Ulster University’s new School of Medicine at Magee is now recruiting future doctors after progressing through the next steps of the General Medical Council’s rigorous quality assurance process.

With support from the Executive, ring-fenced funding combined with the GMC’s recent review of the University’s readiness, allows the school to recruit staff and students for a September 2021 opening.

Professor Louise Dubras, Ulster University.

Ulster University’s new School of Medicine based on the Magee campus is now recruiting Northern Ireland’s future doctors following a successful progression through the next steps of the General Medical Council’s (GMC) rigorous quality assurance process for new medical schools.  

With support from the Executive, ring-fenced funding was announced last month, combined with the GMC’s recent review of the University’s state of readiness, enables Ulster University to recruit staff and students for a  September 2021 opening. Ulster University’s School of Medicine will select students who have already completed an undergraduate degree and provide them with four years of innovative, intensive, practical medical education. The School will offer a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) medical degree programme that is unique in Northern Ireland.   

In 2018, The Department of Health commissioned a Review of Medical School Places which recommended that Northern Ireland needs 100 more medical students a year to meet the increasing demand for doctors. Currently, approximately 40% of medical graduates in Northern Ireland tend to stay and live within 10 miles of Queen’s University Belfast after graduation, according to the GMC. The new School of Medicine at Magee will address departmental recommendations by providing access to medical education in the North West, positioning the Derry~Londonderry City region as an attractive place to study and work. It further builds on Ulster University’s capacity to deliver life-changing education and research, supporting the health and well-being agenda in Northern Ireland.   

Students will benefit from access to clinical placements across the full range of general practice, medical and surgical specialities with primary care-based experience from week one. This will enable students to develop knowledge and appreciation of the interconnectivity between primary, secondary, social and community-based healthcare.  

Foundation Dean of the School of Medicine, Professor Louise Dubras who will lead the Gradate Entry degree programme commented: “As a GP working in the city myself, I am continually reflecting on the role of the doctor and the doctor-patient journey.  COVID-19 has emphasised that a career as a doctor requires a commitment to lifelong learning and adapting to life’s modern challenges.   

“The MBBS programme at Ulster’s School of Medicine will provide students with the professional skills, knowledge and relevant clinical experience necessary to be a twenty first century doctor. Working closely with our partner medical School St George’s University of London and alongside globally acclaimed visiting professors, our medical provision, rooted in the heart of Derry-Londonderry on our Magee campus, will provide the much-needed doctors required for the North West.  

“The School of Medicine on our Magee campus will attract students to study, work and live in the North West and will be a catalyst in the innovation corridor to be established as part of the City Deal. We look forward to taking the next steps and to welcoming our first medical students ready to embark upon such a rewarding and vital career path with us.”  

The Graduate Entry programme offered at Ulster’s School of Medicine is open to anyone with a minimum of a 2:1 honours degree in any subject:  Applicants are required to sit the GAMSAT entrance exam in September 2020 or March 2021 at the location most convenient for them, with the Magee campus recently added as a  test centre on the island of Ireland. Those successful in the GAMSAT will be invited to Multiple Mini interviews which have to be passed, along with an Enhanced Disclosure from Access NI or other relevant authority before offers can be made. The University will work with key partners to establish a scholarship fund to support students, details will be announced early next year.  

 The University has already received hundreds of enquiries from the North West, across the island of Ireland and the UK who are keen to find out more about the School of Medicine and the MBBS Medicine programme of study. For more information, visit ulster.ac.uk/medicine 

All new medical school applications must complete a GMC multi-stage approval process. Now that this milestone has been passed, work will continue with an ongoing programme of checks and visits over the coming months and years to make sure that the medical school remains satisfactory and passes all GMC quality assurance requirements. Once all of these stages have been completed, and subject to the approval of GMC Council, the school will be added to the list of institutions able to award its own primary medical qualifications in 2025. 

Five new entrepreneurs and start-ups have each received £10,000 from Innovate UK, the government’s innovation agency, as part of the first Catalyst North West Co-Founders programme.

The funding will help the winning teams pursue their technology, engineering and science ideas and contribute to the thriving innovation ecosystem growing in the North West region.

