Lord Mandelson impressed by Aston

Lord Mandelson

As part of his visit to Aston University on Tuesday 16th  June, Lord Mandelson took the opportunity to visit a couple of Aston’s key current projects, and he was impressed by what he saw.

School of Engineering & Applied Science

His first stop was at the School of Engineering & Applied Science, where he was shown a demonstration of a Body Volume Index (BVI) scanner, by Professor Ian Nabney and Richard Barnes, Head of Select Research.

The BVI scanner has been developed by Select Research, working with five institutions, including Aston, to enable clinicians to understand more about a patient’s fat levels than they can do with Body Mass Index (BMI) - a simple calculation based solely on height and weight.

With BMI, a muscular person with very little body fat can be classed as obese. For example, many footballers fall in the overweight category using this method, which is clearly inaccurate.

The BVI scanner gives readings on the fat levels in different parts of the body, and on the type of fat, ie subcutaneous (just below the skin) or visceral (around the organs). This enables doctors to assess potential health risks for ‘overweight’ patients and hopefully pre-empt any diseases.

Professor Nabney has led Aston’s participation in the BVI project, which has been to assimilate the data from the trials of the scanner and produce ‘norms’ for fat in the various parts of the body. Aston and Select Research came together via the INDEX innovation voucher project. Lord Mandelson was pleased to see the scheme translating into effective collaborations between business and universities – the very purpose of the new Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

Aston University has undertaken research work on the Body Volume Index as part of the Body Benchmark Study, an international project designed to develop and validate BVI. The scientific work by Aston follows research undertaken for the study by Heartlands NHS hospital in the UK and Mayo Clinic in the US. for further information, please visit www.bodybenchmark.org


Mandelson meets business partners

Lord Mandelson was then introduced to Ian Taylor from Salts Healthcare, a company that produces innovative products related to stoma-care and wound-care. Aston has delivered two Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) projects with Salts, through Dr Allan Amass and Professor Brian Tighe, the first of which won a prestigious Lord Stafford Award. Salts has recently won an EPSRC CASE Award to explore the design and development of advanced hydrocolloids for dermal applications.

Mike Vere and Patrick McKeever from Graffica, a company specialising in air traffic management software, were next to meet Lord Mandelson. Patrick joined Graffica via Graduate Advantage, a collaborative project between West Midlands universities, managed by Aston, which connects businesses with graduates looking for placement work. Lord Mandelson was extremely impressed by the Graduate Advantage scheme, as was Ian Austin MP, Minister for the West Midlands, who accompanied Lord Mandelson on the tour.

Residences and apprentices

Next stop on the tour was the student residences site. Lord Mandelson was impressed with the scale of the project, and the level of investment Aston is making in enhancing its facilities for students. Here, he met Ian Reid, Project Director from Carillion, and two apprentices working on site, James Murror and Mike Tourt. With skills a new part of Lord Mandelson’s brief, he was interested to hear more about the progression routes apprentices are taking, from apprenticeships to, in Mike’s case, a construction degree.

The big announcement

From the residences, Lord Mandelson was taken to Lakeside Conference Centre where he addressed around 80 invited guests from all over the UK. His speech was about the role of the new Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, and in particular, where universities fit into that. Read more about his vision.

As you would expect from such a prestigious visit, Lord Mandelson’s trip to Aston has received significant regional and national media coverage, and was of course an excellent opportunity in its own right to raise Aston’s profile. Let’s hope he comes back soon, or at least tells his colleagues about us!

Words by Chris Harrison 

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