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Professor Elena Lurie-Luke is our Entrepreneur in Residency in Life Sciences and was one of the first people appointed as a Professor-in-Practice at Durham. She is an expert in Biosciences research and innovation, with a keen interest in translating research into commercial success.

Elena recently had a paper published in Nature Communications exploring the challenges faced by start-up companies looking to solve global food insecurity. Here we learn more about her work and how Durham is helping address the challenge of feeding an ever-expanding global population.  

Can you tell us about your role at Durham? 

Professor Elena Lurie-Luke smiling with her arms crossedMy journey started around 15-years-ago when I worked at Procter & Gamble (P&G) leading their Global Life Science Open Innovation. During that time, Professor Keith Lindsey and I established the strategic collaboration programme between P&G and Durham University. 

The programme has received widespread recognition through multiple grants and publications in high profile journals.  

Leaving P&G, I continued my relationship with Durham University as Professor-in-Practice and I work across Durham’s Science Faculty with staff and students supporting spinouts, entrepreneurship and enterprise. 

In your Nature Communications paper, you outline the challenges facing the alternative protein food industry and the importance of startup businesses in this sphere. How pressing is the need to develop a globally marketable alternative to meat?  

In 2022, 9.2 per cent of the global population were undernourished. As we enter the second quarter of this century, the world faces a formidable task of feeding a growing population projected to reach 10 billion by 2025.  

To address this task requires a 50 per cent increase in global production in the next 25-years and the significance of food innovation is becoming more critical.  

It’s particularly important for us to develop alternative protein sources. They can substitute meat products to meet a demand that is set to nearly double by 2050.  

Alternative protein sources form an integral part of a sustainable food system by helping reduce the environmental impact of meat production. 

What research innovations are emerging from Durham in terms of food security solutions?  

Durham is actively engaged in addressing the food security challenge through extensive research efforts and collaboration programmes. 

Cross-discipline researchers are working together in areas such as sustainable agriculture, food waste and the social dimensions of food security. For example, the Durham Centre for Crop Improvement Technology has established a crop transformation and gene editing facility that has developed transformation procedures for wheat, rice and barley.  

Meanwhile, the Durham spin-out FITOvol is developing innovative solutions for crop diagnostics, including establishing the first purposely built crop diagnostic knowledge hub.  

We’re also part of the multidisciplinary UK Innovate funded Insectrial Revolution project which aims to advance the capabilities of the UK insect farming sector. Technological, processing advancements, and academic research within this project seek to use food waste to produce high-quality protein for animal feed, and to understand the value of insect rearing residues as novel biofertilisers.  

How is Durham University supporting academics to translate their research into commercial success? 

Durham has developed a comprehensive enterprise eco-system to help academics translate their research into commercial applications. This includes funding and collaborations such as the Northern Accelerator proof-of-concept programme and Executive into Business. 

We have Innovation Acceleration Accounts (IAAs); strategic industrial partnerships and the development of an entrepreneurial mindset to promote connectivity between research and actionable outcomes. 

And, of course, we have a very strong and proactive Research and Innovation Services (RIS) Department, for example, we have received continuous and very valuable support from Dr. Heather Allinson. It helps researchers navigate the process of spinout formation, patenting, licensing and forming partnerships with industry partners. 

Why is it important to embed and encourage an entrepreneurial mindset among Durham’s research staff and students?  

It’s important because it helps to increase the relevance and practicality of academic research and education. For example, aligning research with current needs and challenges, and broadening the practical applications and implications of research to make it more valuable and impactful. 

We also want to bridge the gap between academia and industry and accelerate innovation.  

For our students, it’s important for employability and career readiness. For example, Biological Enterprise and Science Enterprise modules encourage students to develop an entrepreneurial and innovative mindset. This equips them with the skills to succeed in a rapidly changing and competitive business environment. 

The importance of building an entrepreneurial and innovative culture among students has been recognised by the creation of a new role of Academic Champion for Students and Graduate Enterprise that will start in the summer. 

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