Nicole Pamme

University of Hull professor shortlisted for 2020 Newton Prize

A University of Hull professor has been shortlisted for the prestigious Newton Prize for her global research project in Kenya.

Professor Nicole Pamme, Professor in Analytical Chemistry at the University, has been working alongside experts at Mount Kenya University to improve diagnosis of maternal infection in the African country.

Maternal infection is responsible for high rates of sepsis, still births, premature delivery and new-born deaths in Kenya.

Professor Pamme’s research work, alongside Dr Jesse Gitaka at Mount Kenya University, has now been shortlisted for the 2020 Newton Prize.

The Newton Prize celebrates outstanding international research partnerships that play an important role in addressing challenges in developing countries and around the world.

Professor Pamme said: “Rates of maternal sepsis, still births, premature delivery, new-born sepsis and new-born deaths are high in Kenya. A strong contributing factor is maternal infection.

“Fast and accurate diagnosis is required to enable the best possible treatment. Current methods, however, rely on time-consuming cell cultures from urine samples and/or expensive microscopy setups that require electricity and may not be accessible to more remote and less well-equipped clinics.

“We set out to tackle these challenges by combining my expertise in lab-on-a-chip based diagnostics and Dr Gitaka’s knowledge in clinical medicine and infectious diseases.”

A team of eight researchers – three from the UK and five in Kenya – together developed a new device which analyses pathogens in urine at the point of care.

The device, known as IFAST, helps improve diagnosis of maternal infections, and is capable of returning sample results within just 20 minutes.

Further funding for the device is currently being sought for clinical trialling.

Nicole Pamme

“Our IFAST approach has laid the foundations for routine testing, which is currently not carried out in maternal health care in Kenya due to lack of resources and infrastructure required for currently available testing methods,” Professor Pamme said.

“Our IFAST diagnostic system will enable a result during the patient’s visit to the clinic, and thus prompt treatment, which in turn will improve outcomes.

“During our project, we have built strong relationships between researchers, frontline clinical staff and Kenyan diagnostics providers. We have held three workshops, reaching several hundred attendees, to showcase research and challenging in diagnostics for maternal infections that lead to adverse pregnancy outcomes.”

The shortlist for the 2020 Newton Prize was announced this week, featuring 27 research and innovation projects between the UK and Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, South Africa, and Turkey.

Other challenges which have been addressed through Newton Prize nominees include producing clean energy in developing countries, HIV prevention, the protection of historical sites, how to tackle water pollution, as well as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

One prize of up to £200,000 will be awarded to a project in each eligible prize country (Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, South Africa and Turkey) which demonstrates high quality research and impact.

Dr Dave Richards, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at the University of Hull, said: “First and foremost, I would like to congratulate Professor Pamme for being shortlisted for the 2020 Newton Prize.

“At the University of Hull, we are incredibly proud to have a talented team of academics and researchers, whose contributions have truly global significance.

“Professor Pamme’s work encapsulates research excellence in every possible sense – utilising ground-breaking technology in an international collaboration to make a huge difference to the lives of those that most need it.

“I would like to wish Nicole the very best of luck in this year’s Newton Prize. We at the University of Hull could not be prouder.”

More details on the 2020 Newton Prize can be found here.

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