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The Brain in Pain

by YPU Admin on March 17, 2016, Comments. Tags: brain, Chronic Pain, Medic, Nerves, pain, PhD, Research, and UoM

Introduction

My name is Javin Sandhu. I am currently a medical student intercalating between years 4 and 5 of medical school to perform an MRes in Medical Sciences. This MRes course provides you with an opportunity to take on a research project that grabs your interest with a supportive supervisor who guides you through the process.

I was fortunate to do my research project in the processing of pain in the brain thereby combining my two core interests: neurology (study of the nervous system) and anaesthetics (drugs that work on the nervous system to put people to sleep). In addition, I have been fortunate to receive the John Snow for Anaesthetic Research funded by the BJA/RCoA to help support me during the master’s degree (please see http://www.niaa.org.uk/article.php?newsid=1454). 

In Depth…

When we experience pain, certain regions of the brain are activated. All these regions make up a “pain matrix”.  The pain matrix is divided into areas which process the location of pain and the emotional effect of that pain. Chronic pain and acute pain activate the same regions of the pain matrix but to different extents. These differences suggest that we should be aiming to develop ways of imaging ongoing clinical pain. Previous research from the Human Pain Research Group (see below for link), has shown success for treatment approaches such as meditation and placebo. This previous research has also shown an increase in a certain pattern of brain activity (known as alpha activity). There are various methods on how to image the brain’s functions. These approaches depend on how the brain uses oxygen (showing brain activity) or the electrical activity of the brain (which shows which brain cells are transferring information).

What do I investigate?

My research is based upon trying to find a unique pattern of brain activity for chronic pain by measuring the brain’s electrical activity in patients with chronic pain caused by rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.  I will be using EEG to pick up the brain’s electrical activity and analysing this data to figure out which areas of the brain are activated. We hope to find a unique pattern of brain activity which can be used in the future to test patients with chronic pain. This would help figure out how much pain these patients are in and to prevent patients which are addicted to painkillers “faking their chronic pain”.

Going Further…

You can visit this website for more information about The Human Pain Research Group -(http://www.bbmh.manchester.ac.uk/research/ccn/pain/)

For more information about the MRes Medical Sciences course, please see -(http://www.mhs.manchester.ac.uk/study/masters/courses/medical-sciences-mres/)

Also if you want more information about pain, please see - (http://www.iasp-pain.org/)

Finally, for a brief introduction into brain imaging techniques, please see -(http://www.bbmh.manchester.ac.uk/research/ccn/pain/Research/brainimaging/)

 

Chemical Engineering and Clean Water

by YPU Admin on March 3, 2016, Comments. Tags: chemical engineering, Engineering, Research, UoM, and water

Introduction

Hello, I’m Emily, a second year PhD student in Chemical Engineering at the University of Manchester. I have always been a keen scientist studying Chemistry, Biology and Maths at A-level before coming to the University of Manchester in 2010 to study Chemical Engineering. I completed my four year Integrated Master’s degree before continuing on with my studies by beginning a PhD in September 2014.  

My research focuses on the development of fuel cells, in particular Microbial Fuel Cell which uses bacteria found in waste water to clean wastewater whilst generating small quantities of electricity. The main purpose of this research is to identify and develop a system of cleaning waste water which is less harmful to the environment compared with methods currently used. 

In Depth…

Every day we use water. To drink, to cook, to clean, etc. We are very lucky that when we turn on our taps at home the water that comes out is clean and safe to use. However, when the water leaves our homes it is contaminated and cannot be used again unless it’s cleaned. So, how do we clean this water?

Current methods of treating wastewater are expensive as they either require large quantities of air to be pumped through the system (activated sludge reactors) or large areas of land for large reactors (trickle filter bed). They also produce large quantities of waste sludge which requires further treatment. The quantity of energy required for pumping, the damage to large areas of land and the production of sludge also makes this technology damaging to the environment highlighting a further need for a better method of cleaning water. An alternative is the use of microbial fuel cells.

