Harnessing Technology to Develop New Models of Alzheimer’s Disease

Accelerator Fund

This project has been developed from the Initiator funded the GW4 Aging and Dementia (GW4AD) Consortium community.

GW4 community leads

University of Bath: Vasanta Subramanian
University of Bristol: James Hodge, Caroline Relton
Cardiff University: Nick Allen
University of Exeter: Katie Lunnon, Jonathan Mill, Jonathan Brown

Project overview

Nearly 1 million people in the UK suffer from dementia, with care costs of over £23billion per year. There is no cure at present and the treatments available only improve the symptoms, but do not treat or reverse the underlying disease. This means we need to gain knowledge of the underlying causes of the disease in order to develop new and more effective drugs that treat the disease early.

As a team we have identified some early changes that occur to control how genes are regulated in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients. We will investigate how these gene changes might lead to Alzheimer’s disease. This is very important as it may help to find new drug treatments in the future.

In order to achieve these goals we are going to apply an exciting new technology that allows us to directly edit the specific changes in genes we saw in Alzheimer’s disease. We will do this in human nerve cells grown in dishes, in fruit flies and in mice. Ultimately, this will allow us to intervene in these processes with new medications and allows the efficient and rapid screening of new drugs in the future.

We expect two major outcomes; the first is the development of novel epigenetic editing techniques, which we believe will be of interest to the wider GW4 community. The second is the application for grant funding to continue the proof of principle work.

The GW4 Pay Equality Research Consortium (PERC)

Initiator and Accelerator Fund

Project period: May to August 2015 (Initiator) February – August 2016 (Accelerator)

GW4 community leads

University of Bath: Dr Susan Milner
University of Bristol: Professor Harriet Bradley, Dr Gregory Schwartz
Cardiff University: Dr Alison Parken, Rhys Davies
University of Exeter: Professor Carol Woodhams, Dr Emma Jeanes

Project overview

By way of background to the project, the UK Government has a stated objective to close the pay gap between men and women to nil by 2035. On 14 July 2015, they launched a consultation on regulations that will make it mandatory for companies with 250 or more employees to and publish their gender pay gap. Implementation is expected in March 2016. Currently the precise details and format of reporting requirements is unclear. It will be the task of organisations such as EHRC, ACAS, the CIPD, the CBI, the TUC and individual unions to advise UK employers on good practice implementation. The timing of our plans puts us in a good position to work in partnership with these bodies and be part of that initiative. The design of the tool will be informed by primary and secondary data from employers and technical experts.

The eventual purpose of the data collection tool is firstly to create a source of confidential and anonymised best-practice pay-gap advice for UK employers and secondly as a research instrument. The research agenda is to collate uploaded data to investigate the intersectional effects of structure, context, and identity in pay inequality. We will address two research gaps; the intersection between gender-based and other forms of disadvantage as “new inequalities emerge and traditional ones diminish” (O’Reilly et al, 2014: 312) and “the link between employer behaviour and the gender-wage gap [which] is a much less well-researched area than sectoral comparisons or economy-wide and cross-national studies” (O’Reilly et al, 2014: 308).

There are four stages to our proposed methodology; a desk-based research stage, an employer liaison stage, a survey stage and a series of review and bid-writing meetings.

  1. This stage will produce an assessment of the research capacity of a salary data collection tool; its potential and its constraints, resulting in a report of the viability and required resources for further funding. The desk research parameters are data security, legal, technical and personnel/ administrative requirements  (1st March 2016 for 2.5 months) lead by Cardiff University Business School
  2. Qualitative interviews (Mid-March to mid-May), Interviews conducted with employers will enable us to understand their level of understanding and engagement with pay inequality and intersectionality, the perceived risks to them in participating in pay inequality research and factors that may facilitate their participation lead by Exeter University Business School in conjunction with Bath University.
  3. Quantitative survey. Stage 3 will comprise a survey of employers. Based on our findings and conclusions from stages 1 and 2, we will test our understandings about methods of access and the legal, institutional, organisational and other barriers to salary data collection on a wider scale. This stage will commence in April 2016 lead by Cardiff University Business School.
  4. Sustainability and development of the consortium. During the first week of each month commencing Feb – July 2016 the six community leaders and the research assistant will meet to ensure the sustainability of GW4 activity and plan the next phase of grant funding. Locations Bristol, Bath, Exeter and Cardiff.

