Manchester shines at the Cheltenham Science Festival

Today is the start of the annual Cheltenham Science Festival. It runs for 5 days and features prominent researchers talking about topics ranging from dinosaurs to immune cells. The University of Manchester is well represented – whether it’s Phil Manning talking about Dinosaur Hunters or Brian Cox talking about all things science, Manchester plays a central role in this year’s festival.

Renowned Faculty Professor and best-selling author, Dan Davis, will be talking about compatibility genes. Dan, who has literally wrote the book on ‘The Compatibility Gene’ will explain the history behind the discovery of the genes and how his research here in Manchester is continuing the story. It is something that should not be missed!


A full listing of all the Manchester talks:

Phil Manning: Dinosaur Hunters & Dinosaur Wars

Tim O’Brien: Searching for Alien Intelligence 

Brian Cox: Brian Cox, Alice Roberts and Adam Rutherford 

Dan Davis: The Compatibility Gene 

Graphene: Material of the Modern Age

science festival

Million pound success for Manchester body clock researchers

Almost £1.3 million has been awarded from Arthritis Research UK to scientists at the University of Manchester.

Faculty scientist Dr Qing-Jun Meng and his colleague, Dr Julie Gibbs from the Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences, have been awarded the fellowships (worth £845,918 and £434,767 respectively) in order to study the effects the body clock has on two common types of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It is well known that the symptoms of arthritis fluctuate during the day and it is thought that this is linked to our internal body clocks.

Meng and GibbsDr Meng is an expert in cartilage and joint damage linked to the 24 hour body clock of the human body. He’s now looking to use the fellowship to get a better understanding of how disruptions in the natural body clock could lead to an increased risk of developing osteoarthritis. He says:

“I am very pleased to receive this fantastic award, which will enable me to continue in this potentially very fruitful area of biomedical research. I believe this research will provide novel and medically relevant insights into one of the most common joint diseases that affect most elderly.”

Dr Gibbs’ research specialises in body clocks and inflammation. In particular, her research has shown that the body clock is a key regulator in inflammation. Arthritis is an inflammatory disease of the joints and so a better understanding of how the body clock helps to control inflammation may give us a greater insight into the role body clocks play in arthritis.

The duo are part of a larger team based here at The University of Manchester which collectively makes up one of the largest and most productive clock research communities in the world. Having successfully collaborated on previous projects, both researchers are looking to use their complementary research skills to tackle one of the biggest research problems in the arthritis field.

Professor Ian Roberts, Associate Dean for Research of the University’s Faculty of Life Sciences, said: “We are delighted by the two recent prestigious fellowship awards to these two excellent young researchers. They reflect the quality of research on body clocks ongoing in both faculties and offer a real opportunity to answer important questions on body clocks and human disease.”

Dr Stephen Simpson, Director of Research and Programmes at Arthritis Research UK commented: “…we’re  hopeful that these two fellowships will take us closer to much-needed, more effective treatments for people with these painful, debilitating conditions.”

Lidija McKnight: Being in the media spotlight

I’m not normally one who would choose to live life ‘in the spotlight’. In fact, I’d say the opposite was closer to the mark. However, following a brief interaction with the media in 2013, I vowed to myself that actually, the media can offer opportunities to share research which might otherwise stay confined to academia. I am fortunate that my research – the biomedical imaging of ancient Egyptian mummified remains – has broad public appeal. That said, nothing could have prepared me for recent events.

In 2014 I was approached by the BBC to discuss the possibility of making a documentary for Horizon on the use of radiographic imaging to study human mummies. As my research primarily concerns ancient mummified animals combined with the fact that human mummies are frequently in the news, I managed to persuade the researchers to run with animals instead.

In October, following numerous conversations with researchers and producers, I was fortunate enough to spend several days and nights filming for the programme, alongside a team from Manchester Museum and the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. Despite the very long hours, numerous retakes and general jitters about being on camera, the whole experience was thoroughly enjoyable and interesting. The programme aired on BBC2 in May 2015 to more than one million viewers.

Working on Horizon opened up a number of doors. The week before the programme aired, a BBC news crew came to film the curator and myself in the museum talking about some of the key findings of the research. This news piece was broadcast several times on the day of the Horizon programme and sparked a great deal of media attention which was over and above what we were all expecting!

Unfortunately for me, the curator was away at a conference so the media attention was targeted at me. I spoke to the university’s Media Relations team who gave me some idea of what to expect at Media City the next day.

I already had three radio interviews lined up so the BBC sent a taxi at 5am to take me to Media City. Once there things quickly spiralled and I did live radio interviews on the World Service, Radio 5 Live, Radio Manchester, Radio Berkshire, Good Morning Scotland and Radio Wales. Live radio is not as bad as you might think, and media training that I had done proved to be useful in giving me a bit of confidence.

Doing an interview in a studio is a little easier because you can actually see and interact with the host, but interviews for stations which don’t have studios locally are performed in a radio booth. This booth is literally a black ‘box’ in the foyer of Quay House. It looks a little like a cross between one of those fancy new-style public conveniences and the TARDIS! Basically, it’s a sound-proof cubicle with a microphone and a headset, through which you speak to a producer before listening to the live radio show, at which point the presenter will introduce you and ask questions.

After coming out of each interview, I checked my phone and found emails and missed calls from journalists, radio and TV people, as well as calls from the Media Relations team at the University who were also busy fielding enquiries. Stupidly, I had gone without my laptop (big mistake!) so I spent all my spare time trying to reply to emails and send out suitable images on my mobile. Around lunchtime, the situation had become so crazy that I called out for help. The museum sent a cab to come and collect me as I had a short break before I was due to go on Newsround at 4pm. I spent two hours at the museum having professional photos taken on the gallery (which were then sold on to newspapers), helping to write a press release and speaking to international newspaper journalists – not much of a rest, but a change of scenery nonetheless!

I hadn’t expected to be going on TV that day, but the Media Relations team had forewarned me to go dressed for it. I appeared on Newsround which was a whole new realm of scary. There is nowhere to hide on live TV, but we had two practice runs before the show which helped a lot. The presenters and crew were very nice and genuinely pleased to have a real-life person on the sofa. The Newsround target audience is 8-13 year olds – dramatically different to the BBC News Channel who had requested that I stay on to film a live interview at 7:30pm. That was a little strange as I had to sit in an empty studio and talk into a black box. I finally made it home at 9:10pm – ten minutes after Horizon started on BBC2!

It didn’t end there. I had many other live and pre-recorded radio interviews over the phone with Irish, Canadian and American broadcasters. Newspapers and science websites ran stories on the research and a documentary team is coming from Canada to film our work.

So what advice would I give to other FLS researchers regarding the media? Firstly, the media is not as scary as it might seem. Embrace every opportunity presented to you and run with it, no one wants you to fail (especially not on live radio or TV). Have faith in the fact that you know your research better than most other people out there so don’t be afraid to speak about it with confidence. If you don’t like the questions, there is a knack to turning them around to one you like better. Don’t feel alone – the University has a team of professional people to handle the media – use them and their experience to your advantage. Lastly, attend some media training so that you have just a little bit of confidence for when that phone call or email comes – you won’t regret it.


You can catch the Horizon Documentary here on the BBC

Dementia Awareness Week 2015.

This week is Dementia Awareness Week, which looks to raise awareness of this debilitating disease. Dementia is an incurable disease that can strip you of your most cherished memories, your relationships and your identity – leaving you feeling isolated and alone. This does not have to be the case. This year, the Alzheimer’s society, who heads up Dementia Awareness Week, are promoting the idea that Dementia sufferers can #DoSomethingNew. The campaign hopes to spread the idea that life does not have to end when dementia begins.

The University of Manchester has teamed up with Dementia Friends, a programme that tries to change people’s perceptions of dementia. It aims to transform the way people think, talk and act about the condition. Kate Middleton, Admin Support Manager in the Faculty, is a volunteer Dementia Champion. She says:

“I became a Dementia Champion as I have personally been affected from a family member living with dementia; this initiative by the Alzheimer’s Society is to change society’s negative perceptions of dementia as people living with the condition can experience loneliness and social exclusion.  As a Dementia Champion volunteer, I talk to people to hopefully give them a better understanding of dementia and ask them to consider the small things that they can do to make the difference to people living with condition.  People can then turn their understanding of dementia into practical action by becoming a ‘Dementia Friend’ and help in creating dementia-friendly communities.  Being a ‘Dementia Friend’ doesn’t mean you have to commit to doing something time-consuming, every small action counts – such as behaving patiently with someone showing signs of dementia – or helping or supporting a friend or relative affected by dementia.  By raising awareness in society through talking about dementia, we can enable people living with the condition to go about their daily lives and feel part of their community.”

To find out more about the way this Faculty is helping to tackle the disease, watch our Life Science Broadcast on the topic:

There’s strength in flexibility

Faculty Scientists have made an important discovery about how cells change the strength of the connection between one another to match the various needs of the body.

The team, led by Dr Lydia Tabernero and Prof David Garrod, looked at desmosomes – structures that help to bind two cells together. Specifically, they looked at the desmosomes that are present between two cells in the heart and two cells in the skin.

Desmosomes are known to be specialised for their strong adhesion and this is what allows tissue cells to stick together despite the rigours of everyday life.  However, under different situations, like embryonic development and wound healing, these connections would need to become ‘weaker’ in order to allow cells to move and grow. Until this point, scientists have been unable to determine how the desmosomes were able to change their adhesiveness.