Although based at Catalyst Innovation Centre at Fort George in Derry, the Co-Founders cohort completed a part-time online programme one night a week for 16 weeks.

The five ideas which have secured funding include technology for medical student training, an innovative development for cat’s eyes on the road, a digital platform for golf caddies, a social fintech solution and a digital platform for exercise and wellbeing.

Catalyst at Fort George opened in 2014 and is fully occupied by 32 companies and 250 people working in the innovation and knowledge economy.

Find out more about The Co-Founders programme at www.co-founders.co.

InterTradeIreland’s Fusion programme has awarded “Exemplar” status to five businesses across the island, two of which are Northern Ireland based.

The Fusion initiative supports business development by collaborating companies with a research institution and a graduate project manager, funded by InterTradeIreland.

The graduate then works directly with the business to deliver new products or improved processes over 12 to 18 months.

Operations manager Alan Morrow said: “All of these Fusion projects were in very different areas. However, all of the companies involved were open to new products and processes. This is what the Fusion programme is about – giving firms the tools to boost their business through innovative collaboration.”

The five businesses have reported sales of more than £2.2m between them and savings of over £150,000 during their Fusion projects.

They have combined anticipated sales upwards of £14m and savings of £400,000 over the next three years.

Belfast medtech Axial3D makes custom 3D printed replicas from medical scans, to improve outcomes for patients through better surgical planning. 

The company started its Fusion project to improve its capability of printing paediatric cardiac anatomy in 3D. It paired with Professor Kathleen Curran in University College Dublin and graduate James Fitzpatrick.

It has now developed new technology, entered a new market its staff has grown from 14 employees to 24. The company was also recently named ‘Health Technology leader’ in the 2020 Global Digital Health 100 list.

Hawthorn Heights in Eglinton, Derry/Londonderry specialises in the design and installation of play parks, sports pitches and landscaping.

It worked with Sligo Institute of Technology and graduate Ciaran Farren. The company said it has since doubled its turnover and has had to move to bigger premises.

Margaret Hearty, Director of Operations at InterTradeIreland concluded: “All of these companies have showcased the success and commercial benefits that come from collaboration. The results speak for themselves and we would encourage other SMEs who want to build innovation into their business to apply for our Fusion programme.”

On 17th Jan 2020, The Princess Royal visited Ulster University’s Magee campus to officially open the new state-of-the-art Spatial Computing and Neurotechnology Innovation Hub (SCANi-hub).

The Princess Royal officially opens the new state-of-the-art Spatial Computing and Neurotechnology Innovation Hub (SCANi-hub).

The SCANi-hub uses cutting edge technology to determine the body and brain’s responses to stress, fatigue, achievement, awareness, error and threats in complex training and performance assessment scenarios simulated in virtual environments. Established by Professor Damien Coyle and Dr Karl McCreadie at the Intelligent Systems Research Centre, the new SCANi-hub will also build on award-winning neurotechnology research at the centre enabling research and education in the next wave of human-computer and human-machine interaction for able-bodied and physically impaired people.

The Princess Royal officially opened the facility which contains multiple mobile wearable EEG headsets, functional near-infrared spectroscopy brain imaging, an advanced car/flight simulator and various new AR and VR spatial computing technologies, vibrotactile stimulation suits and ultrasonic haptic interfaces. Further technologies include those that enable walking in virtual environments (virtual treadmills) as well as a state-of-the-art Smartglass façade to adapt the room for various experimental situations and public engagement activities.

The tour of the Magee campus continued with the Princess Royal meeting with staff and students including Professor Louise Dubras, Foundation Dean of the School of Medicine to discuss how the Graduate Entry Medical School at Magee will provide medical training to help address the skills and workforce challenges felt by the health care sector in Northern Ireland. Nursing students and recent graduates were commended by the Princess Royal for their work in their local communities and the tour concluded with a visit to view the £1.3 million Magee library transformation.