The outcomes of each stage (corresponding to the above) are:

  1. A feasibility report – approx. 7,500 words by the 31st July.
  2. A set of transcribed interviews and a report by 31st July 2016 evaluating the state of employer engagement with investigating pay inequality. From this data we will also understand the way that employers frame pay inequality as an employment issue. We anticipate this making a significant contribution in a high quality publication – submission by Dec 2016.
  3. By the 31st July we will report on cross-tabulated data identifying differences in attitudes across business sectors, industries and sizes. Findings will generate at least one high-quality publication. We will also use delineated findings to identify organisations which may be most likely to respond to our future approaches for access. This will directly inform the scope and design of our future funding bid and project. We will also be able to develop segmented marketing propositions.
  4. Outcomes from this stage will include a strengthened inter-university research cluster, submission for further funding, an end-of-project dissemination event and on-going publicity.

GW4 universities employ around 40 colleagues working directly on pay and income inequality, gender disadvantage or affiliated areas within research institutes and centres. These include the Women Adding Value to the Economy Programme (Cardiff) the Centre for Analysis of Social Policy (Bath), the FSSL Research groups in Global Political Economy and Migration (Bristol) and the Behaviour, Identity and Decisions cluster – subgroup Gender and Diversity (Exeter). GW4 Accelerator funding will enable us to formalise links between groups, consolidating and integrating separate research clusters to strengthen our collective interdisciplinary expertise.

Read a post by Professor Carol Woodhams

“The pay gap is not inevitable, there are things that can be done to tackle it” says EqualPayPortal’s Sheila Wild


Dying with Reduced Agency: People, Places, Principles and Policies

Accelerator Fund

This project has been developed from the Initiator funded Dying Well After a Long Life community.

Project period: May to November 2015

GW4 community leads

University of Bath: Dr Jeremy Dixon
University of Bristol: Professor Richard Huxtable
Cardiff University: Professor Jenny Kitzinger
University of Exeter: Professor Linda Clare

Project overview

Demographic, technological, organisational, political and social changes create new challenges at the end of life. This GW4 community is focused on understanding and improving the end of life for the growing number of people with reduced agency (e.g. linked to dementia, disorders of consciousness or frailty/chronic conditions in advanced old age).

Our community aims to:

  • increase capacity and integration of our work about end-of-life across GW4 and ensure sustainability;
  • ensure public/patient involvement as we develop a cross-university research agenda;
  • increase the profile of, and dialogue about, the work we do through the public/policy engagement events and conference presentation(s);
  • generate (at least one) publication;
  • develop research bids to inform future work to research, and improve end of life support for people with reduced agency.



Controlling Nucleation & Growth to Deliver Novel Materials Functionality

Accelerator Fund

This project has been developed from the Initiator funded Functional Materials Far from Equilibrium community.

Project period: May to November 2015

GW4 community leads

University of Bath: Professor Johannes Zimmer
University of Bristol: Dr Isaac Chenchiah
Cardiff University: Dr Stefano Leoni
University of Exeter: Professor David Wright

Project overview

In materials, nucleation is the formation of a new stable phase or structure via self-organisation. It manifests in many everyday phenomena, and a classic example is the formation of ice crystals in water. Nucleation also underpins many processes of high technological importance, ranging from classic engineering manufacturing such as casting, through phase transformations for data storage devices to self-assembly in nanotubes.

Nucleation is a scientifically challenging topic in its own right. The ability to control the formation of microstructure in phase-changing materials would have enormous benefits both for novel smart materials (memories, processors, displays) and classic engineering materials.

