Eyes are the prize
The first gene therapy for choroideraemia - a degenerative disease that causes incurable blindness - has been carried out as part of a trial involving two institutions. Patients with the disease lack a gene needed to maintain sight; the treatment provides a replacement via a virus injected into the eye, with the aim of preventing sufferers' characteristic deteriorating vision. If successful, the one-time treatment could permanently prevent the onset of blindness in choroideraemia sufferers. The researchers at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London estimate that within two years it will be possible to assess whether the first therapy has been successful.
Waste taste sensation
Excessive levels of salt in our diets are known to be bad for us, so researchers are working on replacements - using waste tissue from the fish industry. The Technology Strategy Board awarded £210,000 to the project at Northumbria University, carried out in collaboration with the flavour and fragrance company Frutarom. It aims to create flavour extracts and ingredients that food manufacturers can use to replace salt without compromising flavour. Besides the health implications, the use of industrial waste to create the ingredients would have environmental benefits.
King's College London
Search party, seven suspects
Two genome-wide studies carried out in collaboration by more than 250 scientists have identified seven genetic variants that may have an impact on schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The psychiatric illnesses are hypothesised to have a genetic component, but the specific factors have proved difficult to find. This encouraged the collaboration between research groups so that sufficient participants - and therefore statistical power - could be employed in the search. By identifying genes that may be involved in disease progression, the researchers, including scientists from King's College London, hope to clarify the biological pathways at play and thereby facilitate the development of relevant therapies.
Those slugs are wasted
About 300 million litres of Strongbow and Bulmers cider are produced each year, but the process results in large volumes of pomace - waste comprising apple pips, pulp and skin. Now brewing company Heineken has commissioned Glyndwr University's Industrial Biopolymer Knowledge Transfer Centre to put the waste to good use by using it to produce slug pellets. A number of formulations will be developed for field trials, using pectin, the naturally occurring polymer present in the waste, to bind the pellets together.
Big pharmacy's 'clean suite'
A £36 million facility for pharmacy and biomedical sciences has opened. The University of Strathclyde's Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences aims to bring together researchers across disciplines to develop treatments and drugs for a wide range of diseases, including heart disease, cancer and malaria. The centre will house up to 150 chemistry, biology and pharmacy researchers, and contains additional teaching labs for 160 students. It will also make Strathclyde one of the few UK higher education institutions to possess a "clean suite" for the handling and packaging of drugs.
Harper Adams University College
A grain marketing business that works with arable farmers has donated £170,000 to support a higher education centre. Frontier Agriculture pledged the cash to help develop the Frontier Crops Centre at Harper Adams University College, which will be used to accommodate staff and research students, as well as providing a base for on-farm teaching. David Llewellyn, Harper Adams' principal, said he hoped the development "will form the basis for other collaborations between the company and the university college that will be of lasting benefit to the agricultural sector".
A giant display of the Escherichia coli superbug is being exhibited at a university. The model - Bacterium E. coli magnified two million times - was installed at Aston University and shows the organism's internal structures without the need for a microscope. Designed and built by microbiologist Henry Tribe, the model highlights E. coli's properties, including its ability to "swim" using flagella powered by "motors" capable of 1,000 revolutions per minute. Julia King, Aston's vice-chancellor, said: "Bringing science and technology to life for members of the public, and especially for young people, is something that we are passionate about."
An £800,000 research project aims to develop new footwear for diabetics. A team of scientists led by Nachiappan Chockalingam, professor of biomechanics at Staffordshire University, will spend the next three years developing and testing the footwear in a European Commission-funded project. People with diabetes are at risk from ulcers that can lead to amputations. Professor Chockalingam said: "The products resulting from this pioneering project aim to significantly affect the course of the disease and reduce the risk of limb loss in patients."
A university has teamed up with a local football club to create a youth development squad that will allow talented students to pursue a career in the sport. The Bath City under-21 development squad has been put together through a partnership between the non-league club and the University of Bath. Both will provide players for a team that will play against other development squads around the country. Lee Smith, head of football at Bath, said the programme would give university players the chance to compete at a high level while also boosting the flow of talent into the club's first team, currently a member of the Blue Square Bet Premier League.
A private company that specialises in long-term deals with universities to build and run student accommodation will manage a hall of residence for postgraduates. University Partnerships Programme has signed the deal with Imperial College London to run Griffon Studios in Battersea, South London - a group of about 500 flats - to boost postgraduate accommodation in the city. The Imperial deal is UPP's first "stand-alone" contract to run student accommodation.
Kurds and way to fluency
A UK university has teamed up with an Iraqi Kurdish institution to establish an English language centre. The University of Leicester is working with the University of Kurdistan-Hewler in northern Iraq to set up the centre, which will aim to equip students for courses in English at home and abroad. The collaboration will involve regular visits by staff from Leicester's English Language Teaching Unit to help train tutors, as well as develop curricula, assessment methods and teaching materials. The Iraqi Kurd institution was established by the regional government in 2006 as part of a modernisation programme and all its courses are taught in English.
York/Hull York Medical School
Yoga can provide more effective treatment for chronic lower back pain than more conventional methods, researchers have found. A study by the University of York and the Hull York Medical School, funded by charity Arthritis Research UK, found that a specially designed 12-week yoga programme led to significantly better results than exercise treatment. Positive effects lasted as long as nine months beyond the end of the classes. The randomised trial, which involved more than 300 patients, also suggested that yoga led to marginally greater pain reduction. The research is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Old hands, it's an honour
Almost 400 former students gathered at a university in an attempt to break the world record for the number of honorary graduates awarded degrees in one day. The alumni, who first graduated from the University of Surrey's precursors - the Battersea Polytechnic Institute and Battersea College of Technology - travelled from around the world to be awarded the honorary degrees. A Surrey spokesman said the former students had a combined age of 25,993, with the oldest being 92-year-old Veronica Hughes, who studied domestic science and graduated in 1942.
Help for returning heroes
A university has launched the first higher education taster course specifically designed for injured servicemen and women. The Plymouth University programme, set up in conjunction with Hasler Company - a unit based at Devonport Naval Base dedicated to helping injured Royal Marines - will provide bespoke programmes for veterans, offering advice, guidance and skills refreshers. The first programmes began in October, with a second to be launched in the New Year. If successful, the model could be rolled out to other rehabilitation facilities across the country, a Plymouth spokesman said.
Students from Kingston University were given the opportunity to experience how riot police operate in a training session run by front-line officers. In a time when the police have been in the news for their handling of the August riots and the kettling of students during tuition-fee protests, the workshop allowed participants to experience the difficulties of communicating through riot-protection gear, making snap decisions in the face of an erupting riot and dealing with unpredictable public behaviour. The group also discussed methods of maintaining public order through approaches such as kettling.