Ulster University one of eight UK universities in major data science partnership with the BBC.

Ulster University has been announced as one of just eight UK universities to form a major five-year research partnership with BBC Research and Development to unlock the potential of data analysis in the media.

The Data Science Research Partnership will be at the forefront of machine learning in the media industry, helping create a more personal BBC that can inform, educate and entertain in new ways.

The partnership brings together industry experts from across the BBC and world-leading UK data scientists from Ulster University, with the Universities of Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh and Surrey, Imperial College London, Queen Mary University of London, and University College London.

Ulster University will contribute its wealth of research and sectoral expertise from media and journalism, film and television to data analytics. The university’s advanced research into data driven journalism and viewer engagement will be of particular relevance to the partnership.

The partnership will also collaborate with media and technology organisations from across the UK, Europe and internationally on a range of projects. These will focus on the following four areas, all combining anonymised BBC data with cutting-edge algorithms and analytics. The aim is to create a body of research, insights and prototypes that can start making a real impact on the BBC and its audiences.

The research will assist with:

Understanding audiences: Use data to better understand what audiences want from the BBC, why they want it, and what impact these programmes or services have on them.

Understanding content: Explore what machine learning can teach the BBC about its programmes and services,and what it stands to gain from it.

Curation and personalisation: Create a more personal BBC, designing tools and algorithms to help programme makers with editorial and commissioning decisions.

Content of the future: Design future audience experiences, based on BBC R&D’s object-based broadcasting concept, and new forms of data journalism.

Alongside this will be a range of educational opportunities to help the BBC and its staff improve the skills they’ll need in a data-driven future. This will include the development of tailored courses ranging from entry-level to advanced, MSc Data Science apprenticeships, and secondments between the BBC and all the research partners, including Ulster University.

Professor Paddy Nixon, Vice Chancellor Ulster University said:

Ulster University continues to work at the forefront of data analytics, pioneering advances across multiple domains including health and medical research, financial technology, international finance, advanced manufacturing and energy and, media.

“With the launch of our Cognitive Analytics Research Laboratory earlier this year, the first data analytics institute in Northern Ireland, Ulster University cemented its reputation as a global leader, a position which is now even further enhanced by this partnership with the BBC.

“Combined with our work in the broader creative industries and the development of industry-relevant courses, this partnership will see Ulster University play an integral role in shaping the future of broadcasting. It will ensure that one of the world’s biggest public service broadcast organisations can fully harness the power of data and computer systems with cognitive thought processes to deliver unrivalled audience experience.”

Matthew Postgate, the BBC’s Chief Technology and Product Officer, said:

“The BBC has always been at its best when it combines creativity with technology. As we reinvent the BBC, we can see the opportunities that data and machine learning are opening up for us, our creative talent and our audiences. This partnership will help us break new ground and ensure we continue giving audiences the very best in public service broadcasting well into the future.”

Samantha Chadwick, Head of Partnerships, BBC R&D, said:

“Machine learning is going to play an increasingly important role in the world. Together with our partners and funding bodies, we want to apply these advances in data science to the media industry, and to make a real difference to people’s lives. The partnership will also address the scarcity of data scientists in the UK, training a new generation of data scientists on real media problems, to create new audience experiences that don’t even exist yet.”

At the announcement Ulster University presented key aspects of ongoing research including work carried out through a recently formed Ulster University spinout, NeuroCONCISE. The firm develops technology that enables people to interact with technology and communicate by analysing brain waves. Although the research initially was developed for healthcare, Ulster University is now applying it to journalism and creative media as one method of predicting and understanding audience behaviour.

Ulster University is to establish a Centre for Personalised Medicine, Clinical Decision Making and Patient Safety which aims to dramatically improve clinical decision-making and tailored patient care in five priority disease areas.

Professor Tony Bjourson, Professor of Genomics at Ulster University

Professor Tony Bjourson, Professor of Genomics at Ulster University

The research project, which will be a cross-border collaboration between the academic, clinical and commercial sectors, will focus on heart disease, emergency surgery, acute kidney injury, diabetes and dementia.

The EU’s INTERREG VA programme, which is managed by the Special EU Programmes Body, has offered Ulster University €8.6 million of funding for the Centre which will have an overall cost of €9.89 million. It is one of three Ulster University research projects to have secured funding as part of a recent €23 million SEUPB funding round.

The centre’s research will improve the health of tens of thousands of patients and help cut healthcare costs dramatically in Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and internationally.

Personalised medicine, also known as precision or stratified medicine, is a move away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the treatment and care of patients with a particular condition to one that uses new approaches, including genomics, to better diagnose and manage patients’ health and devise targeted therapies to treat their illnesses. This project will use research to deliver practical solutions to clinicians.

Professor Tony Bjourson, who is Professor of Genomics at Ulster University, will lead the project. He said:

Ulster University has a longstanding historyof world-leading medical and health-related teaching and research. This new Centre for Personalised Medicine, Clinical Decision Making and Patient Safety will add yet another dimension to the University’s work and standing in this important area.

Ulster invests £42m in research and innovation programmes each year. That research is often undertaken in partnership with commercial organisations ensuring it is relevant and applicable to real world problems. With the healthcare sector under immese pressure globally and the need for effective, tailored treatment options coupled with excellence of care, this INTERREG VA funded project will place Ulster University at the heart of the solution.”

The Centre’s research objectives include developing tools which will allow earlier diagnosis of dementia and therefore earlier clinical intervention and support, and also learning how to recognise acute kidney injury earlier to reduce mortality and hospital stay. It will also seek to improve the triage of patients with chest pain to allow more appropriate and rapid emergency referral, and look at how to help people better manage their diabetes.

