Russell and Catherine Miller
Husband and wife team Russell and Catherine Miller are hoping to change the way children play freely with the launch of playscapes company Sleeping Lions Adventures.
Through the creation of temporary destinations (playscapes) Sleeping Lions Adventures allows children to take charge of the way they play while giving parents peace of mind.
The pair have received significant funds from both an angel investor and The University of Manchester’s Innovation Company, UMI3 Ltd, through the UMIP Innovation Optimiser Programme as they bid to grow their offering.
Co-founders Russell and Catherine, believe children are turning to i-pads for entertainment rather than playing alongside other youngsters in immersive environments that bolster creativity and sociability.
He said: “Our playscapes are like mini theatre sets and are a starting point to an adventure. Our latest indoor playscape is Pirates and Sea Monsters – a giant octopus, shipwreck that children can play in – that was recently hired for a wedding in Cheshire.
“The playscapes encourage children’s curiosity, playfulness and sociability while allowing children’s families to have fun elsewhere – just like they did at the wedding.”
Russell, 45, who works at The University of Manchester, and Catherine, founded the idea after having two children of their own.
“Our children are both under the age of four,” said Russell. “Two years ago Catherine and I talked about how we played in fields, dens and in the street when we were younger.
“Sadly, children don’t tend to play like that anymore. There’s a restricted nature to play now and more and more children are using i-pads which we feel is detrimental, particularly when it comes to social interaction.
“Following lots of research we realised that we could create something that could make play possible almost anywhere and that’s what Sleeping Lions Adventures is.”
One of the company’s aims is to make it easier for children to attend weddings. The other is creating mini immersive experiences for use in cafes, car showrooms and other retail environments.
“The average transaction time to buy a car is three hours,” said Russell, “so we are talking to dealerships about the potential of setting up playscapes so parents can focus on the car they might want while children play freely but with a sense of creativity too.
“With weddings, it can often be a case of children not being invited, which can alienate some family members. We are planning to change that.”
He added: “It’s also important to thank UMIP’s Innovation Optimiser team for helping us shape our business idea – they’ve been incredibly supportive.”
Kate Park, Director of Kate Park Events, worked alongside Sleeping Lions Adventures during the recent wedding in Cheshire.
She said: “Inviting children to weddings has just been made a whole lot more fun with Sleeping Lions Adventures. Their playscape made a huge and positive impact on the wedding party. It looked great in the venue and importantly it kept all the children entertained – leaving their parents able to enjoy the celebration.
“Children used to find weddings long and dull – not anymore.”
The founder of EnviroSAR, whose expertise was used to learn more about two wildfires that devastated vast moorland areas this summer in the northwest of England, is aiming to expand further the research and development of her company to better monitor wildfires and the moorland restoration at a national level.
Dr Gail Millin-Chalabi launched EnviroSAR – a targeted solution for peat moorland and heathland restoration in the UK – last year and recently appeared on BBC’s The One Show and BBC Breakfast to discuss the company’s involvement in tackling the Tameside and Winter Hill wildfires.
EnviroSAR, funded by the University’s Innovation Company, UMI3 Ltd, analyses satellite radar data to mitigate wildfire risks, supports planning and execution of land restoration activities to reduce water discolouration and associated costs.
EnviroSAR has previously collaborated with fire services and is looking to build stronger relationships with both utility and insurance companies to support wildfire recovery and restoration efforts.
Dr Millin-Chalabi said the moorland wildfires this summer has highlighted the need for further funding to support research and development work in this area. EnviroSAR are currently exploring opportunities for European Space Agency (ESA) funding to expand the business.
The original idea for EnviroSAR came out of Dr Millin-Chalabi’s PhD back in spring of 2016.
“I’d been using radar data for characterising and monitoring burnt areas after wildfires,” said Dr Millin-Chalabi, who is a GIS and Remote Sensing Officer in the School of Environment, Education and Development at The University of Manchester.
“Not long after coming up with the idea of EnviroSAR we won the European Copernicus Masters Sustainable Living Challenge and are receiving support from UMI3 through the UMIP Innovation Optimiser Programme which empowers innovators from across the University to create start-up businesses.
Dr Millin-Chalabi said there’s a whole education programme needed when it comes to UK moorland fires.