The aim of our interdisciplinary community is to take an integrative approach combining theoretical modelling, experiments and simulations to advance the state of the art in nucleation and crystallization theory.

Prototypical Iterations in the Built Environment

Accelerator Fund

This project has been developed from the Initiator funded Flexible Formwork community.

Project period: May to November 2015

GW4 community leads

University of Bath: Dr John Orr
University of Bristol: Dr Wendel Sebastian
Cardiff University: Dr Iulia Mihai
University of Exeter: Dr Prakash Kripakaran

Project overview


By 2050 all new structures will be prototypical iterations; harnessing big data to be self-resilient while minimising whole life environmental, economic, and social costs.

This community has the long-term vision to change the way that all structures are designed and operated within the built environment. This is crucial if we are to achieve global sustainability in the face of a growing population and increasing urbanisation.

All buildings use materials, and energy, to perform their functions. A decarbonised built environment will be founded on several challenges. Whilst these are interlinked challenges, research to date has typically considered them isolation. This community will take a systems approach to achieve the overarching aims of our vision statement.

We aim to strengthen collaborations across this community and develop three new research proposals. These proposals will share the vision that by 2050 every new structure will be designed and measured in terms of whole life cost – consuming minimal energy during construction and operation.

Large Scale Brain Networks in Neurological and Psychiatric Disorders

Accelerator Fund

This project has been developed from the Initiator funded Large Scale Brain Networks in Health and Disease community.

Project period: May to November 2015

GW4 community leads

University of Bath: Roland Jones
University of Bristol: Richard Apps, Nina Kazanina
Cardiff University: Vincenzo Crunelli
University of Exeter: Marc Goodfellow, Jon Brown

Project overview

Most disorders of the brain are difficult to diagnose and treat accurately. A contributing factor to many brain disorders is a breakdown in the links between different regions of the brain. It is still poorly understood how activity across large parts of the brain can break down in disease. This lack of understanding stems from difficulties in comprehending how brain activity arises in and travels through networks.

Recently there has been huge growth in theoretical, experimental and clinical studies of large-scale brain networks, but these endeavours often evolve distinctly. Advancing the study of brain networks and how activity emerges from links between different regions of the brain would benefit from greater collaboration between traditional academic disciplines such as neuroscience and mathematics.

This project will be cross-disciplinary, combining theory, clinical data and experiments. A broad aim of our network is to stimulate research collaborations that integrate experimental and clinical approaches with mathematical and computational modelling of brain networks.

We will conduct a six month proof of concept investigation into two complementary aspects of our community’s on-going research:

  • The application of theoretical tools previously developed in the context of epilepsy research to a range of neuropsychiatric disorders.
  • The investigation of signatures of large-scale network disruptions in experimental models of these disorders.

A predominant aim of our community is the extension of the research we undertake to other disorders, such as myoclonus and schizophrenia, as well as to the cellular mechanisms of neurological disorders.

Unlocking the Science for an Autonomous Structural Health Monitoring System

Accelerator Fund

Project period: October 2014 – April 2015

This project has been developed from the Initiator funded Advancing the State of the Art in Damage Detection in Metallic and Composite Structures community.

GW4 Community Leads
University of Bath: Alicia Kim
University of Bristol: Stephen Hallett
Cardiff University: Carol Featherston
University of Exeter: Meiling Zhu

Project overview
The integrity of critical structures such as aircraft wings is currently assured by scheduled inspections. These are costly, in terms of the activities themselves, and more critically the downtime involved, and in the majority of cases find no significant deterioration. Presently there is no viable alternative. Development of an autonomous structural health monitoring system supplying information on the current integrity of the structure presents an ideal solution but is currently unattainable due to the need to address a number of fundamental challenges. The aim of this consortium is to solve these enabling a complete solution to be developed.

The development of a fully integrated Autonomous Structural Health Monitoring System is an extremely demanding highly coupled multiphysics problem whose solution requires the resolution and integration of a number of different technological challenges.