Welcoming The Princess Royal back to the Magee campus, Vice-Chancellor Professor Paddy Nixon commented:

It is with a great sense of pride that we welcome The Princess Royal today to the Magee campus to officially open the SCANi-hub and meet with our students and staff who are making a significant contribution to the health service and healthcare locally, nationally and internationally. Building on our world-class infrastructure and pioneering scientific research at the Intelligent Systems Research Centre, the SCAN-i hub will equip the next generation of graduates and researchers with the skills and knowledge to merge bio-inspired computing and AI and SCAN technologies to address many research and industry led challenges that help define how humans interact with technology in the future.

SCANi-hub is funded by the Department for the Economy through the Higher Education Research Capital Fund.

The North West region’s unique strategic cross-border location and pipeline of talent were the key messages to potential US investors during a recent trade mission to Philadelphia and Boston.

A number of focused engagements with industry specialists, foreign direct investment executives and venture capitalists took place during the weeklong Ireland North West trade and investment mission, led jointly by Derry City and Strabane District Council and Donegal County Council to showcase the northwest city region’s compelling investment proposition.

Potential investors heard how they could take advantage of the unique combination of benefits the region has to offer, including an accessible, connected and business-friendly gateway region (with a foothold in both EU and UK markets) and a compelling vision for greater international impact, a talented and educated workforce, superb quality of life and a supportive business environment.

The delegation also met with the Mayors of Philadelphia and Boston who outlined their commitment and support for the work being done by the two Councils.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh spoke about his ties with the North West and outlined his commitment to build on the positive work being done to promote strong communities and shared prosperity, while Philadelphia Mayor Senator Jim Kenney vowed to continue to work to celebrate our connections and build on the existing relationship.

The delegation included Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Cllr Michaela Boyle, An Cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council Cllr Nicholas Crossan, and local businesses from a range of sectors who met with potential clients and business partners.

The trade and investment mission also involved engagement with educational institutions from across the region, and saw the launch of a research project with Harvard Graduate School of Design, exploring how the cross-border northwest city region could be shaped in light of the economic, political and social realities of Brexit.

For more information on the trade mission visit www.irelandNW.com

Ulster University researchers have developed a pioneering new computational model that could be used by developers to make self-aware machines.

The Intelligent Systems Research Centre (ISRC) at the university’s Magee campus has created the world’s first biologically motivated, computational model which can quantify decision uncertainty and explain its effects on change-of-mind during decision-making processing.

Numerous top technology companies are using some form of artificial intelligence (AI) in fields such as advertising technology, manufacturing, cybersecurity, and healthcare.

AI systems encompass machine learning techniques and powerful computational resources to create predictive models by processing complex and large data. However, they lack a key component essential to human intelligence and effective decision making: self-awareness.

At the ISRC, new research on biologically-inspired algorithms has been advancing beyond standard AI algorithms.

This exciting new work in Computational Neuroscience has shown for the first time that neural network models can be equipped with metacognition or self-awareness of their own actions and choices.

The computer model can not only mimic brain activity observed in humans and some animals, but also replicate change-of-mind and error correction behaviour, which require “on-the-fly” metacognitive processing.

Senior author and researcher of the research work, Dr KongFatt Wong-Lin, said: “Our research has revealed the plausible brain circuit mechanisms underlying how we calculate decision uncertainty, which could in turn influence or bias our actions, such as change-of-mind.”

He added: “We are perhaps closer than ever before to creating self-aware machines than we have previously thought. Real-time monitoring of decision confidence in artificial neural networks could also potentially allow better interpretability of the decisions and actions made by these algorithms, thereby leading to more responsible and trustworthy AI.”

Mr Nadim Atiya, lead author of the paper and a PhD researcher at the ISRC, added: “Our research work could also form the basis towards understanding brain disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and addiction, in which metacognitive abilities are impaired.”

The researchers are now working with cognitive scientists and brain scientists to further develop their computer model, while creating conscious machines that are self-aware of their actions and decisions, making AI and machines more intelligent and interpretable.

The research can be viewed here.

Around 250 local and international academics, clinical researchers and members of the Life and Health Sciences industry have attended a prestigious TMED (Translational Medicine) conference in Derry-Londonderry.

