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:

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!”

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.”

Science Spectacular

Discover the secrets of 3D printing, build the world’s largest fractal, see a dress of glass and flame, and enjoy an exciting programme of evening entertainment. Art and science collide to engage and inspire curious minds of all ages in 11 days of innovative exhibitions and activities across Greater Manchester, proudly produced by the Museum of Science & Industry.

The University hosts an exciting programme of activities during the Manchester Science Festival. This year’s highlights include Chemistry Flash-Bang Show, Weather & Climate DIY, Ice Age Science: Mammoths, Mega Boulders & Microscopes, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Solar System, and – Science Spectacular – our amazing family fun day! The Science Spectacular will be held on Saturday 25 October 2014 and, with over 40 interactive science stalls, there will be something for everyone at this fun-filled family science day.

Last year's eventYou’ll be able to take part in a range of challenging science quests, find out how to make square bubbles, help us build an erupting volcano, and see if you can put a fly in a headlock. You’ll also meet our newest dinosaur, Gorgosaurus, and discover why he has x-appeal.  Many of our researchers will be there to answer your questions; they are behind some of the world’s most amazing discoveries. They’ll tell you what’s lurking in our rivers and just how flies help with their research. There will be fun activities for adults and children alike. Make sure you don’t miss out!

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

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.

Student profile – Alexia Schwarz, Biology

Alexia in AustraliaCombining your studies with your sport can be a difficult task. In the last year, Alexia has not only managed this task successfully; she has also spent a semester in Australia and found inspiration for her future.

Tell us about your sport:

Eventing is an amazing aspect of equestrian. It allows all ages and levels to compete together. It consists of three disciplines: dressage, cross-country, and showjumping.  It’s a well-rounded sport containing precision, endurance, and agility.

What’s it like being an athlete for Indonesia and a student in the UK?

European riders are so numerous that they often fight to compete in competitions. Being the only Indonesian rider in Europe, events are always open to me.

Eventing is a great sport. Even an amateur can get to Olympic level of they work hard. This enables me to study and still compete every year during the summer season.

What are you plans for competing this year? Any big competitions?

I will return to eventing after my semester in Australia. With a bit of luck and hard work, the Asian Games in Incheon this September could be THE BIG competition this year.

Tell us about Australia. Why did you choose to go there?

My visit is part of the University’s exchange program. I’ve always been interested in marine biology; Australia gives me the opportunity to explore that domain, with courses allowing me to visit the Great Barrier Reef, Fraser Island, The Gold Coast, and Sunshine Coast.

What role did Equestrian play in your choice of placement to Australia?

Equestrian made me question going abroad. I knew it would make it hard to return to Europe in the eventing season, especially with the Asian Games approaching. But sometimes new experiences and education opportunities are difficult to pass up. Once in a life time chances don’t happen every day.

A sea turtleWhat has been your highlight of your trip down under so far?

My field course to Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef for my Marine Environments course. Spending 5 days on an idyllic island in a research station was an incredible experience. It has convinced me of my future ambitions for education.

How do you see your trip adding value to your sport and education for this next year?

Coming to Australia has opened my eyes; it allowed me to decide what educational career I wanted to pursue. Marine biology was always an idea, but I was never sure of how I could make it work with riding. Being here and being able to study, ride, and dive has shown me it is possible to maintain a high standard in all three.


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.”

An insight into stroke survival at the Pint of Science Festival

Stroke survivor Christine Halford and her daughter NatalieA stroke survivor and her daughter told their story in a Manchester pub as part of a three-day science festival in Manchester. The Pint of Science Festival took place across Manchester, bringing Faculty experts together with members of the public.

The festival provided an opportunity to hear about current research, discuss a range of topics over a drink, and take part in science-based pub quizzes and games. Each of the four Manchester pubs involved hosted a different scientific theme. In ‘Understanding Stroke’, part of the Stoke Association’s Action on Stroke Month, Professor Stuart Allan provided an insight into the brain of stroke survivors. Professor Allan said:

“We know that brain damage occurs within minutes of a stroke and that the quicker we can intervene to stop the processes that contribute to the death of brain cells the better.  With the advancements in stroke research in the last 20 years we know much more about these damaging events and that there can be brain repair post-stroke, meaning stroke patients now have a better chance of survival and recovery.”

The highlight of the event was provided by stroke survivor and nurse Christine Halford and her daughter Natalie, who offered moving first-hand accounts of their experiences of stroke. Natalie said:

“It’s imperative to raise awareness of stroke because nobody thinks it’s going to happen to them, until it does and your life is turned upside down. Stroke can happen to anybody of any age, at anytime and anywhere, which is why research is necessary as we still don’t have all the answers. The pub is a great setting as we can reach out to people who ordinarily would know nothing about stroke.”

Computer models helping to unravel the science of life

Scientists have developed a computer modelling simulation to explore how cells of the fruit fly react to changes in the “Cell, Martin Baron et al.”environment. The research is part of an ongoing study that is investigating how external environmental factors impact on health and disease.

The simulation shows how cells of the fruit fly communicate with each other during their development. The current phase of the study looks at how temperature affects cell signalling networks during development. This will help explain how flies – and other organisms – develop across a wide range of temperatures. Dr Martin Baron, lead researcher on the study, said:

“It is exciting that the computer model was able to make predictions that we could test by going back to the fly experiments to investigate the effects of different mutations which alter the components of the cells. It shows us that the model is working well and provides a solid basis on which to develop its sophistication further.”

