2019 02 17

Back From Research Exchange With Unique Experience

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Cell therapy treatment for onco-hematological disease perfected at the Leipzig University Oncology and Hematology Clinic, revolutionary products for the audiovisual industry developed in the UK-based company Mo-Sys Engineering Ltd., robotics projects at the European Space Agency and the incredible know-how of the Milan Polytechnic University in design – these are just a few of the areas Lithuanian scientists, researchers and other specialists delved into as part of the MITAP II research exchange.

Initiated by the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA), the Open Access to Science and Research exchange programme (MITAP II) aims to develop the ability of local scientists to identify services that research needs and to commercialise the results of R&D. The scientific exchange programme targets topics such as technological transferral, auditing, commercialisation, intellectual property management and scientific marketing.

The range of specialty areas offered by international research institutions participating in the exchange is substantial: from natural resources and advanced agricultural technology, new product development and renewable energy to biomedicine and biotechnology, material science and nanotechnology, laser and light technology, engineering, information and communication technology.

The Inner Workings of Space Robotics

At the beginning of this year, Vytautas Bakanauskas, a junior researcher at the Mechatronics Institute of the Kaunas University of Technology (KTU), spent three months at the Robotics Division of the European Space Agency. The mechanical engineer was well-acquainted with the work of the organisation as he had already spent 12 months there last year doing research and participating in the development and testing of a device that replenishes satellite fuel systems. Later, Bakanauskas got involved in mechanical design at the Robotics Division.  For this reason, he was able to continue his research and lead a team working on a commissioned project, which will be implemented by an industrial company.

The product they are developing is a reaction wheel, used for one of the large platforms the European Space Agency lab utilises for exploring orbit systems on Earth. However, it is unclear which European country or which company will be responsible for manufacturing the product. At Bakanauskas’ initiative, the list of potential contenders includes several Lithuanian companies as well as KTU.

“The opportunities at the European Space Agency are great, and my fellowship here has given me a lot of experience, I have learned so much,” explains Bakanauskas, “You don’t necessarily need to design a robot to be useful in the field of robotics. It’s important that you’re familiar with the problems inherent in robotics and what robotic systems sometimes need if you want do your job. The field of space research is vast and so is the field of robotics, which means that sometimes small things can determine a lot. You can work in a very narrow field and still contribute to a project”.

Lessons in Italian Design

The head of the KTU Design Centre, Rūta Valušytė, notes that it was only five years ago that KTU began to expand into the field of design. The demand for a design department had grown immensely in recent years – both with regard to study programmes and research. Design is viewed as one of the links that can contribute to the development of projects and successful products, so that the fruits of science ultimately reach the market.

For the KTU scientist, this was the main focus during her fellowship at Milan Polytechnic University in Italy, which has a well-established design division. The significance of the work the division does is evidenced by the fact that in the area of design and the arts, Milan Polytechnic University ranks fifth among the world’s universities.

“We have a good relationship with Milan Polytechnic University at the academic level, but we’re working on several initiatives that will strengthen our cooperation in the area of research. In September of 2017, our two universities hosted the first ever scientific design conference in Kaunas. 4D – Designing Development Developing Design, as the conference was titled, brought together design and creative industries researchers from 16 different countries. During my fellowship in Milan, my intent was to become acquainted with how the Milan Polytechnic University design system operates in the area of R&D commercialisation, with a special focus on the role design plays in this process,” elaborates Valušytė.

The designer was especially eager to learn about the kinds of projects the institution is involved in and how they are linked to the city’s innovation policy, what organisations and businesses it collaborates with and what areas of activity it finds the most relevant. According to the KTU scientist, Milan Polytechnic University willingly shares its immense experience with partners that are motivated and oriented towards quality, which is why the experience she gained during the fellowship will be very useful and highly applicable to Lithuania.

A Powerful Tool for Knowledge

The research exchange programme took lecturer Tomas Mitkus of the Department of Graphic Systems at the Faculty of Fundamental Sciences of Vilnius Gediminas Technical University (VGTU) to London, more specifically, to Mo-Sys Engineering Ltd., a company that designs and manufactures various products for the cinema and television industry. Mo-Sys Engineering Ltd. products are used by cinema industry giants such as BBC Films, Warner Bros and Disney as well as television companies such as BBC TV, ESPN, Fox, Red Bull TV and Sky.

Tomas Mitkus was interested in the latest technical and programming achievements of the virtual studio, the company’s innovative work and products, which can potentially revolutionise the audiovisual industry.

“Because VGTU is a technical university, we’re very interested in technical solutions and new possibilities in the context of the creative industries,” emphasises Mitkus.

As a lecturer at VGTU, he specialises in animation and has also led practical and theoretical courses on topics within the creative industries. This year, he will begin teaching an introductory course on comics – the first academic course of its kind in Lithuania.

“Fellowships abroad are an especially powerful tool for raising your qualifications, gaining international experience and becoming closely acquainted with global practices and innovations,” maintains Tomas Mitkus.

Accessible in Lithuania Too

This year, hematologist and oncological chemotherapist Domas Vaitiekus of the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences (LSMU) Kaunas Clinics, spent three months at the Oncology and Hematology Clinic of the Leipzig University Hospital in Germany, applying cell therapy. Upon his return from his first fellowship at the Leipzig University Hospital six years ago, the Kaunas Clinics began carrying out autological (patients are their own donors) hematopoietic stem cell transplants.  During this year’s fellowship, Dr. Vaitiekus plans to deepen his knowledge of cell therapy in the treatment of onco-hematological disease with the hope that during the coming years, he will be able to apply his new-found knowledge on patients in Lithuania.

As the LSMU doctoral student explains, viral diseases are resilient, difficult to treat with medication, and the patient’s immune system post-transplantation, or as the patient fights the onco-hematological disease, is weak, and standard methods of treatment do not help. However, there is a great probability that patients will react positively to cell therapy.

“The most important thing is the application of cell therapy in clinical practice, how the process is prepared. You have to know which patients the treatment is suitable for and exactly when this treatment is the right choice, what side effects it can have,” clarifies Vaitiekus.

The new treatment methods have already been perfected in the most advanced medical research centres in the world. Now is the point when these treatments are spreading to other medical institutions. The LSMU hematologist and oncological chemotherapist emphasises that specialists want the treatment to be available in Lithuania too.

MITA’s exchange programme MITAP II has already given Lithuanian scientists the opportunity to study from their peers in European universities and research centres such as the Marin Drăcea National Institute for Research and Development in Forestry in Romania, the University of Debrecen in Hungary, the University of Lund in Sweden, the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering, The University of Leipzig and the University of Veterinary Medicine in Germany, the Cell Factory in Belgium, Helsinki University in Finland, the UK-based companies Mo-Sys Engineering Ltd and AbBaltis Ltd, National University of Ireland in Galway, the polytechnic universities of Bologna and Milan in Italy and the European Space Agency in the Netherlands.

Five more exchange positions have been arranged for in Finland: at the Lappeenranta University of Technology, which is oriented at business development and green industry, the University of Eastern Finland, Karelia University of Applied Sciences, the Finnish Science Park and Josel Ltd, a Finnish regional development company.

Arrangements are also currently being made for fellowship positions in prestigious UK-based R&D centres such as London South Bank University, the Imperial College of London and the technology commercialisation and investment company Imperial Innovations.

Approval has been granted for organising MITAP II exchanges to countries beyond the EU that are eligible for participation in Horizon 2020 projects and have been identified as priority countries with regard to R&D, technology transfer and commercialisation, for example, the US and Japan.

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