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How Did We Get Here?

by YPU Admin on January 31, 2020, Comments. Tags: biochemistry, biology, BMH, cell biology, lab work, manchester, PhD, proteins, and Research

Introduction

How did we get here?! A question not necessarily linked to cellular biology, but the answer is essential for all life. How do proteins (molecular machines) travel inside the cell? How can we help when it goes wrong? Can we hijack these pathways to produce revolutionary new drugs? My name is Katie Downes. I’m a second year PhD student at the University of Manchester and my research aim is to answer those questions.

Inside the world of the cell, proteins are powerful machines performing all sorts of crazy processes where space and time are key. Knowing how they get to where they need to be is fundamental to life as we know it, as exemplified by what happens when it goes wrong. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and blindness are linked to issues with intracellular transport. Yet the relatively simple question of how did that get there is still puzzling scientists. Imagine rush hour on the metro then add 20,000 proteins and you’re still not quite imagining how much is going on.

Research in this field is highly applicable to a number of real-life scenarios. Biopharmaceuticals, biological drugs produced in cells, are increasingly being used to target difficult diseases such as cancer. Currently these therapies are super expensive, as production yields are low and development costs high. By gaining a greater understanding of what determines how a protein is produced provides a torch light in the dark for these emerging therapies.

Day to day my research involves fiddling with some high-tech microscopes, watching fluorescent proteins move around inside the cell and performing a series of complex analyses to generate of library of movement. This library can then be used to interrogate various methods of intracellular transport and ultimately create a comprehensive map of intracellular transport.

In Depth

How did I get here?

Throughout secondary school I was determined STEM wasn’t for me. However, one particularly inspirational teacher unlocked what was to become a lifelong passion for the sciences. I went on to study Biological Sciences at Durham University, with a focus on Cell Biology and Biochemistry. My lectures would frequently blow my mind at how awesomely clever biochemical systems and proteins are – defined by logic and simplicity.

As you can see, I am a true nerd. However, it wasn’t just my wonderment which drew me to Biology. Through studying Biology, I realised I could help people and make a difference. During my industrial placement year, I worked in the Research and Development Department for a biopharmaceutical company, producing therapeutic antibodies for clinical trials. From then on, I became fascinated with biopharmaceuticals and the concept that we can harness all of that awesome biochemistry I had learnt during my undergraduate and use it to tackle serious diseases. I was shocked to find how much fundamental cell biology is still unknown. It became clear to me that if true progress was to be made in global health, more research was required and I wanted to be part of it. After graduating I jumped at the chance at a PhD.

My Research:

The world of intracellular transport is a fascinating place. So much is yet to be discovered. But I can provide a little teaser for those who are interested!

Throughout school you are taught that cells are a nice sphere, with a nucleus at the centre and a few other important bits, called organelles, floating around. In reality cells are densely packed environments where everything is in motion. In-fact there is a skeleton of sorts, a cytoskeleton which supports the overall structure of the cell – imagine scaffolding running throughout the cell. Some of this scaffolding also acts as a road, providing a track for molecular motors. These motors waddle along the tracks carrying various cargo. When “long-distance” transport is required, these motors are employed to pick up and drop off their cargo. But, how do they know when they are needed? How do they know what to pick up and where to put down? How do they know what are carrying?

Going Further...

For more information on studying Biological Sciences at Durham University or the University of Manchester:

To learn more about the research that is happening in my faculty:

Interested in intracellular transport?

Want to learn more about biopharmaceuticals?


 

Exploring Endometriosis

by YPU Admin on December 13, 2019, Comments. Tags: biology, BMH, endometriosis, Health, medicine, pharmacology, PhD, and science

Introduction

My name is Jessica Traynor and I am a second year PhD student at the University of Manchester. My research is based on producing a localised drug delivery system for people suffering from endometriosis. Endometriosis is a common gynaecological condition that affects roughly 10% of women at reproductive age. Endometriosis occurs when lesions grow outside of the uterus. These lesions can cause painful periods, pelvic pain and fatigue. Although this disease is common, the treatment options are still limited. Women are most likely to be given anti-inflammatory drugs, hormone-based therapies (such as the pill or the coil) or undergo surgery to remove the lesions. These treatment options are not ideal, especially surgery, as there is a high chance the lesions will grow back.

My lab work is trying to find a way to deliver old and new drugs directly onto the lesions. This will hopefully stop the lesions from growing as well as reduce the side effects of these drugs!

In depth

My initial interest in pharmacology (the study of drugs) began in sixth form. I knew that I was interested in science in general during my GCSEs, so I picked biology, chemistry, physics and maths. I realised that although Biology wasn’t my strongest subject, I found it the most interesting, especially topics surrounding the human body and disease. I decided to look into biomedical sciences for University, which I soon realised included a lot of other topics, such as genetics, biochemistry and immunology. When I looked at the list, I found pharmacology the most interesting subject as I wanted to learn more about the production of drugs and treating diseases. I chose to study pharmacology at Newcastle University.