The next phase of the study will see the team research how cell signalling networks adjust to other environmental changes, including nutrition. Dr Baron said:

“There is a lot of interest in how environmental inputs influence our health and disease by interacting with our genetic makeup. Our initial studies have already shown that changes to the adult fly’s diet can also affect how cells inside a fly communicate with each other and produce responses in certain fly tissues. This is a promising avenue for future studies.”

Baron explains that there are wider implications for understanding human health and disease:

“Many different types of signal control normal development but when some of these signals are mis-activated they can result in the formation of tumours. What we’ve learnt from studying the flies is that some communication signals can arise in different ways and this means that, in cancer, mis-activation of these signals can also occur by different routes. This is important because it can help us to understand how to stop mis-activation from occurring.”

Students offer advice on sensible drinking

The student's posterFaculty students are campaigning against excessive alcohol consumption and hope their message goes viral. The team of first year biology students have won an award from the University for a project which tasked students with the challenge of bringing biology into the local community.

Students Bethany Love, Katy Faulkner, Caroline Cahill, Portia Hollyoak, Aimee Parry, Annika Vik,  and Helen Feord launched the awareness campaign earlier this year on social media. They used Facebook and Twitter to promote facts and figures on alcohol consumption using images and videos to engage its audience.

Bethany said her team came up with the idea not to encourage students not to drink alcohol, but to advise them on over-drinking:

“We wanted to use social media to promote our campaign to young adults outside the university since it isn’t just students that overindulge with alcohol. While the majority of students are aware of the short term effects of excessive drinking, many are not aware or would rather not think about the permanent damage that can occur as a result of binge drinking”

“We are raising awareness and letting people know that you can go out and have fun with your friends, but you can also still be safe and not damage your health. Our ambition is that when people are searching online for information about anti-binge drinking, we want them to think of us. We think they will want to engage with the campaign because it is about students talking to other students about the issues surrounding binge drinking.”

Aimee said:

“The success of our project is clear from the popularity of our Facebook and Twitter pages, and the use of social media has enabled us to reach the attention of a wider audience than expected.”

The campaign won an award for the Best Community Project at the University’s recent Biology Project Symposium. Students taking part in the project were given a term to bring biology into the local community. It took on numerous forms, from fundraising for charities to setting up/demonstrating topical information displays in primary schools and shopping malls.



Science Stroke Art 2014 launches in Manchester Town Hall

Dame Professor Nancy Rothwell at the launchOver 250 people celebrated the launch of Science Stroke Art 2014 with an innovative event at Manchester Town Hall. TV doctor Chris Steele hosted the evening, which was organised by The Stroke Association and The University. The night featured music, poetry, visual art, and short talks about stroke research and treatment.

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, who is a world-renowned expert on stroke, spoke about the work of scientists at the University. She also discussed the importance of Science Stroke Art:

“What we want Science Stroke Art to do is raise awareness of stroke and show that it is not just something that happens to old people, but that young people can be affected too. We also wanted to show that stroke isn’t the end of a fulfilling life and to tell people about research into stroke. I never like to make false promises but there’s a possibility that in the next few years that there will be radical new treatments for stroke.”

Science Stroke Art will feature a series of engaging events in Manchester throughout May. The programme includes interactive talks, music, theatre, and live demonstrations, all of which intend to capture the public’s imagination and challenge misconceptions about the condition. Chris Larkin, Regional Head of Operations from the Stroke Association said:

“Stroke is one of the greatest health challenges of our time but doesn’t get the attention or funding it deserves. Far too many people don’t understand it or think it’ll ever happen to them. Science Stroke Art 2014 aims to help overcome this challenge by raising awareness of stroke through an engaging programme of events, all taking place throughout Action on Stroke Month.”

Bacteria on the Skin: New Insights on Our Invisible Companions

A Faculty study examining how skin-dwelling bacteria influence wound-healing could help address chronic wounds, a commonbacteria ailment in the elderly.

Despite the fact that we spend our lives covered in a thin veneer of bacteria, little is known about the microbes that dwell in and on our skin. A new study suggests that the interplay between these bacteria and our cells could influence the healing of wounds. Faculty researcher Dr Matthew Hardman said:

“These wounds can literally persist for years, and we simply have no good treatments to help them heal. There’s a definite need for better ways to predict how a wound is going to heal and develop new treatments. This study gives us a much better understanding of the types of bacterial species that are found in skin wounds, how our cells might respond to the bacteria, and how that interaction can affect healing. It’s our hope that these insights could help lead to better treatments to promote wound healing.”

Chronic wounds are a significant health problem, with an estimated 1 in 20 elderly people living with cuts or lesions that never seem to heal. They often result from diabetes, poor circulation, or being confined to a bed or wheelchair.

Hardman and his colleagues compared the skin bacteria from people with chronic wounds to those with wounds that healed. The results showed markedly differing bacterial communities, suggesting there may be a bacterial ‘signature’ to wounds that refuse to heal. Dr Hardman said:

“Our data clearly supports the idea that one could swab a wound, profile the bacteria that are there, and then be able to tell whether the wound is likely to heal quickly or persist. This could impact treatment decisions.”

Immunology touted as next big thing for popular science

dandavisFaculty scientist Professor Daniel Davis says that scientific jargon could be preventing the public from learning about the human immune system. He believes that scientists are starting to counter this problem in a number of innovative ways.

His latest paper, published in Nature Reviews Immunology, argues that now is the time for immunology to become the big trend in popular science, helping to inform new discussions about health and disease. Professor Davis said:

“People already know a lot about DNA and evolution and would be keen to learn new concepts – like how the immune system works. It’s important to find out about immunology because it is crucial for understanding human health and disease. Plus, the human body is one of the greatest wonders of the universe, and its complexity, delicacy, and elegance is clearly revealed in the way our immune system works.”