Cell AdhesionsThe team found that the ‘adaptive strength’ of desmosomes is achieved by special proteins which protrude from the cell. These proteins are the ‘sticky’ points which connect two cells together. They found that the proteins were much more flexible than was previously thought, allowing cells to change the strength of the bond between one another.

To study the role of desmosomes, the team extracted these special proteins to see what they consisted of. They used a combination of different techniques which allowed them to build a computer model of the molecules that make the connections between the cells. They found that the molecules were much more ordered in stronger adhesions than in weaker ones. The molecules were able to change their level of organisation because of their flexibility.

Dr Tabernero comments:

“What is really fascinating about desmosomes is that they become weaker during wound healing and embryonic development, and this weakening is necessary to allow cells to move. In contrast, desmosomes are very strong in adult tissues, particularly in skin and heart. It has been incredibly difficult to work out how they do that but our findings shed new light on this.”

Professor David Garrod has studied desmosomes for decades. He says there are exciting implications for these findings:

“This is the first time that any structural information has been reported for desmosome adhesion. Understanding these cell junctions will be important for future biotechnology applications. We also hope our research will contribute to studies into wound healing, cancer and embryonic development.”

The paper “Cadherin flexibility provides a key difference between desmosomes and adherens junctions” was published in PNAS on April 28th 2015.

New discovery provides potential boost for immune disease treatments

Faculty scientists have made a crucial discovery about an immune cell which is used in immunotherapies to treat diseases like type I diabetes.

Dr Mark Travis led a team from the Manchester Collaborative Centre for Inflammation Research who studied regulatory T-cells – important immune cells that prevent harmful immune responses. Their research concentrated on how these T-cells can help cure inflammatory diseases.

Healthy T-CellGenerally, T-cells fight infections and are most useful when acting against foreign invaders in the body like pathogens. However, some T-cells react with our own tissues and cause damage – this is the basis for auto immune diseases like type I diabetes. This is where the regulatory T-cells come in. They help to fight against these rogue T-cells, preventing them causing damage to the body’s own tissue.

Regulatory T-cells are currently being used in clinical trials to help fight auto immune disease. The cells are taken from the patient, multiplied and then given back to them. This helps to suppress their illness.

The team have identified an important pathway by which the regulatory T-cells are activated to suppress the harmful T-cells during inflammation. Dr Travis explains:

“This knowledge is vitally important when trying to make regulatory T-cells for therapy. By knowing the importance of this pathway, we can now work to improve the suppressive nature of regulatory T-cells to make them more effective as treatments for disorders such as type I diabetes and organ transplant rejection.”

He continues:

“It’s fascinating that getting rid of just one molecule can have such an impact on the body’s ability to fight disease. Our research is all about how the molecules interlink and react to each other, and in certain situations targeting just one molecule can boost or inhibit a response.”

The Faculty team demonstrated that the molecules are expressed in both humans and animals. The next step for them is to look at how the mechanism works in practice , using Inflammatory Bowel Disease as a model.

Publication checklist will improve efficiency and success rate of clinical trials

Faculty researchers have found that better method reporting in animal experiments could save hundreds of thousands of pounds as well as stop clinical trials that have no hope of success.

The team, led by Faculty member Dr Sheena Cruickshank and Professor Andy Brass of the School from Computer Sciences looked at 58 papers on research on inflammatory bowel disease that were published between 2000 and 2014. They found huge differences in how methods were reported and found that vital information about experiments were missing, meaning they couldn’t be accurately reproduced in animal or human models.

Pills and a needle

Dr Cruickshank says she was shocked at the lack of information provided in papers: “What our research has uncovered is that this lack of data makes it difficult to validate the experiment and the result. Crucially this is having an impact of the reproducibility of experiments, both in the animal model and when transferred to human trials.”

The team were originally investigating a bowel disease called colitis and were trying to generate a database of research articles. It became clear that the information reported in the papers was not sufficient as the data could not be understood by members of other disciplines. This poses a potentially huge problem as research is becoming increasingly cross-discipline meaning that multiple teams must be able to understand data from other fields.

In order to address the issue, the team has created a ‘critical checklist’ that lists what information should be included.  The list includes nine keys areas, such as the gender of the research subject, as well as the environmental conditions they were kept in.

Dr Cruickshank explains: “Our checklist sounds like fairly basic information that should be in all papers. But over the past few years journals have asked for more and more abbreviated methods so information has stopped being included. Instead, papers are focussed on the results and discussion and sometimes you have to go back to a paper from the sixties to find the last time a particular method was accurately recorded.”

The team felt it was important to stress that poor reporting of methodology does not necessarily mean that the research is inaccurate. However, if the research is poorly documented, then it makes it much harder for other teams to reproduce the results and therefore can slow down the progression of further research.

Moving forward, the Manchester team is recommending that their checklist is adopted as a staple for all publications in order to improve the quality, comparability and standardisation of studies into inflammatory bowel disease. They believe it will make the interpretation and translation of data to human disease more reliable and ultimately contribute to making clinical trials more su

Structure may hold clues to help detect and combat kidney disease

Faculty scientists have made a key finding that could help develop an early test for kidney disease.

Dr Rachel Lennon from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research, led the investigation that looked at why some people are more susceptible to kidney disease than others. In particular, the study looked at why impaired kidney function is more common in Afro-Caribbean individuals and in males.

Dr Lennon and her team focused on the structure around the cells in the kidney, as this is where they believed crucial differences may lie. Kidneys contain numerous small filter cells which help to maintain the blood in a healthy, steady state. The filters are surrounded by a mesh of two different types of proteins which act like scaffolding, giving structure and protection. It is these two proteins that the team wanted to investigate.

To do this, they used mass spectrometry to analyse the kidney tissue from mice who had a variety of genetic backgrounds – some of which they knew were more susceptible to kidney disease.

The team found that there were significant differences in the compositions of the two kidney proteins between the mice. This difference was found to be greater between mice of different genetic backgrounds as opposed to gender.

After the analysis, the team then used an electron microscope to get a closer look at the two types of cells. The team found that the cells from the various mice had structural differences – showing that both the composition and the structure of the scaffolding around the kidney filters changed between mice.

Dr Lennon comments: “The most surprising thing about our findings were that the mice weren’t actually exhibiting any symptoms of kidney disease and were all still in full health despite having this different structure in their filters. Their kidneys appeared to be functioning normally.”

The team are now looking to use human tissue to investigate the reasons behind these differences and are hoping that they will be able to find a mechanism that could be switched off before symptoms of kidney disease become more apparent and damage occurs:

“What we’re hoping is that this research will help develop a test that picks up kidney disease or even just a susceptibility to kidney disease before any damage has been done. We’re also keen to look at whether we could manipulate the process which leads to the structural change to develop new, more effective treatments.”

View Rachel Lennon’s Minute Lecture on kidneys:

Scientists one step closer to understanding the body’s response to worms and allergies

Faculty scientists now have a better understanding of how bodies react to allergies and parasites. The team, led by Professor Andrew MacDonald, have discovered a new way that immune cells control inflammation during worm infections and in allergic responses to diseases like asthma. The finding is important because inflammation can cause long-term damage and so understanding how it is controlled will help mitigate its effects. Dendrite To do this, the team studied dendrites in both animal and lab models. Dendrites are specialised cells of the immune system that play a vital role in the initial response to both allergens and parasites. Their main function is to recognise infection and switch on channels to combat it – one of which is inflammation. How these channels were switched on by dendrites was previously unknown. What the team found was that a particular protein called Mbd2 plays a key role in allowing dendrites to produce an inflammatory response. When the proteins were removed, radically different cells were formed and these cells had a significantly impaired ability to switch on inflammation. It was also discovered that Mbd2 was an epigenetic regulator, meaning that it could modify the function of many different genes without altering their DNA structure. Professor MacDonald explains:

“For the first time we have identified that this protein is a key controller of dendritic cells during inflammation against parasitic worms or allergens. It’s an important step, as all inflammation is not identical, and scientists try to understand which specific cells and chemicals are more important in the body’s response to particular infections. In the past, medicines have had a broad approach, affecting all aspects of a condition rather than being targeted. In the future it might be possible to create medicines that control the inflammation caused specifically by an allergy or a parasitic worm, rather than by a virus such as a common cold.”

Professor MacDonald continues:

“With billions of people affected by both allergies and worm infections around the world it is vital that we develop better methods of treatment. It’s also important to tackle the inflammation caused by these conditions, as it has been shown to play a role in the development of longer term diseases such as asthma.”

How the blues could help reduce jet lag

Faculty researchers have revealed that the colour of light has a major impact on how our body clock measures the time of day.

It’s the first time the impact of colour has been tested. The research, published in PLOS Biology, demonstrates that the colour of light provides a more reliable way of telling the time than its brightness.

University Sunset1Faculty members, led by Dr Timothy Brown, looked at the change in light around dawn and dusk to analyse whether colour could be used to determine time of day. Their key discovery was that light was reliably bluer during twilight hours, compared to daytime.

The team recorded the electrical activity of the body clock of mice while they were shown different visual stimuli. They found that mice were much more sensitive to changes between blue and yellow in the colour of light, than to its brightness.