The event which is now in its 10th year, had a theme of ‘Disruptive innovation in healthcare’, and was opened by Professor Rafael Bengoa, an internationally renowned expert who previously developed a Systems not Structures healthcare strategy for Northern Ireland.

This year, the Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre (C-TRIC) celebrated a decade of partnership between Derry City and Strabane District Council, Ulster University and the NHS through the Western Health and Social Care Trust. 

Based on the Altnagelvin Hospital site in Derry/Londonderry, C-TRIC have been instrumental in facilitating healthcare research by bringing together clinicians, academic university staff and industry to achieve better outcomes for patients both locally and internationally.

During his keynote speech at the conference in the City Hotel, Professor Bengoa addressed how Northern Ireland has delivered on his report, which is also referred to as The Bengoa Report.

Significant City Deal and Economic Growth Funding Package confirmed for Derry and Strabane.

The announcement today of a £105M economic package by the UK Government in the Derry City and Strabane City Region has been widely welcomed by City and District partners with the Mayor saying it will be “a significant catalyst for change and economic growth” for the Derry City and Strabane District and the wider North West and expressed his delight that it has been secured during his Mayoral year as a key priority.

The investment package announced comprises a £50M ‘City Deal’ and a £55M ‘Inclusive Future Fund’ and is the culmination of a long period of engagement with Government in relation to advancing priority projects and initiatives within the City and District’s Inclusive Strategic Growth Plan and City Deal proposals.

Reflecting the model recently announced by Government for the Belfast Region City Deal, it is anticipated that the UK Government investment package announced today of £105M for Derry~Londonderry and Strabane will be at least matched by a similar commitment from the NI Executive and will lever further investment from project partners and other third party sources which it is hoped will eventually lead to an overall investment injection of in excess of £300M.

The announcement follows a visit to the City last July when the Chancellor, Philip Hammond met with civic and political leaders to hear of the plans and invited a bid for a City Deal to be formally submitted.

The bid, supported and endorsed by all local and regional political parties and representatives and devised around the key strategic economic projects outlined in the City and District’s Inclusive Strategic Growth Plan 2017-2032.

Led by Derry City and Strabane District Council, the bid was developed in partnership, and with the support of a wide range of local education, business and economic partners – including the Ulster University, the North West Regional College, both the Londonderry and Strabane Chambers of Commerce, the Western Health and Social Care Trust, Visit Derry, City Centre Initiative and the Foyle Port, in consultation with all associated NI Government Departments.

At the core of the bid is education, innovation, job creation and skills development with a key focus being the advancement of the much sought after expansion and growth of the Magee campus of Ulster University.

The investment package announced today, will enable planning and business case development to now proceed on proposals for a significant landmark riverfront university medical education and innovation hub, comprising a graduate entry medical college and centres of innovation, research and teaching excellence in data-driven personalised medicine, cognitive analytics and robotics and automation, eventually delivering over 200 new posts/research assistants at the City’s university and upwards of 2,000 additional students.

The stimulus package will additionally advance the delivery of a range of smart city and digital infrastructure projects and initiatives, further positioning the City and District as a highly digitally enabled location for cutting-edge business development and expansion and inward investment.

The catalytic impact of this could therefore result in the single biggest ever combined and integrated funding injection the City and District, that will enable progress and delivery of other key infrastructure, tourism and regeneration projects contained within the Plan and Bid in both Derry City Centre and Riverfront and in Strabane Town Centre.

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Councillor John Boyle said: “This hugely significant announcement today for the Derry and Strabane District will go some considerable way in addressing the long-standing obstacles to economic development that this City Region and its people face. It is good news and is the result of an enormous amount of work and sustained effort invested by Council and the City and Regional partners to develop, deliver and negotiate on the bid.”

Council Chief Executive John Kelpie acknowledged the collaborative approach and the unified vision and commitment demonstrated by politicians, and partner organisations in development of the bid and the advice and support received regionally and nationally in securing such a positive outcome.

Enthusiastic about the opportunity presented by today’s announcement he commented: “This City and District has seen much progress in recent years economically, physically and socially. It has however significant remaining challenges in overcoming an infrastructure deficit and a legacy of underinvestment both of which have been such inhibitors to sustainable economic growth.

