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Can we cure back pain in the future?

by YPU Admin on September 21, 2017, Comments. Tags: Engineering, masters, medicine, and STEM

Introduction

Hey, my name is Farah Farzana and I am a medical student at the University of Manchester. Last year after I completed my third year, I decided to take a year out of medicine to do a Masters in Research degree in Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine.  This is known as an intercalated degree, that many medics opt to do if they have further interests in research or any subject in general.  After completing this Masters, I will go back to medical school to complete my final remaining two years and hopefully graduate and become a doctor.

I never imagined or really anticipated during the first few years of Medicine, that I have any interest in research. To be honest, I was always scared by the prospect of going into research and imagined it to be pretty intense and hard. However during my third year I started becoming more interested in regenerative medicine, especially cell based therapies and the potential of regenerating tissues. The growing area of research that focuses of regenerating damaged organs or tissues, so in effect you are giving them a new life every time they are damaged intrigued me. So I decided to look into regenerating the structures within our spines known as the intervertebral discs.



In Depth

What is the intervertebral disc and how does it cause back pain?

The intervertebral discs are structures that make up our spine, and helps in overall mobility. With progressive age the spine goes through trauma and increase pressure due to many factors such as obesity, because of which these discs slowly starts to breakdown gradually. This causes severe pain and discomfort for suffers and is known to be one of the major causes of back pain. The pain occurs mainly because the discs are no longer mobile enough to support our range of movements, such as twisting and turning or even sitting which puts pressure on our spine. It is estimated that approximately 60-80% of people will at some point in their lifetime experience back pain. Despite the condition not being life threatening, it imposes a huge economic burden on our health care system, as well as being one of the foremost causes of disability due to chronic pain between the ages of 45 and 65 worldwide. Current treatments are costly and only offers symptomatic relief for the patients and most treatment available are a temporary fix to the underlying problem. Therefore research is now focussing on understanding the disease process itself of why the breakdown of the discs occurs and what cells are involved in such disease. Identifying the exact cells involved in the process that leads to breakdown of the discs will allow researchers to target such cells and stop them from causing the breakdown.

What does my research focus on?

Researchers have discovered that some cells act to maintain the discs health, which can be also targeted to restore the damaged disc. My research is looking to find out more about the types of cells present within the innermost layer of the disc. Some cells within this layer of the disc have the ability to stimulate rejuvenation of the damaged disc, when given signals. These findings of how these cells function and what signals they need to remodel the damaged disc will further guide upcoming research that will look at developing treatments by manipulating such cells to regenerate the discs. Such treatments will target the underlying disease itself in order to give patients suffering from back pain a permanent cure to back pain caused with progressive age. Such discovery in the future can even lead to developing treatments that can potentially cure back pain forever and change millions of lives.

Going Further

I made a video on studying medicine and how it is like to be a medical student, if you would like to have a look:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LgGrc6182g

This research is a hot topic now and we even managed to somehow feature on the daily mail a few years back!

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1267326/Growing-new-disc-help-relieve-pain.html

Feature on medical news today about future and techniques of regenerating the spine:

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263496.php

Interested in studying medicine here is a good website to look at:

https://www.bma.org.uk/advice/career/studying-medicine/becoming-a-doctor/introduction

Interested in becoming a scientist? Look at this website for a step by step explanation:

http://study.com/articles/How_to_Become_a_Biological_Scientist_Education_and_Career_Roadmap.html

A detailed scientific paper explaining disc degeneration and processes of regeneration:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3008962/


 

Working on a smarter future

by YPU Admin on September 7, 2017, Comments. Tags: Computer Science, PhD, Research, science, sensors, STEM, and UoM

Introduction

My name is Hashir Kiani and I am a PhD researcher at the School of Computer Science. My research is titled “Wireless Sensor Networks in Smart Grids”. I work on designing algorithms which can be used to make an electrical grid smarter by analysing the data collected from the grid through wireless sensors. These algorithms are used to detect faults in the grid and then employ appropriate measures to prevent those faults. The end goal of my research is to develop methods for a more efficient and smart electricity network.


Hashir

In Depth

I did my Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from National University of Sciences and Technology in Pakistan. After my bachelor’s degree I was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship to study for a Master’s degree in Communications Engineering and Networks from the UK. The main motivation behind going for a PhD after the completion of my Master’s course was the worsening situation with respect to electricity generation and distribution in my home country, Pakistan. Pakistan is facing a huge shortage of electricity and people have to go without electricity for multiple hours each day. The situation worsens in the summers as demand for electricity peaks due to cooling requirements as temperatures soar above 40 degrees Celsius. According to a report by USAID, Pakistan has suffered a loss of 10% of its GDP due to power shortage. The long power outages have caused great distress to the public with people resorting to rioting on a number of occasions. The distribution losses are above 20% which is more than double the global average. Therefore if distribution losses are brought down close to the global average Pakistan can solve its energy crisis.