The scientists then created an artificial sky which imitated the daily changes in colour and brightness. Mice were placed underneath the synthetic sky for several days whilst their body temperatures were recorded.

Researchers found that the highest temperatures occurred just after night fell – when the sky had turned a darker blue, optimal for a nocturnal animal. When only the brightness was altered, the mice became active before dusk, demonstrating that their body clock wasn’t properly in sync with a normal day/night cycle.

The team concluded that colour must therefore play a role in the determination of the time of day.

On the importance of the research, Dr Brown says:

 “This is the first time that we’ve been able to test the theory that colour affects the body clock in mammals. It has always been very hard to separate the change in colour to the change in brightness but using new experimental tools and a psychophysics approach we were successful.”

He continues:

“The same findings can be applied to humans. So in theory colour could be used to manipulate our clock, which could be useful for shift workers or travellers wanting to minimise jet lag”

Faculty scientists make trees grow bigger, faster

Image22Faculty scientists have discovered a way to make trees grow bigger and faster. The research, published in Current Biology and funded by the BBSRC, has identified two genes which are involved in the growth process of poplar trees.

Professor Simon Turner, who led the research, says:

“The rate at which trees grow is determined by the rate of cell division in the stem. We have identified two genes that are able to drive cell division in the stem and so override the normal growth pattern”

The genes, called PXY and CLE, control tree trunk growth. When they were overexpressed, the trees grew twice as fast as normal – being wider, taller and producing more leaves. As well as increasing the biomass available for the growing biofuel and biotechnology industries, trees may be better prepared to handle the pressures of climate change. Professor Turner explains:

“Most plants, including crops, respond to adverse environmental conditions with lower growth rates that result in correspondingly lower yields. Understanding how the plants respond to environmental signals and to what extent we are able to manipulate them to override these signals is likely to be very important for continued improvements to crop performance. In future, it may be possible that manipulating the expression of the PXY and CLE genes can override environmental signals that normally alter plant growth.”

The team now plan to work with a forest products company to test their findings in the field. It is hoped that this research will be used to address the pressing challenge of keeping crop yields high in an increasingly harsh climate.

Higher death toll not due to evolving Ebola virus

Faculty scientists have completed computer analysis of the deadly Ebola virus which has shown that it has not evolved to become any more deadly since its first outbreak almost 40 years ago.

Ebola Virus

The surprising results show that whilst the virus has undergone a high number of genetic changes, the virus has not become any more virulent. The findings, published in the journal Virology, help prove that the higher death toll in the current outbreak is not because of a change in the way the virus infects humans.

This may prove to be extremely useful. Professor David Robertson says:

“The fact that Ebola isn’t changing in a way that affects the virulence of the disease means that vaccines and treatments developed during this current outbreak have a very high chance of being effective against future outbreaks. It also means that methods to successfully tackle the virus should work again, so hopefully in the future an outbreak can be stopped from spreading at a much earlier stage.”

The team used a computational approach, developed by PhD student Abayomi Olabode, that was previously used to analyse changes in the HIV-1 virus. The major advantage of using a computer-based approach is that research can be carried out in a very quick and safe way – something that is vital when studying viral epidemics. Importantly, this type of modelling can be done in real time, meaning that scientists can better react to deadly diseases as they happen.

Viral outbreaks, such as Ebola, need to be continually monitored for any change, including those that make the virus less potent. If symptoms are less severe, there is a greater chance that the virus will go unidentified. Infected individuals can spread the virus more widely throughout a population, making it harder to trace those who have been exposed to it and ultimately causing more deaths. Professor Robertson comments:

“This level of surveillance will only become more essential in the fight against contagious illness as we live in an increasingly globally connected society.”

On the results of the study, Professor Tony Redmond, from the University’s Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute says:

“These are very important findings and emphasise that the spread of the virus in this outbreak owed as much to factors within the human community than within the virus itself.”

It is now thought that computer approaches like this one used to study Ebola will become the standard way to look at viral epidemics in the future.

Could bacteria help save amphibians?

Faculty members have teamed up with the Institute of Zoology to investigate the effectiveness of probiotic bacteria in treating Chytrid (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) – a fungus that is devastating global frog populations.

Chytrid is a fungus that is thought to be the reason why over 200 different species of frog have gone extinct. This has resulted in 31% of all amphibian species becoming ‘threatened’ according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

A Belize frog, courtesy of Dr R Antwis.

The team, led by former PhD student Dr Rachael Antwis, used bacteria taken from frogs in Belize to investigate the potential benefits of using probiotic bacteria in the treatment of Chytrid. Whilst previous studies have shown that certain bacteria that live on an amphibian’s skin have slowed down the progression of Chytrid, probiotics have not been used in long term field studies.

In assessing the efficacy of probiotics, the team used bacteria on a number of different strains of the disease. Chytrid mutates extremely quickly, so the bacteria must be able to treat different forms of the virus to be effective in the wild. Early results from this investigation suggest that a combination of different bacteria will increase the probability of halting the progression of Chytrid.

The paper resulting from this study, published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, will act as an important basis for future research into the use of bacteria to help fight Chytrid.

Dr Antwis concludes:

“A lot more work is definitely needed before we can identify an effective cure for this devastating disease. But as a scientist, I believe we not only have a moral obligation to keep searching, but an ecological one too. Amphibians inhabit the middle of food chain, making up a vital part of our ecosystem. If they go, then that could spell disaster for many more species.”

Chaim Weizmann continues to inspire Manchester research 100 years on

A century after the first President of Israel made his vital discovery about acetone at The University of Manchester, we are celebrating his legacy through a collaboration with the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

In 1915, Chaim Weizmann discovered a more sustainable way of making acetone which was required for the manufacture of cordite. His work attracted the attention of the British Government and six distilleries were requisitioned for the mass production of this explosive powder. As shell production rose from 500,000 in the first five months of the First World War to 16.4 million in 1915, Weizmann was credited with a significant impact on the war effort.

Today, the Faculty has eight links with the Weizmann Institute all of which are undertaking significant research. Now, thanks to the Alliance Family Foundation, funding is in place for seven further partnerships.

The Weizmann Institute hosted a two day symposium on March 24 to celebrate the scientific discoveries already made through Professor Steffen Jung (Weizmann Institute of Science), Lord Alliance and Professor Werner Muller (University of Manchester)the Lord Alliance Get Connected Grants. Faculty scientist Professor Werner Muller’s partnership with Stefan Jung was awarded the Lord Alliance Prize of £100,000. Their work has shed light on how the cells in our gut respond to foreign parasites such as worms and how they may trigger diseases. Other discoveries made possible through the grants have impacted neural conditions, food security, wound healing, and cancer. Professor Martin Humphries, Dean of the Faculty, says:

“In establishing the concept of the Get Connected scheme, Benny Geiger and I aimed to build on this historical link and provide a means for the excellent scientists in both institutions to forge new interactions. The Get Connected programme is a shining example of what can be achieved when such researchers are given the freedom and resources to join forces with other like-minded teams. Put simply, what is achieved is progress at an accelerated rate.”

Sea slug provides new way of analysing brain data

Sea SlugScientists say our brains may not be as complicated as we once thought – and they’re using sea slugs to prove it.

Led by Chicago-based graduate student Angela Bruno, Faculty researchers and colleagues at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago have been investigating how neurons ‘fire’ in the brain of the sea slug while it moves. Dr Mark Humphries explains why they made this interesting choice of animal:

“What happens in the brain during movement is currently only well understood for small, dedicated neural circuits. The sea slug brain has some of the complexity of higher organisms, yet has large neurons that make it possible to record a substantial amount of what is happening in the brain during movement.”

Until recently, scientists have had to study brain activity one neuron at a time. However, the latest imaging methods make it possible to take a systems approach and record entire neural networks. The resulting data flood is creating fruitful new collaborations such as this study. Dr Humphries adds:

“My role in this project was to find the hidden organisation within the data collected by the Chicago team. Describing the dynamics of a neural population and decoding the neural programme is still very challenging. We hope that this research will help to build a language and toolkit for future researchers using any network-scale recording technology.”

The researchers demonstrated how the sea slugs’ complex locomotion network can be dramatically simplified and interpreted. They found that co-active neurons formed large groups that were laid out like tiles across the network. One group’s activity was repeatedly drawing a loop across the network, leading researchers to believe that this loop is the source of constant activity needed to sustain movement. Dr Humphries concludes:

“This research introduces new methods for pulling apart neural circuits to expose their inner building blocks. Our methods could be used to help understand how brain networks change in disease states and how drugs act to restore normal brain function.”

FLT take part in Swimathon

SwimmerThe Faculty’s Leadership Team (FLT) are putting forward a team for this year’s Swimathon. They will be raising money for Marie Curie Cancer Care.

Swimathon is the UK’s biggest fundraising swim and there were many people in FLT keen to take part. The rules state that no more than five people can be in one team, though, and after much discussion it was decided that Professor Martin Humphries, Dr Caroline Bowsher, Professor Liz Sheffield, Nicola Smith, and Professor David Thornton would make up the team.

Dr Catherine Porter will cover for injuries or cold feet and Professor Amanda Bamford will be on the sidelines, waving the flag and cheering them on.

