The AXA Research Fund, the international scientific philanthropy initiative of the AXA insurance group, today announced the results of its annual campaign: in 2016, the Fund is committing €15.6 million to support 44 research projects in 16 countries, including eight to academics at UK universities.

Since its launch in 2007, the AXA Research Fund has dedicated €149 million to finance 492 academic research programmes in 33 countries.  Grants are awarded following a robust selection process based on academic standards and overseen by a Scientific Board composed of renowned senior academics and AXA Group representatives. This Scientific Board is supported by an operational team managed by Ulrike Decoene, Head of the AXA Research Fund.

This year’s awards were announced today at a ceremony in Paris where there were presentations by AXA Group CEO Henri de Castries and Professor Tom Kirkwood, chair of the scientific board of the AXA Research Fund and Dean of Ageing and Director of the Changing Age Initiative at Newcastle University. A keynote speech on Science and the Data revolution is being given by Lawrence Lessig, lawyer, professor and legal activist, founder of Creative Commons and of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, and seminars are being held on The Future of Data, led by Marcin Detyniecki, Head of Research, AXA Data Innovation Lab, and The Importance of Communicating Science with BBC presenter Greg Wood.

The eight projects supported in the UK include a new chair of Medical Informatics and Life Course Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, two projects looking at the changing impacts or weather and climate change and two research programmes at the London School of Economics.

Henri de Castries, CEO of AXA, said: “As an insurer as well as an asset manager, we know the value of informed risk-taking. We know progress exists and solutions come about only by accepting confrontations with risk and overcoming overly cautious attitudes.  We made the choice to support fundamental research because it represents the substrate of scientific progress, because it may lead to revolutionary discoveries and because it challenges conventional ideas.”

Sonia Wolsey-Cooper – Chair of the AXA Research Fund Committee, AXA UK added:“The latest awards show the continued commitment by AXA to funding cutting edge university research into risk issues at UK institutions. The projects supported show the wide scope of the AXA Research Fund’s remit and how it can contribute to furthering the understanding of risk.”

UK based projects

University of Edinburgh – Professor Helen Colhoun: Medical Informatics and Life Course Epidemiology

The ultimate goal of the Chair is to transform risk prediction in diabetes. Prof. Colhoun will develop algorithms exploiting the increasing richness of large scale electronic health records (EHR) and high dimensional molecular data, utilising a dataset from 330,000 patients representing 99% of the diabetes sufferers in Scotland. The research project will stimulate advances in predictive and personalised medicine. It will be of crucial help to develop digital tools for individual and collective preventive strategies in diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Queen Mary University of London – Dr Sophie Hardman:  Expired on the Shelf: the everyday Risk of HIV/AIDS Treatment and Care.

35 million people live with HIV/AIDS around the world, 24.7 million of which live in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite efforts to promote free treatment and care for people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa, only one third of Africans (7.3 million) eligible for treatment are accessing it. The purpose of this project is to understand why this is, the social risk associated with accessing it, and to use innovative tools of public engagement to educate and inform policy change.

London School of Economics and Political Science – Professor Jeffrey Chwieroth: Systemic Risk in Non-democratic Societies: What Determines the Political Consequences over the Long Run?

The project aims at studying how policy responses to financial crises differ between democratic and authoritarian regimes. It will take a historic approach to the changing effects of financial crises on authoritarian countries since 1800 as well as investigate the duration of these political effects of financial crises: are they short or long-lived, at what stage do they fade, does duration change over time, and if so what explains this. He will look at the four types of existing authoritarian regimes as exemplified by Russia (personalized regime run by an individual), Kuwait (monarchy run by royal family regime), China (party based regime run by a single party) and Chile (formerly a military regime). The project will also allow a better understanding on how societal expectations feed back into government policy responses to economic and financial crises.

National Oceanography Centre – Dr Aurelie Duchez: Dynamics of European Extreme Weather: A Climate Model Intercomparison.

The aim of this project is to assess the impact of North Atlantic Ocean variability on European climate and specifically weather extremes. It plans to use real observations and state-of-the-art coupled climate simulations to assess the impact of atmosphere-ocean resolution on the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events over Europe. There is growing evidence that the Atlantic Ocean plays a dominant role in European winter atmospheric circulation.Using data from the RAPID array, a series of sensors spanning the Atlantic from Morocco to Florida, Aurélie Duchez and her team has already showed that a 30% slowdown of circulation in the North Atlantic did, in fact, precede the extremely cold European winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11. Then, in the first study of its kind, they have established the role of anomalously cold North Atlantic Ocean temperatures as a precursor to the highest temperatures ever recorded in Central Europe during the summer of 2015.

University of York – Dr Divya Pandey: What Level of Risk Will Ground Level Ozone Pose to Soil Carbon Sequestration Over Coming Decades?             

This proposal aims to understand and quantify the processes by which ground level ozone influences soil carbon sequestration. Dr Pandey’s new model will be among the first attempts to quantitatively connect the dots between atmospheric ozone and the consequences for carbon sequestration in soil. She will apply it to potential ozone scenarios for the UK to predict the future risks for soil carbon. This coupled model will also be adaptable to other regions and ecosystems.

University of Reading – Dr Jonathan Day: How Will Arctic Meteorological Hazards Change in The Coming Decades?

The objective of this project is to quantify the uncertainty in projections of how Artic synoptic scale cyclones and extreme winds will change over the coming decades and assess the potential to reduce this uncertainty using state of the art decadal predictions. Marine traffic in the Arctic has already increased by a factor of ten along certain routes, and industrial activity there is expected to draw some $100 billion of investment over the next decade, according to Lloyd’s of London. By helping to clarify how Arctic storms operate and integrating this information into decade-long climate predictions, Dr Day’s research could make an invaluable contribution to decision making in the Arctic, particularly related to marine access and marine insurance, as well as indigenous communities living in areas affected by Arctic storms.

Cambridge University – Dr Romain Garnier: Dynamics of Antibodies Against Zoonotic Infections in African Fruit Bats.

Zoonoses are infections that pass between animals and humans, Ebola being a high profile example. This project will study different aspects of immunity and viral transmissions on African fruit bats, through both direct observation and the use of vaccination of females. It will combine the data produced with existing data to build a detailed model of the seasonal risk of spill over of henipaviruses in E. helvum. Overall, these results are likely to provide information that will help informing policies aimed at mitigating the risk posed by emerging zoonosis originating from African fruit bats.

London School of Economics and Political Science – Dr Emily Freeman: The Future of Long Term Care for Vulnerable Older Adults in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This study aims to understand how formal provision of long-term social care for vulnerable older adults (aged 50+) in sub-Saharan Africa can be reconciled with ‘traditional African values’ of informal (family) care provision in order to plan interventions that can mitigate the risk of unmet care needs posed by major demographic change in the region.