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Double nomination success

10 September 2009

The Awards 2009 logo

Two pioneering achievements at the University have been recognised with nomination for the prestigious Times Higher Education awards

An accidental drug discovery which offers new hope for shingles sufferers has been short-listed for the 2009 Serendipity Award. Meanwhile, the Global University Project, run by the School of Medicine’s Department of Dermatology, which uses cutting-edge technology to benefit students around the world is nominated for the Outstanding Information and Communications Technology Initiative of the Year.

Professor Chris McGuiganProfessor Chris McGuigan

Professor Chris McGuigan, Welsh School of Pharmacy, who 'accidentally' discovered the new shingles drug, was nominated for the Serendipity Award. Sponsored by Research Councils UK, this award recognises entrepreneurial spirit in universities and rewards those researchers who have spotted and seized unexpected opportunities for economic or societal impact arising from research.

Whilst working on new anti-HIV drugs in close collaboration with the Rega Institute in Belgium, Professor McGuigan and his team stumbled across a powerful new family of compounds which attack the VZV virus - the cause of chickenpox and shingles.

The compounds were initially shipped to Belgium for testing as anti-HIV agents. They proved inactive against HIV but one compound was extremely active against the cause of chickenpox and shingles. This compound was later found to have changed its molecular structure while in the post from Cardiff to Belgium

Following successful clinical trials in healthy volunteers, the drug is now being trialled in shingles patients. The new drug, called FV100, which is up to 10,000 times more powerful than existing treatments in initial trials could be available to patients, as early as 2012.

Professor McGuigan, Welsh School of Pharmacy, said: "We are delighted to have been shortlisted for such a prestigious award - especially as this major discovery came by accident.

"Despite its somewhat unusual beginnings, we have been able to take the initial discovery and develop it much further. If our trials prove successful, this new drug could significantly improve the quality of life for millions of people with shingles."

The Global University Project addresses the difficulties of providing opportunities for medical students to observe live surgery.

The physical constraints of operating theatres means that medical students and trainee doctors have limited opportunities to observe live surgery. In response to this, phase one of the Global University Project saw the installation of a high-definition video link from a dermatology operating theatre to a seminar room in the same building.

Sessions are moderated by a lecturer so that students in the seminar room can view procedures and also communicate with the surgeon via a two-way microphone link.

Following on from this initial success, webcasting software was integrated into the system to enable the department to broadcast dermatological surgical procedures to an international audience via the internet. Video can be streamed live as well as being recorded for later access.

Giving all learners equal access to surgical sessions, the Global University Project removes the lottery element for students and registrars across Wales, who all previously had to compete for limited opportunities to attend operations in person. The technology has the potential to reach an infinite audience where there is access to a high speed broadband connection.

The team currently broadcasts to undergraduate students on placement, registrars, distance-learning postgraduate doctors, and members of the department’s web-based Continuing Professional Development Society based in more than 30 countries. The project has already won an award, in the Times Higher Education leadership and management awards earlier this year.

Dr Maria Gonzalez, the Dermatology Postgraduate Course Director and Reader in Dermatology, said: "One of the main benefits of our system is that learners are able to view specialised dermatological surgery performed in a Centre of Excellence. If similar benefits were to be seen in other universities, this type of system has the power to revolutionise how surgery is taught. The potential for knowledge transfer is immeasurable

The Vice-Chancellor, Dr David Grant, said: "This double nomination is a tribute to hard work by many University members. We should all now hope for further good news when the award winners are announced in October."

The Times Higher Awards recognise ground-breaking work undertaken by UK higher education institutions. The successful winners will be announced on 15th October 2009.

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