Sheffield scientists shortlisted for Newton Prizes

Sheffield scientists involved in two international collaborations have been shortlisted for two of the 2017 Newton Prizes.

RiceTeamProfessor Julie Gray, a scientist in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (MBB) at the University of Sheffield has been shortlisted for the prize along with her research colleagues Dr Apichart Vanavichit of the Rice Gene Discovery Unit at Kasetsart University in Bangkok, Thailand and Professor W. Paul Quick who holds research positions at Sheffield and the International Rice Research Institute, Philippines. Together this international team is identifying and creating rice cultivars with altered requirements for water or with enhanced heat tolerance that are suitable as crops for Thailand. The project is funded by the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the National Science and Technology Development Agency in Thailand.

Professor Gray said of the Prize, “I am delighted that I and my colleagues were shortlisted for this prize because such recognition highlights the importance of our research. Working as part of a multinational team is such a rewarding experience and really helps us move research from my Sheffield laboratory, out into the field in Thailand where production of improved rice crops will be of major economic importance.”

Northeast Thailand is the premiere region for growing traditional fragrant Jasmine rice. However rice farmers in this area remain persistently poor because Thai Jasmine rice can only be cropped once a year in its low-land rain-fed agricultural system. Erratic rainfall often forces farmers to replant the crop twice or more. Professor Gray’s research has the potential to improve seedling establishment and perhaps allow two crops of Jasmine rice per annum. That could reduce poverty in Northeast Thailand and improve global food security.

The second shortlisted project comes from the University’s Florey Institute. Dr Joey Shepherd (School of Clinical Dentistry) is working with project lead Professor Steve Rimmer (University of Bradford) and Professor Prashant Garg (LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad). Together they are developing the UK-India Centre for Advanced Technology for Minimising the indiscriminate use of Antibiotics (UKICAT-MA), which focuses on finding solutions to the excessive and inappropriate use of antibiotics. To achieve this, the centre uses smart materials for the detection and targeted treatment of eye infections.

EyeExamIn Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Government of India Department of Biotechnology (DBT) funded work so far, the team worked with Professor Simon Foster (MBB), Professor Ian Douglas (Dentistry) and Professor Sheila MacNeil (Faculty of Engineering) to develop polymer hydrogels that are capable of disrupting biofilms in infected corneas and polymers that can modulate quorum sensing (QS) signalling in bacteria, an essential step in biofilm formation. The team proposes to further develop the polymer hydrogels with QS-modulating capability as a novel non-antibiotic treatment for infection.

Dr Shepherd said of the prize, “"We are delighted to have been awarded the Newton Prize. Our highly collaborative and interdisciplinary research is working towards solving the global problem of antimicrobial resistance. Outcomes from this work would not be limited in interest to those directly in the field of eye infections; development of these microbial detection and anti-biofilm modalities will have far reaching possible implementation."

For further information please contact:
Professor Julie Gray, University of Sheffield, 0114 222 4407,
Dr Joey Shepherd, University of Sheffield, 0114 271 7969,

The Newton Prize
More than 150 Newton funded projects, fellowships or other awards applied for the Newton Prize from the eligible countries for this year – India, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. There are 25 shortlisted applications in total and five Prizes of up to £200,000 will be awarded to each winner to be used to advance or develop existing Newton funded work. There will be two winners in India and one in Malaysia, Thailand and in Vietnam.

The Newton Prize aims to incentivise researchers to participate in the Newton Fund as partners with the UK, and to work on the most important challenges facing Newton countries. The concept for the Newton Prize has been developed to demonstrate how UK partnerships with Newton countries are solving global challenges.

The Newton Prize winners will be announced at celebratory award ceremonies held in each of the partner countries:
• India – 1 November
• Thailand – 8 November
• Malaysia – 14 November
• Vietnam – 16 November

Further information is available on the Newton Fund website. Follow their Twitter feed for regular updates about the Newton Prize: @NewtonFund and #NewtonPrize.