Examples of Impact

UCL researchers are encouraged to think about the potential impact of their research, considering impact in its broadest sense and thinking about how their research benefits society.

Below are some examples of UCL research which has had significant impact, for example by informing policy, improving healthcare delivery or stimulating the economy.  These represent just some of the ways in which UCL research generates important social and economic benefits.

Watch a video introducing UCL Grand Challenges and UCL Public Policy

Providing insights into coalition government

UCL’s Constitution Unit provided valuable analysis on the recent UK General Election in April and May 2010.

The unit provided guides and forecasts during the General Election campaign and commentary on its potential implications. Professor Hazell, Director of the Constitution Unit in UCL Political Science, was at the forefront of commentary on the workings and implications of a hung Parliament, with multiple media appearances.

The Constitution Unit was recently praised in a Guardian editorial.


The Constitution Unit published the report ‘Coalition Government in Britain: Lessons from Overseas’ in 2002, which investigated how to make coalition government work and will shortly be republished with the Institute for Government.

Last year the Unit published (also with the Institute for Government) ‘Making Minority Government Work: Hung Parliaments and the Challenges for Westminster and Whitehall’. Both reports provide essential guidance for the months and years to come.

Key points from the 2002 report are:

  • the need for mutual trust and understanding between the coalition partners, especially the leaders
  • formal procedures for information sharing, and for signing off policy proposals by both coalition partners
  • additional resources for the Deputy Prime Minister, who will be central to joint signing-off arrangements
  • the need to decentralise coalition coordination to departments, to avoid bottlenecks at the centre
  • dispute resolution procedures, possibly through a formal coalition committee
  • a pool of trusted special advisers to help resolve coalition management issues, at the centre and in departments.

Wound healing

CoDa Therapeutics was founded to develop and commercialise wound care technology.

The company has attracted £20 million of investment, with a product designed to speed up healing of wounds while reducing scarring.


CoDa was founded on patented inventions from research by Professor Becker and Professor Colin Green from the University of Auckland.

CoDa’s technology includes the lead compound Nexagon™, which acts to down-regulate the proteins that facilitate cell–cell communication after an injury. Pre-clinical studies have shown that a single topical application of the compound reduces swelling, inflammation, scarring and the time to wound closure in a variety of tissue types including the eye, skin, spinal cord and brain.


CoDa participated in the Research Councils 2001/02 Biosciences Business Plan Competition.

Working with the financial services industry to address financial challenges

UCL is a key partner in the Financial Services Knowledge Transfer Network, a new programme to address the major challenges facing the UK financial services industry.  The initiative aims to bring together the worlds of finance and academia to create practical solutions for today’s and tomorrow’s financial challenges.


The network builds on Christopher Clack’s (UCL Computer Science) previous work in financial computing, including the establishment of UCL’s MSc in Financial Computing in partnership with four leading investment banks, and UCL’s virtual trading floor (in partnership with Thomson Reuters).

Mr Clack won the bid to set up the knowledge transfer network (KTN) with a collaboration including the Association of British Insurers and the Chartered Insurance Institute, and other leading universities and industry bodies.

The network will define the landscape of available resource in technology and academia, and encourage the application of that resource by engaging in independent studies, generating publications, advising research councils on areas of strategic importance to the sector, holding events and other activities. A priority for the Financial Services KTN will be to canvas the views of UK financial services practitioners, in order to identify the major concerns and challenges facing the industry as a whole.


The network is supported by the Technology Strategy Board, the Economic & Social Research Council, the Natural Environment Research Council and other industry sponsorship.

Magnetic sensing technology

Endomagnetics Ltd. is a spinout nanotechnology company which is commercialising magnetic sensing technology arising from research within the London Centre for Nanotechnology at UCL and the Texas Centre for Superconductivity at the University of Houston.

Endomagnetics provides magnet sensing technology to improve healthcare. The company's first product, SentiMagTM, is an ultra-sensitive hand-held probe for tracking clinically introduced magnetic nanoparticles. It is used to locate lymph nodes for the treatment of breast cancer, lung cancer and melanoma.

UCL Business led an initial investment round of £350,000 into a magnetic sensing technology company, Endomagnetics. Co-investors in the investment round were the Combined London Colleges University Challenge Seed Fund (CLCUC), Bloomsbury Bioseed Fund (BBSF), together with the founders and their friends and families.


Endomagnetics Inc is the outcome of a research partnership between UCL and the University of Houston that was established through the Texas/United Kingdom Collaborative – a programme established in 2003 to develop intellectual property and enhance the commercialization of bioscience technologies in the UK and Texas.

