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My Journey into Mental Health Research

Introduction

Hi everyone! I’m Jess and I’m a PhD researcher at the Division of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology at the University of Manchester. I’m in my second year of a 4-year biosocial PhD programme – a programme that specialises in research in both biological and social sciences. My research specifically looks at how social support affects mental health, whilst taking into account different factors. Those factors include the structure and function of the brain, wealth and education, and personality type. 

In Depth…

I have always been interested in why people act, think and feel the way they do, which is why I decided to study Psychology at university. We learned about different areas of psychology, such as developmental, social and cognitive psychology, but I had a strong interest in clinical and biological psychology – mental health and the brain. Like many people who studied psychology, at first I considered becoming a clinical psychologist, so I worked for a mental health service provider for a couple of years after my degree. 

However, I realised that my passion lies in research, so I went on to complete my Master’s degree in Edinburgh and then (after a short detour of work and travel in Japan) on to start my PhD in Manchester. I wanted to pursue a PhD in order to become an expert in a research topic and to contribute to the body of knowledge that has the potential to impact the lives of many people. This is important in the field of mental health, as the majority of people in their lifetime will struggle with their mental health, and we need to understand the biological and social mechanisms behind this and the best way to help. 

A bird's eye view of different sections of the brain from top to bottom from an MRI scan.

Currently, my day-to-day life is very varied. For my research, I am conducting a systematic literature review, which involves trying to find all the research there is on a particular topic and combining it all together. Alongside this, I teach on the undergraduate Psychology course, deliver workshops to schools and write my own blog about psychology and neuroscience research. This is one of the parts I like most about doing a PhD; you have the opportunity to get involved with different areas and build skills and confidence outside of your niche research topic. After my PhD, I want to continue to work in research, but I am also attracted to the idea of working in policy and science communication. I want my work to have meaningful and far-reaching consequences, which could be achieved by any of these career paths. Luckily I have some time to think about it before I finish my PhD!

Going Further…

If you want to find out more about different aspects of psychology, check out the links below:

-  Interested in studying Psychology? Here is the website for Psychology at the University of Manchester, which gives more information about the course and the requirements: https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2020/00653/bsc-psychology/

-  Wondering what you can do with a Psychology degree? The British Psychology Society (BPS) has some careers information here: https://careers.bps.org.uk/

-  Keen to learn more about psychology and neuroscience research? Check out my very own blog: https://brainsinaspace.home.blog/ or my own academic Twitter:https://twitter.com/JStepanous

-  Want to learn more about your mental health? This website has videos and articles on different topics: https://teenmentalhealth.org/learn/

-  Curious about what the different parts of the brain are? You can download this free, interactive app for your phone: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/3d-brain/id331399332



 

Health Economics: the true cost of medical errors

by YPU Admin on August 30, 2019, Comments. Tags: BMH, Health, health economics, NHS, patient safety, and Pharmacy

Introduction

Hi there, my name is Leonie Brinkmann. I am a German pharmacist and started my PhD at the University of Manchester about two years ago. I work in the field of health economics. Health economics is a branch of economics that tries to evaluate health care services or new medications from an economic perspective without neglecting the value of health. This combines a medical background knowledge, data analysis and statistics. I myself, for example, focus on patient safety.  Using big data sets of electronic health records I try to identify specific patients with medication errors to see how many of the medication errors lead to harm for the patient.

In Depth…

I am a pharmacist by background and did my undergraduate at the University of Heidelberg. Pharmacy is a great subject that combines biology, chemistry, physiology and pharmacology. I was always interested in medicines and diseases, but I cannot see blood. So studying medicine was off the table, but pharmacy happened to be the prefect trade off!

I enjoyed my undergraduate a lot, but it included long hours in the laboratory. Lab work was never something I enjoyed. I found it rather boring… But luckily as pharmacist you have loads of other opportunities in community pharmacies, industry, hospital or research.

I was very lucky to get a job as clinical pharmacist in a hospital. My main objective was to increase patient safety on the wards. I had a great time going from ward to ward, identifying patients with medication errors, and telling the doctors or nurses off that made the error.  It always felt a bit like being the safety police of the hospital.

But at some point I felt like I wanted to study again, I wanted to learn something new and be challenged a bit more. That’s when I decided to do a PhD. I found a great project that took the work I was doing in the hospital on a small scale to another level. Before I was looking through the patient’s health records by hand, now I am evaluating a computer programme that automatically screens all electronic health records of a patient and identifies medication errors. The pharmacists does not need to screen each patient, but can focus on how to communicate medication errors to the responsible doctor.

The burden of medication errors is estimated to be about £89.1 million per year for the NHS. This highlights how important it is for the NHS to invest in programmes that aim to reduce medication errors.  But unfortunately, the NHS does not have endless money to fund great ideas like this. That’s where health economics becomes interesting, because we can show the value of money of the new computer programme. To do so I am using electronic health records from GP-practices and hospitals to investigate the relationship between medication errors, patient harm and costs. Quantifying the burden of medication errors enables us to estimate the true value for money of the computer programme. Results on the value for money of such programmes aims to aid decision making  by policy makers on whether to fund such programmes or not.

So if you like numbers, you are not scared of statistics and you want to make the NHS a bit safer, this is the perfect opportunity for you!