The main objective of my research on smart grid systems is to find ways to make the electrical grid more efficient and thus considerably reduce the distribution losses. My research is focused on using wireless sensor networks in order to monitor the electrical grid so that timely decisions can be made to increase the efficiency, reliability and robustness of the grid network. Therefore my research will be very helpful in solving the energy crisis Pakistan is currently facing. 

After completion of my PhD I have plans to work at a reputable engineering university of Pakistan as an academic and a researcher. One of my objectives would be to introduce a course on smart grid technologies at the MS level and develop interest among the students in this area. I will use the knowledge I gained during my research to form a research group responsible for doing high quality research in the field of smart grid systems. The research group would strive to work in partnership with national bodies and distribution companies to facilitate the transition towards a smart electrical grid which will not only be efficient but also cost effective as it will be able to detect electricity theft and thus prevent losses of millions of dollars each year. 

Going Further…

Further information about smart grid technologies can be found at the following links:

https://www.smartgrid.gov/  : A good resource on information about smart grid technologies

http://www.smartgrids.eu/ : Details the smart grid initiatives taken by the European Union

https://www.smartenergygb.org/en/smart-future/britains-smart-grid : A cool video showing Britain’s future version of smart grids

http://www.cs.manchester.ac.uk/mlo/ : A link to my research group (Machine learning) at the University of Manchester.


 

Mimicking Nature to Create a Chemical Sensor

by YPU Admin on June 14, 2017, Comments. Tags: Electronic, Engineering, PhD, Polymers, Research, STEM, and UoM

Introduction

Hi! My name is Chris Storer, I’m a fourth (and final) year PhD student here at the University of Manchester. I’m originally from Warrington, in the North of England, and I came to Manchester to study an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Materials Science.

I find the interaction between nature and science to be fascinating, especially the way that new, cutting edge technologies take inspiration from biology. Evolution has already provided ingenious solutions to challenges that engineers face every day.

This led me to pursue my PhD in polymer sensors, where I try to understand how the sense of smell and taste work in nature. The aim is to use this knowledge to create a portable chemical sensor – just like the hand-held sensors you see scientists using to scan things in Sci-Fi movies!

How I got here




At school, I studied biology, chemistry, physics and geography at A-level. I really enjoyed all the different aspects of the sciences and didn’t want to specialise too much early on.

This led me to studying Biomedical Materials Engineering at university – an interdisciplinary science that gave me a lot of freedom to study a range of topics and keep my options open.

Following this I started my PhD in Polymer Sensors, in the School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering here at Manchester. It really does go to show that you’re never stuck in one area of science – quite the opposite!

In Depth

My research takes inspiration from the binding sites found in the olfactory cells of the human nose. These very specialised receptors allow us to detect chemicals in the air and give us the sense of smell.

I recreate these receptors by imprinting the chemical molecule that I want to detect into a plastic material, called a polymer. You can imagine this is a bit like pressing a piece of a jigsaw puzzle into a piece of play dough, but on a microscopic level. When I take the chemical molecule out, only that unique shape will fit back in place. And hey-presto, you’ve got a chemical receptor!


The tricky part is how you then turn this into an electrical signal to send to a computer to measure – like how a nerve cell sends information to your brain. For this I use a capacitor to measure the build-up of charged molecules on my sensor. This acts as a transducer – changing the chemical information into electrical information for measuring the chemicals in the environment.

Going Further

A great video clip by Brian Cox on how animals use chemical sensors to navigate their environment through sight, smell and taste (BBC, “Wonders of Life” documentary):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGcBaXobEh4&list=PL50KW6aT4Ugy7sAKZGa4o4J39Os5L5tTl&index=3

A link to some of our research here at the University of Manchester involving chemical sensors for use in Agriculture:

http://www.eee.manchester.ac.uk/our-research/research-themes/newe-agri/

http://www.eee.manchester.ac.uk/our-research/research-themes/newe-agri/people/

 

Ancient Egypt, Ancient India and the History of Archaeology

by YPU Admin on June 1, 2017, Comments. Tags: archaeology, Egypt, history, Humanities, India, PhD, and Research

Introduction

My name is Charlotte Coull, and I'm a second year PhD student at the University of Manchester, based in the History department. I did both my undergraduate and masters degrees at Manchester, both in History, and was extremely excited to be offered both a PhD place and funding (the History department's own Elsie Farrar award) to continue my studies here. As part of my PhD I also lead seminars with undergraduate students, and have chosen to work as a Widening Participation Fellow because I firmly believe everyone should feel able to go to university if they wish.

In the future I'm hoping to get into public History, and connect with people about my research and encourage them to explore history in general, as knowledge is for everyone! 


