuming, costly and often unviable in poor and remote regions where electricity is not always available.

A team of researchers from the University of Hull and Mount Kenya University, have collaborated to address the problem of maternal GBS, which is a dominant cause of stillbirths, neonatal sepsis and mortality in Kenya. The team has developed a simple ‘lab on a chip’ device that can detect GBS in urine samples in less than 20 minutes. The researchers hope to adapt and develop their device to support efforts for affordable and robust COVID-19 tests in Kenya.

Project leads: Professor Nicole Pamme, University of Hull and Dr Jesse Gitaka, Mount Kenya University, Kenya

Delivery partners: British Council and the National Research Fund, Kenya

 

UK-SOUTH AFRICA: TACKLING FOOD INSECURITY IN THE WESTERN INDIAN OCEAN

The Western Indian Ocean is facing a humanitarian crisis. The livelihoods of 60 million people depend on the ocean. Yet it is warming faster than any other. Coastal and marine ecosystems are rapidly declining, likely to collapse within the next 15 years if current trends persist. Poor communities lacking the tools and resources to quickly adapt will suffer the most from these changes.

Professor Michael Roberts of the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton and Nelson Mandela University argues that governments and international organisations need much more information and data to address this urgent but so far under-reported issue. He has established an ‘innovation bridge’ and network to provide eight developing Western Indian Ocean countries with immediate access to skills and infrastructure needed to tackle this regional challenge. The bridge between world-class research institutions will develop capacity and encourage governments to protect these valuable yet vulnerable ecosystems.

Project lead: Professor Michael Roberts, National Oceanography Centre/Nelson Mandela University, South Africa

Delivery partners: British Council and the National Research Foundation, South Africa

 

UK-TURKEY: REDUCING CO2 EMISSIONS WITH NEW GREEN CONCRETE

Climate change is primarily caused by too much carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. Construction and demolition (CDW) is one of the main offenders, responsible for 30% of total urban waste and colossal CO2 emissions. The landfilling of CDW is also extremely costly and harmful to the environment.

This team, led by researchers from the University of Bradford and Hacettepe University in Turkey, have created a new low-cost ‘green concrete’ made entirely from recycled construction waste. Not only does it reduce CO2 emissions, but also promises its safe permanent storage. The use of recycled CDW also decreases the quarrying of new raw materials, taking away the need to strip the earth of its natural resources.

Their flexible construction system can be quickly built to provide affordable accommodation for low-income communities, including the homeless, slum-dwellers and refugees all around the world.

Project leads: Professor Ashraf Ashour, University of Bradford and Professor Mustafa Sahmaran, Hacettepe University, Turkey

Delivery partners: British Council and The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey

 

Chair's Prize

The Chair’s Prize was awarded to a UK-South Africa project tackling the United Nations' sustainable development goal for sustainable cities and communities. The team will receive up to £500,000 to continue their important work.

UK-SOUTH AFRICA: NEW CLEAN ENERGY SOLUTIONS FOR SOUTH AFRICA’S INFORMAL SETTLEMENTS

Energy poverty is a common problem for South African communities living in ‘off-grid’ informal settlements. Without access to safe, affordable and reliable energy families struggle to power businesses. Women and children bear the brunt of health impacts from burning harmful cooking fuels. Children lack reliable electricity to study after dark.

A team of experts from the University of Cape Town and the University of Exeter have found a way to support economic activity and reduce reliance on polluting fuels. They are also collecting data to inform and improve long-term energy policy.

The team led discussions with officials in Johannesburg and Polokwane, non-governmental organisations, community representatives and UK energy firms to come up with new solutions. This led to testing solar mini-grids in an informal settlement in Cape Town which were found to produce energy up to 40% cheaper than current energy sources.

Now the team hope to scale-up and replicate solar innovations to plug the energy provision gap in South Africa and boost economic prosperity and wellbeing.

Project leads: Dr Federico Caprotti, University of Exeter and Dr Jiska de Groot, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Delivery partners: Economic and Social Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation and the National Research Foundation, South Africa


Notes to Editors:

1. The Newton Prize was launched in 2016. It has been awarded each year since then to the best research and innovation that addresses global challenges and promotes the economic development and social welfare of Newton partner countries.

2. The Newton Fund builds outstanding research and innovation partnerships with select countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to support economic development and social welfare, tackle global challenges and develop talent and careers. The fund is managed by the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and delivered by UK and international partners. UK investment is matched by investment and resources from partner countries.