N8 Industry Innovation Forum Generates New Research Partnerships

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The N8 Industry Innovation Forum is playing a vital role in bringing together new partners to generate innovative ideas for research – that’s the message from academics and industry representatives who are collaborating to explore a number of new research areas.

Based on feedback from business, the N8 Industry Innovation Forum (N8 IIF) was established to enable dialogue between industry and academic experts to look at topics where there is a strong pull for new research and expertise.

Discussions at the first meeting of the N8 IIF in February 2012, focussing on Advanced Materials, generated 25 new industry-led ideas for research, of which 4 have since progressed to Stage 2 funding.

One of these is a project to investigate how plasma can influence colonies of microbes, otherwise known as biofilms. Biofilms have been found to be involved in a variety of microbial infections of chronic wounds, making them difficult to treat with conventional therapies. However, at room temperature, plasma has anti-microbial properties and could offer a novel way to treat infections where biofilms are present.

At the February event, Dr Erik Wagenaars of the York Plasma Institute, University of York, met up with representatives from Smith & Nephew and other industry researchers, as well as other academics, who all share a common interest in researching the therapeutic properties of plasma.

This has led to a project being established, which is led by Dr Deborah O’Connell and project-managed by Dr Kate Lancaster for the University of York.

Dr Lancaster explains: “Through the discussion that took place at the N8 IIF event, we realised that we all had a slightly different take on the issue and potential areas for research. We were all keen to investigate ways to take it forward and together we’re scoping a number of experiments we can carry out which will help us refine and develop future research to explore the possibilities that this area offers.”

Dorothy McCulloch, Technology Analyst at Smith & Nephew’s Advanced Wound Management Division in Hull also attended the N8 IIF meeting. She said: “As a business innovation is a key strategic priority. We continue to research new technologies and innovative wound care solutions that meet the human and economic costs of wounds. Forums such as N8 IIF are a good way for us to meet the academics working in some exciting areas, such as plasma.”

Dr Lancaster adds: “In the past, my colleagues and I have found it difficult to identify the right people in industry to talk to, but the N8 Industry Innovation Forum brought us all together in the same room.

“Because of the ‘arena of trust’ the forum provides, we were all able to have open conversations about our work, even though some of it was in its earliest stages. The workshops provided an opportunity for cross-pollination of ideas, and because it all took place face-to-face it was much more productive and meaningful. As a result of the forum, we’ve developed fruitful relationships with partners that we would have found difficult to engage with otherwise.

“And having the access to a small amount of funding to enable some pilot activity and scope out the project has proved very useful too; sometimes it can be difficult to get hold of funding in order to inform research, so being able to draw on resources provided by the N8 has really helped to move this project forward.”

Two N8 IIF events have taken place so far, and a number of new partnerships established as a result are still going strong and future research projects continue to be developed.  A further N8 Industry Innovation Forum will take place later this year. More information about this, including the theme, will be posted on the N8 partnership website closer to the time.