The aim of this project is to develop a series of pilot data sets which will be shared and worked on by the partners in order to explore the interdependencies between the technologies the consortium will be developing, assess the feasibility of the approaches proposed and develop a track record of working together as a group. This will be achieved by implementing a number of pilot projects each employing a researcher working collaboratively between at least two of the institutions.

Nanoscale Sensors for Healthcare and the Environment [NANOSENSE]

Accelerator Fund

Project period: October 2014 – April 2015

GW4 Community Leads
University of Bath: Philip Shields, Duncan Allsopp
University of Bristol: Martin Cryan
Cardiff University: Peter Smowton
University of Exeter: Geoff Nash

Project outcomes
Low cost, portable sensors are becoming commonplace for example in mobile phones that monitor temperature, pressure and humidity. A new generation of sensors is urgently required that can rapidly test for diseases such as bacterial infections, monitor glucose or pollutant gases.

The community was formed from four internationally renowned optoelectronics research groups at Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter. The University of Bath’s world leading Gallium Nitride (GaN) nanorod technology was distributed amongst all partners. Characterisation, modelling and device design was initiated. This developed a detailed understanding of the potential of GaN nanorod technology for use in nanoscale sensors including fabrication approaches for optical waveguides.

We are developing applications for ESPRC grants on GaN-Graphene integrated structures and GaN nanorod based sensors. A number of journal and conference papers have been produced. We have presented two papers at a major US conference in New York.

Modern British History and Politics

Initiator and Accelerator Fund

Project period: October 2014 – January 2015 (Initiator), May to November 2015 (Accelerator)

GW4 Community Leads
University of Bath: David Cutts, David Moon
University of Bristol: Mark Wickham-Jones, Hugh Pemberton, Sarah Childs
Cardiff University: Peter Dorey, Stephen Thornton
University of Exeter: David Thackeray, Richard Toye

Project overview

Our aim is to develop and strengthen our scholarly activities as a research cluster offering innovative and significant projects, with a distinct commitment to a cross-disciplinary approach.

Working around the broad field of political engagement and disengagement, the group has identified a number of important areas for potential future research. These themes are:

  • Political engagement and parties
  • Engagement, gender and political participation
  • Political engagement and voting

We will undertake pathfinding research and explore research funding possibilities in our three main thematic areas. A major bid will be produced for each theme, along with our oral history collaboration with History of Parliament.

Seminars, conferences and business meetings will bring together participants from the different GW4 institutions, and will also provide an opportunity to develop existing links with outside partner organisations such as History & Policy and the History of Parliament. Developing international collaboration with the University of Texas at Austin through the pilot study of presidential libraries provides significant opportunities to develop the profile of this research group over the longer-term.


GW4 Medieval Studies

Initiator and Accelerator Fund

Project period: May – July 2014 (Initiator), October 2014 – April 2015 (Accelerator)

GW4 Community Leads
University of Bristol: Carolyn Muessig, Beth Williamson
Cardiff University: Bronach Kane
University of Exeter: James Clark

Project overview
This project has established a GW4 Medieval Studies community that is vibrant, productive and creative with a shared vision. Its aim is to lead in the field. There are various on-going shared initiatives to develop the research culture in Medieval Studies.

GW4 Medieval Studies aims to fortify its rich resource of medievalists (65 members of staff and over 75 research students) into a cohesive and energetic research cluster that offers an unmatched range of expertise organised under three themed topics:

  1. Wales and the South West of England
  2. Sex and Gender
  3. Authority and Ethics

These topics are arranged by an overarching design that emerges across the specialisms of GW4 medievalists: Power, Knowledge and Identity. In addition to these topics, the community will also explore ways of sharing resources where all can mutually benefit.

A successful application was submitted for GW4 Accelerator funding.

During the academic year 2014-2015, GW4 Medieval Studies will be running a series of workshop, seminars and conferences.

GW4 Medieval Studies will run three sessions at the International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds in July 2015.

Three conferences are planned (one international) to bring together the 50 GW4 medievalists to discuss research outcomes and identify future collaborative work.