Immunology explores how our immune system seeks out and destroys dangerous bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It also examines how the immune system connects with other bodily systems and influences, such as metabolism and hormone levels.

Professor Davis explored immunology and its link with compatibility genes is his latest book, The Compatibility Gene. He said:

“The immune system is a wonderful basis for discussing the importance of human diversity. The genes that vary the most between individual people are not those that influence physical characteristics — such as skin, eye or hair colour, for example — but the genes of the immune system.”

Body Clock Day on the BBC

On Tuesday 13 May, the BBC is having a day focusing on our body clocks. They will be looking at what body clocks do and how they a clockwork. The Faculty’s leading clock researcher, Professor Andrew Loudon, will be on BBC Breakfast TV and several radio stations, while Professor David Ray will be on the Sheila Fogarty Show on Radio 5 Live. A film of one of his patients will also be shown.

Other clock researchers from around the country will also be involved. Professor Russell Foster will be on the Today Programme on Radio 4 and there will be various items on radio and TV news programmes.


‘Lonely’ bacteria increase risk of antibiotic resistance

microbesFaculty scientists have discovered that ‘lonely’ microbes are more likely to mutate, resulting in higher rates of antibiotic resistance. This research was published in Nature Communications.

Studying the mutation rates in E. coli, the researchers found that the rate of mutation varied according to how many bacteria there were. Surprisingly, they discovered that more bacteria resulted in fewer mutations. More ‘lonely’ bacteria developed greater resistance to Rifampicin, an antibiotic used to treat tuberculosis. Dr Chris Knight, joint lead author on the study, said:

“What we were looking for was a connection between the environment and the ability of bacteria to develop the resistance to antibiotics. We discovered that the rate at which E. coli mutates depends upon how many ‘friends’ it has around. It seems that more lonely organisms are more likely to mutate.”

This change in mutation rate is controlled by quorum sensing, the name given to the way bacteria let each other know how much of a crowd there is. This involves the release of signaling molecules by bacteria when in a dense population, helping the organisms to understand their surroundings, coordinate their behavior to improve defence mechanisms, and adapt to the availability of nutrients.

The rate of mutation was found to be dependent on the gene luxS, which is known to be involved in quorum sensing. The team now hopes to find ways to control this signaling for medical applications in a future study. Dr Knight said:

“Eventually this might lead to interventions to control mutation rates, for instance to minimise the evolution of antibiotic resistance, allowing antibiotics to work better.”

Scientists find way to target cells resistant to chemotherapy

Paclitaxel treated cellResearch led by Dr Andrew Gilmore has identified a way to sensitise cancer cells to chemotherapy, making them more open to treatment. The study could pave the way for the development of drugs which will target cells that have become treatment-resistant.

The research team made the discovery while exploring the mechanisms behind resistance to chemotherapy drugs like Paclitaxel, used to treat breast and colon cancer. Dr Gilmore said:

“Cells replicate and divide through a process known as mitosis. This process is carefully controlled and if any mistake is made during normal division then the cell undergoes apoptosis – otherwise known as controlled cell death. Failure of cells to complete mitosis correctly can be the start of cancer. We wanted to understand how this failure – delay of cell division – activates apoptosis, and why some cancer cells may be able to avoid being killed.”

The researchers found a protein known as Bid in colon cancer cells and discovered that Bid is turned on as cells prepare to divide. The cells then die if the division takes too long. Cancer cells that are resistant to chemotherapy still turn Bid on, but go through mitosis too quickly for the cell to be killed. The team found that these cells could be made to die if they directly targeted the part of the cell where Bid operates. Dr Gilmore added:

“Our findings demonstrate that Bid plays a central role in mitosis-related cell death.  This could eventually be of huge benefit in a clinical setting and help patients who suffer from advanced stages of colon cancer.”

New research links body clocks to chronic lung diseases

pulmonary-fibrosisFaculty research has shown that the body clock’s natural rhythm could be utilised to improve therapies that delay the onset of chronic lung disease. Dr Qing-Jun Meng and his team have discovered a rhythmic defence pathway in the lung, controlled by our body clocks, which is essential to combatting exposure to toxins and pollutants.

The team have found that the circadian clock in the mouse lung rhythmically switches genes on and off, controlling the antioxidant defence pathway. This 24-hourly rhythm enables the lungs to anticipate and withstand exposure to pollutants on a daily basis. Dr Meng said:

“We used a mouse model that mimics human pulmonary fibrosis, and found that an oxidative and fibrotic challenge delivered to the lungs during the night phase, when mice are active, causes more severe lung damages than the same challenge administered during the day, a mouse’s resting phase. Our findings show that timed administration of the antioxidant compound sulforaphane effectively attenuates the severity of the lung fibrosis in this mouse model.”

The research suggests that paying attention to the lung clock could increase the effectiveness of drug treatments for oxidative and fibrotic diseases, allowing for lower doses and reduced side effects.

Research team member Dr Vanja Pekovic-Vaughan said:

“This research is the first to show that a functioning clock in the lung is essential to maintain the protective tissue function against oxidative stress and fibrotic challenges. We envisage a scenario whereby chronic rhythm disruption (during ageing or shift work, for example) may compromise the temporal coordination of the antioxidant pathway, contributing to human disease.”

This study is a part of ongoing research exploring how chronic disruption to body clocks contributes to conditions such as osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and mood disorder. Dr Meng said:

“Our next step is to test our theory that similar rhythmic activity of the antioxidant defence pathway also operates in human lungs.  This will enable us to translate our findings and identify the proper clock time to treat chronic lung diseases that are known to involve oxidative stress.”


