New pilot project fund set to drive academic-industry collaboration under Belfast Region City Deal

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Queen’s University Belfast

3rd Feb 2023

The Global Innovation Institute (GII) has announced over £100,000 funding for a pilot project to drive multidisciplinary activity between academics and industry or other external partners.

The GII is one of the three Innovation Centres Queen’s University Belfast is leading under Belfast Region City Deal.

It is the first round of funding being made available specifically under the Innovation Centre, a £58m project set to be complete by 2025, which will significantly expand facilities at the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) in Belfast’s Innovation District.

The GII aims to transform Northern Ireland’s digital economy by substantially increasing both the volume and range of digital innovation taking place and developing skills to meet industry needs.

The funding has been announced following the success of an academic-industry collaboration between ECIT and Belfast-based company B-Secur, which aims to save and improve millions of lives each year by advancing heart health technology.

Recently, a team of AI researchers from the Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) at ECIT worked on a project to build a new model to detect key waves within ECG signals. The three-month  project applied CSIT’s expertise in Deep Learning and Time Series Analysis and was led by Dr Jesus Martinez-del-Rincon.

The aim of the technology was to provide affordable and continuous heart rate monitoring – it has significant impacts for improving the health of people living with serious heart conditions.

When B-Secur used the model, staff were able to identify waves that the company’s existing model had missed. The new model continued to improve in performance when trained on B-Secur’s data and now the company is looking at a follow-on project that can build on this early breakthrough.

Jonathan Francey, Head of Algorithm Development at B-Secur, said: “Working with ECIT allowed B-Secur to focus on a short project exploring alternative approaches to a specific problem.

“The team at ECIT quickly got involved and used their expertise in Deep Learning to propose a model that, when trained on a combination of public and proprietary data, demonstrated promising performance on challenging real world ECG data.

“B-Secur is now looking to build further on this model and the learning from this project as we continue to bring electrocardiogram (ECG) software to both consumer and medical devices. The convergence of consumer and medical devices is unfolding at a rapid pace but there are many challenges especially as data is often collected from less controlled environments or by less experienced users which can increase the signal noise.

“B-Secur’s HeartKey® 2.0 software allows patients to be confidently monitored outside the hospital environment and allows healthcare providers to collect meaningful data enabling a faster, more accurate diagnosis, improving patient outcomes and quality of life.

“There are huge benefits for Healthtech companies through working with researchers within the new GII to bring a fresh perspective to problem-solving.”

Dr Jesus Martinez-del-Rincon said: “GII will use expertise in secure connected intelligence to tackle the ‘One Health’ agenda across agri-food and health and life sciences sectors, combined with a ground-breaking partnership approach to delivering scalable computing solutions.

“This funding which aims to drive multidisciplinary activity between academics and external partners is crucial for researchers in GII to better share knowledge and work with industry to help find solutions to real-world problems.

“I’d encourage any academic carrying out multidisciplinary activity associated with GII and with external partners to apply.”

The funding is being made available through GII’s pump-priming fund and the UK Research and Innovation Impact Acceleration Accounts (IAA), which have previously funded secondments into early stage or spin-out companies, or early-stage collaborations with companies.

It aims to ensure that academics, who can secure up to £10,000 for exploratory projects or up to £20,000 to fund secondments into external organisations, can build partnerships which have real-world impact.

The projects must be based on expertise within the core research groups at GII but will involve collaborating with colleagues working across health and agri-food themes. Projects will also involve a company or external stakeholder.

Application forms are available on this link or for more information contact GII Head of Project Delivery on Stephen.mccabe@qub.ac.uk

The deadline for applications is 27 January 2023.