The team will be attempting the maximum distance of 5k. Their swim will take place on Saturday April 18 at 2pm in the Aquatics Centre, and you can sponsor them on their Just Giving page. They hope to raise £500. Professor Bamford says:

This is really good cause which is close to my heart and I am so proud that they have stepped up and put their swimsuits on to fund raise for Marie Curie. I will be there on the day cheering them all on, ready with the energy drinks. 5K is not a trivial distance but as Michael Phelps said “You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get”!

Scientists make surprising finding in stroke research

Faculty scientists have made an important discovery that could lead to new treatments for stroke and other related conditions.  Brain Scan

Inflammation is activated in the brain after stroke, causing potentially devastating damage. Stroke is actually responsible for approximately 10% of deaths worldwide and is the leading cause of disability. Understanding how inflammation is regulated in the brain is vital for the development of drugs which can limit the damage caused by stroke.

Working alongside Professors Dame Nancy Rothwell and Stuart Allan, Dr David Brough has been studying the role of inflammasomes in stroke. Inflammasomes are large protein complexes essential for the production of the inflammatory protein interleukin-1, which contributes to cell death in the brain after a stroke. Dr Brough says:

“Very little is known about how inflammasomes might be involved in brain injury. Therefore, we began by studying the most well characterised inflammasome, called NLRP3, known to be activated when the body is injured. Surprisingly, we found that this was not involved in inflammation and damage in the brain caused by stroke, even though drugs are being developed to block this to treat Alzheimer’s disease.”

Further studies demonstrated that it was actually the NLRC4 and AIM2 inflammasomes that contribute to brain injury. This was unexpected because NLRC4 was previously known as a fighter of infections. This will help the team to understand more about inflammation’s involvement in brain injury and aid the development of new drugs to treat stroke.

Faculty scientists closer to treating osteoarthritis using stem cells

Repair of rat cartilage defect by human pluripotent stem cells-derived chondrocytes, courtesy of Aixin ChengFunded by Arthritis Research UK, Professor Sue Kimber and her Faculty team have developed a protocol to grow and transform embryonic stem cells into cartilage cells (also known as chrondrocytes). This could one day be used to treat osteoarthritis. Professor Kimber said:

“This work represents an important step forward in treating cartilage damage by using embryonic stem cells to form new tissue, although it’s still in its early experimental stages.”

During the study, the team analysed the ability of embryonic stems cells to become precursor cartilage cells. They were then implanted into cartilage defects in the knee joints of rats.

After four weeks, cartilage was partially repaired. Eight weeks after that a smooth surface resembling normal cartilage was observed. Further study showed that cells from the embryonic stem cells were still present and active within the tissue.
Despite the fact that this still needs to be tested on humans, researchers see this as an extremely promising outcome. Not only did this protocol generate new, healthy-looking cartilage but there were also no signs of any side-effects. Further work will hope to demonstrate that this could be a safe and effective treatment for people with joint damage. Prof Kimber added:

“We’ve shown that the protocol we’ve developed has strong potential for developing large numbers of chondrogenic cells appropriate for clinical use. These results thus mark an important step forward in supporting further development towards clinical translation.”

Osteoarthritis affects more than eight million people in the UK, and is a major cause of disability. It occurs when cartilage at the ends of bones wears away and it causes joint pain and stiffness. Dr Stephen Simpson, Director of Research at Arthritis Research UK, said:

“Current treatments of osteoarthritis are restricted to relieving painful symptoms, with no effective therapies to delay or reverse cartilage degeneration. Joint replacements are successful in older patients but not young people, or athletes who’ve suffered a sports injury. Embryonic stem cells offer an alternative source of cartilage cells to adult stem cells, and we’re excited about the immense potential of Professor Kimber’s work and the impact it could have for people with osteoarthritis.”

Faculty events for International Women’s Day

IWD LOGOThe Faculty will be running a short series of events for staff and students in the lead-up to International Women’s Day on March 8.

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell will kick the series off with her talk ‘A Life in Science’, which will be followed by a Q&A session. It promises to be an intriguing account, covering Prof Dame Rothwell’s research in the field of neuroscience, her contributions to the understandings of brain damage after stroke and head injury, and her path to becoming the first woman to lead The University of Manchester. The talk will take place on Tuesday March 3 in Stopford Lecture Theatre 1. Doors will open at 12.50 and the talk will start promptly at 1. You can pre-submit any questions by completing this survey and please book online if you wish to attend.

On Thursday March 5, there will be a panel discussion on ‘Women in Science’. This will take IWD posterplace in the Roscoe Building between 5 and 6.30pm. The panel, including female members of the Faculty, will discuss the under-representation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and possible ways to resolve the issue.

The series will close with two events on Friday March 6. Dr Sheena Cruickshank asks the question ‘Are we too clean?’ in her 1 o’clock talk in Stopford Lecture Theatre 1. With improvements in hygiene and the availability of treatments increasing life expectancy for many, the talk will look at how this may make us more vulnerable to other diseases. Sheena will then join Dr Joanne Pennock and Professor Kathryn Else, who will be presenting the Worm Wagon initiative in the Stopford foyer from 12-3pm. The Worm Wagon raises awareness of global worm infection through interactive games, traditional Indian art, and informative displays. The team won the 2013 Manchester International Women’s Day award for Women in STEM.

The series offers a fantastic opportunity for staff and students to learn more about the work of women in life sciences. We hope to see you there.

Playing God in Manchester

Playing God postcardA unique and fascinating film series kicks off in Manchester on March 5, bringing together the diverse themes of religion and science.

The Playing God Film Series will explore the portrayal of these subjects in six classic movies. Each screening, showing at the Anthony Burgess Foundation across March, April, and May, will be introduced by an expert speaker and followed by a panel discussion.

The events have been organised by the Science and Entertainment Laboratory, based in the Faculty’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine. Dr David Kirby explains the thinking behind the series:

“We wanted to look at all six films in a new and different way, asking fresh questions about the content and challenging audiences to consider the nature of, and connections between, science and religion.”

The films are free to attend and booking is not required. All screenings, listed below, start at 18:30:

Bride of Frankenstein5th March: The Bride of Frankenstein

The film will be introduced by the science studies scholar Dr David Kirby.

Exorcist_19th March19th March: The Exorcist

With an introduction by film scholar Professor Mark Jancovich.

Planet of the Apes_16h April16th April: Planet of the Apes

Introduced by sci-fi expert Dr Amy Chambers.

Solaris_30th April30th April: Solaris

With an introduction by filmmaker Sean Martin.

Creation_14th May14th May: Creation

Introduced by theologian Professor Peter Scott and historian Professor Joe Cain.

altered_states_198021st May: Altered States

With an introduction by historian Dr William Macauley.

With a list of such controversial and at times genre-defining films, the discussions surrounding the Playing God Film Series promises to be fascinating. You can follow the conversations using the #PlayingGod hashtag on Twitter.

How tuna stay warm with cold hearts

Working with colleagues at Stanford University, Dr Holly Shiels and her team have discovered how bluefin tuna keep their hearts pumping during temperatures that would stop a human’s heart from beating. The research answers important questions about how animals react to rapid temperature changes, knowledge which becomes more important as the earth warms.

Bluefin tunaPacific bluefin tuna are top predators renowned for their epic migrations. They are unique among bony fish as they are warm-bodied and capable of elevating their core temperature up to 20°C above that of the water that surrounds them. They are also capable of diving down to the colder waters below 1000m, which affects their heart temperature. Dr Holly Shiels said:

“When tunas dive down to cold depths their body temperature stays warm but their heart temperature can fall by 15°C within minutes. The heart is chilled because it receives blood directly from the gills which mirrors water temperature. This clearly imposes stress upon the heart but it keeps beating, despite the temperature change. In most other animals the heart would stop.”

 

The team conducted their research at Stanford University’s Tuna Research and Conservation Center, one of the only places on the planet with live tuna for research. They used archival tags to track and monitor the fish in the wild, measuring the depth they swam to, their internal body temperature, and the ambient water temperature. They then used the data to set experimental conditions in the lab with single heart tuna cells, investigating how they beat. Dr Shiels explained the findings:

“We discovered that changes in the heart beat due to the temperate, coupled with the stimulation of adrenalin by diving, adjusts the electrical activity of the heart cells to maintain the constant calcium cycling needed to keep pumping. If we went through this temperature change our calcium cycling would be disrupted, our hearts would stop beating, and we would die.”

The next step for the team will be to test other fish species to see if this method of keeping the heart pumping at low temperatures is unique to bluefin tuna. Dr Shiels concluded:

“This research was about understanding how animals perform under dramatic environmental changes. This gives us a clear insight into how one species maintains its heart function over varying temperatures, something we will need to study further given recorded changes in the earth’s temperature.”

 

 

Minister in Manchester to announce £40 million funding boost

Vince Cable MP speaking to Professors Perdita Barran and Bob KellBusiness Secretary Dr Vince Cable has visited the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB) to meet scientists working on synthetic biology. This follows the announcement of £40million funding into this cutting-edge research area, £32 million of which is being split across new research centres in Manchester, Edinburgh, and Warwick.

The investment comes from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and the Medical Research Council (MRC), as well as via capital investment from the UK government. Funds will be awarded over a five-year period, boosting national research capacity and ensuring that the expertise to nurture this growing industry exists in the UK.

