Nicole Pamme

University of Hull professor wins Newton Prize for Kenyan research project

Professor Nicole Pamme has won a coveted Newton Prize for her work to improve diagnosis rates of maternal infection in Kenya.

Prof. Pamme, a Professor in Analytical Chemistry at the University of Hull, teamed up with experts at Mount Kenya University, and has now been recognised for her “ground-breaking work in maternal health.”

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

In August, Prof. Pamme was shortlisted for a Newton Prize for her involvement in the project.

Fast-forward to today, and at a virtual awards ceremony held on November 4, Prof. Pamme and her team were named Country Prize winner, beating three other collaborative projects between the UK and Kenya.

Awards also went to collaborations between the UK and Egypt, Jordan, South Africa, and Turkey.

Prof. Pamme said: “It is truly humbling to receive a Newton Prize for my work in Kenya – maternal infection is an enormous challenge facing the country, and is sadly responsible for significant levels of fatality and illness among mothers and babies.

“This project got right into the heart of communities. We have built strong relationships between researchers, frontline clinical staff and Kenyan diagnostics providers, and as part of the research have engaged with hundreds of people from all walks of life.

“Fast and accurate diagnosis of maternal infection 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.”

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.

Prof. Pamme’s research project was one of four shortlisted British Council-supported initiatives to win a Newton Prize.

The reward for winning the Prize is £200,000, which will help take the research project to the next stage. The team will also use the funding to adapt and further develop its IFAST system for diagnosis of Covid-19 in resource-limited settings.

Jill Coates, Country Director at British Council Kenya, said: “The Newton Fund has created collaboration opportunities and developed the research and innovation capacity of over 400 early career researchers from Kenya and the UK.

“I am delighted that one of our most impactful Kenyan partnerships has won the Newton Prize 2020.

“Congratulations to the teams at the University of Hull and Mount Kenya University for their ground-breaking work in maternal health.”

Speaking previously about IFAST – the medical device which forms a central part of Prof. Pamme’s research, she said: “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.

“The 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.”

The Newton Prize was launched in 2016.

It has been awarded each year since then to the best research and innovation that addresses global challenges and promotes the economic development and social welfare of Newton partner countries.

The Newton Fund builds outstanding research and innovation partnerships with select countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America to support economic development and social welfare, tackle global challenges and develop talent and careers.

The fund is managed by the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and delivered by UK and international partners. UK investment is matched by investment and resources from partner countries.

More information is available on the Newton Prize website.

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