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:

Tuesday Feature episode 3: Dr Jack Rivers-Auty

In week one we caught up with long-standing Faculty professor, Matthew Cobb. Next, we went Stateside to have a chat with alumni Matt Paul. And now, in week three of the Tuesday Feature, it’s time to catch up with a relative newcomer.

Dr Jack Rivers-Auty has been with us for five months, but as you’ll see below he’s already getting into some fascinating research.Dr Jack Rivers-Auty

Jack studies Alzheimer’s Disease, which made him a perfect candidate for this week’s chat, right in the middle of Brain Awareness Week. We hope you enjoy it!

Could you please explain your research, for the layman, in ten sentences or less? 

Alzheimer’s is a disease in which there’s a build-up of an unwanted protein that seems to be toxic to the cells and sets off a chain reaction in the brain that kills neurons. It seems to kill the neurons in the area of the brain associated with memory first and then goes on to kill things in the outer cortex. There seems to be many processes involved and one of the processes is inflammation.

When you roll your ankle it swells up and you tend to put ice on it to mend. This is because you want to reduce the amount of immune cells in there because they produce toxic compounds. We’re investigating whether the diet will affect the inflammatory response in Alzheimer’s disease in a similar way. What we think might happen, and this is just a hypothesis, is that people who are deficient in zinc will be shown to have an exaggerated inflammatory response which causes swelling and tissue damage in the Alzheimer’s brain. So we’re really testing whether having a healthy diet will slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.

How can your research benefit the people reading this blog?

Fingers crossed, and it’s always a long way away because I’m doing pre-clinical research and takes a long time to confirm that the research works in a clinical setting, but it could lead to dietary interventions into Alzheimer’s patients and slow the progression of the disease.

It’s really interesting actually, because older people have worse absorption of micronutrients so having a good diet is even more important as you get older. So the older an Alzheimer’s patient is, the more likely they are to be zinc deficient. The more likely they are to have a hyper-inflammatory response to their condition causing accelerated Alzheimer’s disease.

Can we ask how you first got interested in your area of research?

I guess it goes back to a long time ago. My general area of research is neuroinflammation and I really stumbled into it, which I think most scientists will tell you; they stumble into their research fields.

I did a degree in neuroscience and then I did an honours, which is kind of like a masters, in botany. Then I was looking for a PhD topic and there were several being advertised around the University of Otago, where I’m from in New Zealand. One of them was on the effects of cannabinoids, marijuana like substances, on stroke. This combined my degree and my honours.

Marijuana is anti-inflammatory, so we were seeing if marijuana-like substances could suppress the inflammation following stroke and prevent the swelling, just like the ice when you roll your ankle. What we found was that it did supress the inflammation, but then actually made things slightly worse.

So that was really what it was. I was interested in the combination of botany and neuroscience and that got me into the neuroinflammatory field. But I always want to be a scientist of some kind.

Do you have any science heroes? Who inspired you?Jack at his desk

I have lots of science heroes. This is such a suck-up, but Nancy Rothwell is highly climbing up my science heroes list.

But other than that – oh, there are so many I want to talk about.

Ernest Rutherford – he’s a New Zealand physicist, so that’s why I like him. And he came here to Manchester to do his amazing research. He’s such a hero of mine.

In New Zealand we have this term for doing something on a budget and it’s called ‘number eight wire.’ Fencing wire is number eight wire – you can fix anything with it. It’s the cheap way of doing things. Ernest Rutherford is famous for being the ‘number eight wire scientist’. He was the guy who could just do anything on a budget, and he ended up with Nobel worthy science.

Another guy is Richard Feynman. He’s a physicist as well – damn physicists! But he is fantastic for being incredibly critical of science. He has beautiful commentary on how science shouldn’t get carried away and how there should be proper controls and how we should be really self-critical and self-reflecting. To really produce something meaningful you need to be rigorous and self-controlled, which is what he advocates.

But there’s so many, I could talk for hours.

Can you tell us a little bit about your interests outside of science?