Globally, 1.25 million new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year; in practically all of these cases, surgery is required to remove the tumour. During the surgical procedure it is desirable to excise the sentinel lymph nodes and inspect them microscopically to determine whether the cancer has spread from the tumour to other sites in the body.

However, current methods of sentinel node detection present inherent and significant barriers to widespread adoption of the procedure, particularly because the current method is based on radiation and using a gamma-probe, which is costly, complicated, and disliked by patients.  

Endomagnetics Ltd’s approach to lymph node location takes a radically different approach. It uses a detection system based on magnetics rather than radiation, with a novel hand-held magnetic sensor replacing the gamma probe. This considerably simplifies the pre- and post-operative hospital procedures for sentinel lymph node biopsy. 

Based on 2007 cancer statistics and market research on the gamma probe market, of the 610,000 breast cancer and melanoma cases treated that year in the North America, Western Europe, Japan and Australasia, only 153,000 were addressed using the gamma-probe, indicating that there is a significant unmet need and a potential market worth at least £300 million, depending on the pricing and chosen sales model. Furthermore, the Endomagnetics solution provides a sensing platform that has applicability to other medical markets including the staging of lung, prostate and colon cancer, of which there were approximately 2,630,000 cases per annum in North America, Western Europe, Japan and Australasia in 2007.


Funding for the original research project was provided through Texas/UK Collaborative.

“The biggest auction ever”: Securing a better business deal for the UK Government

Professor Ken Bilmore (UCL Economics) helped to design the rules for the  sale of contracts for third generation (3G) mobile phone licences, raising £22.5 billion – equivalent to 2.5% of GDP.


Professor Bilmore and others drew on their research into game theory and the economics of competition  to advise the Government on the design and implementation of the licence auction.

All the companies had to bid simultaneously; as the bids increased, each company re-assessed whether they would still make a profit despite the rising costs – so the winning bids came from the best business cases.

The enormous sum raised for the Government contrasted with the sale of thee ‘second generation’ mobile licences, which yielded payments in the region of just £40,000.

Map of Medicine

Medic-to-Medic is a browser based, clinical framework that mobilises specialist knowledge and makes this available and readily usable by non specialist clinicians. The product is fully localisable and works across primary and secondary healthcare sectors to help optimise best practice. The product known as the ‘Map of Medicine’ is now licensed to NHS Connecting for Health and made available throughout the UK in Hospitals and GP surgeries.

UCLB successfully sold the company to T&F Informa UK Ltd in June 2005 in a deal worth £10.6 million. Medic to Medic has since been acquired by Hearst (US multinational publisher) which plans to export the map worldwide.


Medic-to-Medic is the result of five years’ work and the knowledge of more than 260 doctors, their service teams and general practitioners based at the Royal Free Hospital and UCL’s Royal Free & University College Medical School. Product development was led by Medic-to-Medic’s founder and Editor-in-Chief, Dr Owen Epstein, a consultant physician at the Royal Free Hospital and Dr Mike Stein as Medical Director.


The project was initially funded with a £20,000 proof of concept award by Freemedic Plc, now known as UCL Business Plc (UCLB). After further work, a sum of £100,000 was provided by way of a loan and the company was set up. Periodic cash injections continued as the business grew. At the time of sale UCLB had invested £1.6 million in the company.

Polishing large lenses and prisms

A team from UCL Physics & Astronomy developed a computer-controlled machine to produce extremely high-quality lenses and mirrors for telescopes for use by astronomers. The technology formed the basis of a successful spin-out company, Zeeko Ltd, which continues to license its knowledge internationally and is involved in major astronomy projects.


Zeeko Ltd was created in 2000 to build and sell the machines, licensing technology both from the original UCL spinout, Optical Generics Ltd (now Optical Investments Ltd), and UCL.

Zeeko also licenses its knowledge to other companies around the world and is working on several of the world’s most advanced astronomy projects.

One project, involving UCL, the National Physical Laboratory and QinetiQ, is to make 618 hexagonal mirrors for the Euro50 telescope. When built, this will be about 25 times larger than the biggest telescope that exists today.


Zeeko received support from the STFC.

Environmental-change consultancy

ENSIS Ltd is the consultancy arm of the UCL Environmental Change Research Centre, specialising in the efficient management of large, multidisciplinary environmental projects, particularly those concerned with environmental monitoring.


ENSIS was established in 1986 and undertakes work for national and local government, the European Union, commercial and university-based groups, nature conservation bodies, research councils and charitable trusts.