Microbial fuel cells use the bacteria found in wastewater and starve it of oxygen. This prevents the bacteria from breathing and forces them to ferment, break down organic materials in water, in order to gain energy and survive. As the organic materials are broken down protons and electrons are formed. This occurs on one side of a fuel cell called an anode. These newly formed ions are forced to travel from the anode side of the fuel cell to the other side, called the cathode, following two separate routes routes. In between the sides of the fuel cell is a proton exchange membrane, this allows the movement of protons from one side to the other but blocks the movement of electrons. Meanwhile the electrons flow through wires externally of the fuel cell from one side to the other. The ions are then able to re-join on the cathode side; here they are mixed with oxygen to produce clean water.

This movement of ions is able to generate small quantities of electricity. The anaerobic nature of the anode greatly reduces the quantity of sludge produced which reduces the amount of further treatment required. The reduction of waste sludge, reduction of energy needs and the production of electricity make microbial fuel cells an ideal alternative to current wastewater treatment systems. As well as its use as an alternative wastewater treatment system, other research is ongoing which uses this technology specifically for power production or as bio-sensors.

Going Further

This is a great website for general information on what it’s like to be a chemical engineer and how to become one: http://www.whynotchemeng.com/

This is the official blog by students in the School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science; it highlights work by both staff and students:  http://www.mub.eps.manchester.ac.uk/ceasblog/

This blog highlights work being done in fuel cell technology and is run by the Governments Office of Energy, Efficiency and Renewable Energy: http://energy.gov/eere/hydrogen-fuel-cells-blog

Another blog about different types of Microbial Fuel Cells and how they work: http://www.sciencebuddies.org/blog/2014/03/microbial-fuel-cells-on-the-hunt-for-renewable-energy.php

A short video explaining microbial fuel cells by Bruce Logan, a world leader in this research: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZotwUJAb8R4

 

Health Economics and Research into Poverty

by YPU Admin on February 18, 2016, Comments. Tags: Economics, Health, Health Outcomes, Mental Health, Physical, Poverty, Research, and UoM

INTRODUCTION

My name is Julius Ohrnberger and I am a first year PhD researcher in Health and Development Economics. My A-levels were in English, German, Mathematics and History. After graduating from high school in Germany, I studied Economics for my first degree at Heidelberg University in Germany. I then did a Masters in Economics and Development Economics in 2014 at the Free University in Amsterdam. Prior to my PhD, I worked for a year as researcher in Health Economics for the University of Manchester.

In winter 2015, I started my PhD in Health Economics and Development Economics at the Centre for Health Economics at the University of Manchester. In my research, I aim to analyse the effect of cash transfers on health outcomes of poor families living in developing countries. I furthermore want to understand how the effect on health has potential in reducing poverty in the long-run.

IN DEPTH

Imagine that you have to live on less than £1 a day: £1 for food, clothing, the bus ticket, your mobile phone bills, etc. Imagine that public services like the GP, hospitals or your school are of very poor quality and there is far too few for all people, and you have to pay for it out of your pocket with the £1 a day. These are the challenges the global poor living in the developing world every day.

I want to understand in my research how regular cash transfers to this group of people affect their mental health and physical health outcomes. Furthermore, how the effect on mental and physical health relates to long term poverty alleviation. Mental health is a state of emotional well-being. A mental health outcome can be how often you were sad or felt restless the past week. Physical health is defined as a state of physical well-being. A physical health outcome can be your blood pressure or the number of health days in the past month. It is very likely that more income through the cash transfer has an effect on both the mental health and the physical health. Improving either is essential in helping the poor to improve their lives and especially to help them to leave a state of poverty.

I look in my research at three different countries namely Indonesia a South-East Asian country, South Africa a sub-Saharan African country, and Mexico a Latin American country. I use large datasets for each of these countries. The data entails information about the mental health outcomes of the poor people such as depression or anxiety, physical health outcomes such chronic diseases or blood pressure, and if the person received a cash transfer. The same poor people are observed and interviewed over several years and thus it is possible to identify changes in health and poverty due to the cash transfers.