Faculty scientist recognised for entrepreneurial spirit

curtisdobsonDr Curtis Dobson has won the Commercial Innovator of the Year award at the BBSRC’s Fostering Innovation Awards 2014. The awards were presented in London, in front of a prestigious audience featuring leading figures from the worlds of investment, industry, government, charity, and academia. He scooped the £15,000 award in recognition of two successful healthcare companies that are based on his research.

Ai2 Ltd has developed anti-infective peptide technology for use in ophthalmics and medical devices. This technology helps to reduce infections caused by contact lenses, catheters, wound dressings, and orthopaedic devices. Microsensor Ltd is developing a new approach to the early detection of medical device infection and environmental monitoring. The technology is simple, inexpensive, and robust, proving a clear indication of clinically or industrially relevant levels of infection on a surface. Dr Curtis Dobson said:

“Being recognised by this BBSRC award is a privilege and an honour, and further validates our efforts to tackle resistant infection, which impacts so many people throughout the UK and beyond. The additional funds will help us accelerate commercialisation of our latest technologies, ultimately delivering benefits to patients sooner.”

Professor Ian Kimber, Faculty Associate Dean for Business Development, said:

“This is a remarkable achievement and is a testament to the industry and innovation of Curtis and his co-workers. It is a reflection also of the emphasis we place on ensuring that the fruits of our substantial investment in research deliver valuable products and opportunities.”

Purified fish oils could help treat rare disease affecting new-born babies

babyFaculty research has shown that a rare and potentially lethal disease affecting new-born babies may be treatable with fish oils. The disease, known as congenital hyperinsulinism, is a rare disorder which affects roughly 1 in 50,000 children in the UK. A danger to babies whose bodies make too much insulin, it can starve their brain of blood sugar, leading to possible brain damage or long-term disability. Giving these infants purified fish oils similar to those used to treat heart attack patients can improve their blood sugar levels, which could prevent the worst effects of the disease.  Faculty researcher Dr Karen Cosgrove says:

Although we didn’t see enormous changes in our patients during the research, the effects were small but positive. It is important for all babies with congenital hyperinsulinism because it is a condition which is so difficult to treat.

The research was conducted alongside consultants from Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. The hospital is the base for The Northern Congenital Hyperinsulinism Service (NorCHI), a highly specialised facility set up to treat this rare disease. Doctor Indi Banerjee, clinical lead for NORCHI, says:

The current medical treatment for children with congenital hyperinsulinism has been quite limited. The addition of this fish oil supplement may be a simple but effective way of treating low blood sugars in many children with this difficult condition.

PhD Programme with A*STAR Institutes, Singapore

rothwellProfessor Dame Nancy Rothwell visited Singapore recently, accompanying David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, during a visit to promote UK Higher Education in Australia, Indonesia, and Singapore.

The Ministerial visit included meetings with a wide range of government offices and institutions in Singapore, many of which Dame Nancy visited during a personal trip in January 2013. Meetings were held with the National Research Foundation, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and key partner institutions such as The National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University.

A highlight of the programme was the signing of an agreement between our university and A*STAR Graduate Academy for joint engagement in A*STAR’s Research Attachment Programme (ARAP). The University-wide agreement will extend the current engagement that the Faculty already has established (15 students registered to date). Students are registered in the Faculty and spend two years in Manchester and two years in a Singapore Research Institute. The Faculty funds their time in Manchester, and their time in Singapore is funded by A*STAR. Projects are identified by encouraging supervisors from Manchester and Singapore to collaborate and develop projects that create added value through two-centre research activities which advance joint research interests. Professor Martin Humphries, Dean and Vice-President of the Faculty, said:

“The University of Manchester is fortunate to have multiple levels of partnership in Singapore. I’m delighted that we were able to extend this through joint engagement with A*STAR’s ARAP programme which will support improved collaboration between researchers in Manchester and Singapore.”

Read more about our A*STAR programmes.

International Women’s Day 2014: inspiring academics

With International Women’s Day just around the corner, we are highlighting a few of the Faculty’s inspirational female academics.iwd The women below are experienced communicators who can each speak passionately about their areas of expertise. We hope they can inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

Egyptologist Dr Joyce Tyldesley is currently researching the theory of the curse of Tutankhamen and the impact the Egyptian king had on various aspects of modern life. She is also writing a book on Nefertiti and how the bust of the Egyptian queen is still influencing modern perceptions of beauty. Joyce’s previous books and articles on ancient Egypt include three television tie-ins, and Cleopatra, Last Queen of Egypt, which was a Radio Four ‘Book of the Week.’ Her most recent book, Tutankhamen’s Curse: The Developing History of an Egyptian King, was published in February 2012 and won the Felicia A Holton Book Award from the Archaeological Institute of America.

Dr Sheena Cruickshank is a passionate science communicator who created ‘The Worm Wagon’ alongside two colleagues. The Worm Wagon is a mobile workshop that illustrates the effects of the parasitic worm infections which affect approximately 2 billion people across the globe. A key 2020 goal for the World Health Organisation is to provide deworming medication to 75 percent of school-age children, improving their school attendance and raising levels of education. Sheena is also a former winner of the Manchester International Women’s Day award for Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and has been awarded the Society of Biology Science Communication Award.

Professor Eriko Takano is the final female academic we focused on. She is researching the use of synthetic biology for the large-scale, genome-based reengineering of antibiotic production. Her research aims to combat antibiotic resistant bacteria, which is an emerging public health threat worldwide. Furthermore, she aims to apply the synthetic biology tools developed in her research group to design and produce not only antibiotics, but a wide range of bioactive molecules, including anti-cancer agents.