“This funding package, if directed at the key agreed strategic growth projects and if used to lever significant further public and private sector investment, will deliver a new era of unprecedented growth and development for the City and Region providing tangible benefits for all of our citizens and a promising future for our children and young people.”

Other City Deal Project partners reacted equally positively with the Vice Chancellor of Ulster University, Professor Paddy Nixon said, “This investment will now see the rapid development of plans to grow and enhance facilities and student numbers at the Magee Campus including the Graduate Entry Medical School.”

Brian McGrath, President of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce said: “This funding is hugely welcome and provides a solid platform upon which to grow and enhance the competitiveness of the City and Region and attract further significant exciting new companies, business prospects and investment.”

Council Chief Executive, John Kelpie concluded:  “The next steps will now be for everyone to continue to work together to develop the necessary detailed business plans and advance the projects through planning and design. We will do this by using this unprecedented opportunity to promote the future of this City and District as a location of choice for all in terms of business, lifestyle and ambition.”

Ulster University gets £5m donation to boost data analytics

Ulster University is to boost its prominence in the field of data analytics and artificial intelligence following a £5 million donation.

The money is to be spent on the establishment of the Dr George Moore chair in data analytics. The late Dr Moore was described by the university as “one of the founding fathers” of the data analytics industry.

Professor Paddy Nixon, vice-chancellor, Ulster University, with Angela Moore, who made the donation.

Professor Paddy Nixon, vice-chancellor, Ulster University, with Angela Moore, who made the donation.

The donation was made by Dr Moore’s wife, Angela Moore. Recruitment for the role has begun and the selection process is ongoing.

“The chair will be a stellar, world-class academic, who will lead an innovative research team responding dynamically to the real-world needs of data analytics,” said Ulster University.

“In recognition of Mrs Moore’s gift, Ulster University will recruit an associated research fellow and three PhD students who will contribute to revolutionising global AI and data analytics research.”

Dr George Moore, born in Co Louth, left Ireland in 1972 and established Targus Information, a world leading data analytics service provider, whose technologies are used by many Fortune 500 companies.

Dr Moore predicted the explosion of information that would follow the creation of the internet and he recognised the commercial value of harnessing such information though data analytics.

Ulster University awarded Dr George Moore an honorary doctorate in 2005 in recognition of his “outstanding contribution to society” and his global impact on the field of data analytics.

ALLSTATE EMBRACES THE ‘COGNITIVE ERA

Whatever the sector, all industries are facing disruption by digital technologies and
business models. This is presenting significant threats and opportunities for the
technology and insurance industry. Allstate Northern Ireland Senior Manager, Kathryn Harkin, shares how Allstate is embracing these opportunities to leverage the latest cognitive approaches in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) here in the North West.

“To maximise the opportunities big data provides, Allstate has created the new Allstate NI Cognitive Automation Incubator team to use ML technologies, transforming this data to provide meaningful insights. “ACAI, pronounced Ak-I, is Allstate Northern Ireland’s Cognitive Automation Incubator. It’s an immersive learning environment across a number of related disciplines, including Robotic Process Automation, Chatbots and Machine Learning. The initial focus will be on building up these much sought-after skills.

“ACAI will enable research in cognitive analytics and emerging technologies, running of proof of concepts, as well as incubating and developing prototypes to create innovative solutions for Allstate.

“Resources will stay in the ACAI environment for approximately 12-18 months working on real business problems before graduating. These teams will then lead the way in building a
community of citizen data scientists, expanding the influence of data science and analytics across the Allstate organisation.

“At a time of the 4th industrial revolution, the cognitive era isn’t about machines replacing humans. Automation will allow Allstate to introduce efficiencies and reduce repetitive, manual tasks currently done by our people.“An example of this is improving call centre efficiencies with the use of a Chabot interface using natural language processing. This will free up call centre staff for higher-value, more complex interaction.

“Using Machine Learning techniques to gain better insights from Allstate’s vast data reservoirs will ensure we make better data based decisions, focus on customer needs, offer personalised products, reduce claim time and improve the overall insurance experience,” concludes Kathryn.