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Examples of the five research beacons

Global challenges, Manchester solutions

The University of Manchester is at the forefront of the search for solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems, seeking to be a global force for positive change. See how our researchers are improving the lives of people around the world.

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Global challenge

Imagine clean drinking water for millions

Every day 900 children die across the world from diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation. More than 650 million people lack access to safe water.

Manchester solution

Graphene-based membranes have been called the perfect barrier. They're capable of separating two liquids to an exceptional degree and can block even the smallest atom, helium, from passing through it. We're looking at a multitude of applications for these membranes, including how they can be used for effective water filtration, gas separation and desalination projects.

Why Manchester?

We've already secured significant grant funding and the support of commercial partners. However, the potential applications are vast and the University is open to working with yet more partners from a wide range of industries.

Find out more about our advanced materials research

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Global challenge

Imaging materials in real time

A better understanding of the fundamental behaviour of materials used in demanding environments, such as in the aerospace and energy sectors, would help us to engineer increased safety and performance.

Manchester solution

Professor Philip Withers’s research team, based at the BP International Centre for Advanced Materials in Manchester, is using cutting-edge 3D and 4D imaging and characterisation techniques in order to understand and extend the behaviour of materials in different environments. The research covers length scales that range from the metre down to the nanometre, and will ultimately allow the acquisition of high-resolution image data in real time.

Why Manchester?

Our Multidisciplinary Characterisation Facility contains the UK’s highest resolution non-destructive 3D X-ray imaging instruments, which can achieve spatial resolutions down to 50 nanometres in size.

Find out more about our advanced materials research

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Global challenge

Preventing corrosion

Globally, corrosion costs more than £1.5 trillion a year. Despite this large economic impact, the fundamental processes of corrosion are poorly understood and industry relies on field experience for its management.

Manchester solution

Researchers led by Professor Robert Akid, at the BP International Centre for Advanced Materials based at The University of Manchester, are working collaboratively to understand the fundamental processes that initiate corrosion. This research will lead to the development of improved strategies to prevent corrosion, which will ultimately increase the reliability and lifespan of pipelines in the oil and gas industry.

Why Manchester?

Our Corrosion and Protection Centre is one of the world’s largest active research groups focused on understanding and controlling corrosion for applications across multiple industrial sectors.

Find out more about our advanced materials research

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Global challenge

Developing the materials of the future

Advanced materials could help solve some of the world’s most critical problems, but we need to accelerate the discovery and development of new materials systems to bring economic and societal benefit to the UK.

Manchester solution

Manchester has a strong tradition of stimulating economic growth and industrial innovation. We’ll be the hub for the Sir Henry Royce Institute for Advanced Materials, which will bring together the brightest minds from across the UK: world experts in energy, engineering and functional and soft materials from the universities of Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool, Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial, as well as the National Nuclear Laboratory and Culham Centre for Fusion Energy.

Why Manchester?

Recognised for world-class research and its impact on society, we also lead the world in developing and characterising new and existing materials for extreme environments. We already host the BP International Centre for Advanced Materials and the National Graphene Institute.

Find out more about our advanced materials research

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Global challenge

Accident-tolerant nuclear fuel

The explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor in 2011 highlighted a challenge with the zirconium alloy used to make fuel rods: at the high temperatures generated when coolant is lost, it reacts with steam to produce explosive hydrogen gas.

Manchester solution

Researchers at our Dalton Nuclear Institute are developing fuel solutions, such as a composite silicon carbide cladding, as well as advanced fuel materials such as uranium silicide, that are much more tolerant of the prolonged excessive temperatures generated in a nuclear reactor after accidents involving a loss of coolant.

Why Manchester?

We are the academic host for the UK’s Nuclear Fuel Centre of Excellence, a partnership with National Nuclear Laboratory, with extensive capabilities for the manufacture, characterisation, and testing of uranium and thorium fuels. Fuels can be subjected to ion-beam and gamma irradiation at our Dalton Cumbrian Facility.

Find out more about our advanced materials research

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Global challenge

Liquid biopsies for lung cancer

Lung cancer has one of the lowest rates of cancer survival: fewer than 10% of patients survive five years after diagnosis. More targeted therapies are needed. Biopsies required to profile patients’ tumours are invasive and not without risk.

Manchester solution

Manchester has world-class expertise in blood-borne biomarkers. By detecting and characterising tumour cells circulating in the blood, we can identify faults, target them with smart drugs and then select the most appropriate treatment — all without the need for surgery. We can create patient-relevant laboratory models to test new therapeutic strategies and to better understand mechanisms of resistance and relapse.

Why Manchester?