In my final year at Newcastle I started my research project, which was based on lithium action within the brain and how this can help treat bipolar disorder. This made me realise that I loved the research environment; I loved researching a topic where the answer was unknown.

Overall, my degree taught me a lot of research techniques that can be brought into any research environment, of course, not all labs are the same but University provided me with the confidence to learn and master techniques that I’d never seen before!

I graduated from Newcastle in 2017 with a first class degree in Pharmacology, and if I’m truly honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do next! I knew I wanted to carry on in research, but I wasn’t certain on where or on what topic. I spent the year researching PhD topics whilst working within an NHS virology lab as a research assistant. I found this PhD online and thought it was right up my street! Not only was it a PhD based on drug design/delivery but it was also based around an under-researched disease that affects so many women. I had a skype interview with the supervisors and then was put forward for funding!

My lab group consists of people from different backgrounds, whether that is pharmacology, cancer research or pharmacy. We all work alongside other groups to gain a better understanding of disease and its treatment. We all use a variety of different techniques throughout our research, so every day is different. Personally, I find my day is split between lab work, writing papers/reviews, planning future studies and teaching!

After my PhD, I don’t have a set plan on what I want to do next! My opinions may change throughout the years and I could learn new skills that change my perception on what I want my career to be!

Going Further

If you want to find out more about endometriosis and its effects on women, the BBC have recently produced a popular article explaining what endometriosis is and the idea of the ‘gender pain gap’ (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/stories-49925760/endometriosis-the-condition-that-can-take-over-seven-years-to-diagnose)

To learn more about the research that is happening in my faculty: (https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/research/)

If you want more information about Biomedical Sciences/Pharmacology you can find that here (https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2020/00532/bsc-biomedical-sciences/) and here (https://www.prospects.ac.uk/careers-advice/what-can-i-do-with-my-degree/pharmacology)

Something that sparked my interest in the treatment of disease was a podcast that talks about medical history, you can give it a listen if you’re interested, too! (https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/research/


 

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

 

Cancer Research at the Christie Hospital

Introduction

Hi, my name is Shreya, a Master's student at the University of Manchester. My Master’s is in cancer research, an extremely topical and fast paced field. After completing three years of medicine, I decided to take a year out, known as 'intercalating', to explore research.

The knowledge of how innovative and pioneering the current projects are, coupled with the fact that I had a previous interest in the clinical side of cancer, solidified that this was the field for me. After this year I’ll return to finishing my medical degree, now with the perspective of working as a researcher. The invaluable skills I’ve learnt and will continue to develop this year should only help me become a better doctor in the future.

In Depth...

My research is focused on colorectal cancer, one of the most common cancers in the UK. The project I’m doing specifically involves patients that have had advanced colorectal cancer, which has unfortunately spread to the lining of the abdomen. This type of cancer is difficult to treat and involves intricate surgery that lasts for around 8-10 hours. Patients after this surgery have kindly donated their tumours in order for our team to analyse them. We are looking at the DNA of the starting tumour and the DNA of the tumours that have spread, in order for us to see how closely related the two tumours are. This project has many elements to it and involves a large team, I’m working closely with surgeons, pathologists and lab researchers who are using state of the art techniques and facilities to get the most accurate results. My main role will be to analyse the raw results, which should start to become available within the next month. At the moment I am mainly delegating and in charge of organising, as there are many people involved, it can often be difficult, but I’m enjoying the communication aspect. Performing a DNA profile of the starting tumour (primary) is common practice in hospitals, as it helps doctors come up with a treatment plan tailored to the tumour type. A profile of the tumour that has spread (secondary) is not routinely done, therefore the profile of the primary is also used to treat the secondary. This project aims to see if there are any differences in DNA between the two, and whether the secondary site should also be analysed for establishing treatment plans. A lot of information can be gained by looking at the DNA of tumours, and more information is needed to help manage this advanced disease, which currently has a poor prognosis.

My project is a good mix of lab work and clinical; often projects are one or the other. This means I get the opportunity to explore both kinds of research. I am also exposed to many different environments, for example, I have sat down with pathologists and looked at tumour samples under the microscope, as well as having the opportunity to be in the genomics lab and understand the process of DNA profiling. Being able to have these experiences is one of the reasons why I took a year out of medicine. Despite having previous reservations about doing a Master’s (mainly due to adding an extra year to my already long 5 year degree!) I’m happy with the work I’m doing, and I have been enjoying experiencing the world of research.

Going Further…

1.  For more information on DNA and genes: https://www.genomicseducation.hee.nhs.uk/genetics101/what-is-dna/

2.  I am based at the world-renowned Christie Hospital which is pioneering in cancer research, for more information on the research they do have a look at their website: https://www.christie.nhs.uk/professionals/research/

3.  For general information about cancer, check out the Cancer Research UK website: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMImcevrJDr3wIVCbDtCh2byAaqEAAYASAAEgII7vD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds#/

4.  For more information about applying for medicine at Manchester: https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2019/01428/mbchb-medicine/

5.  For information about the Masters in oncology (cancer): https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/masters/courses/list/08422/mres-oncology/