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What links: cigarettes, psoriasis and John Snow?

Intro

My name is Alex Trafford and I am a second year Epidemiology PhD student in the Division of Pharmacy and Optometry. I have quite a diverse academic background for somebody in my field, being unsure of which subjects I enjoyed most at school and splitting my A-levels between the sciences and humanities. I eventually decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in geography, with two years at Lancaster University and one year abroad at the University of North Carolina. In my final undergraduate year I took part in a module looking at health geographies - during this time I came across the field of epidemiology, which combined aspects of science and humanities, and decided that this was the direction I wanted to go in. In order to learn more about the field, I completed a master’s degree in Demography and Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2017.

In late 2017, I received funding from the Global Psoriasis Atlas and started my PhD in Epidemiology at Manchester. My project here involves using huge datasets to understand how having psoriasis might make somebody more or less likely to get cancer.  

In Depth


Although epidemiology is not a field that is as well-known as others, like maths or chemistry, its results are often very well publicised and can shape how many people live their lives. The first epidemiological study was conducted in London by John Snow (not the one from Game of Thrones), who used a map of cases of ill health and interviews with local people to identify a contaminated water pump that was spreading cholera. Since this first study, epidemiology has been developed and used in a lot of different ways to improve health – from proving that smoking can be extremely bad for your health to recognising the role of mosquitos in the spread of yellow fever. Though more traditional methods are still used to quantify disease and its distribution - for example, in recent Ebola outbreaks - epidemiology has also evolved to use big data and more complex techniques, such as machine learning. 

In my research, I will be using big data to understand how having psoriasis may influence the risk of developing cancer. Although psoriasis presents as a condition of the skin, it involves chronic, systemic inflammation and this has been linked to an increased risk of cancer in other conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease. However, attributing an altered risk of developing cancer to the inflammation involved in psoriasis is challenging due to the presence of other lifestyle behaviours, such as smoking. As it has been demonstrated that smoking is more common in people with psoriasis, it is challenging to say whether people with psoriasis develop cancer more often because of their psoriasis or because they are more likely to smoke – this is a concept known as confounding in epidemiology.

To try to understand whether people with psoriasis do develop cancer more, and whether it’s likely to be a result of their psoriasis or other lifestyle behaviours, I am analysing health data recorded by GPs and Hospitals in England. By following anonymous people with and without psoriasis through their health records, it is possible to compare the number of cancer diagnoses in each group. Having data for behaviours such as smoking then allows me to understand how these factors might be influencing any risk.

Gaining an understanding of whether people with psoriasis do develop cancer more, and what might be causing this, is vital for the current care of people with psoriasis and may also guide important future immunological research into the topic.


Going Further

To learn more about John Snow’s first epidemiological study - 

https://www.pastmedicalhistory.co.uk/john-snow-and-the-1854-cholera-outbreak/

To learn more about epidemiology –

https://www.bmj.com/about-bmj/resources-readers/publications/epidemiology-uninitiated/1-what-epidemiology

To learn more about psoriasis –

https://www.psoriasis-association.org.uk/

Population health at the University of Manchester –

https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/en/facultiesandschools/division-of-population-health-health-services-research--primary-care(19db7129-c98b-4029-a819-8c5ffe20e845).html

 

More to economics than money, money, money!

by YPU Admin on March 8, 2019, Comments. Tags: Economics, Humanities, Institute for Fiscal Studies, macroeconomics, and migration

Introduction

My name is Josefina Fabiani and I am a second year PhD student in Economics. I come from Argentina, South America, which may sound more familiar to those not that much into geography if I refer to it as the land of beef – specially asados – tango, Patagonia, football and of course Messi and Kun Agüero (not to get into politics and economics!). During my undergrad there I did a semester abroad in Austria, which completely influenced my future decisions. That experience opened my mind and made me realise I wanted to pursue further studies abroad. The UK wasn’t a tough decision for me since the quality of its higher education institutions is well known and I’ve always been very keen on the English language, the country’s history and culture (and its music!).

So here I am, starting my PhD in Economics in Manchester, where I will analyse the relationship between migration and different types of capital flows between countries.

In Depth…

The first year of the PhD was the MSc Economics, where we covered the main areas of the subject and received training on the techniques I will apply now on the research. In this second year, we continue with the coursework but now focused on our research area and at an advanced level. For example, my area is Macroeconomics, where we look at the economy as a whole with information on different measures such as GDP, inflation and unemployment.