Our forthcoming Manchester Centre for Cancer Biomarker Sciences will be a major hub for biomarker research and development. The integration of different disciplines, dedicated facilities and innovative technology platforms will build on success that is unsurpassed nationally and at the forefront internationally.

Find out more about our cancer research

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Global challenge

Skin cancer in the ageing population

More than 80% of melanoma deaths occur in patients who are over 50 years of age. Older patients are more likely to suffer from multiple skin cancers of different types.

Manchester solution

Understanding the causes of high mortality rates in elderly skin cancer represents a critical problem in melanoma care. We focus our research on investigating the changes in ageing skin that promote melanoma and other skin cancers, and the biology of aggressive disease affecting the elderly.

Why Manchester?

We collaborate with six NHS organisations via the Manchester Academic Health Science Centre. Many of our researchers split their time between seeing patients in the clinic and researching disease in the lab.

Find out more about our cancer research

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Global challenge

Making chemotherapy kinder

Taxanes are a group of common chemotherapy drugs used to treat a range of cancers, including ovarian and prostate tumours. Many patients’ cancers respond, but some do not. Side effects can be unpleasant and outcomes are hard to predict.

Manchester solution

We are investigating why some cancers don’t respond to taxanes and whether we could boost the effectiveness of this important treatment by weakening cancer cells first. This would mean that patients could safely receive lower doses, with fewer side effects.

Why Manchester?

In Manchester, laboratories and clinics work side by side. We can take samples from patients who do and don’t respond in order to help us understand the differences.

Find out more about our cancer research

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Global challenge

Preventing breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer and cancer mortality in women worldwide. Nearly 1.7 million new cases were diagnosed in 2012, representing 25% of all cancers in women.

Manchester solution

We have developed new approaches to endocrine therapy – treatment that blocks the body’s natural hormones – for breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Our work has increased the duration of survival of women with advanced breast cancer, reduced relapse rates and improved survival after surgery for early breast cancer. It has also successfully prevented disease in women considered at high risk.

Why Manchester?

Manchester has a long history in the development of treatments for breast cancer, working in collaboration with AstraZeneca. We were among the first to test both tamoxifen and anastrozole in the clinic.

Find out more about our cancer research

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Global challenge

Improving radiotherapy

Radiotherapy plays a major role in cancer therapy. However, treatment beams must accurately hit their target so that we don’t miss tumour tissue or cause unnecessary side effects.

Manchester solution

We are putting world-leading expertise to work on making radiotherapy more tailored and targeted by understanding the errors and variation in treatment planning, and then making use of real-time imaging to adapt personalised therapy plans as tumours move or shrink.

Why Manchester?

We work in partnership with The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, an early adopter of image-guided radiotherapy developments, which is one of only two UK sites to have joined the worldwide MR Linac Research Consortium, led by manufacturers Elekta and Philips.

Find out more about our cancer research

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Global challenge

Harnessing the potential of biomass

Biomass could deliver sustainable bioenergy solutions while improving agro-forestry systems, supplying local energy sources, improving crop yields, generating economic activity and delivering social benefits.

Manchester solution

Manchester has more than 80 researchers active in areas related to every step of the bioenergy chain, including biomass resource assessment, a whole range of conversion technologies and energy delivery. We have particular expertise in sustainability assessment of supply chains (including greenhouse gas balances and other environmental, social and economic impacts) from Europe, South America, Africa and Asia, and in characterisation of airborne emissions.

Why Manchester?

Manchester has the interdisciplinary breadth to cover all aspects of the bioenergy supply chain, combined with disciplinary excellence and experience of fieldwork all around the globe.

Find out more about our energy research

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Global challenge

Storing energy until required

Renewables are a key source of low carbon energy, but intermittent power generation poses a challenge. Enhanced energy storage is pivotal in our efforts to decarbonise our energy system.

Manchester solution

In a world first, we aim to provide a comprehensive framework that can inform policymakers and the business community on the value and role of storage technology. The MY-STORE project will supplement current research and bring a new perspective by exploring socio-economic and environmental factors, including public perceptions of different technologies.

Why Manchester?

Our research is transforming the processes that bring energy to our homes, providing new ways of using existing systems more efficiently and maximising the potential of renewable sources.

Find out more about our energy research

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Global challenge

Combating energy poverty

Many people across the world cannot afford enough energy to meet their basic needs, which seriously impacts on their well-being.

Manchester solution

Researchers at our Centre for Urban Resilience and Energy (CURE) are working to understand the complex causes of energy poverty. We advocate a more ambitious and strategic approach, backed by national government resources, which includes comprehensive energy efficiency improvements proactively targeted at areas of poor housing stock. Wider measures should address rising energy prices and the structural causes of low incomes, such as unemployment.