The MIB will receive £10.3million to establish the Centre for Synthetic Biology of Fine and Speciality Chemicals (SYNBIOCHEM). This centre will develop new products and methods for drug discovery and production, agricultural chemicals, and new materials for sustainable manufacturing. Professor Nigel Scrutton, Co-Director of SYNBIOCHEM, said:

“Our vision is to harness the power of synthetic biology to propel chemicals and natural products production towards ’green’ and sustainable manufacturing processes. More broadly, the Centre will provide the general tools, technology platforms, and ‘know-how’ to drive academic discovery and translate new knowledge and processes towards industrial exploitation.”

Synthetic biology is a new scientific method that applies engineering principles to biology to create new biological parts, devices, and systems. It has been used to generate biological ‘factories’ producing useful products such as medicines, chemicals, green energy, and tools for improving crops. It has been identified by the government as one of ‘Eight Great Technologies’ in which Great Britain can be a world leader. Fellow Co-Director, Professor Eriko Takano, added:

“Synthetic biology is an emerging science that has the capacity to transform the UK and European industrial landscape. It will revolutionise manufacturing processes to deliver renewable and sustainable materials, biopharmaceuticals, chemicals, and energy that will impact significantly on our economic, social, and environmental landscape. It promises a brighter future for all.”

Business Secretary Dr Cable discussed the funding:

“From materials for advanced manufacturing to developing new antibiotics and better tests for diseases, this new £40million investment is in one of the most promising areas of modern science. It will see our world class researchers using bacteria to produce chemicals to make everyday products like toothbrushes and credit cards, which are currently made from unsustainable fossil fuels.  Not only will this help improve people’s everyday lives in the future but it will support long-term economic growth.”

£3 million grant for cutting-edge biotechnology

MIB BuildingProfessor Nigel Scrutton and his team at the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB) have been awarded nearly £3million to create sustainable ways of manufacturing chemicals used in everyday products. They are one of five long-term research projects benefiting from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC) Strategic Longer and Larger Grants (sLoLaS) scheme.

The team will design and assemble bespoke biological parts to be used in a synthetic, engineered microbial factory. They hope these biological compounds will replace those currently taken from fossil fuels. Professor Scrutton says:

“Our vision is to harness the power of Synthetic Biology to propel chemicals and natural products production towards ’green’ and sustainable manufacturing processes. More broadly, the programme will provide the general tools, technology platforms, and SynBio ‘know-how’ that will impact widely in the sustainable manufacture of chemicals and natural products for development by the industrial sector.”

£15.8 million is being awarded to five projects in the UK. They were chosen based on the basis of their scientific excellence, long timescales, extensive resources, multidisciplinary approaches, and internationally leading research teams. Professor Jackie Hunter, BBSRC Chief Executive, said:

“BBSRC’s sLoLaS scheme gives world-leading scientists long-term funding to work on critical research challenges. In this round those challenges include producing clean energy, new ways to produce medicines and other valuable chemicals, and protecting livestock from disease. Not only will these funded projects help the UK and the world to address these challenges, but it will build vital research capacity here in the UK and provide opportunities for economic and social benefits.”

Computer model explains how the brain selects actions with rewarding outcomes

Brain modelFaculty research conducted in conjunction with The University of Sheffield has developed a computer model which charts what happens in the brain when an action leads to a reward. The model could provide insights into the mechanisms behind motor disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and conditions involving abnormal learning, such as addiction. Faculty researcher Dr Mark Humphries explains:

“We wanted to look at how we learn from feedback – particularly how we learn to associate actions to new unexpected outcomes. To do this we created a series of computational models to show how the firing of dopamine neurons caused by receiving reward ultimately translates into selecting the causative action more frequently in the future.”

Research had already shown that actions are represented in the brain’s outer layer of neural tissue (the cortex) and that rewards activate neurons that release dopamine. The dopamine signals are then sent to the striatum, which plays an important role in how we select which action to take. Together, this evidence suggested that dopamine signals change the strength of connections between cortical and striatal neurons, determining which action is appropriate in a specific circumstance. Until now, though, no model had tested these strands together. Dr Humphries explains why they created the model:

“Essentially, within this area of research, we are tackling a puzzle in which we have an unknown number of pieces and no picture to guide us. Some pieces have been studied individually, so the questions were: could we put the pieces of the puzzle together and prove that they made a coherent picture? And could we guess at the missing pieces? The only way was through using a computational model, which allows us to do things impossible in experiments – provide solutions and guesses for the missing pieces. The fact that the pieces of our puzzle all fitted together to produce a single coherent picture is evidence that we (as a field) are converging on a complete theory for how the brain learns from reward.”

Funding for new ‘Manchester Single Cell Research Centre’

The University has secured funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC) for a new Manchester Single Cell Research Centre (SCRC). A Single CellThe £5 million award application was led by Faculty scientist Professor Cay Kielty in collaboration with colleagues from FLS and the Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences.

Researchers in the SCRC will focus on characterising a group of rare cells called circulating tumour cells (CTCs), which give rise to drug-resistant cancers. They will also be working on specific stem cells that can enable the regeneration of damaged tissues such as muscle, joints, skin, and blood vessels. Professor Kielty says:

“This new technology will enable us to define cell heterogeneity and the biology of rare cells in health and disease.”

Discovery could lead to better treatment for CKD patients

Faculty scientist Dr Donald Ward has discovered that small changes in blood acidity levels could have detrimental impacts on the health of kidney disease patients.

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) affects roughly one in five men and one in four women between the ages of 65 and 74 in the UK. Dr Ward’s research, published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, suggests that very small changes in the blood’s pH level prevent the body from accurately monitoring calcium levels. This causes too much of the hormone PTH to be released, which leads to a greater risk of artery damage when the body releases calcium and phosphate from the bones. This often proves fatal to CKD patients. Dr Ward explains:

 

“The diseased kidneys prevent the body from getting rid of both excess phosphate and excess acidity. So if that acidity also causes the body to release more PTH then this could compound the problem by releasing further phosphate from the bone. This vicious circle might accelerate the potentially fatal calcification of the arteries. What is so important about this research is that we have demonstrated that changes in PTH release can be prompted by very small changes in blood pH level. Before, it was assumed that only a larger change in acidity would cause problems for patients.”

The research was funded by Kidney Research UK. Elaine Davies, Director of Research Operations from the charity, says:

“Donald’s work has used novel pharmacological and molecular tools in generating these new findings which increase our knowledge about the complex balance that clinicians need to consider when treating patients with CKD.”

 

‘Unbelievable underground’ could improve sustainable land management

A new study from Faculty scientist Professor Richard Bardgett and Professor Wim van der Putten of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology may demonstrate how organisms below-ground could have far-reaching impacts on future ecosystems. This previously neglected area could help us to understand how ecosystems are responding to climate change. The paper also discusses how the world beneath us could be used for sustainable land management. Professor Bardgett explained:

“The soil beneath our feet arguably represents the most diverse place on Earth. Soil communities are extremely complex with literally millions of species and billions of individual organisms within a single grassland or forest. Despite this plethora of life, the underground world has been largely neglected by research. It certainly used to be a case of out of sight out of mind, although over the last decade we have seen a significant increase in work in this area.”

This increase has helped to explain how the organisms interact with each other and, crucially, how they influence the above-ground flora and fauna. Professor Bardgett discussed the results:

“Recent soil biodiversity research has revealed that below-ground communities not only play a major role in shaping plant Soil Biodiversitybiodiversity and the way that ecosystems function, but it can also determine how they respond to environmental change. One of the key areas for future research will be to integrate what has been learnt about soil diversity into decisions about sustainable land management. There is an urgent need for new approaches to the maintenance and enhancement of soil fertility for food, feed and biomass production, the prevention of human disease, and tackling climate change. As we highlight in this paper, a new age of research is needed to meet these scientific challenges and to integrate such understanding into future land management and climate change mitigation strategies.”

Worm Wagon at the Great British Bioscience Festival

Scientists from the Faculty took The Worm Wagon to East London for the Great British Bioscience Festival this November. Led byA proud jigsaw maker Dr Sheena Cruickshank and Professor Kathryn Else, they were part of just twenty groups selected to take part in this 20th year anniversary celebration of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

By combining eye-catching activities with real parasite samples, The Worm Wagon’s exhibition aimed to educate people about the dangers of infection. Both children and adults made the most of the chance to handle tapeworms while others posed as parasites at the ‘schistosome selfie stand’.

The exhibition also featured giant jigsaws and Top Trump cards, all of which proved very popular with the many children at the festival. The jigsaw, once completed, highlighted the key role that washing your hands plays in avoiding infections. The Top Trumps taught their users about the many different parasites and diseases around the world. They even featured topical information about the Ebola virus.

Despite the fact that The Worm Wagon’s exhibition was fun for all who attended, there is a very serious message behind the concept. The idea grew out of the work the team have been doing with recent migrants to the country, teaching them how to prevent the spread of parasite infection. These infections affect approximately 2 billion across the globe and are the biggest killer of people under 50 worldwide. In countries where infections that are caused by gut worms are still very common, it is the main reason why children don’t get an education. Dr Cruickshank discussed the event:

“It was great to see the local community get so involved and I learnt a lot from the visitors. A favourite moment was seeing one young boy (just 6) turn to another visitor and explain how worm infection was contracted and what the impact of infection was- a future scientist in the making.”

