Funding for five new collaborative projects

2019-12-19

Photo of a young person
With the support of collaboration funds from Uppsala University, the researcher Malin Eriksson and Heby municipality initiate a collaboration to strengthen the municipality's ability to help young people who do not study or work. Photo: Shutterstock.

Five new research collaborations with external parties have kicked off after receiving funding through the University’s Verification for Collaboration initiative (abbreviated VFS in Swedish). Purification of stormwater, municipal activity responsibility, and women’s influence in religious communities are three examples of focus areas.

Verification for Collaboration (VFS) is part of Uppsala University’s work to stimulate sustainable collaboration and research utilisation in society. Funding collaborative projects at an early phase gives the University's researchers the opportunity to test ideas in collaboration with external parties and prepare projects for external calls for project proposals. External parties can be companies, public organisations or non-profit organisations.

VFS offers at least two application periods per year. In the autumn call for proposals, nine applications were received. Five of these were granted funding of up to SEK 300,000 per project. The funding covers the researchers’ costs in the project and is paid to the department.

One of the collaborative projects that received funding relates to municipal activity responsibility (abbreviated KAA in Swedish) for young people who are no longer in school and are unemployed. Malin Eriksson, doctoral student at the Department of Psychology, is collaborating with the Centre for Lifelong Learning [Centrum för livslångt lärande] in Heby Municipality to develop the municipality's work with KAA and to increase knowledge about the mental health of young people.

“As a researcher, being given the trust to step into a ‘real life’ organisation is huge and something that must be managed well. I feel very confident about the project, which is based on a shared idea and mutual intentions to collaborate within a very important area,” says Malin Eriksson.

The five collaborative projects which received funding within VFS in autumn 2019 are:

Development of carbon-based materials for PFOS/PFAS removal from stormwater
PFOS and PFAS are extremely persistent, environmentally hazardous chemicals that today's stormwater purification methods are not capable of removing. At a time when demands for stormwater purification are expected to increase, there is a need for more effective methods. Researchers Henrik Ottosson, Associate Professor at the Department of Chemistry – Ångström Laboratory, and Stefan Bertilsson, Professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), are working with the company Swedrop and hope to be able to come closer to a solution for purifying stormwater that is contaminated with PFOS and PFAS. Together, they will develop carbon-based materials in combination with methods based on chemisorption to investigate whether these can remove the hazardous chemicals more effectively. The collaboration builds on knowledge from a previous joint study and is expected to provide deeper knowledge of how functionalised graphene and graphite can be used in purification techniques, and what type of functionalisation is optimal. In addition, the project has a unique opportunity to experimentally study PFOS/PFAS through the link to the Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment at SLU, which is a centre of excellence for PFOS research.

Municipal activity responsibility at the forefront
A young person who does not complete their upper-secondary education is at great risk of becoming socially alienated, which could result in poor mental health and socioeconomic vulnerability. In Heby Municipality, there are about fifty young people between the ages of 16 and 20 who are no longer in school and are unemployed. These young people fall under what is known as municipal activity responsibility (abbreviated KAA in Swedish). Under the Swedish Education Act, the municipality is responsible for outreach activities and initiatives aimed at helping these young people start or resume their studies. The focus of the collaboration between Malin Eriksson, doctoral student at the Department of Psychology, and the Centre for Lifelong Learning [Centrum för livslångt lärande] in Heby Municipality is to improve the work with KAA and to increase knowledge about the mental health of young people within the municipality. The goal is a new, more effective approach based on current research and successful models in other municipalities. Offering the young people regular group activities is a new initiative that will be tested. In addition, mapping of the incidence of poor mental health will also be systematised. All together, these efforts will contribute information that can be used for continued research. Well-functioning KAA operations are important for every municipality and for young people’s opportunities for a better future. According to the Swedish National Agency for Education, almost 60,000 young people were registered in KAA at the national level in 2018. In a report from the same year, the Swedish Schools Inspectorate highlighted the need for municipalities to rapidly develop their work with KAA. One hope for the project is that the new approach will not only improve the quality of KAA work in Heby Municipality, but will also be spread to other municipalities.

E-health solution to improve quality of life for diabetes patients
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease that is becoming more and more common, not only in Sweden but all over the world. Diabetes can cause complications and serious comorbidities such as angina, heart attack and stroke. Giving diabetes patients the right conditions for effective self-management of their disease would strengthen the patients, reduce long-term negative consequences for health, and increase sustainability in healthcare. The company MaishaBit has developed an e-health platform that, unlike diabetes management tools currently available, takes several basic risk factors into account. In addition to blood sugar, such factors include blood pressure, medication regimen, diet and physical activity. The platform therefore has the potential to better help diabetes patients in controlling and managing their blood sugar levels. The focus of the collaboration between MaishaBit, Erik Olsson, Assistant Senior Lecturer in Caring Sciences at the Department of Women's and Children's Health, and Närhälsan Södra Ryd health centre is to test the e-health platform in clinical practice. Implementation research will be conducted in the project when the platform is tested at the Södra Ryd health centre. Over time, the results and lessons learned from the project could capture increased risks of comorbidities and enhanced monitoring of medication regiment, and could help patients educate themselves about diabetes. All in all, the project is expected to contribute knowledge and method development that benefits research, healthcare and industry.

Women’s participation and influence in religious communities
In this project, researchers at the Department of Theology and the Swedish Agency for Support for Faith Communities (SST) come together in the shared interest of increasing understanding of women’s activity within religious organisations. This is an area of knowledge that is currently neglected, but is essential for long-term work towards equal participation in civil society based on both religion and gender. It is ultimately a matter of democracy in the multicultural society. The project is being led by Mia Lövheim, Professor of the Sociology of Religions at the Department of Theology, in collaboration with SST, and involves surveying experiences and conditions for leadership and influence among women in religious communities. Using issues linked to needs, perceived obstacles and areas of interest as a starting point, the project will contribute to deeper insights on the conditions for women who are already leaders and what the future challenges are for those who want to become leaders. The knowledge will be an important contribution to further development of SST’s education for this group and to the research community. The project has a clear plan for dissemination of the knowledge within academia, public administration and society at large. The joint work also creates a solid foundation for continued collaboration related to research and education.

Machine learning for more effective diagnosis of heart disease
The growing ageing population is a long-term challenge for healthcare. It is also the societal challenge being addressed through the collaboration between the company Medical Minds and researcher Ping Wu of the Division of Signals and Systems at the Department of Engineering Sciences. In the project, four different medical tests – ECG, blood pressure, cholesterol level and weight – will be integrated into a machine learning algorithm that can then be implemented on Medical Mind’s application platform. The expected result is a working prototype for intelligent diagnosis of heart disease. The more powerful application platform is primarily intended to be used for self-testing that helps individuals examine and monitor their health status themselves. It can lead to improved quality of life and great savings for healthcare. Machine learning is already widely used for diagnostic purposes today. The unique aspect of this project is that the machine learning method is based on multiple medical tests. As a result, it is expected to provide more reliable diagnoses. For the researchers involved, the project provides an excellent opportunity for practical use of machine learning knowledge and the ability to test their results in an applied application. For Medical Minds, the collaboration entails interesting product development that may strengthen commercial opportunities.

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