ENSIS organises and runs conferences, seminars and training courses, and publishes scientific books, conference proceedings and research reports on environmental themes.

The company promotes research within the ECRC and at associated centres through the sponsorship of PhD studentships and postdoctoral research appointments (including visiting professorships), and through direct funding of a wide range of research and development projects.

Current projects include:

  • the UK Acid Waters Monitoring Network – funded by the Department of the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department of the Environment Northern Ireland – was established in 1988 to monitor the ecological impact of acid deposition in areas of the UK believed to be sensitive to acidification. Its database provides a long-term record of water chemistry and biology which is unique for upland freshwater systems in the UK
  • the UK Freshwater Umbrella research programme into the recovery of aquatic ecosystems from the effects of acidification has been funded by DEFRA and the devolved agencies since 1990. The Freshwater Umbrella undertakes three-year applied science programmes to develop the scientific background to aid DEFRA make policy decisions concerned with air pollution effects on freshwater systems in the UK. The main focus of the current Freshwater Umbrella research programme is the role of nitrogen and its effects on freshwater ecosystems both as a eutrophier and through the leaching of nitrate from catchment soils.

Reporting health inequalities

A major UCL-led review commissioned by the UK government and led by Professor Sir Michael Marmot (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health) found that most people in England don’t live as long as the rich and suffer more ill health.

The review – Fair Society, Healthy Lives – proposes new ways to improve everyone’s health and reduce inequalities that it describes as ‘unfair and unjust’.

It concluded that, although health inequalities are normally associated with the poor, premature illness and death affects everyone below the wealthiest tier of English society.


People living in the most deprived neighbourhoods will on average die seven years earlier than people living in the richest neighbourhoods. Even more disturbingly, people living in poorer areas not only die sooner, but spend more of their lives with disability – an average total difference of 17 years. The review has estimated the cost of health inequalities in England:

  • productivity losses of £31–33 billion every year
  • lost taxes and higher welfare payments in the range of £20–32 billion per year
  • additional NHS healthcare costs well in excess of £5.5 billion per year.

The review also predicted an increase in the cost of treating the various illnesses that result from inequalities in obesity alone to rise from £2 billion per year to nearly £5 billion per year by 2025.

The review calls for health inequalities to sit alongside tackling climate change as one of society’s core priorities. Creating a sustainable future is, the review argues, compatible with action to reduce health inequalities: sustainable local communities, active transport, sustainable food production and zero carbon houses will all have health benefits across society.

The six main recommendations of the review are:

  • giving every child the best start in life
  • enabling all children, young people and adults to maximise their capabilities and have control over their lives
  • creating fair employment and good work for all
  • ensuring a healthy standard of living for all
  • creating and developing sustainable places and communities
  • strengthening the role and impact of ill-health prevention.

Building sustainable communities

UCL-led Urban Buzz was a £7.75 million collaborative two-year knowledge-exchange programme that aimed to develop new ways of delivering genuinely sustainable forms of development and community in London and the wider Southeast region, based on the evidence base in diverse sectors in the realm that is ‘building sustainable communities’.

The programme was dedicated to producing outcomes (as well as generating new knowledge) which include:

  • the Complete UrbanBuzz publication
  • the UrbanBuzz media hub
  • UrbanBuzz on YouTube
  • a conference held in December 2008 on the reality of creating successful communities
  • free downloadable tools and processes in the field of building sustainable communities.


UrbanBuzz was a UCL-led programme funded under HEIF 3. UCL’s prime partner was the University of East London. The project aimed to improve the coordination of knowledge and policy, recognising that the urban supply network and the research base are fragmented along disciplinary and organisational lines and this stands in the way of developing sustainable communities.

The programme funded projects focused on helping people work together to identify and work on live development projects, creating a network of professionals and practitioners at every major link in the supply chain and integrating these people (innovation fellows) with leading edge academics (business fellows).

The aim was to bring evidence-based and participative processes and new knowledge to develop sustainable communities. UrbanBuzz funded 29 projects in total.


The project was funded by the former Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills and the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Compression socks for athletes

A range of premium-range sports graduated compression socks designed to aid performance, lessen muscle fatigue and provide ankle support, were produced by Evexar Medical Ltd, an innovative subsidiary company of UCL Business (UCLB).

Distributed through Evexar Compression Advisory Ltd, the sports socks are now worn by athletes in premier league football clubs such as Manchester United, Fulham and Chelsea, and are also supplied for a variety of other sports including cricket and rugby. As distribution expands, they will soon be released for sale to the general public.


