Spotlight Award winner announced

Two researchers went head-to-head to win £25,000 funding from LJMU during the University’s Research Day event. The researchers, Dr Francesca Giuntini, School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences and Dr Lorna Brookes, School of Education, made it through to the final of the University’s Dragons’ Den event following a staff vote.

Both had just four minutes to pitch their research and face a cross-examination by a panel of Dragons, who this year were Professor Nigel Weatherill, LJMU Vice-Chancellor, Professor Robin Leatherbarrow, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research, Scholarship and Knowledge Transfer), Julie Sheldon, Dean, LJMU Graduate School, and Alison Mitchell, Executive Director, Sensor City.

Dr Brookes went first, making an impassioned case for MyTime, a self-help app for children affected by parental imprisonment. She explained how around 200,000 children in the UK are affected by parental imprisonment, and that no Government support is available to these ‘orphans of justice’, who are three times more likely than their peers to suffer with mental health problems.

These children were, she said, victims of a crime they did not commit and suffered multiple disadvantages including severe separation anxiety and worry about their imprisoned parent(s). Most are also victims of bullying, made worse in cases where their parent’s crime is well publicised in the media. With very few dedicated support groups in the country, such as the one in Liverpool where Dr Brookes delivers face-to-face sessions, the children are extremely isolated, with no one to talk to about their feelings.

The MyTime app, which would be created not only ‘for children’ but co-designed ‘by children’, would help bridge this divide, giving them a safe environment in which they could access key information, share their experiences and realise they are not alone. Once developed, Dr Brookes would research the effectiveness of the app in improving the mental health of this user group in partnership with the International Coalition for Children with Incarcerated Parents (INCCIP).

Dr Francesca Giuntini then stepped onto the stage making an equally compelling pitch for her research on harnessing light and oxygen for suture-free wound healing. Suturing and stapling are currently the most common means of wound closure, but both are laborious, time consuming, and unsuitable for the repair of soft and highly functional tissues. What’s more they can also cause irritation and inflammation, increasing the incidence of healing failure.

Dr Giuntini’s research uses a novel approach that would deliver innovative agents for wound closure based on light-responsive molecules supported on biomacromolecules. These wound repair agents are designed to sustain different phases of healing, supporting the remodelling of functional tissue. She added that these species will be inherently safe to use and affordable, hence the potential impact of this research is huge, delivering benefits for the healthcare sector and patients.

After much deliberation, Professor Weatherill announced the Dragons’ decision saying that the panel had been impressed with both presentations, which were delivered with real passion and purpose. Reaching a decision had been challenging, he said, but in the end they felt that the Spotlight Award and the funding should go towards the development of the MyTime app.

On hearing she’d won, Dr Brookes hugged the Vice-Chancellor and said that she couldn't wait to go to her support group and tell the kids that “people believe in you, care about you and want to build your app”.

The Dragons were so impressed with Dr Giuntini’s research that Professor Weatherill added that additional support would be available to help realise the full potential the suture-free wound healing work, including a possible collaboration with Sensor City.

Dr Brookes’ research is delivered in collaboration with NHS Mersey Care, Red Ninja (Innovative design and technology for Health, Transport and Smart Cities), University of Huddersfield, and INCCIP.

Dr Giuntini’s research is delivered in collaboration with the School of Pharmacy, University of Nottingham, and the National Laser Medical Centre, UCL.



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