Zombie-inspired experiments!

by YPU Admin on January 21, 2019. 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

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