Mind the gap – new insight could lead to more effective drug treatments

Faculty researcher Professor Dan Davis has made a discovery that could improve drug treatments. Alongside his team at the Manchester Collaborative Centre for Inflammation Research (MCCIR), Professor Davis was investigating how different types of immune cells communicate with each other and how they kill cancerous or infected cells. Professor Davis says:

“We studied the immune system and stumbled across something that may explain why some drugs don’t work as well as hoped. We found that immune cells secrete molecules to other cells across a very small gap. This happens when immune cells talk to each other, and also when they kill diseased cells. But crucially, some types of drugs aren’t able to penetrate the gap between the cells. So they can’t easily reach targets within the gap and work effectively.”

Comparing molecules of different sizes, the team used microscopic imaging to see which ones could fit into the gap between an immune cell and another cell. Only the smaller molecules could penetrate the gap. They even found that when an immune cell attaches itself to another cell, it clears out all but the smallest molecules between them. Professor Davis explains:

“Our research demonstrates that any drugs targeting immune cells need to be very small. Antibody proteins, for example, are too big. They aren’t able to get into the gap between the cells – they’re even cleared away when cells meet. To make them more effective they must be smaller – which is something that GSK (GlaxoSmithKline) are working on.”

PhD student Adam Cartwright played a key role in the research, splitting his time between Professor’s Davis’s lab and GSK. He says:

“Being able to test out our theory with medicines that GSK has designed was fantastic.  The idea that something I found out can be used to develop treatments to help patients is incredibly exciting.”

Faculty researcher receives grant for pancreatic cancer project

Dr Jason BruceFaculty researcher Dr Jason Bruce has been awarded a grant of around £180,000 by The Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (PCRF.)

PCRF have awarded a total of £1.2million to ambitious projects tackling the UK’s deadliest cancer. It is the second year that they have invested over £1million in a single funding round, enabling innovative research that could lead to new treatments for this aggressive and complex disease.

Dr Bruce’s work focuses on pancreatic cancer cells and the unique way that they extract energy from the nutrients which help them to survive and grow. The cancer cells use this energy source to pump calcium out of the cell. As high levels of calcium can be fatal to such cells, Dr Bruce’s project will aim to utilise new drugs and cut off the supply of energy to the calcium pumps. This would kill cancer cells whilst leaving healthy ones unharmed.  Maggie Blanks, PCRF’s founder and CEO, said:

“This is an amazing achievement, and it is thanks to the tireless fundraising of our supporters around the country who know that funding research is the only way to accelerate the development of new treatments and diagnostic tools that will improve patients’ chances of survival.”

Research could improve breeding of endangered sea creature

Undulate ray - undersideFaculty scientists are attempting to map the genes of the endangered undulate ray, a protected British species which has declined sharply in the last few decades. Their data will be used to check the heritage of around 120 undulate rays in European aquariums, helping to pair up breeding adults and produce healthy offspring.

The team is investigating the diversity of the rays’ DNA to infer how inbred individuals are. Inbreeding causes frequent still-births and shortens the lifespans of offspring. Dr John Fitzpatrick, lead researcher on the project, says:

“This approach has never been used to aid captive breeding in rays before. It’s exciting to be working on a project with such a worthwhile practical application and strong scientific value.”

Marine biologist Jean-Denis Hibbitt has been managing the UK population since 2010 and is now monitoring the breeding programme across Europe. There have been 29 successful births in the UK since the programme was launched. Jean-Denis says:

“The first objective of the breeding programme is to provide undulate rays for public display to help raise awareness Ray Markingsof their plight. This added awareness, and the ability for people to identify the species, will subsequently allow them to question whether illegally landed rays are on sale in their local fishmongers. If numbers in the wild fall to a critical level, it is feasible that we could help with a reintroduction programme.”

Faculty student Iulia Darolti has taken DNA swabs from all 45 of the rays in British aquariums. She also accompanied Jean-Denis to swab two wild rays for comparison. Iulia says:

“It has been a challenging assignment. To expose the rays to as little stress as possible we developed non-invasive sampling techniques that allowed us to collect DNA from the skin. Travelling the country working with rays is something I never imagined myself doing, but it has been a very rewarding experience.”

PhD student Graeme Fox has been doing much of the laboratory work. He says:

“We developed a set of genetic markers to help discover whether the rays are related or not. After screening the DNA, we were able to identify regions that were likely to be highly variable. Our hope is that this data will enable Sea Life to plan the optimum management strategy to secure the genetic health of this beautiful and increasingly scarce species.”

Worm Wagon at The Great British Bioscience Festival

Worms as part of the exhibitFaculty scientists will take a topical look at how to avoid the spread of infection during The Great British Bioscience Festival (GBBF.) The Worm Wagon will be highlighting the impact of world diseases and parasite infections through their exhibit, which includes the vital statistics on Ebola.

Dr Sheena Cruickshank, a founder of the Worm Wagon, is one of just 20 exhibitors chosen to take part in the festival by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. Researchers from the Manchester Institute for Biotechnology will also take part, presenting an exhibit called The Complex Life of Sugars.

GBBF is the culmination of a yearlong tour, enabling visitors to explore the fascinating world of biology through interactive exhibits from actual scientists. It runs from the 14th to the 16th of November in Museum Gardens, London. Dr Cruickshank says:

“We’re really excited to be part of GBBF. We’re hoping our interactive displays, jigsaws, videos, and Top Trump cards on parasites and world diseases will really capture people’s imaginations. We have an important part to play in preventing the spread of infection. The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa shows how easily disease can spread when the correct procedures aren’t in place. As scientists, I believe we have a duty to spend time outside of the laboratory telling people what we do and why we do it. Working on infectious diseases isn’t just about staring down microscopes; it’s also about helping people to tackle the spread of these illnesses.”

Dr Cruickshank’s exhibit includes Top Trumps, jigsaws, videos, and living worms, and also offers the opportunity to be photographed as a schistosome parasite. The concept grew out of the work she has been doing with recent migrants to the country, teaching them how to prevent the spread of parasite infection.

GBBF is free and suitable for all the family. Find out more at the festival website.

Faculty Impact Fellow wins prestigious award

Malcolm RhodesDr Malcolm Rhodes will receive the Peter Dunnill Award for Outstanding Contribution to UK Bioprocessing at the bioProcessUK Conference in November. Dr Rhodes is currently working as a BBSRC Industrial Impact Fellow in the Faculty, helping to build collaborations between industry and academia. During the last four years, funding of approximately £8 million has been awarded for collaborative research with biopharmaceuticals companies, through the Centre of Excellence in Biopharmaceuticals. Dr Rhodes said:

“I am extremely honoured to have been awarded the Peter Dunnill Award. Prof Dunnill and the previous recipients of this award have contributed so much to our field, and it is a real privilege to be associated with them. I would also like to thank my colleagues from industry and academia for awarding this great honour to me.”

Steve Bates, the Chief Executive Office of the UK BioIndustry Association, said:

“Malcolm’s commitment, skill and passion for bioprocessing are widely recognised across the industry and we are delighted that this is being acknowledged with this prestigious award. Malcolm has been a significant catalyst in the industry over the past decades as well as mentoring and assisting numerous emerging companies and professionals. It is thanks to the exceptional work and talent of individuals like Malcolm that the UK is fast becoming a leading global location for bioprocessing and medicines manufacturing.”

New test could identify infants with rare insulin disease

Faculty research has led to a new test which could help to identify congenital hyperinsulinism at an earlier stage. This rare but

Needlesdevastating disease causes low blood sugar levels in babies and infants and can lead to lifelong brain damage and permanent disability. The condition occurs when cells in the pancreas release too much insulin and cause frequent low blood sugar episodes. In the most serious cases, the pancreas may need to be removed.

In more than two thirds of infants who suffer from congenital hyperinsulinism, the genetic causes are unknown. After analysing the genes and hormones of thirteen infants with the disease at Manchester Children’s Hospital, Dr Karen Cosgrove and her team discovered the new way of testing.

Their test measures a pair of hormones called incretins, which tell the cells in the pancreas to release more insulin to regulate sugar levels in our blood. When a child’s body releases more incretin hormones than is normal, the pancreas will release too much insulin. This will cause dangerously low blood sugar levels. Dr Cosgrove explained:

“This is the first step to understanding what causes the disease in these particular patients (with unknown genetic causes.)  In future, the test may influence how these children are treated medically, perhaps even avoiding the need to have their pancreas removed. Although we are the first researchers to report high incretin hormone levels in patients with congenital hyperinsulinism, further studies are needed to see if our test works on a larger group of patients.”

You can watch Dr Cosgrove discussing the research below:

Major breakthrough could help detoxify pollutants

PCB StructureFaculty scientists hope that a major new breakthrough could lead to more effective methods of detoxifying dangerous pollutants like PCBs and dioxins. The team, based at the Manchester Institute for Biotechnology (MIB), were investigating how some natural organisms lower toxicity levels and shorten the lifespan of these notorious pollutants.

The main drive behind the research, which has been underway for fifteen years, is to find a way of combatting hazardous molecules which are released into the environment via pollutants and burning household waste. The concentration of these molecules has increased over time, meaning that their presence is more threatening than ever before. Despite some measures already being taken, such as the worldwide ban on PCBs in 2001, more still needs to be done. Professor David Leys explains his research:

“We already know that some of the most toxic pollutants contain halogen atoms and that most biological systems simply don’t know how to deal with these molecules. However, there are some organisms that can remove these halogen atoms using vitamin B12. Our research has identified that they use vitamin B12 in a very different way to how we currently understand it. Detailing how this novel process of detoxification works means that we are now in a position to look at replicating it. We hope that, ultimately, new ways of combatting some of the world’s biggest toxins can now be developed more quickly and efficiently.”