My research is important as it is a unique project which sets poverty into the light of both mental and physical health outcomes. Mental health is a strongly neglected topic in international development policies, but mental health problems are one of the leading causes of illnesses worldwide and especially in the developing world. My research seeks to immediately address this gap, and to provide an analysis which could be important for future development policies centred on mental health.


GOING FURTHER

For updates on my research activities, follow me on Twitter: @JWEO_O

To get more information about mental health in developing countries, visit: http://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/en/

And http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/may/10/mental-illness-developing-world

For information what we are up to in the Manchester Centre for Health Economics, visit our website: http://www.population-health.manchester.ac.uk/healtheconomics/ or follow us on twitter: @HealthEcon_MCR



 

Ticking Body Clocks: Research in Life Sciences

by YPU admin on February 4, 2016, Comments. Tags: biology, Body Clocks, Life Sciences, Neuroscience, Research, and UoM

Introduction

My name is Charlotte Pelekanou and I am a PhD student at the University of Manchester studying Circadian Biology (body clocks). Body clocks are found in all body organs and gives time of day messages to lots of body processes. Altering these clocks can lead to the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes (when your body does not regulate your blood sugar properly). Before starting my PhD, I did my undergraduate degree in Biomedical Sciences and masters in Neuroscience research, both at the University of Manchester.

In Depth

Why am I interested in body clocks?

When I tell people I research body clocks they always think of sleep. However, over the last 50 years circadian biology has expanded massively as more and more is found out about how the clock affects our body functions.

 I became interested in the body clock because a family member had an illness that made them have problems with their sleeping. I then found out in my undergraduate degree that the body clock does more than regulate sleep; it also has effects on most bodily functions including processing the food you eat, how your immune system protects you and how you store memories.

I then chose to do a PhD on the effects of the clock on obesity and diabetes as obesity is a growing issue in current society and it costs the NHS a lot of money to treat patients who have health problems as a result. I am also really interested in circadian biology itself as I like the concept of ‘social jetlag’, where people are living in a different time to their body clock, and how increased use of technology such as mobiles and iPads in the evenings can lead to negative health effects and contribute to this rise in obesity. I am also interested in the concept of chronotherapy which is looking at how taking drugs at different times of day can have an effect on how well the drug works. All of these make circadian biology a really exciting research area.


What do I research specifically?

During my PhD, I am looking at the clocks involved in metabolism (how food is used to get energy) and the immune system and how altering them can lead to negative effects on your body. Particularly, I’m looking at inflammation in fat tissue caused by obesity and how it leads to the development of type 2 diabetes.  It has already been found that people who work shifts, like doctors and nurses, can have an increased risk of becoming obese and getting diabetes. This happens because your internal timing is set to a different time to when you are working, such as being awake and eating meals during the time your body wants to be asleep. As we have already found that the body clock is linked to metabolism and the immune system, we are looking for the specific pathways in metabolism and the immune system that are linked to the body clock and how they are changed with alterations in the body clock. We then want to see if we can modulate the pathway to remove these effects of inflammation in obesity so that fewer people would get diabetes from being obese.

Going Further

·  You can test when is the best times for you to go to sleep and wake up: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sleep/crt/

·  You can look up when is the best time to sleep, eat and exercise:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-27161671

·  Some excuses to start school/work later:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PSZ76rFZS0&index=11&list=PL9uTU-SI30pTlVyigGcnvDgHpDAFo4AEP

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11851311/Staff-should-start-work-at-10am-to-avoid-torture-of-sleep-deprivation.html

·  Here are links to interviews with circadian researchers at The University of Manchester

https://lsmanchesterblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/tuesday-feature-episode-17-qing-jun-meng/

https://lsmanchesterblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/tuesday-feature-episode-16-andrew-loudon/


 

Video Gaming and the Human Brain

by YPU admin on January 21, 2016, Comments. Tags: Life Sciences, Neuroscience, Research, UoM, and Video Games

Introduction

My name is Catalina Cimpoeru and I have recently graduated from The University of Manchester with a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience. My degree captivated me from the beginning, taking me from interesting facts about the human brain to how we use our senses (vision, hearing, touch) and the way medicines interact with our bodies to alleviate the pain.  During my third and final year of study we all had to carry out a project in order to complete our degrees. I based my project on something that I think is very popular at the moment, which is gaming, and what effect this has on people. More specifically, I was looking at the impact video games had on people’s motor and visual skills, which is basically the effect on our eyes and movement. I have also reviewed what role technology and games have in rehabilitation treatments regarding movement problems.