Professor Bjourson added:

“Currently 30 per cent to 50 per cent of patients don’t respond to the treatment they are prescribed and this number is much higher for some diseases. Through this new Centre we will to improve the health of tens of thousands of people and at the same time develop more cost-effective healthcare not just here in Northern Ireland, but around the world. In addition we will be creating innovative products and new optimised care pathway tools and we‘re confident that this will attract investment that will contribute to economic growth.

“Translating the promises of personalised or stratified medicine discoveries from the lab to the clinic, where the rubber meets the road, is recognised as a major global challenge. The key strength of this project is that it is driving personalised medicine discoveries to the front line to help clinicians make better clinical decisions and improved treatment outcomes for us as patients.”

Welcoming the project Gina McIntyre, Chief Executive Officer with the Special EU Programmes Body, said:

“This project is a unique EU funded cross-border partnership that has the potential to revolutionise patient treatment and care for serious medical conditions. It represents a significant leap forward with research that can help create a more efficient and effective health service in Northern Ireland, the Border Region of Ireland and Western Scotland.

“Research undertaken by these renowned health and life sciences organisations, involved in the project, will also make a positive contribution towards the European Union’s 2020 target of increasing investment in Research and Innovation activity.”

The research institutes and companies that will be partnering with Ulster University in the new Centre are the University of Highlands and Islands, Letterkenny Institute of Technology, Donegal Clinic Research Academy, National University of Ireland Galway, Letterkenny University Hospital, the Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre, Western Health and Social Care Trust, NHS Highlands Scotland, United Healthcare Group/Optum, Clinishare Ltd, Advanced Research Cryptography Ltd, Randox Laboratories Ltd and Northern Ireland Clinical Research Services Ltd.

Match-funding for the project has been provided by the Department of Business , Enterprise and Innovation in Ireland and the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland.


Dr. Aaron Peace (CEO C-TRIC), Dr. Tony Bjourson (Ulster University) & Dr. Sean Ennis (Genomics Medicine Ireland)

Dr. Aaron Peace (CEO C-TRIC), Dr. Tony Bjourson (Ulster University) & Dr. Sean Ennis (Genomics Medicine Ireland)

Transformational Research Aims to Unlock Keys to Lifelong Disorders including MS and IBD
Irish life sciences company, Genomics Medicine Ireland, is to collaborate with the Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre (C-TRIC), Western Health and Social Care Trust (Western Trust) and Ulster University to undertake comprehensive, population scale genomic research studies in Northern Ireland.

The first two studies will focus on Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD), lifelong chronic diseases for which there is currently no known cause or cure. The studies are launching in the Western HSC Trust with roll out planned across Northern Ireland in early 2018.

People from across Northern Ireland with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) are being invited to contact their healthcare professionals to learn how they can participate in the studies which aim to identify the genetic cause of these diseases and ultimately find better treatments, diagnoses and cures for these chronic conditions.

MS is one of the most prevalent diseases of the central nervous system and directly affects an estimated 2.5 million people worldwide and more than 4,500 people in Northern Ireland. IBD is chronic inflammatory gastrointestinal disorders primarily affecting adults in the prime of their life. There are two major forms of IBD, Crohn’s disease (CD) and Ulcerative colitis (UC) affecting about 8,000 in Northern Ireland.

Volunteers participating in these studies will be contributing to important scientific research aimed at unlocking the mystery of the genetic and lifestyle factors that contribute to MS and IBD. Researchers will combine advanced scientific technology in genomics, the study of all of a person’s genes, together with detailed clinical information to search for answers that one day might lead to the development of new therapeutics for more effective prevention and wellness.

The Clinical Translational Research and Innovation Centre (C-TRIC) is a unique facility promoting and facilitating translational and clinical research, the primary objective of which is to reduce both the time to market and the costs associated with research and development of innovative health technologies, medical devices and therapeutics. C-TRIC’s unique infrastructure and key support staff will help facilitate the clinical research and innovation of these studies.

Dr. Sean Ennis, Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Genomics Medicine Ireland said, “We look forward to working closely with C-TRIC and Ulster University to develop better new means to optimise health and patient outcomes. The size and characteristics of the Northern Ireland population can powerfully advance scientific discovery as our researchers are able to pinpoint variations in DNA that are relevant to these diseases and useful for improving medicine. The resulting therapies to cure and prevent these diseases will benefit patients both Northern Ireland and around the world.”

Dr. Aaron Peace, CEO of C-TRIC and Director of Research and Development, Western Trust said: “C-TRIC and the Western Trust are delighted to be part of this exciting research collaboration with Ulster University. This is the largest genomics research study undertaken on the island of Ireland to date that has the potential to make a significant genetic contribution to new therapeutic opportunities for people with MS and IBD. C-TRIC, Northern Ireland’s healthcare innovation hub and award winning centre is proud to manage these sponsored studies for GMI.”

Professor Tony Bjourson, Director of Ulster University’s Northern Ireland Centre for Stratified Medicine who is leading the project in Northern Ireland said: “MS and IBD are severe, long-term diseases which dramatically impact a person’s ability to live a normal, active life. We know that genomics holds the key to many unanswered questions and Ulster University is one of the leading institutions focusing on this area of highly specialist, personalised approaches to medicine. The collection of genomic data among Northern Ireland’s population will help drive development of novel therapeutic drugs and diagnostics and ultimately we hope, will lead to more targeted treatments for these debilitating conditions.”

Genomics Medicine Ireland is currently undertaking genomic studies in the Republic of Ireland. The company is building Ireland’s first, purpose-built genomics sequencing laboratory to undertake world class research into major chronic diseases within oncology, neuroscience and immunology that affect hundreds of thousands of people on the island of Ireland and hundreds of millions worldwide.