£1.5m donation sparks careers of new generation of scientists

An entrepreneur is hoping his £1.5m donation to Hull University will help develop the careers of a new generation of scientists.

The finishing touches are being put to plans to build a new bio-sciences research centre at the university.

The Allam Medical Research Institute – which should be completed in 2012 – aims to find new ways of detecting and treating two of the most prevalent diseases in the West, cancer and heart disease.

Its work ties in with the project to develop a new PET/CT scanner at Castle Hill Hospital in Cottingham.

Managing director of Allam Marine Assem Allam came to Britain from Egypt in the 1960s, fleeing persecution after speaking out against President Nasser's regime.

He went to Hull to visit his sister, planning to stay a month and ended up studying as a post-graduate at the university, going on to make East Yorkshire the base for what is now the country's largest supplier of electricity generators.

Mr Allam, whose three children studied locally and continue to live in the area, said: "We are very, very loyal to the area. I like the place and I like the people. The people are very good – they just don't market themselves very well. How many people know Hull has the biggest generator company in the UK, and how many people know liquid crystal technology was one of Hull University's innovations?

"Hull hasn't had the luck other universities have had in attracting donations, so other local businesses and successful alumnis should be supporting the university.

"Education and medical research are the two areas I believe are very important for the future of any nation."

Director of Clinical Biosciences at the University of Hull Prof John Greenman said staff in the Departments of Biological Sciences and Chemistry already worked closely with clinical scientists at local hospitals. The new building would be staffed by at least 12 academics and their research groups.

He said: "The presence of the new purpose-built facility, focussed on biomedical sciences, will strengthen these links and aid in the development of new treatments and tests that can be used to help clinicians treat patients."

The Daisy Appeal is raising money for what's been dubbed the "new MRI".

The combination of two scanning techniques, Positron Emission Tomography and Computed Tomography, has already revolutionised many fields of medical diagnosis, helping doctors to more accurately diagnose and identify cancer, heart disease and brain disorders.

But at the moment Hull depends on a mobile scanner visiting twice a week.

One obstacle has been the difficulty and cost of transporting the radiopharmaceuticals used for PET imaging, which are usually extremely short-lived, sometimes only a couple of hours.

Having a new unit called a cyclotron based at the hospital will solve that as the isotopes can be produced on demand.

A second cyclotron would be based at the university for academic research.

Mr Allam, who is also a vice-president of Hull City AFC, took over the Hull generator firm in 1981.

The company was awarded The Queen's Award for Enterprise 2010, for the second time in four years, in recognition of its booming export business.

Mr Allam and family were listed 348th in the 2010 Sunday Times Rich List, with a personal fortune of 185m.

The 1.5m gift is probably the largest single donation the university has had in recent times.

Together with Gift Aid and matched funding support from the Higher Education Funding Council, it amounts to 3m.