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“Share and share alike” ethos secures Innovator of the Year 2011

25 March 2011

BBSRC is pleased to announce that Professor Jason Swedlow is Innovator of the Year 2011, winning £10,000 in recognition of his work on the Open Microscopy Environment (OME) - a revolutionary venture into open source software. Professor Swedlow received the prize and trophy from David Willetts MP, who spoke at the BBSRC Bioscience for Growth business networking event in London last night.

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said "Bioscience is a key growth sector, which is why we announced a £70 million investment in BBSRC research campuses in Norwich and Cambridge in the Budget. These awards recognise the impact of bioscience both on the economy and society, through driving innovation, training highly-skilled people, improving businesses and public services and attracting foreign investment."

The ethos of OME is "share and share alike". With this approach Professor Swedlow and colleagues are rapidly catalysing the path of discovery for all bioscience researchers who generate and use imaging technology as part of their work. This includes research to identify biological structures, examine animal behaviour, monitor the mechanism of action of a new drug, or any of a great number of imaging practices.

As an open source, community-led consortium, OME is now the leading provider of software solutions for biological image management. Central to their success has been the development and uptake of a standard image format that can be used across a range of different microscopy platforms and allow researchers to share data in an open image data repository.

The judges' view was that the impact of OME was of remarkably wide benefit due to the flexibility and openness of the approach. The business model is very clever and allows for open source software development - as in, for example, Linux, Java, OS X and Mozilla's internet explorer, Firefox - and at the same time commercial opportunities are possible by licensing platforms based on the software. Two such platforms from OME are Bio-Formats and OMERO. In this way there are both economic and social impacts from the work.

Professor Swedlow said "It is a great honour to accept this award. The support we have received from BBSRC, as well as the Wellcome Trust, during the early stages of the research has been invaluable.

"Our vision has always been to create a global standard for imaging software and the community that has grown up around the open source development is extraordinary. In reality I am receiving this award on behalf of a large group of extremely talented people who share a common commitment to innovation through team work, collaboration and the process of creating something new and exciting as a community."

Professor Swedlow also won the category prize for Social Innovator of the Year. Two other category prizes - Commercial Innovator and Most Promising Innovator - were won by Professor Chris Lowe from University of Cambridge and Professor Keith Waldron from the Institute of Food Research respectively, each receiving £5000 prize money.

Professor Lowe and colleagues have created 'smart' holograms by fabricating them in flexible gels that bear specific receptors so they swell or contract in response to specific physical, chemical and biological stimuli and respond with a change in colour, brightness or image. Lowe has a strong record in innovation; he holds more than 70 patents and has established eight other spin-out companies.

Professor Waldron has invented a new peat replacement generated from food chain wastes produced by a new composting process. Among many, it has two clear impacts: less pressure is applied to British (and Irish) peat bogs and waste material can be utilised effectively, and locally, too. This is doing very well commercially with significant take up in the UK.

Also speaking at the Bioscience for Growth event was Jeremy Webb, Editor-in-Chief of NewScientist, he said "Bioscience research in the UK is tremendously exciting and it's critical that researchers ensure that their discoveries make a real difference to people. It has been an extraordinary event today and I'm blown away by the huge range of ways in which individuals and institutions in the UK are driving innovation. Congratulations to everyone involved - this is really very good news for science."

The Innovator of the Year Award is a competition designed to recognise and reward scientists who are ensuring that the UK's excellent bioscience research is translated into outcomes that positively affect quality of life for everyone. The award, now in its third year, was established with a view to encouraging researchers to consider the potential of their research and take the necessary steps to maximise the social and economic impact of the excellent work they do.

The six finalists (see 'Notes to editors' section for details) were selected by an independent judging panel to compete in each of the three categories and for the overall prize. The finalists presented to the judging panel the day before the networking event and were all in attendance at Glazier's hall for the announcement.

Dr Celia Caulcott, Director of Innovation and Skills, BBSRC said "Congratulations to all three winners. We are delighted to be able to recognise and reward them for their commitment and achievements. There is great potential in the UK for world class research to lead to world changing technologies, products and policies and these researchers are fantastic examples of what is possible when innovation is successfully pursued.

"Bioscience research can ensure future food security, find alternatives to fossils fuels and support health into old age, but only if the potential of the research is fully realised. Those individuals and organisations represented at the Bioscience for Growth event are leading the way in this respect and we can all take inspiration from the work they do."



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Notes to editors

The six finalists were:

Commercial innovator

  • Curtis Dobson
    The University of Manchester - Re-engineering a neuroscience research tool to provide a platform technology to prevent medical device infection
  • Chris Lowe
    University of Cambridge - SMART HOLOGRAMS is a revolutionary intelligent optical sensor technology for a wide number of applications

Social innovator

  • Siobhan Abeyesinghe - Royal Veterinary College
    "Inside Chicken Run"; an animal welfare education experience
  • Jason Swedlow - University of Dundee
    The Open Microscopy Environment: Open Innovation & Opportunities for Biological Image Informatics

Most promising innovator

  • Davidson Ateh - Queen Mary, University of London
    OncoJanTM: CD95 targeted formulation of paclitaxel for treatment of ovarian cancer
  • Keith Waldron - Institute of Food Research
    A novel peat replacement from food chain wastes produced by a brand-new composting process

About BBSRC Impact Awards

Innovator of the Year and the Excellence with Impact award recognise individual and institutional commitment to realising the social and economic potential of excellent research.

Innovator of the Year has been awarded twice previously, in 2009 and 2010. Prize money in 2011 totals £20,000 with two category winners receiving £5,000 and one category winner who is also awarded the title of Innovator of the Year receiving £10,000. The award is to be spent at the winners discretion to support their research, training or other activities promoting economic or social impact, providing it falls within BBSRC's sphere of interest.

The Excellence with Impact award competition began in December 2008 and ran over a two year period. On 24 March 2011 BBSRC will award a total of £300,000 to the bioscience departments that are embedding a culture that recognises the importance of deriving economic and social impact from excellent research. One award will go to the department that has been most effective in introducing a significant culture change, which values impact as well as research excellence and the other will go to the department that can best demonstrate the achievement of economic and social impact from its research. A further £50,000 of prizes will be available for runners up in these two categories.


BBSRC is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £470M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life in the UK and beyond and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders, including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC provides institute strategic research grants to the following:

  • The Babraham Institute
  • Institute for Animal Health
  • Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (Aberystwyth University)
  • Institute of Food Research
  • John Innes Centre
  • The Genome Analysis Centre
  • The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)
  • Rothamsted Research

The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.