Why Manchester?

Renowned for its specialism in this area, CURE has a long history of undertaking research into vulnerable households, and has established effective partnerships across the Manchester region.

Find out more about our energy research

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Global challenge

Reprocessing radioactive materials

Removing fuel from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant or waste from decaying storage ponds at the Sellafield reprocessing facility in Cumbria is extremely difficult due to high levels of radioactivity.

Manchester solution

We are designing an amphibious, remotely operated vehicle that can fit through the small access ports typically available in nuclear facilities, carry neutron detection and navigation equipment, and withstand extremely radioactive environments. At Fukushima Daiichi the vehicle will help identify fuel that is believed to have melted so that it can be safely removed, significantly reducing radiation levels, lowering risk and making the plant cheaper to decommission.

Why Manchester?

Our Dalton Nuclear Institute’s Cumbrian Facility has a Cobalt-60 gamma irradiator, which allows us to test small electronics in highly radioactive conditions. We work with leading research groups worldwide and businesses across the nuclear supply chain to solve industrially relevant challenges.

Find out more about our energy research

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Global challenge

Locking up radioactive wastes

Radioactive wastes contain long-lived radionuclides that will be around for millions of years. Understanding their behaviour in waste disposal systems is critical to ensuring safe, publicly acceptable disposal of these challenging by-products of nuclear energy generation.

Manchester solution

In collaboration with Diamond Light Source, our researchers investigated long-lived radionuclides using X-ray spectroscopy techniques. We found that radionuclides could be directly and irreversibly ‘locked up’ within the iron oxide mineral frameworks that are present in the waste, under a range of different conditions, which would limit their movement into the surrounding environment.

Why Manchester?

Our unique facilities and expertise enabled this research. We were the first group to analyse the transuranic element neptunium at Diamond Light Source. The work featured in a technical report to Radioactive Waste Management, the UK’s implementer of higher-activity radwaste disposal.

Find out more about our energy research

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Global challenge

Youth unemployment cycle

In some low-income communities in Tanzania around 70% of young men lack stable jobs. Driving a motorbike taxi is a popular way to earn money, but high rental fees make it hard to earn a decent living.

Manchester solution

After highlighting this problem in her research, Dr Nicola Banks was determined to help. Working alongside local organisations, she provided a motorbike to a group of young men who used it to increase their earnings, enabling all six to save up for their own bike. This innovative savings scheme could be scaled up to help many more people.

Why Manchester?

Our Global Development Institute has a clear aim: to use our research and teaching to help achieve a more socially just world.

Find out more about our global inequalities research

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Global challenge

Everyday peace indicators

When peace-building projects report success at a national level, on-the-ground research may tell different stories of human rights abuses, militarised governments and inter-group conflict. Local communities – best placed to identify changes in their own circumstances – are often overlooked.

Manchester solution

We ask community members in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda and South Sudan to identify their own measures of peace. Researchers take these ‘everyday peace indicators’ and test them within their wider community, repeating the exercise to measure change over time. The indicators chosen – such as business owners painting their storefronts – help reveal community priorities and therefore their confidence in peace.

Why Manchester?

Manchester’s insights into humanitarian aid have influenced Médecins Sans Frontières, Save the Children, Handicap International, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Find out more about our global inequalities research

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Global challenge

Age-friendly cities

By 2030, 60% of the global population will live in cities, with at least a quarter of city dwellers aged 60 or over. The needs of this age group will become increasingly significant in social and public policy.

Manchester solution

Our researchers trained a group of 18 older residents, aged between 58 and 74, to help us with our research. These co-researchers then conducted 68 interviews across South Manchester with older people who were experiencing social exclusion, isolation, poverty or health problems. Interviews focused on ways of improving quality of life for older people in urban communities and were designed to be particularly sensitive to marginalised community voices.

Why Manchester?

Manchester is the UK’s first city to achieve World Health Organization age-friendly status.

Find out more about our global inequalities research

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Global challenge

Helping Cadbury go Fairtrade

Cadbury recognised its supply chain was dependent on small-scale farmers expanding their production of quality cocoa and asked The University of Manchester to investigate the sustainability of the situation.

Manchester solution

Our research highlighted that poverty, gender inequality and poor social provisions for cocoa farmers were damaging productivity and discouraging young people from becoming farmers, putting future production at risk. This triggered major changes within Cadbury, which committed £45 million to support cocoa growers over the next ten years, and converted its main chocolate lines to Fairtrade.

Why Manchester?

Our Global Development Institute plays a vital role in bringing together diverse stakeholders from business, community organisations and trade unions to solve common problems.