A phenomenon that has always interested me was the migration of people from one country to another, maybe because I come from a country with a very large population of immigrants. Early on my undergrad studies I started digging into the topic.

Throughout history, migrations have taken place at different levels, for different reasons: regional migrations, overseas migrations, forced (by political persecution or natural disasters) or voluntary, expecting an economic or life improvement. In the era of globalization and communication, transportation costs have remarkably dropped, which fostered not only the flow of goods and knowledge across countries but also of people. However, whereas there is an apparent consensus to enhance international trade and capital flows, the economic consequences of immigration are at the centre of political debate. Migration policy has been characterized by protection of the domestic labour market and there has been an increasing negative popular perception of immigration. A better understanding of the dynamics of migration and its macroeconomic implications are key for policy design.

Going Further…

If you are curious to know a little bit more about what economists really do, then you are invited to take part on the activities organised at the Economics Department for school students. Some of them are:

Manchester Talk – IFS
"Is it fair to charge £9,250 for university tuition fees?"
13 March 2019, 4-6pm, Uni Place Theatre A

How much will you really pay for university? Does that depend on where and what you study? Are there any alternative ways to fund higher education? And how would these affect what the education system should be trying to achieve?

This IFS Public Talk, jointly organised with the University of Manchester, will be given by Jack Britton, Senior Research Economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) and will give an economist's perspective on the ongoing tuition fee debate. Nicholas Barr, Professor of Public Economics, from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) will also be our Chair and on hand to put your questions to Jack.

Get an insight on Higher Education resources from the IFS here.

Details and free tickets can be booked here: https://manchester-talk-ifs.eventbrite.co.uk

There is a pre-session aimed at Year 12/13 students that fulfil the Widening Participation criteria

(criteria: https://www.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/connect/schools-and-colleges/courses/ ). Please email economics-events@manchester.ac.uk for more information and registration.

Discover Economics Day
9 July 2019, 9.30am-3.30pm, Simon 1.34

The Discover Economics Day is a free event for Year 12 students to discover more about what economics is really about.

The day will consist of a series of interactive, educational sessions to help you find out what economists do as you start to learn the tools that they use to ask real world questions. You will discover how economics provides a clear way of thinking on how people make choices.

You will meet University staff and students dealing with the current issues in economics and will find out more about the economics courses here at Manchester and the career opportunities available for Economics graduates.

Join us and discover how studying economics will give you the toolkit to investigate the questions that you are passionate about!

Please email us at economics-events@manchester.ac.uk for further info and registrations.

Relevant links:

Blogs:

  http://freakonomics.com (also radio!)

  http://timharford.com

  http://whystudyeconomics.ac.uk/blog

YouTube Channels and Videos:

  Jacob Clifford

  One Minute Economics

  Ted Ed

You can find more of Economics at UoM here https://www.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/economics/

and keep updated with the activities organized via twitter https://twitter.com/ManUniEconomics

 

Krazy comics - modernist masterpiece?

by YPU Admin on February 15, 2019, Comments. Tags: American Studies, comics, English, Humanities, and modernism

Introduction

Hey, I’m Stevie, a first year PhD student in English and American Studies at the University of Manchester, and I study comics! More specifically, I study George Herriman’s Krazy Kat (1913-1944), an American comic strip that loosely follows the daily lives of Krazy Kat, Ignatz Mouse (with whom Krazy is in love) and Offissa Pupp (who is in love with Krazy!) as they unfold against the fantastical desertscape of ‘Coconino County’. Krazy wasn’t very popular among most readers, but it drew praise from artists, writers, and intellectuals, including the poet e. e. cummings, the critic Gilbert Seldes, and, purportedly, Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein, among others! As a result, a number of scholars have linked Krazy to the field of modernism, an early twentieth century art movement that sought to respond to the rapidly-changing modern world. My work focuses on deeply contextualising the strip’s production, content, distribution, and reception to ask where, in the vast field of American modernist production and culture, it is most usefully historicised.