Benjamin Stutchbury wins over audience at FameLab Regional Finals

stutchbury (1)Faculty PhD student Benjamin Stutchbury recently took part in the North West regional finals of FameLab UK 2014, a competition to find new voices in science. Four other University researchers were also involved.

The event, hosted by MOSI, saw the region’s finest communicators battle it out to impress a judging panel of Dr Phil Manning (University of Manchester), Carolyn Bishop (University of Huddersfield), and Victoria Gill (BBC). The prize on offer was a place in the FameLab UK National Final. Each contestant had three minutes to present accurate and interesting science in an accessible way, using everyday language and storytelling.

Benjamin won the audience vote at the Regional Finals with his presentation entitled ‘Designing drugs on the London Underground’. His talk focused on the use of systems biology to improve drug design. Mathematical networks are widely used in systems biology so Benjamin used the London Underground map as an example of a mathematical network that the audience could easily relate to. Benjamin said:

“The ability to communicate complex scientific concepts to a wide audience is an extremely important skill to develop. Concentrating complex science into a (hopefully) entertaining three-minute talk was extremely challenging, but also great fun. I was amazed by how inventive some of the contestants were and the range of scientific topics covered. I would recommend anyone to give it a go next year!”

Dr Jo Pennock, a lecturer from the Faculty, also participated in the Regional Finals. Jo was chosen as a wildcard and will go into a draw for the last spot in the National Final, held at Bloomsbury Theatre on the 23rd April.

Medical Research Council centenary celebrations

Manchester students on placement at the Medical Research Council in the Gambia played an active role in the recent celebrationgambia (1) of the MRC’s Centenary year. The students involved were Beth Coe, Thomas Elliot, Alex Clark, Richard Morter, Jack Bibby, and Megan Chasey. All embraced the experience, and Thomas even designed the centenary t-shirt. They were also introduced to MRC Chairman, Donald Brydon, when he visited the unit for the centenary celebrations.

The students were invited to join the organising committee and run stations for the open day which formed a central part of the celebrations. 150 children from 15 local schools attended. Richard and Thomas served as microphone runners at a high-profile ‘Ask the Experts’ event which featured a distinguished panel of guests. The event was attended by over two hundred people.

Alison Offong, Head of Communications at the MRC Gambia said:

“Richard and Tom ensured seamless operations on the night!”

Tom and Beth were honoured to attend the Directors Award Dinner, held at Professor Corrah’s house. They were seated at the MRC Chairman’s table and had a very enjoyable evening. Beth said:

“It made it us feel part of the MRC as a whole and it was such a privilege to be given the opportunity to get involved. Meeting the local school children and their teachers made us feel that we belong and that the work we are doing is so worthwhile.”

Professor John Pickstone

pickstoneThe Faculty is sorry to announce the sad passing of Professor John Pickstone, aged 69, following a short illness. Professor Pickstone was one of the nation’s most important historians of science, technology, and medicine, and worked tirelessly to champion Manchester’s heritage. He was founding director of the Faculty’s Centre of History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM). He also founded the Manchester Histories Festival, which went on to become the leading event of its kind in the UK.

Born and raised in Burnley, Lancashire, his education took him to Cambridge, London, Ontario, and Minnesota. He returned to the North West to work for UMIST’s Department of History of Science and Technology, specialising in the history of the region’s hospitals. In 1985, he moved to the Victoria University of Manchester where he established CHSTM. He directed the centre until 2002, when he became a research professor.

His most recent work focused on the history of modern medicine and medical technology, especially the NHS. The Manchester Histories Festival he founded in 2009 has been a great success and a regular celebration of Manchester’s heritage. The year’s event will start on March 21. Current Director of CHSTM, Professor Michael Worboys, said:

“We are devastated that John, our good friend and colleague, and a world renowned historian of science, technology and medicine, has died. He was a great champion of the heritage of the University, the City and the North West, working tirelessly to inform the public and the academic world that we can learn from what has happened in the past. Our thoughts are with his family and many friends.”

Faculty researcher among BBSRC Innovator of the Year finalists 2014

A Faculty researcher is among nine shortlisted finalists for the 2014 BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research innovatorCouncil) Innovator of the Year competition who were announced today.

Curtis Dobson has been shortlisted in the Commercial Innovator section for his serial innovations focusing on the treatment or detection of infectious agents on medical device surfaces.

He joins Neil Gibbs and Catherine O’Neill, from the Faculty of Medical and Human Science’s Institute of Inflammation and Repair, who have been shortlisted in the same category for their novel approaches to safe skin healthcare – Curapel.

The innovators will be competing to be crowned Innovator of the Year 2014 at a high-profile event in London on 20 March 2014 in recognition of their efforts to take their innovation beyond the lab to deliver social and economic benefits.

The other categories include Social Innovator and Most Promising Innovator reflecting the breadth of the benefits delivered by BBSRC’s investment in UK bioscience. One of the category winners will then be chosen as the overall Innovator of the Year.

Winners in each category will receive a £15,000 award for them to support their research, training or other activities promoting economic or social impact. The overall winner will receive a further £15,000.

The finalists will be judged by an expert independent panel. The judges will be looking to recognise those innovators who have worked the hardest and gone the furthest to take their science out of the lab to deliver impact.

Innovator of the Year is one of BBSRC’s Fostering Innovation competitions that aim to promote excellence amongst researchers, knowledge exchange practitioners, departments and institutions by recognising successful approaches to innovation and impact in the biosciences.

More information about Innovator of the Year can be found on the BBSRC website.

