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02/06/2021 - 17:40

Treatment for Cerebral Malaria receives the University of Iceland's Science and Innovation Award

Treatment for Cerebral Malaria receives the University of Iceland's Science and Innovation Award - Available at University of Iceland

A new treatment for Cerebral Malaria in children that does not have to be administered in a hospital received first prize in the annual competition for the Applied Science Prize at the University of Iceland that ended in the University's Aula today. Three other projects on variable stiffness in prosthetic feet, visual presentation of glacier retreat, and software for using Icelandic more extensively in a digital world, also received prizes.  

This was the twenty-third time the award, formerly the University of Iceland’s Applied Science Prize, was presented.  A record number of submissions were received this year, or 50 proposals. Prizes were awarded for the best idea in four categories. Health; Technology and Progress; Society; and Incentive Award.  The overall winner was selected from the winners of each category. 

The criteria used were originality, presentation, social impact (partly based on the UN sustainability goals), and to what extent the project was in line with University policy and supported its operations. 


First prize in the category Health, and the overall competition, went to the project Development of a Treatment for Cerebral Malaria, which received a total of 3 million Ikr in prize money. The project is aimed at developing a new pharmaceutical for children based on two malaria drugs; a pill and an intravenous drug.  The goal is not least to improve access to and use of pharmaceuticals against this deadly disease; a disease that kills one child every two minutes in Sub-Saharan Africa.  The group behind the project was able to dissolve the drugs in enema or clyster, this form of the drug is not available today.  This would mean that the drugs could be administered outside hospitals by parents, other family members, or staff in small rural clinics. Clinical trials are planned this autumn. 

The selection committee said the project has a noble goal and fits well with the UN sustainability goals.  It has great potential for benefits to a vulnerable population, is highly innovative, and is in line with university strategy and operations.  "The project is a good example of a dynamic collaboration within the university with international specialists and institutes," as it says in the selection committee's statement.

The team behind the project are Sveinbjörn Gizurarson, professor of pharmacy, Ellen K. I. Mhango, doctoral student in pharmacy, Bergþóra S. Snorradóttir, assistant professor of pharmacy, and Benjamín Ragnar Sveinbjörnsson, associate professor of chemistry.  The project team collaborated with the Baxter Kachingwe University in Malawi, and Peter Ehizibue Olumese at WHO. 


First prize in the category Technology and Progress went to the project Variable Stiffness Prosthetic Foot. The team behind the project received a total of 1.5 million Ikr in prize money. The project is aimed at developing two new types of prosthetic feet that adjust to the choices and activities of the user. Prosthetic feet on the market today are suited for most daily activities, but lack adaptability in uneven areas, playing with children, kneeling, and when climbing hills or stairs. This is a new quality for prosthetic feet, but their design increases the mobility of the user in work and play, and will significantly improve quality of life. The first user tests are promising.      

The selection committee points out that the project is important because this is a well known problem in prosthetics.  Furthermore, it is highly innovative and has social impact.  "The project is a good example of fruitful collaboration between the University of Iceland and industry; initiating progress and creating new knowledge for the benefit of society," as is stated in the committee's comments. 

The project is a collaboration between scientists and doctoral candidates at the University of Iceland and the high-tech company Össur.  The team comprises Christophe Lecomte, doctoral student in mechanical engineering and manager at Össur, Sigurður Brynjólfsson and Fjóla Jónsdóttir, professors of mechanical engineering, Kristín Briem, professor of physiotherapy, Felix Starker, specialist at Össur, Anna Lára Ármannsdóttir, doctoral student in health sciences, and Heimir Tryggvason, doctoral student in mechanical engineering.  


In the category Society, the project Breiðamerkurjökull 2121: A visual journey into an uncertain future received an award of 1.5 million Ikr. The project was about creating a visual image of the glacier Breiðamerkurjökull and the surrounding landscape, and the way it will probably look like in a hundred years, based on the best scientific data available on the expected retreat of the glacier.  Hypothetical maps, based on three different scenarios concerning glacial retreat will be created.  Computerised images of the glacier and the landscape will be created and combined into a video that shows the development over time according to different scenarios.  Glacial retreat is one of the most striking manifestations of climate change, and therefore a very apt subject to communicate the impact of this change. 

The selection committee pointed out that the project has great social significance as climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today.  A new 3-D technology, hitherto mainly used in video games, is used here to communicate scientific knowledge, and interdisciplinary collaboration of scientists, designers, the film makers and public institutions is exemplary.

A large group is involved in the project; Þorvarður Árnason, director of the University of Iceland Research Centre in Hornafjörður, Helgi Björnsson, professor emeritus in glaciology, Finnur Pálsson, engineer at the University of Iceland's Institute of Earth Sciences, Guðfinna Aðalgeirsdóttir, professor of glaciology, Kieran Baxter, postdoc at the Research Centre in Hornafjörður, Johannes Welling, project manager at the centre,  David C. Ostman, project manager, and Jón Örn Guðbjartsson, Head of the University's Division of Marketing and Public Relations. The project is in collaboration with Snævarr Guðmundsson, head of division and Physical Geographer at the South East Iceland Nature Research Center, Hrafnhildur Hannesdóttur, specialist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, Alice Watterson, specialist at 3DVisLab at Dundee-University, Gunnlaugur Þór Pálsson, film director and producer, M Jackson, glaciologist and media personality, Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland, Arctic Centre Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður - National Park,  Icelandic Museum of Natural History and National Land Survey of Iceland.


A special Incentive award, 500,000 Ikr was awarded to the project Cross Lingual Question Answering for Icelandic using Deep Neural Networks. The idea is to develop a software solution that enables computer systems, such as search engines to receive enquiries and providing an answer in Icelandic, or if not possible in another language. Users of this solution can thus rely on the Icelandic language in all computers and electronic devices that have enquiry interfaces. The first results concerning responses have been promising and show that the net has learned to show where in a text answers to questions can be found.  The start-up Miðeind aims at implementing the solution once the project is completed.

"The selection committee finds this project is ideal to strengthen the position of Icelandic in the digital world; the project is innovative and is close to being finished, besides being a collaboration with a company determined to see it become a reality," as is stated in the commentary from the committee. 

The innovators are Vésteinn Snæbjarnarson, Master's student in computer science, and Hafsteinn Einarsson, assistant professor and supervisor of the project. The project is a collaboration with Miðeind ehf.

The University's Science and Innovation Award is a collaboration of the University of Iceland, The New Business Venture Fund, Árnason|Faktor, Innovation Centre Iceland, and Auðna - Technology Transfer Office Iceland. 

More photos from the award ceremony.


From left: Kristinn Andersen, professor and chair of the selection committee, Guðbjörg Linda Rafnsdóttir, Pro-rector of Science, Bergþóra S. Snorradóttir, assistant professor of pharmacy, Ellen K. G. Mhango, doctoral student in pharmacy, Sveinbjörn Gizurarson, professor of pharmacy, Benjamín Ragnar Sveinbjörnsson, associate professor of chemistry, og Jón Atil Benediktsson, Rector of the University of Icceland. image/Kristinn Ingvarsson