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An international hub for innovation

Interview with Nic Palmarini, National Innovation Centre for Ageing

Where pitmen’s hard endeavours once fired the country’s economic dominance, North East England is channelling its industrial spirit to stand as an international frontrunner in the life sciences sector.

The £350m Newcastle Helix development, a cutting-edge science and technology quarter built on the former Elswick Colliery, positions Newcastle as a world-leading innovation hub.

Drawing together academia, business and the public sector, and headed by Newcastle City Council, Newcastle University and investor Legal & General, the scheme includes The Catalyst building – a beacon for ageing and data-related innovation.

The ground-breaking structure is home to the National Innovation Centre for Ageing, which highlights Newcastle University’s place as a trailblazer across international research and investigative work.

Uniting globally renowned experts, scientists, industry and the public, the centre is harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and data across ageing to shape new products and services that are capable of making tangible improvements to the lives of people around the world.

“We need to reframe innovation around ageing and the purpose for us is to find ways to help people live longer, healthier lives,” said National Innovation Centre for Ageing director Nic Palmarini.

“Two mega-trends are happening to our planet; we’ve never had such an emergency around climate change and an ageing population like we have today.

“Clearly, we have to find new solutions, where the issues and challenges are, and what the opportunities are.

“A centre like ours can join the invisible dots in society and The Catalyst is like an opera house – on the inside we are building the innovation that creates different symphonies for a beautiful concert on the outside,” added Nic.

The National Innovation Centre for Ageing was founded in 2014 thanks to a £40m investment from the government and Newcastle University.

Integral to its focus on helping people live better for longer, the centre is developing new innovative solutions around areas such as transport and travel and is also working on next-generation ideas to create age-friendly environments and homes that maximise the quality of life.

Previous projects include support for the 4 Generation Kitchen project – a collaboration between the National Innovation Centre for Ageing, kitchen designer Johnny Grey and Professor Peter Gore – which is working to influence the design ofcfuture kitchens for multigenerational living.

The centre also partnered with product development and technology operator Cambridge Consultants to support work on a new concept for women experiencing menopausal symptoms.

A critical component within these efforts is Ageing Intelligence™ – an initiative that provides insights to brands and enterprise, allowing them to capitalise on the longevity economy. Leveraging the experience and expertise of older adults through the centre’s VOICE network, as well as harnessing big data, the National Innovation Centre for Ageing is uniquely positioned to optimise the opportunities provided by the demographic revolution. Incorporating such a wider societal input, said Nic, will be crucial to the centre’s future.

“It is involving the unexpected actors in the field – they’re not doctors or sociologists but are other people getting inside the schema and providing innovation,” he added.

“This opportunity is not just for the older population; older adults are only a representation of life.

“We want to engage all of the population to instruct our intelligence and make it actionable and available to the world.

“We also have to find ways to mitigate and reduce the difference between social classes because otherwise, we are not really helping a nation to thrive and grow.”

Another significant element helping to strengthen the centre’s offering is its proximity to fellow pioneering operators.

The National Innovation Centre for Data – which helps organisations become more competitive through technical and practical improvements – and the National Institute for Health Research Innovation Observatory both sit alongside the National Innovation Centre for Ageing at The Catalyst.

Allowing for the creation of cutting-edge partnerships, these relationships are stimulating next-generation, data-driven developments.

“This is a fantastic example of what you can intend for collaboration,” added Nic, who previously played a key role in the advancement of artificial intelligence at the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, based in the USA.

“We cannot think to find innovative solutions without a deeper understanding of data – there is no artificial intelligence without data.

“We need the expertise of people who can help us see where the connections between data are to help us design better solutions and foresee what could be the drivers in becoming far more proactive.

“With data, we can take advantage of the knowledge we extract to understand if something is going to happen and how we can prevent it from happening.

“What we are doing will put NewcastleGateshead on the map globally.”

The content and photography in this editorial section were produced by North East Times.

"We need to reframe innovation around ageing and the purpose for us is to find ways to help people live longer, healthier lives."
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