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IDSAI Funding for Pilot Projects Announced

The IDSAI is delighted to announce that five new research projects have been selected to receive an IDSAI Research Award or Exeter-Turing Pilot Research grant from the latest round of applications. These five awards join a previous project: detecting ancient hillforts, that was delayed due to Covid. All six projects will start in January 2021. 

IDSAI Research Awards and Turing-Exeter Pilot Research Grants aim to support early-phase development of ideas for innovative, interdisciplinary data science and AI research across Exeter.  Academic members of staff from all Colleges were invited to apply for the time of an IDSAI Research Fellow to work with them on a pilot research project.  You can read about each project below.

For further information about any of the projects please contact:

COLLABORATORS: Professor Susan Banducci (QStep, SSIS, Turing Fellow), Prof. Hilde Coffé (University of Bath, Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies), Dr. Tom Fincham Haines (University of Bath, Computer Science).
IDSAI Research Fellow: Dr Ravi Pandit
Description: Sarah Child’s “Good Parliament” Report of 2016, which focused on making the UK House of Commons more inclusive especially for women, first recommendation was that “unprofessional, sexist and exclusionary language and behaviour should have no place in the House”. This sexist behaviour creates a barrier to the full participation of women in policymaking and decreases democratic quality. Therefore, it is crucial to study when, where and how sexism occurs in political institutions.   Given that sexism is not one behavioural trait but can be exhibited in many ways (including through voice and gestures), the aim of this project is to explore the feasibility of developing a multimodal technique (relying on text, image and audio) to measure sexist language and behaviour in the House of Commons.
COLLABORATORS: Dr Akshay Bhinge (College of Medicine and Health), Dr David Richards (Physics), Professor Krasimira Tsaneva-Atanasova (Mathematics, Turing Fellow), Dr Kate Madden (University of Newcastle).
IDSAI Research Fellow: Dr Ravi Pandit
Description: Motor neuron disease (MND) is a devastating neurodegenerative condition characterized by loss of motor neurons. Understanding the molecular events that lead to motor neuron degeneration in MND is paramount in developing therapies to halt or even reverse the degeneration. Monitoring of motor neuron health in vitro is currently performed using immunostaining where cells are chemically fixed and specific intracellular proteins are stained with fluorescent antibodies. However, immunostaining does not allow real-time monitoring of motor neuron health and can lead to artefacts in neuronal structure. Real-time analysis is important because MND motor neurons display progressive deterioration over extended time periods in vitro. What is critically needed is the ability to identify motor neurons in unstained images. At the moment, however, this is simply not possible. In this project, the team aim to rectify this by developing a novel machine learning approach that can identify neuron type based solely on cell shape without the need for any staining.
COLLABORATORS: Daniel Williamson (CEMPS, Turing Fellow), Brett Day (Business School), Ian Bateman (Business School), Deyu Ming and Serge Guillas (UCL,Turing)
IDSAI Research Fellow: Dr Bertrand Nortier
Description: The 2019 Climate Change Act amendment requires the UK to achieve net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. Crucial to any strategy for meeting this target is the widespread planting of trees, removing GHG from the atmosphere. Design of “treescaping” policies must address two challenges: (i) A variety of factors (such as reliance upon private-sector uptake of incentives) introduce uncertainty regarding the level of GHG removed by tree planting; (ii) Alongside carbon sequestration, tree planting affects a wide array of other ecosystem services including biodiversity, flood, recreation, fire risk, food production and so on.
For each element of (i) and (ii) different research communities have models for their piece of the process. All models are interconnected and can be computationally intensive. To provide policy support, the project aims to run this network of models, propagating their uncertainties over a continuum of policies, in order to present decision makers (DM) with a subspace of policies that are consistent with their stated targets for CO2 sequestration and illustrate trade-offs with costs and other ecosystem services. DM may have an ill-formed prior understanding regarding the trade-offs they might accept across impacts, so rather than using a multi-objective optimisation, the vision is to deliver a mapping of the whole policy space for DMs to explore in real time, offering the potential for radical improvements in policy. 
COLLABORATORS:  Prof William Henley (Health Statistics Group, CMH), Prof Mark Kelson (CEMPS; Turing Fellow), Prof Sebastian Vollmer (University of Warwick; Turing Institute), Dr John Dennis (CMH), Dr Lauren Rodgers (CMH), Dr Adam Streeter (Mùˆnster Universitätklinikum), Dr Gus Hamilton (NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow, North Bristol NHS Trust).
IDSAI Research Fellow: Dr Oliver Stoner
Description:  As progress is made towards developing vaccines against COVID-19, there is increasing interest in understanding ways of enhancing the effectiveness and safety of both new and existing vaccines. Understanding ways of enhancing vaccine response has the potential to have a major impact on tackling morbidity and mortality from existing and emerging infectious diseases in vulnerable populations. 