In depth

How did I decide on what to study?

When I was in high school, I knew I wanted to study Science in University, but there were a lot of courses involving science so I had to narrow it down to the things I enjoyed studying the most. I decided then that I wanted to study something biology related, which is part of the Faculty of Life Sciences. This helped me look at the different courses that different universities have to offer in this area. I chose a biological area specialising in the brain as I wanted something more specific to focus on.

Why precisely the brain?

The brain is the most complex and outstanding organ in the human body, weighting only 1.5 kg and having more than 86 billion neurons that connect and work with our body to produce all our emotions, the languages we speak, the tasks we carry out daily and so much more. The work that the students and, more importantly, that the researchers carry out is aimed at discovering how the human brain works. By discovering this, we find out what each of the parts of the brain are involved in, what causes different illnesses, to ultimately find a cure for them. The work researchers and their students conduct is very important in order to improve and prolong human life.


Why video games?

 Around seven in ten British households are active video games players, from playing games on their smartphones to computer games and PlayStation or Nintendo Wii. Does it have an impact on people that play very often? Yes. This is what my research has looked at and what I have written in my Literature Review, which is a piece of writing you submit prior to your big final year project write-up. Research showed that active video gamers have improved dexterity, finesse and speed of their hand movements. Data was recorded using Microsoft Kinect, a technological tool that records and traces your eye and hand movements whilst playing games. This tool was initially released in 2010 as a controller for Xbox 360, so for gaming purposes. Soon enough, its powerful tracing sensors were discovered and it was introduced in science and research clinical trials. It is now used in different areas of research such as computer graphics, human-machine interaction, eye-hand coordination and rehabilitation programs for motor diseases-Parkinson’s Disease, cerebral palsy. I soon found out researchers demonstrated that using exergames (a type of video games focusing on exercising) improved the patients’ hand movements and reduced shakiness. Microsoft Kinect was also used to produce different educational games for children with autism, dyslexia, ADHD in order to enhance eye-hand coordination, focal attention and short-term memory.In my degree, especially in my final year of study, I was able to choose my own topic for my project, which combined two very important topics to me: science and technology. As we are all aware of this, technology is a big part of people’s lives, both socially and academically. Technology is fast making advances in science, with continuous advances in prosthetics 3D printing and developing a needle-free kit for diabetics by using patches instead.

What about the future?

After graduation, I have been working as an intern at the University of Manchester. During my university degree I have been a very active student ambassador, which already allowed me to have a taste of the work field. I am not working in Science or in my domain at the moment (which is fine if you aren’t!) but I plan to return to health/technology in the future.  I still find it tremendously interesting and I always keep updated with the new technologies used in medicine and neuroscience. I have ‘’challenged the known and embraced the unknown’’; I wanted to try something different - which is great because my degree equipped me with a wide set of transferable skills that allows me to work in different areas!

Going further

For more information about the Life Sciences courses that The University of Manchester offers, visit: http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/undergraduate/courses/

For information about the research we carry out at the University of Manchester, visit: http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/research/

For more information about different careers path you can follow after graduating from a Life Sciences degree, visit: http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/undergraduate/careeropportunities/

For interesting facts about the brain, visit: http://www.oddee.com/item_98246.aspx

For neuroscience news, you can visit: http://neurosciencenews.com/ or http://www.bbc.com/future/tags/neuroscience

To find out more news about science, visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science

To find more news about technology you can follow: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology

For medical technology news, follow: http://www.medgadget.com/