PhD student Sarah Fox gets SET for BRITAIN

setforbritainSarah Fox will have a chance to present a poster of her research to a range of politicians and a panel of expert judges at SET for BRITAIN 2014. SET for BRITAIN is a prestigious national science competition, run by The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee in collaboration with a number of other institutions, which recognises and rewards Britain’s most talented early-career scientists. Sarah will exhibit her research poster entitled “EEG as a tool for early Alzheimer’s diagnostics and drug development”. Sarah’s work highlights the possibility to detect changes in communication between regions of the brain associated with memory formation prior to the appearance of usual Alzheimer’s diagnostic markers, such as memory alternations and build-up of amyloid plagues in the brain. This research could also be used to aid the development of drugs for the treatment of early Alzheimer’s.

Sarah’s poster will be judged alongside other early-stage researchers from across the UK in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Session of the competition. On taking part in the competition, Sarah said:

“I’m excited to be representing Manchester and bringing our research to the people who can influence policy. I hope I can use this opportunity to explain the necessity for both basic and applied research, especially with regard to neuroscience, where the exploration and understanding of basic brain mechanisms is essential to help focus future applied research.”

We wish Sarah luck in the competition!

Does it pay to be a lover or a fighter?

As mating season approaches male animals are faced with a question that can determine their chances of reproducing: shouldwalrus (1) they be a lover or a fighter? A recent study, led by Faculty researcher Dr John Fitzpatrick, has found that where animals fall on the lover/fighter scale depends on the extent to which they are able to ensure continued mating rights with females.

In species where fighting for the right to mate means greater control of the female, males invest more in weapons and less in testes size. But males produce large weapons and testes in species where fighting for females occurs both before mating – with weapons – and after mating – with sperm. Some males found fighting the most successful method. Others found fighting was only the first step in sexual relations and also had to rely on large testes to ensure their fertility.

The study looked at over 300 species and found that male ability to monopolise females for continued mating drove the way they evolved. Looking at mammals, birds, fish, insects, and flatworms, they discovered that males only traded-off investment in weapons and testes when they were sure that females wouldn’t fool around with another male when their back was turned. Dr Fitzpatrick said:

“We set out to see why some species show trade-offs in sexual traits and others do not – the answer lies in how successfully males are able to keep females from mating with rivals. We know animals try to get females in a couple of ways. When they fight for them they sometimes evolve weaponry – such as antlers, big body size, or big teeth. The other way they do this is not to bother to compete before they mate, but to have big testes and the highest sperm quality so that they can fertilise the most eggs.”

Dr Stefan Lüpold, from Syracuse University, said:

“You don’t get something for nothing in evolution. We wanted to see which species invested in weapons over testes. Some of these species invest in both, and that is a bit of a mystery. We will now look at whether maximising investment in sexual traits means you pay the price in some other aspect of life. Understanding the way animals reproduce is important as it helps us understand how species evolve and can prove important for conservation.”

Manchester graduate on course for Mars mission

marsDanielle Potter, a Life Sciences graduate who is now studying cancer research as a postgraduate at the University, is hoping to land a place on the first manned-mission to Mars. From 202,000 applicants, Danielle has become one of the final 1058 candidates. The 29-year-old will now be tested to see if she makes the grade and becomes one of the final 24. They then hope to embark on a one-way-trip to the red planet.

Mars One is a privately funded project set up by two Dutch men in 2011 with the aim of establishing permanent human life on Mars by 2025. Danielle, originally from Manchester’s Moss Side, only found out about the mission on application deadline day but signed up straight away. She said:

“What has always driven me with my research is that hunt to find something new. This is what I’m looking at in my research into cancer. When I learnt about this opportunity I thought it would be great to be a part of the most historic thing to ever happen in our galaxy.”

Danielle completed a Molecular Biology degree at the Faculty before being accepted for a PhD at the CRUK Manchester Institute. The former pupil at Trinity School in Manchester City Centre is in the third year of her PhD researching colorectal and lung cancer therapies. Her lab work looks at how different drugs interact and how they may be used to target the disease. She added:

“I never thought going to space would be within my grasp, but it would be great to do research there and look at something no one has ever seen before. My PhD has given me the skills to think outside the box and look at how to go about analysing data found on Mars. If I’m successful in getting into the next round I’ll get to train with some of the best of the best in the space industry and get a lot of experience with training in the Arctic Circle. With my scientific research background, I’d be trained to look for possible extra-terrestrial life on the planet.”

The Mars One team will now continue the shortlisting process. Danielle plans to finish her PhD studies before the training schedule begins.

Researchers find potential new treatment approach for pancreatic cancer

Faculty scientists believe they have discovered a way to make chemotherapy more effective for pancreatic pancreaticcancercellscancer patients. They hope they have now found an effective strategy for selectively killing pancreatic cancer while sparing healthy cells, which will improve the results of treatment. Research leader, Dr Jason Bruce, said:

“Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive and deadly cancers. Most patients develop symptoms after the tumour has spread to other organs. To make things worse, pancreatic cancer is highly resistant to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Clearly a radical new approach to treatment is urgently required. We wanted to understand how the switch in energy supply in cancer cells might help them survive.”

The study found that pancreatic cancer cells may have their own specialised energy supply that maintains calcium levels and keeps cancer cells alive. Maintaining a low concentration of calcium within cells is vital to their survival and is achieved by calcium pumps on the plasma membrane. These pumps, known as PMCA, are fuelled using ATP, the key energy currency for many cellular processes.

All cells generate energy from nutrients using two biochemical energy ‘factories,’ known as mitochondria and glycolysis. Mitochondria generate almost 90% of the cells’ energy in healthy cells. In pancreatic cancer cells there is a shift towards glycolysis as the major energy source. It is thought that the calcium pump has its own supply of glycolytic ATP, which gives the cancer cells an advantage over normal cells.