Some of the most common prescription drugs in the UK are medications to treat high blood pressure, statins to treat or delay cardiovascular disease, proton pump inhibitors for heart-burn and acid related disorders, metformin to delay or treat diabetes and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.  A number of these medications are also known to have modulating effects on the immune system that could either inhibit or enhance the immune response when patients receive routine vaccinations. The project team aims to use machine learning approaches to facilitate a data-driven exploration of drug-vaccine interactions to identify candidates for future investigation. This data-intensive screening approach has the potential for rapid deployment at scale to validate interactions with known mechanisms as well as contributing to the discovery of new targets. This proposed project combines methodology development with delivering clinically-relevant results for influenza vaccination.
COLLABORATORS:  Prof David Llewellyn (CMH and Turing Fellow),  Dr Neil Oxtoby (UCL), Dr Janice Ranson (CMH), Dr Charlotte James (CMH), Razvan Marinescu, (Postdoctoral Researcher in Medical Image Computing, MIT)
IDSAI Research Fellow: Dr Bertrand Nortier
Description:  One barrier to the development and implementation of robust unbiased algorithms is the heterogeneous nature of clinical, population-based and experimental data. Attempts to enhance healthcare have been hampered by the use of single datasets to develop algorithms that are overfitted and don’t perform well in other datasets, contexts or populations. Models developed for rare conditions are particularly problematic due to limited training data and opportunities for external validation. Transfer learning may be a solution to these difficulties, allowing for knowledge learnt from one dataset to be transferred to a second, where the data is similar. The primary objective of the project is to investigate the utility of transfer learning for clinical application. The project will assess whether a machine learning model trained to predict two-year dementia risk can be transferred between clinical samples. As a secondary objective the project will evaluate the utility of Disease Knowledge Transfer ( to extend the way in which transfer learning can be used with clinical data.
COLLABORATORS:  Dr João Fonte (Co-I) and Dr Ioana Oltean (Archaeology), Professor Leif Isaksen (Digital Humanities) Dr Jacqueline Christmas (Computer Science) (Co-I); Dr Albert Chen (Centre for Water Systems);  Jane Galwey (Camborne School of Mines)
IDSAI Research Fellow: Dr Dmitry Kangin
Description:  This project uses a machine learning approach to test the automated pattern recognition of, and data enhancement for Iron Age hillforts in South West England based on airborne laser scanning data.
Despite the recognition of their great potential the development of automatic detection methods applied to archaeological remote sensing is still in its infancy and limited to very simple morphologies. However, the increasing availability of remote sensing data of higher resolution, higher acquisition frequency and lower cost, demands a paradigm shift, where traditional man-made identification and mapping of archaeological sites cannot be the only option available. 

The project will test the extent to which existing algorithms developed for other purposes can assist the detection in airborne LiDAR datasets of hillforts.  The project proposes a meaningful solution to protect archaeological heritage and fight the rate of its destruction due primarily to development and climate change globally. If successful, this approach could be expanded and applied to other case studies involving similar archaeological objects elsewhere; other types of archaeological features; potentially other types of datasets (e.g. multispectral aerial and satellite imagery). This will be highly relevant in particular for cultural heritage management by national and local agencies in Britain and beyond.