Hands using tools to level concrete
British Council-supported Newton Fund researchers are celebrating their success at the Newton Prize 2020. The image features the winning project in Turkey where researchers are reducing CO2 emissions through the creation of a new low-cost ‘green concrete'. ©

Used with permission from the Newton Prize.

4 November 2020

Four British Council-supported Newton Fund research project teams are celebrating their success at the Newton Prize 2020, each winning up to £200,000 to take their research to the next level.

The four projects in Egypt, Kenya, South Africa and Turkey were among the six winners announced today at the Newton Prize virtual awards event, which were selected from a shortlist featuring 27 research and innovation projects between the UK and Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, South Africa, and Turkey.

The annual Newton Prize recognises pioneering research and innovations that come from international partnerships, with each project helping to solve global development challenges. The British Council-supported projects tackle a range of pressing issues: the diagnosis and treatment of liver cancer in Egypt, food insecurity in the Western Indian Ocean, the diagnosis of maternal infections in Kenya, and reducing CO2 emissions with new green concrete in Turkey.

The prizewinning teams will now share £1.5 million additional funding between the six overall winning projects to enable them to continue their work to support sustainable impact through science, research and innovation.

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.'

The global British Council science network join the Chief Executive in paying tribute to the Newton Fund and the winning research teams at this year’s Newton Prize.

Jill Coates, Country Director, British Council Kenya said: ‘The Newton Fund has created collaboration opportunities and developed the research and innovation capacity of over 400 early career researchers from Kenya and the UK. I am delighted that one of our most impactful Kenyan partnerships has won the Newton Prize 2020. Congratulations to the teams at the University of Hull and Mount Kenya University for their ground-breaking work in maternal health.’

Meekness Lunga, Science Programme Manager, British Council South Africa said: ‘This UK-South Africa Newton Funded Research Chair is breaking new grounds by building an innovation bridge to address the emerging marine food security crisis in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) region. It is impressive to see the impact it has made towards building a new cohort of African scientists by mentoring graduates from developing countries into marine science as a career.’

Shaimaa El-Banna, Head of Science Programmes, British Council Egypt commented: ‘Through the Newton Fund, over the past 5 years we’ve supported 152 young Egyptian PhD researchers like our prize winner to work with leading UK scientists to not only enhance their skills but to work more on tackling major challenges for Egypt like liver cancer.’

Erhan Yavas, Newton-Katip Celebi Fund Programme Coordinator, British Council Turkey added: ‘Congratulations to our winning project team! Since 2014, the Newton-Katip Celebi Fund has supported 140 research projects and over 110 connections have been created between research institutions in Turkey and the UK.’

About the Winning Projects

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-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

About the Newton Fund and Newton Prize

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.

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.

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