Scientists used cells from human tumours and investigated the effects of blocking each energy source in turn. Blocking the mitochondrial metabolism had no effect. However, when they blocked glycolysis they saw a reduced supply of ATP which inhibited the calcium pump. This resulted in a toxic calcium overload and the death of the cell. Dr Bruce added:

“It looks like glycolysis is the key process in providing ATP fuel for the calcium pump in pancreatic cancer cells. Although an important strategy for cell survival, it may also be their major weakness. Designing drugs to cut off this supply to the calcium pumps might be an effective strategy for selectively killing cancer cells while sparing normal cells within the pancreas.””

Extinct robust birds of New Zealand not so robust after all

moabirdA study led by Faculty PhD student Charlotte Brassey has shown that the giant moa bird Dinornis robustus, which literally means ‘robust strange bird,’ may not have had robust bones after all. The leg bones of one of the tallest birds in history were actually more like its modern relatives the ostrich, emu, and rhea. In collaboration with Professor Richard Holdaway at The University of Canterbury, New Zealand, Brassey has shown that it was actually a much smaller species of moa that possessed the robust skeleton.

To determine whether the leg bones were overly thick and strong, the researchers had to define how heavy the birds were. Previously, scientists have done this by measuring the thickness of the leg bone and scaling up according to the size of living birds. This becomes a problem when the leg bones have unusual proportions. Ms Brassey explained:

“If we wanted to estimate the weight of a saber-toothed cat, no-one would suggest measuring canine tooth length and then scaling up the tooth size of your standard tabby. You’d end up with a ludicrously high estimate of the body weight of the saber-toothed cat. The same is true for moa. We knew that moa had disproportionately wide leg bones, yet previous estimates of their body mass had been based on those same bones. This probably resulted in overestimates.”

To avoid this, the researchers scanned whole skeletons. As predicted, the new estimates were considerably lower. Nonetheless, the largest moa still weighed in at 200kg; the equivalent of 30 Christmas turkeys.

The researchers then applied an engineering technique known as Finite Element Analysis (FEA) to estimate how robust the moa really were. FEA crash-tests objects using computer simulations, and is usually used for tasks such as testing the strength of bridges or modelling the behaviour of Formula One cars. The FEA techniques and the new estimates suggest that different groups of moa solved the problems of supporting their huge bodies in different ways. Such fundamental differences suggest that the nine species of moa had long histories of independent evolution.

Manchester researchers share in £18million industry-academia networks

University researchers have been chosen to lead new networks linking industry and academia which will sunflower (1)improve energy and food security and develop new drugs. Four of the 13 networks, announced by the BBSRC, will be led by experts from Manchester. One of these is the Bioprocessing Network, led by Faculty researcher Professor Alan Dickson and Professor Christopher Smales from The University of Kent. Professor Dickson said:

“Biologics are complex products made by cells with immense commercial and social potential. Antibody proteins, for example, are revolutionary medicines for treatment of previously incurable diseases. The bioprocessing network (BioProNET) will integrate academic and industrial strengths to improve current practice and establish step-changing and innovative solutions for the manufacture of the next generation of biologics. By enhancing cost effectiveness of bioprocessing, the sector will move towards more affordable biologics for sustainable and healthier lifestyles.”

All of the networks will receive funds to support proof of concept research projects which will demonstrate benefits for industry. The networks will then work with industries to investigate the concepts further. Many of the ideas will build into the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst, funded by the BBSRC, the Technology Strategy Board, and the EPSRC, which will be launched in early 2014. The Catalyst has benefited from recent cash injections and will soon support the development of ideas from concept to commercialisation.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said:

“To get ahead in the global race we need to turn our world-beating science and research into world-beating products and services, as set out in our Industrial Strategy. These networks will unlock the huge potential of biotechnology and bioenergy, such as finding innovative ways to use leftover food, and creating chemicals from plant cells.”

An early Christmas present for Jake

jakesletterIn October we received a letter from 7-year-old Jake Billett, who lives in Bacup. Jake told us that he was “sooooo interested at science” and that “when I’m 17 I want to come to you for my lessons to become… a medical scientist.”

Rather than wait until Jake is 17, we decided to invite him into the Faculty for a special visit. We showed him round our buildings, had a long discussion with him about dinosaurs, showed him flies, frogs, and maggots, and helped him use a microscope. He visited our laboratories and got an idea about the huge range of things he could study if he came here. We then took him over to the Manchester Museum for a guided tour.


Jake had a lovely time, and we really enjoyed showing him around. We will be organising a visit to Jake’s school in the spring, when we will be taking some giant millipedes and beetles to show his classmates.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to Jake and everyone who visits our website or who has come to any of our activities with the public.

£2.8million funding boost to track development from embryo to adult

fruitfly (1)Faculty scientists have been awarded £2.8million to further understanding of how cells develop and form particular types of body tissue. The award is part of a £17.7million cash injection from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) which aims to harness the power of bioscience to make significant impacts in healthcare and agriculture. The Manchester team will collaborate with the University of Cambridge and University College London.

Using fruit flies as a model system, researchers will answer important questions regarding how much of each gene product is expressed at one time, which version of each gene is expressed, and which protein partners interact with the gene. Faculty scientist Professor Simon Hubbard explained:

“This could help explain how gene defects lead to abnormal development. Our simonhubbarddevelopment is governed by the complex interplay between the proteins encoded by our genes. Careful control of these proteins at a specific time during development dictates the fate of cells and the tissues they will form. While some of this information is contained within the genome sequence, we currently lack the full picture of what happens during development in the embryo. This project will close the gap in knowledge using both experimental and computational science. ”

The research is funded through the BBSRC’s Strategic Longer and Larger Awards (sLoLas,) which give world-leading research teams the time and resources they require. Professor Jackie Hunter, BBSRC’s Chief Executive, said:

“This public funding offers long-term support to address major research challenges, while building research capacity in important areas and maximising economic and social benefits for the UK.”