Mining big data yields Alzheimer’s discovery

Faculty scientists have utilised a new way of working to identify a gene linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The discovery may help to identify which people are most likely to develop the condition.

The team compared genes in mice and humans. Using brain scans from ENIGMA Consortium and genetic information from The Brain scansMouse Brain Library, they were able to identify MGST3, a novel gene which regulates the size of the hippocampus in both mouse and human. This gene was shown to be linked to neurodegenerative diseases. Dr Reinmar Hager, senior author of the study, said:

“What is critical about this research is that we have not only been able to identify this specific gene, but also the networks it uses to influence a disease like Alzheimer’s. We believe this information will be incredibly useful for future studies looking at treatments and preventative measures.”

The team used two of the world’s largest collections of scientific data, The ENIGMA Consortium and The Mouse Brain Library. The ENIGMA Consortium is led by Paul Thompson, based at the University of California. It contains brain images and gene information from almost 25,000 subjects. The Mouse Brain Library, established by Robert Williams from the University of Tennessee Health Science Centre, contains data on over 10,000 brains and numerical data from more than 20,000 mice. David Ashbrook, a researcher in Dr Hager’s team, explained why combining the databases was so useful:

“It is much easier to identify a genetic variant in mice as they live in such controlled environments. By taking the information from mice and comparing it to human gene information, we can identify the same variant much more quickly. We are living in a big data world thanks to the likes of the Human Genome Project and post-genome technologies. A lot of that information is now widely shared. By mining what we already know we can learn so much more, advancing our knowledge of diseases and ultimately improving detection and treatment.”

For more information, please read the full paper which was published in BMC Genomics.

For further enquiries, please contact david.ashbrook@manchester.ac.uk

Discovery could lead to better melanoma treatment

A Faculty led research team has discovered that immune cells may be responsible for drug resistance in melanoma patients.

Melanoma cellsAlong with colleagues at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, Dr Claudia Wellbrock found that chemical signals produced by immune cells known as macrophages also act as a ‘survival signal’ for melanoma cells. When the researchers blocked this signal – called TNF alpha – melanoma tumours were smaller and easier to treat. The research suggests that targeting this ‘survival signal’ could lead to new treatments. Dr Wellbrock says:

“This discovery shows that immune cells can actually help melanoma to survive. Particularly when patients are receiving treatment, the immune cells produce more of the ‘survival signal,’ which makes treatment less effective. So combining standard treatment with immunotherapy could provide more long-lasting and effective treatments to increase survival.”

Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer with around 13,300 people diagnosed in the UK each year. Rates of the disease have increased more than fivefold since the 1970s. Professor Richard Marais, Director of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, said:

“Melanoma is particularly difficult to treat as many patients develop resistance to standard treatment within a few years. This research provides a key insight into why this is the case. Drugs which block this ‘survival signal’ have already been developed; using these along with standard treatment may be a promising new approach for melanoma patients.”

Insulin offers new hope for the treatment of acute pancreatitis

Faculty scientists have discovered that insulin can protect against acute pancreatitis, a disease for which there is currently no treatment. The condition involves the pancreas digesting itself, resulting in severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and systemic inflammation. There are around 20,000 cases every year in the UK, with around 1000 proving fatal. There is currently no immediate cure. Dr Jason Bruce, the research team leader, said:

“The major causes of pancreatitis include bile acid reflux from gall stones and excessive alcohol intake combined with a high fat diet. When alcohol and fat accumulate inside pancreatic acinar cells — the cells that secrete digestive enzymes into the gut — the resulting small molecules (metabolites) deplete cellular energy levels and increase cellular calcium. This causes uncontrolled and catastrophic cell death and the cells burst, releasing their toxic enzymes, which digest the pancreas and surrounding tissue.”

However, recent research from Dr Bruce’s laboratory shows that insulin, which is normally released from the beta cells of the insulinpancreas, prevents the toxic effects of alcohol and fatty acid metabolites.

The team decided to look at insulin because it has been used to treat obese pancreatitis patients by reducing fatty acids on the blood. Diabetes makes pancreatitis worse and diabetics are at higher risk of developing the disease, but the team noticed that the incidence of pancreatitis is reduced in diabetics who receive insulin. Although tenuous, these findings suggested that insulin might have a protective role, but it remained unclear how the insulin was working. This research provides the first evidence that insulin directly protects from the disease in the acinar cells, the place of initiation. Dr Bruce explained:

“Insulin works by restoring the energy levels of pancreatic acinar cells, which fuels the calcium pumps on the cell membranes. These calcium pumps help to restore cellular calcium and prevent the catastrophic cell death and autodigestion of the pancreas. Although more research is needed to confirm that insulin works in animal models and human clinical trials, this study suggests that, combined with tight control over blood glucose, insulin may be an effective treatment for pancreatitis. Furthermore, if we can better understand how insulin works, then we might be able to design new and more effective drugs that might one day provide the first curative treatment for this disease”

Hormone analysis may help save the rhino

rhinobabyThe first comprehensive study of black rhino reproduction in Europe has highlighted how hormone analysis could improve breeding programmes. Alongside researchers from Chester Zoo, Dr Katie Edwards led the study as part of her PhD at The University of Liverpool. Dr Susanne Shultz was her supervisor, and she continued in that role after joining us here in the Faculty of Life Sciences. Dr Edwards said:

“Although some black rhinoceros breed well in captivity, not all do. This reduces the vital genetic reserve that these populations represent. This species is of high conservation importance, so understanding what could be limiting breeding in certain individuals, and how we could make improvements, is a priority.”

9743 samples, from 11 zoos, were sent to Chester Zoo’s Wildlife Endocrinology laboratory as part of an attempt to analyse female reproductive cycles. Dr Edwards continued:

“Our analyses showed that females who had never bred were more likely to exhibit irregular oestrous cycles, indicating that underlying physiology is involved in differences in breeding success. As well as non-breeding females not cycling as reliably, behavioural observations showed us that these females don’t necessarily show when they are ready to mate, which can make managing breeding difficult. Hormone analysis helps address this problem by allowing us to predict when a female will be sexually receptive to a male.”

Hormone analysis has been successful at Chester Zoo, leading to three births in the last three years. As well as hormone analysis, the researchers looked at other factors that could affect breeding success. Females that had never bred were found to be heavier than those that had, suggesting that maintaining a suitable diet in captivity can be crucial. Non-breeding females were also found to be more unpredictable in their temperaments. Dr Shultz said:

“This research highlights how rhinos can behave in a different manner despite being kept in similar conditions. We think this demonstrates that it is important to recognise individual differences, and adjust management plans accordingly, to maximise the health and reproduction across all individuals in the population.”

Groundbreaking book shows the diversity of fossilised insects

In a groundbreaking new book, Fossil Insects, Faculty scientist Dr David Penney and his colleague James E Jepson Crato reconstruction courtesy of Richard Bizley www.bizleyart.comshow the incredible diversity of fossilised insects around the world. Using stunning photographs and unique illustrations, the book brings to life an ancient world that was fictionalised in Jurassic Park, showing us what these fossils tell us about the ancient and modern worlds, and even the future of our planet.

Using pioneering methods and state-of-the-art technology, Dr Penney has drawn on his knowledge of entomology and palaeontology to discover some astonishing new facts about these fossilised creatures. He says:

“Insects are the most diverse group of creatures on the planet today. Many of them were around even before the time of the dinosaurs. Bringing together entomology and palaeontology through the study of insect fossils has great potential for revolutionising what we know about both subjects.”

In the book, the ancient insects are brought to life by the illustrations of Richard Bizley. His drawings depict the long-vanished arthropods that lived among the flora and fauna during the time of the dinosaurs. To make the animals in his pictures look realistic, Richard created models using scientific drawings and fossils. He then photographed them to see how the light behaved. He says:

“When reconstructing fossil insect species, special attention needs to be paid to important diagnostic features, such as the wing venation patterns and the relative lengths of appendage segments. The fact that many fossil insect species are known only from isolated wings posed additional problems. This is where the collaboration with experts became very useful, and I worked closely with Dr Penney to produce an accurate reconstruction based on the comparative study of both fossil and living insects.”

While Jurassic Park may remain a fantasy, Dr Penney says that it did result in an increase in research on fossil insects. He is hoping that his book will now open up that research to an even larger audience.

Norwegian reindeer herds boosted by climate change

According to Faculty researchers and their colleagues from The Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø, climate change is not Reindeer in Norwaythreatening the reindeer of the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Instead, their long-term study indicates that the population is thriving because of rising temperatures.

In one of the very few studies of animal population and climate change that has actually counted the number of animals instead of simply estimating, the research team discovered that the number of reindeer on Svalbard has increased by 30% in the last year.

Since 1979 there has been an annual census of the animals in the valley of Adventdalen, led by Dr Nicholas Tyler.  Over that period the population has increased in close parallel with winter warming, growing from around 600 animals in the early 1980s to an average of around 1000 in recent years. Dr Tyler said:

“Winter warming is widely held to be a major threat to reindeer across the arctic. But, in the high arctic archipelago of Svalbard, global warming has had the opposite effect. Our data provides remarkable confirmation of this counter-intuitive observation.”