“If we keep getting these very dry conditions there is more risk of wildfires unfortunately as large amounts of moorland and heathland areas in the UK are degraded and not particularly healthy.
“This year we are seeing a much longer wildfire season in the UK. Usually we are over them by mid-May. Some are still burning and it’s July.
“If we keep experiencing these drier and hotter weather conditions year after year, our wildfire season could start transitioning into the summer, more like, dare I say it, Mediterranean areas and expanding into the months of June and July.”
On what can be done to understand patterns of wildfire occurrence and mitigate against wildfire risks she said: “Nationally things need to be more integrated when it comes to what is collected on the ground and what is available through satellite data.
“Information has to be shared and managed well and marry together better, rather than piece-meal which it seems to be at the moment. EnviroSAR could really help with that.”
She added: “A healthy moorland environment should have a high water table and plants such as sphagnum moss, which holds around 20 times its own weight in water. It’s like a sponge. When you have these kinds of plants, even if a wildfire happens it slows the burn down as the landscape is more resilient and so the burn will be less severe.
“We also need to connect more socially with local communities in moorland areas.”
Utility and insurance companies are vital when it comes to wildfires, according to Dr Millin-Chalabi.
“No matter how much hosing down or how many helicopters drop water on an area affected by wildfire, it’s not going to go out until mother nature intervenes with a heavy downpour due to the highly organic nature of the underlying peat,” she said.
“We are keen to start building stronger relationships with utility and insurance companies as once we get a heavy downpour of rain all that ash and char on the surface is going to potentially run into our watercourse and cause discolouration and sedimentation issues of our drinking water”.
“The north west of England is a post-industrial revolution area so there is also potential for heavy metals in some of these peaty soils to erode into the wider environment if restoration of the peat moorland does not take place”.
“EnviroSAR is keen to assist utility companies in where is best to target restoration efforts using satellite technology to try and mitigate downstream environmental issues as much as possible.
For further information, please see http://www.envirosar.com/
Filming for The One Show
University of Manchester scientists have developed a new gene therapy they hope will treat children with a rare but devastating brain disease, and plan to take it to clinical trial in the near future.
US-based biotech Phoenix Nest Inc. have signed a licence deal with The University of Manchester, though its IP commercialisation company UMI3 Ltd, to take the treatment to the next stage, which will involve a clinical trial on patients with Sanfilippo disease type C.
Sanfilippo disease type C is a rare inherited neurodegenerative lysosomal storage disease caused by mutations in HGSNAT.
The technology is developed by Professor Brian Bigger’s laboratory in collaboration with Dr. Els Henckaerts’ laboratory at King’s College London, and recently published in the journal Brain.
It involves the use of a specially modified virus called adeno-associated viral vector (AAV), which has been specifically altered to efficiently deliver the missing HGSNAT gene to the brain to treat the disease.
Working with an international group of scientists, the team was able to demonstrate complete behavioural and brain correction of Sanfilippo disease type C in mice.
The King’s College London technology is based on the discovery of a novel AAV vector with an altered protein coat, which makes the virus work better within the brain. This new vector is called AAV-TT (AAV-true type).
The technology works better than the AAV9 vector, currently the gold standard for gene delivery to the brain.
Sanfilippo C disease affects children as early as 3 years of age, resulting in severe and rapidly progressive brain disease and neurological symptoms.
There is currently no effective treatment option for Sanfilippo disease type C as the protein is transmembrane and cannot move between cells.
This means that maximal vector distribution within the brain is critical for treatment success.
Prof Brian Bigger, Professor of Cell and Gene Therapy at The University of Manchester, said “This gene therapy technology recently published in the journal Brain, will be used by Phoenix Nest to treat Sanfilippo syndrome Type C.
“Sanfilippo is an incredible challenge as you have to be able to treat so many cells in the brain for complete success.
“In this work, the combination of the true type vector with improved brain distribution and the method of delivery were both critical for success.
“We were really impressed that we were able to completely correct working memory and hyperactivity in the mouse model – traits shared by children with the disease.
“Working together with Phoenix Nest Inc we hope this therapy will be successful in treating children with MPSIIIC in the next few years.”