What are we good for? The University launches its social responsibility strategy

nancysr (1)The University formally launched its social responsibility strategy at the end of November during an event in Whitworth Hall. The launch marks the finale of a two-month long awareness-raising campaign which highlights how staff, students, and alumni are ‘Making a Difference’ by featuring them on purple circles across campus and sharing their stories on the Make a Difference blog.

The event welcomed members of the Board of Governors and the General Assembly, staff, students and alumni, representatives from local organisations and the wider social responsibility community as well as colleagues from the Faculty.

President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, delivered a keynote address at the event, speaking about social responsibility as one of three core goals of the University. Nancy summarised:

“Our first two goals of world class research and outstanding learning and student experience might be characterised by the question ‘what are we good at? In contrast, social responsibility can be characterised by a different question; ‘what are we good for?”

Alongside Nancy were Julian Skyrme, Director of Social Responsibility and Professor Aneez Esmail, Associate Vice-President for Social Responsibility. Aneez explained:

“The strategy highlights the University as an essential contributor to the betterment of the wider society, something that is in the DNA of this institution.”

The inspiring and up-beat event provided an opportunity for guests to meet some of the people who have been featured in the Make a Difference campaign and learn more about the priorities and programmes at the centre of the strategy. Guests also watched a film that illustrated the differences that are being made as a result of some of the social responsibility programmes developed by the University.

Two new publications were launched at the event: Measuring the Difference illustrates the significant economic and social impact created by the University and the second: A Guide to Social Responsibility at the University of Manchester outlines the priorities of the strategy and the many ways our staff, students and alumni can become involved and continue to make a difference. The Guide will be distributed to all staff in December’s edition of UniLife.

More information about the social responsibility strategy programmes and priorities and ways you can get involved and make a difference are available on the newly launched social responsibility website.

Prestigious honours for Faculty members

alexeiTwo Faculty members received major honours in their respective fields last month.

Alexei Verkhratsky, Professor of Neurophysiology, has been elected to the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. Founded in 1652, the Leopoldina provides science-based advice to political leaders and is home to the European Academies Science Advisory Council. Professor Verkhratsky is the first member of Leopoldina from Manchester and one of only 39 members from the UK. The election recognises Professor Verkhratsky’s personal standing and his many achievements in the neurosciences.

Optometry lecturer Andrew Stokes was also celebrating this month, after receiving an award from the Worshipful spectaclemakersCompany of Spectacle Makers. Andrew received the highest national qualification in spectacle manufacturing and processing. The presentation took place at Apothecaries Hall in London, the home of the oldest optical body in the world.

Raising awareness of animal research

animalresearch (1)Pupils from schools and colleges across Greater Manchester recently attended a special open day at the University, learning how and why animal research is used in certain situations. They heard how researchers were looking for cures for cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, and age-related deterioration and attended a tour which showed how the animals are kept. The event came following the University’s commitment to developing principles of openness in animal research. Faculty researcher Professor Matthew Cobb said:

“The visit allowed students to experience the conditions and high standards of care we give to our animals. They saw mice, some of which are genetically modified by deletion or insertion of genes, or genes that can be switched on and off. They learnt about epilepsy research in flies and compared young flies and their grandparents to learn about ageing and how it can be studied. Believe it or not, we have lots in common with fruit flies. Many of our organs and structures have the same origins and serve the same purposes. Applying this knowledge from Drosophila flies to humans and human disease is a powerful and effective strategy.”

Mark McElwee, Deputy Head at Parrswood High School, said:

“The event was really worthwhile. The pupils gained an insight into the realities of animal research. It definitely opened their eyes to the potential of animal research for medical benefits and in fact it changed some of their opinions. They were also amazed at the care and dedication put into ensuring the wellbeing of the animals. The feedback from the pupils is that some were so inspired they are seriously considering changing their UCAS applications to go into biological sciences.”

Karolina Zaezyczny, aged 17, from Holy Cross College, said:

“The open day did change my view. It’s made me aware of the positive things and why scientists sometimes have to use animals in their research. I was very impressed with the facilities the animals were kept in.”

University receives doctoral training award in regenerative medicine

The University has been chosen to host four new national Centres for Doctoral Training (CDT) in science and cdtengineering. Universities and Science Minister David Willetts revealed details of how the £350m fund will be used to train more than 3,500 postgraduate students. It is the UK’s largest investment in postgraduate training in engineering and physical sciences and will fund more than 70 new centres.

The funding, allocated by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, will target areas vital to economic growth. The four CDTs awarded to Manchester are in ‘Power Networks,’ ‘Next Generation Nuclear,’ ‘Science and Applications of Graphene and Related Nanomaterials,’ and ‘Regenerative Medicine.’

The Regenerative Medicine CDT, led by Professor Cay Kielty of FLS, with support from the faculties of Medicine and Human Sciences and Engineering and Physical Sciences, will tackle the growing need for therapeutic solutions to the ageing, degenerative, and injury-related pathologies faced by our society and address the shortage in skilled scientists equipped to meet these needs. The team will deliver multidisciplinary training in a variety of related areas and provide clinical translational training supported by the Manchester Academic Health Science Centre. This is the only CDT in regenerative medicine to be funded under the new scheme. Professor Kielty said:

“This CDT award enables us to exploit Manchester’s unique biomedical strengths to train future regenerative medicine experts and enhance the health and wealth of the 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.