A Faculty team led by Dr Jonathan Codd and Nathan Thavarajah assisted with this summer’s reindeer census. Dr Codd said:

“The results revealed a remarkably successful year for Svalbard reindeer. Despite very high numbers in 2013, the population reached a new record of just over 1300 animals. The substantial increase in the numbers of reindeer is linked with frequent and pronounced periods of warm weather last winter.”

Prestigious fellowships for three Faculty scientists

A lab workerOur congratulations go to three Faculty researchers who have recently been awarded important independent fellowships. Gloria Lopez-Castejon and John Grainger received two of the twelve available Henry Dale Fellowships, while Franciska de Vries became the Faculty’s sixth recipient of a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship.

The Henry Dale Fellowships, which are awarded twice a year, are for outstanding postdoctoral scientists who wish to build their own independent research career in the UK. Gloria and John both work in the area of inflammation. John’s interests focus on the role of lymphoid cells in the regulation of inflammation and immunity, whereas Gloria’s fellowship will focus on how the regulation of certain post-translational modifications of proteins orchestrates an inflammation response.

The BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship, which Franciska has been awarded, is intended for scientists who have demonstrated high potential and hope to establish themselves as independent researchers. There were only five awards available, and the support will last for five years.  Franciska will be researching the role of plant roots in ecosystem responses to climate change. Prof Ian Roberts, Associate Dean for Research in the Faculty, said:

“These fellowships are highly prestigious. To see our promising young researchers recognised in this way demonstrates the calibre of the scientists working in the Faculty.”

Dr David Kirby discusses science advisers in film and TV

Faculty researcher Dr David Kirby was recently featured in an article and podcast for Nature Jobs, focusing on the role of The front cover of Dr Kirby's bookscience advisers in film and television. In his book, Lab Coats in Hollywood, science communication and film studies expert Dr Kirby looked at what draws scientists to the world of film. He interviewed 25 scientists to investigate how film producers used scientists on films such as Hulk, Finding Nemo, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

According to Dr Kirby, in an age where stereotypes are closely scrutinised, producers and writers are often most interested in knowing what scientists are really like. The questions the scientists are asked, and the time the advisers are needed for, varies depending on the film or TV series.

After many years immersed in the world of Hollywood media, Dr Kirby feels he has learnt a great deal. For any scientist wishing to follow his footsteps, he suggests they need to really understand the world of entertainment to work well with filmmakers and television producers. He says:

“Scientists underestimate how much science is communicated through films and television shows. Science is not just defined as what you find in a textbook. Science includes images of scientists themselves, the scientific process, scientific institutions, and science’s place in society. My research shows that when scientists become involved as consultants for the entertainment industry they are able to positively influence representations for all of these aspects in addition to making scientific facts more accurate.”

To find out more about Dr Kirby’s research, and the role of the science advisers in general, read the Nature article and listen to the podcast.

Scientists closer to understanding why weight-loss surgery cures diabetes

Hormone cells interspersed throughout other intestinal cells

Faculty scientists are a step closer to understanding why diabetes is cured in the majority of patients that undergo gastric bypass surgery. It appears that the cure can be explained by the effect of surgery on ‘reprogramming’ specialised cells in the intestine that secrete powerful hormones when we eat. Dr Craig Smith, research leader on the study, said:

 “Our research centred on enteroendocrine cells that ‘taste’ what we eat and, in response, release a cocktail of hormones that communicate with the pancreas to control insulin release to the brain, convey the sense of being full, and optimize and maximize digestion and absorption of nutrients. Under normal circumstances these are all important factors in keeping us healthy and nourished. But these cells may malfunction, resulting in under- or over-eating.”

In the UK, approximately 2.9 million people are affected by diabetes. Among other factors, the illness is linked to genes, ethnicity, diet, and obesity. 75% of people suffering from both obesity and diabetes are cured of diabetes after a gastric bypass. Understanding how this surgery cures the disease is the crux of Dr Smith’s research:

“The most common type of gastric bypass actually also bypasses a proportion of the gut hormone cells. It is thought that this causes the cells to change and be reprogrammed. Understanding how they change in response to surgery may hold the key to a cure for diabetes. Our next challenge is to investigate the messages the gut sends out when we eat food and when things go wrong, as is the case in diabetes. We hope this work will result in the development of drugs which could be used, instead of surgery, to cure obesity and prevent diabetes.”

Book prize launched to honour world renowned historian of science and medicine

The British Society for the History of Science (BSHS) has set up a prize to honour Professor John Pickstone, the world-Professor John Pickstonerenowned historian of science from the University of Manchester who passed away earlier this year.

The announcement of the BSHS John Pickstone Prize coincided with a memorial held at the University earlier this month. The event celebrated Professor Pickstone’s contribution to the history of science, technology, and medicine.

Professor Pickstone worked at the Faculty’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. He was one of the nation’s most important historians in his field and a tireless champion of Manchester’s heritage. The BSHS said that his research and teaching exemplified their ethos.

The prize will be awarded every two years to the best scholarly history of science book in the English language. The winning book should mark a major advance in the understanding and interpretation of the scientific past.

A shortlist for the first Pickstone Prize will be released at the BSHS’s EGM, which takes place in July. The winner will be announced in December 2014.

Scientists find trigger that creates different kinds of cell

A graphical abstract of the studyFaculty scientists have identified an important trigger that dictates how cells change their identity and gain specialised functions. The research brings them closer to being able to understand how complex organisms develop. This new knowledge will improve future research into how cells can be artificially manipulated. Professor Andrew Sharrocks, lead author on the study, said:

“Understanding how to manipulate cells is crucial in the field of regenerative medicine, which aims to repair or replace damaged or diseased human cells or tissues to restore normal function.”

The team focused on part of the genome that helps determine where and when a gene is expressed, known as an ‘enhancer.’ Different enhancers are active in different cell types, allowing the production of distinct gene products in different tissues. In this study, the team determined how these enhancers become active. Professor Sharrocks said:

“All of us develop into complex human beings containing millions of cells from a single cell created by fertilization of an egg. To transit from this single cell state, cells must divide and eventually change their identity and gain specialised functions. For example, we need specific types of cells to populate our brains, and our recent work has uncovered the early steps in the creation of these cells. One of the most exciting areas of regenerative medicine is the newly acquired ability to manipulate cell fate and derive new cells to replace those which might be damaged or lost, either through old age or injury. To do this, we need to use molecular techniques to manipulate stem cells which have the potential to turn into any cell in our bodies.”

One of the current drawbacks in the field of regenerative medicine is that the approaches can be relatively inefficient, largely because scientists do not fully understand the principles that control cell fate determination. Professor Sharrocks added:

“We believe that our research will help to make regenerative medicine more effective and reliable because we’ll be able to gain control and manipulate. Our understanding of the regulatory events within a cell shed light on how to decode the genome”

Professor Daniel Davis longlisted for important science writing prize

Professor Daniel Davis’s The Compatibility Gene has been longlisted for the Royal Winton Prize for Science Books. The book discusses howDan Davis and his book our compatibility genes may influence finding a life partner as much as they influence our health and individuality.  The judges said:

“Davis wins you over from the start with touch points you can relate to and engaging descriptions. Dedication and a life spent in pursuit of his subject are evident on every page.”

Over 160 books were submitted for this year’s prize, and the judges faced a difficult task when whittling that number down to a longlist of twelve. The winning author will receive £25,000 and up to five shorlistees will be awarded £2,500. The shortlist will be announced on 19th September 2014.

Professor Nicky Clayton FRS, Chair of the judges, said:

“There really is a plethora of good science writing out there at the moment. I think this shows how science is ever increasingly becoming part of our culture. In the end though, we did have to agree on 12 and we’re delighted with those we’ve selected. Each one takes you on an informative but perhaps more importantly, engaging, journey of the science. Some are woven with humour and passionate personal stories; others are able to illuminate incredibly complex topics. All are marvellously written and full of the wonder of science.”

Faculty researcher shortlisted for national award

Sheena CruickshankA project led by Faculty researcher Dr Sheena Cruickshank was shortlisted in the Engage Competition 2014, run by the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE). The project, entitled ‘Educating Community Groups about Parasite Infection and its Impact,’ was praised for its work informing UK immigrants about how infections are transmitted.

Alongside Indira Mclean of Bolton College, Dr Cruickshank devised an education programme that is being used by language schools. The programme teaches people from around the world about how parasitic infections such as toxoplasma, whipworm, malaria, and schistosomes are caught, and how they can be prevented. Dr Cruickshank said:

“Globally, the biggest killer of people under 50 is infection. In countries where infections that are caused by gut worms are still very common, it is the main reason why children don’t get an education. We focused on explaining how people catch these infections, their global significance (in terms of prevalence and effects on global health and economy), and how they can be prevented.”

The programme underwent a pilot run during ESOL classes at Bolton College. The participants were of mixed nationalities including African, Iraqi, and Indian. Dr Cruickshank said:

“Apart from providing a vital information service, this is an incredible opportunity to learn from these people’s experiences. Hearing about worm infections and their impact on daily life has motivated many of us to change our research.”