In Depth…

Deciding what to study at university was tricky because I was torn between English literature, sociology, and creative writing. Ultimately, I chose the BA American Literature with Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, which gave me quite a lot of freedom with choosing modules and meant I could combine interdisciplinary American Studies classes with writing workshops. It also gave me the opportunity to spend a year at Occidental College in Los Angeles, where I encountered my first Krazy strip through a brilliant class on comics and graphic literature. In final year, I wrote my dissertation on Krazy and took a fantastic body culture studies module - both left me knowing I wanted to study further, but I spent a few years working to save money and to decide exactly what course I wanted to do – more American studies, something more focused, something to do with my work in education? In September 2017, I joined the MA Gender, Sexuality and Culture at the University of Manchester, a course that indulged my interest in gender and body studies from a philosophical/conceptual perspective, but also let me choose a range of modules from postcolonial literature to transnational radical subcultures. Knowing I wasn’t through with Krazy Kat, I also took a class on modernist studies to help me prepare a PhD proposal, and used my MA dissertation on frontier manhood in ‘Buffalo Bill’s Wild West’ to hone skills and touch on areas of knowledge that I’ll use going forwards: using digital archives and special collections, and learning more about transatlantic entertainment and the cultural meanings of the American West. For me, the most enjoyable thing about the PhD is having the time and freedom to follow my curiosity, which has taken me through digital archives of 1920s Vanity Fair magazines, over 100-year-old maps of Arizona, and into poetry, short stories, art, and comics I’ve never encountered before. There is a huge amount of fascinating work going on in both comics studies and modernist studies that is seeking to draw attention to the myriad things we can learn about history through popular culture; I hope that my work can play a small part in bringing these exciting fields into conversation with one another. In the meantime, what an honour to read and write about Krazy for work!

Going Further…

In Print

Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics is an educational and entertaining introduction to the history and grammar of comics...written as a comic!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Understanding-Comics-Invisible-Scott-McCloud/dp/006097625X

If you want to know more about George Herriman, Krazy Kat, or the American newspaper comic industry in the early c20, check out Michael Tisserand’s brilliant biography Krazy: A Life in Black and White.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Krazy-George-Herriman-Black-White/dp/0061733008/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1548416074&sr=1-1

Online

Comics Grid and ImageTexT are online, open-access journals of comics studies.

https://www.comicsgrid.com/

http://imagetext.english.ufl.edu/

The Modernist Review is the British Association for Modernist Studies’ (BAMS, for short!) postgraduate blog, featuring wide-ranging articles written in an accessible way.

https://modernistreviewcouk.wordpress.com/

The John Rylands Library has a Special Collections blog where you can read more about the research the collections are being used for. I’ve linked below to the main blog, and to a post I wrote about using their ‘Buffalo Bill Scrapbook’ for my MA dissertation.

https://rylandscollections.wordpress.com/

https://rylandscollections.wordpress.com/2018/10/26/from-wild-west-to-west-end-buffalo-bill-scrapbook-and-performances-of-frontier-manhood/

 

Artificial wombs: an ethical exploration

by YPU Admin on February 1, 2019, Comments. Tags: healthcare, Humanities, and Law

My name is Chloe and I’m a second year PhD student, funded by the Wellcome Trust, in Bioethics and Medical Law at the University of Manchester. I finished my A Levels in Physics, Biology and Chemistry in 2011, but having decided science wasn’t for me I took a gap year to think about what I wanted to do next. During my time off I decided to go in a completely different direction and applied to the University of Manchester to study Law. I started my degree in 2012 and I loved it! I was still interested in some of the ethical issues surrounding science and so during my degree I took modules in Medical Law and Mental Health Law and I wrote my dissertation about Caesarean Sections.


After my undergraduate degree I received a scholarship from Manchester to take my Masters in Healthcare Law and Ethics in 2015. In 2017 I started my PhD also in the School of Law at Manchester. My PhD is about artificial wombs and the impact of this technology on the law and ethics of reproduction and pregnancy.

IN DEPTH

Artificial womb technology is currently being developed as a replacement for conventional neonatal intensive care. Current methods of intensive care for premature babies cannot aid babies born before 22 weeks because their lungs are not developed enough for assisted ventilation. Intensive care also cannot always prevent premature neonates from developing life-threatening infections during treatment or serious long-term health problems as a result of being born premature. Artificial wombs might be the future solution to mortality and morbidity amongst premature babies. Artificial wombs are designed to mimic the conditions of the womb and effectively  ‘take over’ the process of gestation. An artificial womb treats a premature baby as if it had never been born. Artificial wombs should ‘sidestep’ the common complications caused by, or not prevented by, conventional methods of care. In 2017 there was a successful animal trial of an experimental artificial womb-like device; the ‘biobag.’ The scientists that invented this device have suggested they are only years away from considering human trials of the biobag.


My PhD is by publication, which means that rather than writing a traditional thesis I am writing and publishing a series of articles on my subject that I’ll put together into a thesis at the end. In reproduction science and medicine there are often rapid advances in technology and the law struggles to keep up. Academic research plays a really important role in highlighting the insufficiencies of the law at addressing ethical issues with these new technologies. Writing for publication gives me so much flexibility, and publishing helps me get stuck into, and generate, academic debate right now and help ensure my research has impact. I’m very lucky!

