Anglia Ruskin University: Pioneering initiatives shortlisted for national awards

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Two pioneering initiatives by Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) have been shortlisted for the Times Higher Education (THE) Awards 2022.

Research by Professor Barbara Pierscionek into the potential for drug therapy to cure cataracts – currently only treatable with surgery – has been shortlisted in the Research Project of the Year category (STEM).

Almost one in three people aged 65 or older in the UK suffer from cataracts, reducing their vision and affecting their quality of life. In many low-income countries, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness.

Pioneering research into the developmental optics – or functional aspects – of the eye by Professor Pierscionek and her collaborators has shown that the gradient of refractive index (GRIN) of the lens appears very early in embryonic life.

Further findings, published earlier this year, revealed for the first time the positive effects of a sterol compound on the optics of the lens. This breakthrough promises to open the way to develop effective non-surgical treatments for cataracts, improving the lives of millions.

Meanwhile, work by the ARU Virtual Placements Team to provide an immersive virtual reality placement for student nurses who were unable to go out on clinical placements during the COVID-19 pandemic, called ‘Hilda’s Home’, has been shortlisted in the category of Technological or Digital Innovation of the Year.

Hilda’s Home is UK’s first ever credit-bearing simulated placement, and ensured the vital supply of newly qualified nurses could continue. This six-week community placement featured a 360-degree virtual reality immersive scenario, filmed in a service user’s home.

Students visited 85-year-old Hilda in her home via virtual reality every day, developing their skills in a safe environment. In the placement’s final week students engaged with Hilda live in her home using Microsoft HoloLens mixed-reality simulation headsets, linked through Microsoft Teams.

Since April 2021 four cohorts totalling 96 student nurses have completed the placement, maintaining ARU’s high continuation rates and enabling student nurses to continue in their careers and support the NHS.

The THE Awards are described as the Oscars of Higher Education, and ARU has enjoyed success in previous years, being shortlisted in several categories and winning Entrepreneurial University of the Year in 2014.

James Rolfe, Chief Operating Officer at ARU, said:
“I’m thrilled that these innovative and impactful projects have received the recognition they deserve by being shortlisted for these prestigious national awards. All of us at ARU wish Professor Pierscionek and the Virtual Placements Team the very best of luck.”

The winners will be announced during a ceremony at the Hilton Metropole Hotel in London on 17 November.

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