Going Further…

Learn more about Pharmacy https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/study/pharmacy/

Little introduction video to understand what health economics is about (only 3 minutes) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUay9DV__G0

Learn more about what we do as health economists in our newsletter http://research.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/healtheconomics/MCHENewsletter/

What are electronic health records that I use in my PhD project https://www.ehealthireland.ie/Strategic-Programmes/Electronic-Health-Record-EHR-/

Why are health records important for research?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNbe3-d3KdQ

 

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

 

From the cold to cooties – From Medicine to Medical Virology

by YPU Admin on March 30, 2017, Comments. Tags: Health, medicine, Research, UoM, and Virus

Introduction

Hello! I'm Geraldine (Gerry) Scullin and I'm a medical student currently taking a year out to study a Masters in Medical Virology, the study of viruses. These are the germs responsible for giving you everything from the common cold to other embarrassing illnesses that we don’t like to talk about. The treatment of viruses is actually really difficult, so as a medic I'm interested in what is being done to find out new ways to treat and diagnose them and how I can help.

On a typical day in my Masters I have lectures for a few hours each day and then labs in the afternoon. In labs we get to diagnose infections by growing viruses in cells and using molecular techniques. It can be quite difficult at times, because we're dealing with things that are too small for the human eye to see!

How I got here

During high school I actually wanted to be a lawyer, and then a vet. It was only when I was choosing my A Levels that I actually changed my mind and applied for medicine. To me it made sense because I enjoyed science and also had experience of seeing how hospital staff work together as my dad was in hospital when I was much younger. The two things clicked together and I haven't looked back since!

In Depth

What I enjoy most about medicine is the diversity of the degree. There really is something for everyone. You can go into research, teach, do incredibly intricate surgeries or try to unravel the complexities of the human mind.

It's also great if you want to travel. Humans are the same no matter where you go, but their circumstances and diseases will change. This is the interesting thing about infectious diseases, and viruses in particular. There are some weird and wonderful infections out there to study, and there are also lots of ways you can help people in the developing world. That was the case in the Ebola epidemic (the strange knotty-looking thing in the picture), where doctors, scientists and other healthcare professionals worked to dramatically reduce the transmission of this terrible disease. As both a medic and a scientist, I feel very privileged that I am able to learn about not only the clinical symptoms of diseases, but actually how they cause disease.


Going Further

www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk - this is the website for the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, including both Medicine and Medical Virology. You can search for different degrees that you're interested in and read up on the grades and experience needed before you apply.

www.youtube.com is a great tool for explaining concepts that are difficult to understand. I'm a visual learner and so it really helps to actually SEE how things work.

If you want some basic information about conditions or diseases, www.patient.co.uk is a great website to start with. However, I'd be wary of googling all your symptoms as it can cause unnecessary panic (trust me, I know!)

If you're struggling with ideas about what you want to do later in life, http://joboutlook.gov.au/careerquiz.aspx is one of many websites that may be able to help you choose.

http://www.who.int/en/ is great for looking at how disease outbreaks differ throughout the world and can keep you up to date with new developments.

 

Searching for a cure: Hunter syndrome and gene therapy

by YPU Admin on October 24, 2016, Comments. Tags: Gene Therapy, Health, Hunter Syndrome, medicine, PhD, Research, and UoM

Introduction

My name is Helene Gleitz and I am a 2nd year PhD student in Medicine. After getting my international baccalaureate in Switzerland, I studied Biomedical Materials Science in Manchester and graduated in 2013. I then applied for a research master’s degree (MRes) in Tissue Engineering for Regenerative Medicine, where I spent 8 months working in a gene therapy lab. In fact, I enjoyed my master’s project so much that I applied for a PhD in the same lab to study gene therapy.

My PhD investigates a rare paediatric genetic disease called mucopolysaccharidosis type II, or Hunter syndrome, that occurs almost exclusively in males. I am looking to develop a gene therapy through the use of haematopoietic stem cells, which are cells involved in the immune and blood systems.


In Depth

Hunter syndrome is caused by mutations in the IDS gene present on the X-chromosome and different mutations affect the severity of the disease. Mutations in the IDS gene affect the IDS enzyme, which is involved in the degradation of complex sugars called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). When degradation and recycling of large molecules are altered, complex sugars accumulate in every organ in the body and things start to go haywire.

In the most severe form, young children show signs of neurodegeneration, behavioural problems and cardiorespiratory complications amongst many other symptoms. Lifespan is also significantly reduced, with most patients dying in teenage years. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for the severe form and replacing the missing enzyme (known as enzyme replacement therapy) has no impact on the brain.

The goal of my PhD is to design a therapy that will replace the missing enzyme through a single procedure and provide a long-term cure for the brain. We currently do this by modifying the patient’s own haematopoietic stem cells, which are the cells that differentiate into your blood and immune systems. Haematopoietic stem cells are extracted from the patient’s bone marrow, modified in the lab and re-infused into the patients. This process is known as a bone marrow transplant. 



During the first year of my PhD, I developed a lentiviral vector, which is a therapeutic virus derived from HIV-1, to carry the correct ‘version’ of the IDS gene. The lentivirus can be added to the haematopoietic stem cells in the lab, where the virus integrates into the genome and delivers the correct gene. This method allows haematopoietic stem cells to produce the right enzyme.

By correcting the cells and infusing them back into patients, we expect blood cells to be able to reduce the amount of complex sugar molecules that are stored throughout the body. Most importantly, we know that certain blood cells called monocytes can cross into the brain and have an impact there.

The rest of my PhD will involve evaluating this therapy in the mouse model of severe Hunter, where I analyse enzyme levels in the brain, sugar accumulation, neurodegeneration and behaviour 6 months after the transplant. Ultimately, we are hoping to put this through to clinical trials and get the therapy to Hunter patients as quickly as possible!

Going Further

If you’d like to know more about our research lab and the work that we do, visit our page: http://www.manchester.ac.uk/research/brian.bigger/research

If you are keen to know more about gene therapy in general, visit: http://www.bsgct.org/ or http://www.asgct.org/

For updates on MPS disorders in the UK, please visit: http://www.mpssociety.org.uk/en/