The research on which the product draws was originally carried out at UCL by Mr Stephen Barker and Dr Simon Hollingsworth of the UCL Academic Vascular Unit, as part of a larger research programme into the cause of some diseases of the veins.

This led to the development of the UCL-branded Saphena medical sock range which now delivers considerable benefits to patients in the clinical environment. Manufactured by Pretty Legs Hosiery Ltd and distributed by Griffith and Neilson Ltd, Saphena is currently sold into 31 NHS Trusts in England (representing 90 hospitals) and 58 BMI Healthcare Hospitals. Sales have recently exceeded 1.5 million pairs with 55,000 pairs being sold every month, and the Saphena sock is the only UK-designed and manufactured support sock on the market which is otherwise dominated by American competitors.


Around £8,000 in proof-of-concept funding was made available to work up a business plan for the original compression sock; £25,000 was then provided for initial trials and a further £6,000 proof-of-concept funding was provided to investigate overseas markets.

Groundbreaking weather predictions

The development of computer models that can predict global weather patterns resulting in two spinouts and a website (TSR) which received more than 1.6 million hits in 2007.

The models have been able to produce warnings to help plan for extreme tropical weather conditions, such as Cyclone Sidr in 2007. (TSR helped the Bangladeshi government plan mass evacuations and keep casualties at around 3,500, a fact praised by Bangladeshi officials). Since 2004, TSR has worked in partnership with ReutersAlertNet, a humanitarian news site that distributes real-time TSR alerts for active extreme weather events worldwide.

The spin-outs feature in the ‘2009 Better World Report’, which showcases examples of the most powerful research and technology to come out of universities that have had a positive impact on global health.


The ventures were developed from work by Professor Mark Saunders and his fellow climate researchers at the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory. Using sophisticated computer models, the team can assess the strength and pathway of storms, when they will arrive at geographical locations and how much damage they could cause. TSR tracks hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones worldwide and offers unrivalled accuracy in mapping their impacts. Eurotempest focuses on the destructive wind storms that often sweep across the European continent.


TSR developed from the UK government-supported TSUNAMI initiative project on seasonal tropical cyclone prediction which ran from October 1998 to June 2000.

Revolutionary transplant operation

UCL scientists and surgeons have led a revolutionary operation to transplant a new trachea into a child and use the child’s own stem cells to rebuild the airway in the body.

The application of this technology – which has never been used on a child before – should reduce greatly the risk of rejection of the new trachea, as the child’s stem cells will not generate any immune response. 

The operation – a world first – involved laboratory-based scientists and hospital-based clinicians working in partnership with colleagues in Europe to treat a 10-year-old British boy.


The boy was born with a rare condition called Long Segment Tracheal Stenosis – a tiny windpipe that does not grow and restricts breathing. Shortly after birth, he underwent a conventional trachea transplant at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH), but his condition deteriorated when a metal stent implanted in that operation began to erode into the aorta, a key artery, causing severe bleeding.

Scientists and surgeons at UCL, GOSH, the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust and the Careggi University Hospital in Florence, Italy, developed a new technique to treat the life-threatening condition. They stripped cells from a donated trachea, used it to replace the entire length of the damaged airway, and then used the child's own bone marrow stem cells to seal the airway in the body.

Dr Mark Lowdell, Director of Cellular Therapy at Royal Free Hospital and a senior lecturer at UCL Medical School, received the donor trachea from Italy and some bone marrow from the patient at the beginning of surgery. He and his colleagues prepared two different types of stem cells from the bone marrow together with some growth signalling chemicals and returned them to GOSH with the donor trachea.

Professor Paolo Macchiarini, from Careggi University Hospital, who is an Honorary Consultant at GOSH and Honorary Professor at UCL, applied the cells and the growth factors to the trachea in the operating theatre.

Martin Elliot, Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at UCL and Director of the Tracheal Service at GOSH, led the operation to repair the damaged aorta and implant the new trachea.

Professor Martin Birchall, UCL lead for translational regenerative medicine, who is also a head and neck surgeon specialising in airways and voice, led on ethics and regulatory approvals. 

Professor Birchall and Professor Macchiarini achieved the world's first stem cell-based organ transplant on an adult patient in 2008. Since moving to a professorial chair at the UCL Ear Institute in 2009, Professor Birchall has developed a research programme with Professor Elliott which includes, for example, the absorbable stent (supporting tube) used in this 10-year-old patient. When the patient presented to Professor Elliott, Professor Birchall pulled together the various team members into a functional unit capable of delivering a stem cell implant as quickly as possible.

Page last modified on 13 oct 10 19:06