“The study was funded by MRC, King’s College Commercialisation Institute, Jonah’s Just Begun, Sanfilippo Sud, Sanfilippo Barcelona, Sanfilipo Portugal, Sanfilippo Brasil, Le Combat de Haitem-Contre Sanfilippo, JLK- Sanfilippo Research Foundation, Sanfilippo Children’s Foundation, and VML charities and it has been great working with them towards a cure for this horrible disease.”
NOTES FOR EDITORS
About MPSIIIC (Mucopolysaccharidosis type IIIC or Sanfilippo syndrome type C)
MPSIIIC is a rare neurodegenerative lysosomal storage disease caused by mutations in the Heparan-Alpha-Glucosaminide N-Acetyltransferase (HGSNAT) gene. Children are affected early in life, with progressive cognitive and behavioural decline and a subsequent decline in motor function to early death, usually in the late twenties. MPSIIIC has no effective treatments as the protein is transmembrane and cannot move between cells. Enzyme replacement therapies are therefore ineffectual.
The technology, developed in Professor Brian Bigger’s laboratory involves the use of an adeno-associated viral vector (AAV) to drive the expression of a codon-optimized Heparan-Alpha-Glucosaminide N-Acetyltransferase (HGSNAT) gene.
Working with scientists from King’s College London, who developed a novel viral capsid dubbed “AAV true type”, with better distribution within the brain than other AAV vectors, the team were able to demonstrate complete behavioural and brain correction of the mouse model of MPSIIIC against the gold standard AAV9 vector.
AAV gene therapy for MPSIIIC was awarded Orphan Drug Designation by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and is the subject of patent GB1612104.
PeptiGelDesign will relaunch as Manchester BIOGEL in a move that reflects the wider reach of the company and growth success since launching in 2014.
The company provides PeptiGels – a range of highly sophisticated peptide hydrogels that provide the ideal environment for cells to grow. These hydrogels have been developed from over 15 years of research at The University of Manchester and are specifically designed to help improve the quality of drug toxicity testing and regenerative medicine, reducing the time it takes for new drugs to get to market and maximising the chance of success when regenerating damaged areas of patient’s bodies.
Dr Neil Gibbs, founder of University of Manchester spin-out Curapel, won the Commercial Impact Award and the University’s Ben Dolman and Dr James Winterburn won the Early Career Impact Award in recognition of the development of a more cost efficient process for producing insoluble lipids. The winners received £10,000 each to further their technology businesses.
Curapel is a skin healthcare company developing innovative, patent-protected products based on naturally-occurring ingredients under its brand name, Curapella. Curapel currently has a portfolio of products undergoing pre-clinical development and dermatological testing. Curapel’s first product on the market is Pellamex a dermatologically tested, liquid food supplement containing naturally-occurring ingredients that contribute to the maintenance of normal skin barrier function in those with eczema.
Neil comments:” I am delighted that Curapel has been recognised by this award; the support of UMIP and the BBSRC was crucial to commercialise our academic research and bring safe healthcare products to people with skin conditions.”
Ben Dolman’s and Dr James Winterburn’s work at Manchester has enabled the development of a gravity based separation technology which dramatically reduces the cost of production of lipid bioproducts, particularly biosurfactants, which have potential as green replacements for petrochemical products in many applications. Ben has now founded start-up Holiferm as a vehicle to commercialise this technology.
Ben comments: “We are thrilled to have won the Early Career Innovator of the Year award from BBSRC. Our work at The University of Manchester has led to the creation of Holiferm, a company that aims to dramatically reduce industrial production costs through the use of this holistically improved fermentation technology. Huge thanks to UK Research and Innovation for putting on such a great event,and to all of our collaborators whose efforts made this possible!”
Dr Rich Ferrie, Director of Operations at UMIP, added:” I am delighted that Neil, Ben and James’s work has been recognised by the BBSRC in this way. I know just how much work effort and commitment has been shown by all three in moving their innovations towards commercial success and real world impact, and I feel sure that many more accolades are on the way. This was a great evening too for us at UMIP and I thank my UMIP colleagues for supporting these projects on behalf of The University of Manchester.”
The awards, now in their 10th year, were held at The Mermaid London on Wednesday 16 May and were presented by Professor Malcolm Skingle, Director of Academic Liaison, GlaxoSmithKline Ltd and Professor Melanie Welham, Executive Chair of BBSRC.
From l to r: Dr James Winterburn, Ben Dolman, Dr Neil Gibbs, Dr Rich Ferrie