Innovator Awards: people we've funded

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Professor Geraldine Boylan

University College Cork

Development of a Neonatal Brain Health Index (DELPHI)

Neonatal encephalopathy is the most common cause of brain injury in full-term infants and it is caused by insufficient oxygen and blood supply to the brain during birth. Serious brain injury can cause death or permanent disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy or learning difficulties. It is very difficult to gauge the severity of the injury by simple observation, but monitoring the electrical activity of the brain can provide critical information about severity, cause and possible outcomes. Treatment, such as whole body cooling, can improve the outcome if applied in time. 

We aim to develop the first ‘smart’ automated system using machine learning to recognise patterns in electrical brain activity in infants with neonatal encephalopathy to help accurately detect the severity of their injury.

This system will allow babies with severe injuries to be identified early so they can be given appropriate therapies that are tailored to their needs.

Dr Andrea Mechelli

King's College London

Using deep learning technology to make individualised inferences in brain-based disorders

Brain-based disorders, including psychiatric and neurological illnesses, represent 10.4% of global disease. At present, objective tools for detecting and monitoring brain disorders are not available. 

Deep learning is an area of artificial intelligence which allows detection of complex and distributed patterns in data that are difficult to capture using existing approaches. We will assemble a very large dataset of neuroimaging data from more than 12,000 disease-free people and more than 2,000 patients with psychosis. Using deep learning technology we will develop a model of the disease-free brain across different ages and genders and illustrate how this model can be used to detect neuroanatomical alterations and inform clinical assessment in individual patients. 

This will lead to the development of a flexible web-based tool for measuring neuroanatomical alterations in any brain-based disorders. This could help clinicians assess the presence of a disease, monitor its progression and optimise treatment in individual patients.

Dr Marco Prosdocimi

Rare Partners

A clinical trial to assess the repurposing of sirolimus to induce fetal haemoglobin as a strategy to improve quality of life in beta thalassemia

Beta thalassemias are hereditary blood disorders caused by reduced or absent synthesis of haemoglobin beta chains. Patients can be clinically asymptomatic or experience severe anaemia. Survival rates have improved, even for patients requiring transfusions, but quality of life is poor for many patients.
Building on a Wellcome Trust Pathfinder award, our team has shown that the drug sirolimus can stimulate fetal haemoglobin (HbF) production. Stimulation of HbF results in a positive clinical outcome for people with beta thalassaemia, and pre-clinical evidence suggests that sirolimus can be used to treat the condition. A pilot clinical trial will explore the use of sirolimus in people with beta thalassemia by evaluating the effect it has on parameters related to red blood cell status and levels of HbF. 

This pilot study will be a first step towards the full clinical development of sirolimus in this new indication.