Most days, I spend my time reading and writing in our postgrad research office. I try to write a little something every day so I don’t get out of the habit. I’m also a teaching assistant in the school of law: so one day a week I spend teaching first year students criminal and contract law. I’m hoping to stay in academic when I’ve finished my PhD because I really enjoy both teaching and research.

GOING FURTHER

If you are interested in my research you can read this blog post about some of my work on the Journal of Medical Ethics Blog: https://blogs.bmj.com/medical-ethics/2018/08/11/artificial-wombs-a-shift-in-approach-to-neonatal-intensive-care-and-beyond/

You can also read my first research paper (it’s free because it is open access) here: https://jme.bmj.com/content/44/11/751

For a brief summary of the science behind artificial wombs: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/04/fluid-filled-biobag-allows-premature-lambs-develop-outside-womb

You can also follow my research on my Twitter: https://twitter.com/ECRomanis

For more information about Bioethics, Health and the Law at Manchester: https://www.law.manchester.ac.uk/research/themes/bioethics-health-and-law/


 

Zombie-inspired experiments!

by YPU Admin on January 21, 2019, Comments. Tags: biology medicine and health, biomedical imaging, diabetes, immunology, and science

My name is Jason Chu, and I’m a second year PhD student in Biomedical Imaging. For years, I debated what kind of career I wanted to follow - police, architect, restauranteur. In the end, I finished my Advanced Highers (the Scottish equivalent of A Levels) in 2012, with a curiosity for science. I went on to study Immunology at the University of Glasgow. This decision was heavily influenced by my fascination of TV and film adaptations of zombie outbreaks, and how our body’s defence system would fight against pathogens. As part of my Immunology degree, I did a placement year in 2015 at GlaxoSmithKline where I took part in research to develop novel antibody technology.

In 2017, I started my PhD in Biomedical Imaging at the University of Manchester. Here, I use 3D PET imaging technology to understand how an immune cell called macrophages is involved healthy and diabetic wound healing.

In Depth

Diabetes is a growing problem across the world. With massive modern lifestyle changes in recent decades (diet, technology, work, and healthcare) it is expected to quadruple and affect over 340 million people by 2030. One of the associated complications is an impaired ability to heal wounds. This can lead to chronic wounds, unresolved infections and in worst case scenarios – lower limb amputations.

Poor treatment to this affliction is partly due to a lack of mechanistic understanding. This is where the scientists come in. It is believed that immune cells such as macrophages may not be working normally in those that have diabetes and so prevent wounds from healing as they should.

What do I investigate?

I want to understand how these macrophages behave in healthy wound healing, and compare it with diabetic wound healing. To do so, I am using established techniques and developing novel ways to image these cells. The old-fashioned way is to take small tissue samples of the wound, process it into wax, cut them into extremely thin slices and stain it for macrophages – to see how many there are and where they are.

The novel technique I am developing is to use PET imaging to visualise the macrophages in 3D and in real-time. Positron Emission Tomography (PET) is an imaging technique used to observe biochemical processes inside the body. This requires a radioactive tracer: an organic compound labelled with a radioactive element. The organic compound is a jigsaw piece that fits nicely with your biological target (e.g. macrophages), and the radioactive element is a beacon to make it easier to see. A small and safe amount of this radioactive tracer is injected into the subject and accumulates at biologically relevant sites of the body (e.g. macrophages). When they do so, they release a pair of gamma rays. The PET scanner detects these and reconstructs them into 3D images of where the radioactive tracer is in the body.

This allows us as scientists to gain a better understanding of where and how macrophages behave in the context of wound healing. This new information and the imaging technology we develop is a small and exciting puzzle piece in a bigger picture to help improve people’s lives.

Going Further

Find out more about diabetes and wound healing from these websites -

https://www.woundsource.com/blog/four-stages-wound-healing

Part of the reason I got involved in this project is because of my interest in imaging and photography, and here are some examples of this in the biological world - https://bscb.org/competitions-awardsgrants/image-competition/

https://www.rsb.org.uk/get-involved/rsb-competitions/photography-competition-2018

https://www.rms.org.uk/discover-engage/competitions-awards/rms-scientific-imaging-competition.html

To find out more about studying immunology in Manchester  - https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2019/10284/bsc-immunology/course-details/#course-profile