I’d love to say cricket, especially at the moment with the English flying home from the World Cup and New Zealand top of the pool. And I have loads of other interests. I play rugby, I golf, I play cricket, and I surf. I like hiking and I like a lot of activities.

But the other thing, and this is one of the great things about my job, is that I go home and I’ll read a science book. I love science at all times. I’ve got science experiments sitting on top of my fridge right now.

One of my extra-curricular activities is science, which is completely geeky. But that’s one of the great things. I get to do what I love for a job as well as well as going home and doing it. And I write blogs about it. And I read about the latest science and the latest science books that are coming out.

How has working in Manchester helped you?

The first thing I noticed about coming to Manchester is the amount of opportunities that there are. We get emails on a daily basis about millions of things that you can do. You can go see Nobel laureates doing talks, which you could never see where I’m from in New Zealand.

You can do outreach programmes like this through blogs and the Minute Lecture series. I’m also going to schools. So there’s such an amazing encouragement to develop your skills and your outreach here at the University.

The other thing I noticed was that it’s such a team environment. It’s unbelievable. The whole building all gets together and every Friday we talk about the research we’re doing and we get positive feedback. I’ve really just found that amazing – how much of a hive of activity it is and how interested everyone is in other people’s research.

There’s a real team environment. It was an awesome environment to land in when I got here five months ago.

 

And that’s wraps it for this week. Jack has got us feeling extremely positive about the Faculty with that last answer, so we’re off to find our next interviewee!

Our thanks go to Jack – it’s great to see somebody so enthusiastic about what they do. Thanks for reading and please come back next Tuesday!

 

Interview by Fran Slater, Videos by Matthew Spencer, Images courtesy of Nicholas Odgen

Faculty student wins prestigious award

Siddarth Krishnan Faculty student Siddharth Krishnan has won the Life Sciences category of The Undergraduate Awards, a prestigious international programme that identifies leading creative thinkers through their undergraduate coursework. There were 4,792 entries from 206 Universities across 27 countries. Another Faculty student, Eliot Haworth, was highly commended.

Siddharth entered his work from a placement at the Mayo Clinic in Florida, USA, in which he helped to characterise a novel gene linked to Alzheimer’s disease. This was part of his degree in Pharmacology with Industrial Experience. He said:

“I gained a lot of great experience during my placement. The Mayo Clinic has a hospital, education wing, and research centre all on the same site, so I was able to work with researchers and patients for my genetic studies. This gave me a lot of confidence, as it meant I had good research experience already. It also helped me get onto my PhD in Neuroscience and I had a strong submission to the awards. Still, I was surprised and delighted to win!”

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

Understanding viral infection may help Alzheimer’s

alzheimers2FLS researcher Dr Alexander Golovanov, based in the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, has just obtained an important grant from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (part of the National Institutes of Health) to understand how the herpes virus infects cells.

The research is being carried out with Professor Rozanne Sandri-Goldin’s world-leading virology group at University of California Irvine USA, and will explore the molecular mechanisms that enable the herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) to hijack the cell and produce more copies of itself.

HSV-1 causes a wide range of diseases, from recurrent painful skin lesions to more serious conditions such as encephalitis. Recent studies by FLS researcher Professor Ruth Itzhaki have suggested that HSV-1 can be a risk factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and that antiviral drugs may therefore be effective at slowing down the progress of Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, there is a yet not antiviral treatment that can suppress viral replication efficiently enough. Finding a “weak spot” in HSV-1 that could be targeted by future therapies could constitute a significant breakthrough for a number of diseases.

During infection, HSV-1 expresses a protein called ICP27, which helps the virus to take control of the cellular machinery and use it to produce new copies of the virus. Dr Golovanov’s group has previously created the first atomic-level structure of the complex formed by ICP27 and its target in the cell (see: PLOS Pathogens). The new five-year project will look into further details of how the complexes of viral and cellular proteins are organized and regulated and may help to design new drugs that will interfere with this complex assembly and HSV replication.