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Work begins on region's new £8 million Academy of Life Sciences

18 March 2003

Work begins on region's new �8 million Academy of Life Sciences

THE first piece of earth will be turned for the building of Aston University's new �8 million Academy of Life Sciences on Thursday, March 20th 2003. John Edwards, Chief Executive of Advantage West Midlands, will perform the honour in a ceremony which will also include members of Aston University staff.

The Aston Academy will be a unique facility for biomedical research in the region and in the UK, which will build on Aston's grade 5 rated Neurosciences Research Institute (NRI). The project is funded by HEFCE's Science Research Investment Fund (SRIF), Advantage West Midlands, The Wellcome Trust and Aston University.

Through Aston's Business Partnership Unit, the AALS will provide a platform for the development of patents, license opportunities and new spin-out companies, resulting in income generating opportunities and enhanced employment potential within the West Midlands.

Key activities within the Academy will include:

• 1. Cornea and Refractive Surgery
Aston University will have the first optometry school in the UK to carry out refractive surgery onsite. With the ongoing collaboration of many of the UK's leading ophthalmologists, the Academy will be a unique centre of excellence in the UK's academic and medical communities. The theatre suites are designed such that the range of surgeries offered can be extended to any day case procedure and will broaden over time to include further procedures in ophthalmology and other specialist areas, making this research facility a European first.

• 2. Brain Imaging
A recent award from the HEFCE and The Wellcome Trust enabled Aston University, through its world class team of neuroscientists, to establish itself as a unique centre for brain imaging. The NRI contains the first whole-head Magnetoencephalographic (MEG) system in the UK, and the addition of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) will maintain Aston's unique status in functional brain imaging, with direct benefits for patient care and for research. The diagnostic capability of the combined MEG and fMRI facility will increase the effectiveness and reduce the risks currently associated with brain surgery.

• 3. Paediatric Cochlear Implantation and Rehabilitation
The Birmingham Paediatric Cochlear Implant Programme is recognised as one of the largest in the country. Provided by the Birmingham Children's Hospital NHS Trust, the Implant team's incorporation into the Academy will facilitate the NRI's expanding research programmes on hearing dysfunction, and speech and language disorders.

• 4. Dyslexia and Epilepsy
Aston has a long and impressive track record in the provision of clinical services for epilepsy and dyslexia and these services will be greatly expanded in the new Academy. Clinical research partnerships with the Birmingham Children's Hospital NHS Trust and the paediatric cochlear implant team present new opportunities for research into hearing, speech, language, attentional and hyperactivity disorders and autism.

• 5. Human Myopia
Research into human myopia (shortsight) has achieved international recognition in understanding links between myopia and near work, measurement of eye dimensions and aspects of high myopia in children. The increasing prevalence of myopia in adolescents is now recognised as a world-wide problem and the Academy will provide an important European focus for myopia research. New work will concern various treatments for myopia involving new synthetic biomaterials and pharmaceutical agents.

The Academy will have a multidisciplinary team including surgeons, medical staff, optometrists, psychologists, pharmacists, physicists, engineers and nursing staff. It will be at the heart of the Midlands Medical Technologies Cluster with complementary links to other local Universities and will provide leading edge services to businesses in the region.

ENDS

For further press information, the latest visuals of the new Academy, or to arrange interviews with academic staff, please contact Sally Hoban on 0121 204 4552.

Notes for editors:

Aston University Vice-Chancellor Mike Wright, Mr Derek Barnes, Dr Sarah Hosking, and University Secretary-Registrar David Packham will join John Edwards at the ceremony. Other guests will include Paul Lister from Associated Architects and a representative from Shaylers, who are building contractors on the Academy contract.

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