Find out more about our global inequalities research

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Global challenge

Chronic poverty in the developing world

Every single day, 19,000 children die of easily preventable causes. Traditional development aid projects are not sufficient to tackle the scale of the problem.

Manchester solution

Our research showed direct anti-poverty transfers to be a practical, politically sustainable and financially feasible means to address extreme and chronic poverty in low- and-middle income countries. Our findings have shaped development policy, influenced national governments and informed practice in several countries, including Uganda and Bangladesh.

Why Manchester?

Our Global Development Institute is Europe’s largest teaching and research institute dedicated to addressing global poverty and inequality, providing the expertise needed to change national and global policies and practices.

Find out more about our global inequalities research

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Global challenge

Producing inexpensive pharmaceuticals

Hepatitis C is a major health problem affecting around 150 million people worldwide. Many infected people live in countries where access to modern expensive treatments is a major issue.

Manchester solution

We have helped develop a new class of drugs that are highly effective in tackling hepatitis C, completely removing the virus from most patients. Efforts can now focus on making telaprevir – the leading medicine in this area – widely available and affordable. In collaboration with the Free University of Amsterdam, we devised an efficient synthesis of telaprevir that combines biocatalysis with multicomponent chemistry.

Why Manchester?

We are home to the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology: a leading European industry-interfaced biotechnology research institute with world-leading expertise in integrated biophysics and catalysis, and capabilities spanning all aspects of biological structure and determination.

Find out more about our industrial biotechnology research

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Global challenge

Efficient production of pravastatin

Statins are a major breakthrough in health care: widely used drugs that decrease the risk of coronary heart disease and strokes by lowering cholesterol levels. To make them more widely available, we need to reduce production costs.

Manchester solution

Industrial researchers at DSM and researchers from our Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB) have devised a single-step fermentative method for the industrial production of pravastatin, replacing the previous costly dual-step fermentation and biotransformation process. This new biotechnologically advanced method forms the basis of a patented process for efficient production of this blockbuster drug. 

Why Manchester?

We have 52 lead MIB investigators collaborating with many more colleagues across the University, while 30% of MIB’s research portfolio involves overseas partners.

Find out more about our industrial biotechnology research

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Global challenge

Greener fuels

Propane, a major component of liquefied petroleum gas, is the world’s third most widely used motor fuel and provides heat and energy for an estimated 14 million homes. Reducing its environmental impact is crucial in tackling global climate change.

Manchester solution

Researchers from our Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, in collaboration with Imperial College London and the University of Turku, have created a synthetic pathway for biosynthesis of propane gas. This cutting-edge process has the potential to revolutionise the production of biofuel, avoiding the environmental issues associated with extracting fuel from non-renewable sources and drastically reducing the transport costs and carbon emissions associated with production.

Why Manchester?

Our multidisciplinary approach to industrial biotechnology is transforming the traditional chemical and chemical-related sector to a more sustainable and competitive one, which uses biological resources for the production and processing of chemicals, energy and materials.

Find out more about our industrial biotechnology research

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Global challenge

Industrial biotechnology and bioenergy networks

Bringing together industry and academia to translate biotechnology discovery into business application.

Manchester solution

The University of Manchester hosts four national networks in industrial biotechnology and bioenergy to boost interaction between academics and industry, promoting the translation of research into benefits for the UK. These networks help drive new ideas and harness the potential of biological resources for producing and processing materials, biopharmaceuticals, chemicals and energy.

Why Manchester?

We’re home to the BIOCATNET (network in biocatalyst discovery, development and scale up), BioProNET (network in bioprocessing), IB Carb (glycoscience tools for biotechnology and bioenergy) and NPRONET (natural products discovery and bioengineering network).

Find out more about our industrial biotechnology research

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Global challenge

Improving chemicals production

Many flavours and fragrances are sourced from botanicals. However, some botanicals contain only minute levels of the target compound. Engineering bacterial strains that produce these compounds could significantly reduce the environmental impact of traditional chemical synthesis.

Manchester solution

Hosted by the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, the Synthetic Biology Research Centre for Fine and Speciality Chemicals (SYNBIOCHEM) focuses early activity in three key chemical targets: alkaloids, flavonoids and terpenoids. These projects aim to accelerate the production and scale-up of these chemical targets, which are key to a wide range of sectors.

Why Manchester?

SYNBIOCHEM has had major scientific success that is being translated for commercial applications, as evidenced by 80 scientific peer-reviewed papers and review publications (in Science, Nature, Cell), new patents (plus an industry-sponsored patent with Shell) and a new spin-out company (C3 Bio-Technologies Ltd).

Find out more about our industrial biotechnology research

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