In Depth

Many people walk away with the idea that I am an archaeologist when I first explain my subject area to them- what I actually do is look at the history of archaeology in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with no digging involved! I study the work of British archaeologists in India and Egypt during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; I want to know how they decided what to dig up and study, how they wrote about the artefacts they found, and what they did with those artefacts afterwards (are they in Britain, are they in a museum basement, or did they stay in countries they were discovered in?). I also want to know how discovering the history of Egypt and India changed the way Britain thought about her own history, and why Ancient Egypt is so present in our minds today (think Pyramids, mummies etc) whereas Ancient India is not so well known.

Studying two countries may seem intimidating at first, but I find you can use comparative history to fully open up an area to explore: for example, I want to know what is was about Egypt in the nineteenth century that influenced British archaeologists to behave so differently to archaeologists in India, and what this can tell us about how archaeology as a discipline evolved. My work is also very interdisciplinary- I use aspects of the history of science, intellectual history and museology alongside colonial history and other ideas. One of my supervisors is from the History department, the other is from the Centre for the History of Science Technology and Medicine. I find interdisciplinary history incredibly exciting- why stick with one way of doing things, when you can craft your own style using your favourite aspects from multiple areas! 

I work with a variety of historical sources- I have to be creative with finding the material I study! I can go from looking at the personal letters of a famous scholar from the nineteenth century in the British library, to looking at museum records of object acquisitions and displays, to spending time on the internet looking for nineteenth century academic books that have been digitised. I have also recently decided to look at images as part of my research- so last time I was at the British library I spent a morning marvelling at early twentieth century photographs of archaeological digs in India.

I find people often see history as a static and unmoving subject- you pick a topic and are trapped in the library with dusty books looking at that topic forever. Nothing could be further from the truth! History is such a varied and broad subject, with so many different ways of approaching it; you can really get creative with your thinking and push the boundaries. What you find will never cease to surprise, and in some cases amaze you!

Going Further

http://trowelblazers.com/ - a wonderful website with blog posts about female pioneers in archaeology and other science fields. Click on the articles tab and explore! I would particularly recommend Hilda Petrie, and Adela Catherine Breton.

http://www.asi.nic.in/ - not many people know much about India's archaeological history. This is the website of the Archaeological Survey of India- take a look at the 'photo gallery' tab and check out the massive variety of Indian archaeological sites!

 

Researching into Asthma and Rhinitis

by YPU Admin on May 18, 2017, Comments. Tags: Asthma, Health, medicine, Research, Rhinitis, and UoM

Introduction

Hi! My name is Junaid and I am a medical student at the University of Manchester. I have taken a year out of my medical studies to spend some time doing a research masters in Medical Sciences. This means that I will be spending six years at university instead of the five normally required for medical school. I am currently conducting research into the treatment of asthma and rhinitis. I am hoping that this research will lead to permanent improvements in how we treat people with asthma. The reason I wanted to conduct research in this area is that I would like to become an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) surgeon in the future. One of the challenges of an ENT surgeon is managing patients who suffer from rhinitis and the effects it has on their asthma. Alongside this, I wanted gain an understanding about how research is conducted in hospitals. Since the way which doctors care for patients is evolving so quickly, research is an enormous aspect of our careers.


In Depth

Rhinitis is a very common problem that affects a large number of people who suffer from asthma. It is described as the inflammation of the nose and can lead to symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing and irritated eyes. These problems can affect people all year round and if you suffer from asthma you are more at risk of suffering from allergic rhinitis. This is a type of rhinitis that can be caused by allergies. From research in the past, it has been found that people who suffer from both allergic rhinitis and asthma at the same time experience a very poor quality of life. For this reason, I am investigating patients who attend asthma clinic for allergic rhinitis symptoms. This will help us understand the link between asthma and allergic rhinitis and how much of an impact both diseases make on people. Omalizumab is a medication that improves asthma symptoms which leads to people have a better quality of life. We do not know how this treatment affects people who suffer from both allergic rhinitis and asthma. By using questionnaires to find out how many people suffer from asthma and rhinitis and how well Omalizumab treats patients, we will be able to fine tune the treatments we give to people to make sure we are giving the right drugs to help them improve their asthma and allergic rhinitis symptoms.


Going Further

To provide some further background on the conditions that I am studying you can visit the NHS choices websites for asthma and rhinitis.

Allergic Rhinits  : http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/rhinitis---allergic/Pages/Introduction.aspx

Asthma: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/asthma/Pages/Introduction.aspx

World Allergy has provided a good overview about why asthma and rhinitis are linked and how they can affect people: http://www.worldallergy.org/public/allergic_diseases_center/caras/

Inflammation (swelling and redness) of the airways which connect the nasal passage and the mouth to the lungs is an important mechanism which causes people to suffer from asthma and rhinitis. The asthma centre provides a good overview on “What is Inflammation?” http://www.asthma.partners.org/NewFiles/Inflammation.html

The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has provided an information leaflet on Omalizumab and the main facts about how it works and the evidence behind its use: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2003/omalgen062003LB.pdf