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.
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
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
What do I research
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.
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:
to start school/work later:
Here are links to interviews with circadian researchers
at The University of Manchester
My name is Ben Stutchbury and I am a second year cell
biology PhD student, looking at how cells sense and respond to the environment
around them. I did my undergraduate degree in molecular biology, which I also
did at the University of Manchester.
For a long time, the way that cells sense and respond to the
environment around them was thought to be only due to chemical signals. Cells
produce different chemicals and proteins that attach to other cells,
transmitting a message and triggering a response, just like sending and
receiving a text message. However, recently it has been seen that cells are
also able to sense and respond to mechanical signals, rather than just chemical
signals. I am trying to figure out how cells are able to do this, and the
important role that these mechanical signals play in the cell.
The mechanical properties of different tissue types vary all
over the body. Brain is extremely soft, muscle a bit stiffer and bone the most
rigid. Studies have shown that these different mechanical properties can affect
several different aspects of cell behaviour such as how fast they grow, how
quickly they move or even affect what type of cell they become.
Now imagine you are a cell, how do you know where you are? Cells don’t have a
sense of sight, smell or hearing, but… they do have an extremely sensitive
sense of touch.
Hundreds of proteins come together in a defined and
intricate order to form streak-like structures known as focal adhesions (shown in green in the picture). These form at the
edge of the cell, and reach outside, literally grabbing onto the surrounding
environment. Basically acting like a cell’s tiny hands. Using these hands, the
cell then blindly pulls and probes on the external environment, feeling its
mechanical properties and the forces acting on the cell. Now, as I said before,
as well as feeling their environment, cells will also respond it. If the
environment around it changes, for example becomes softer or stiffer, then the
forces acting on the cell will change. The cell, via its focal adhesion hands,
is able to feel and respond to these changes. They are quite literally using
the force! This signalling is extremely important for the cell to function
correctly and can go wrong in a number of diseases such as cancer and heart
So we know that cells are responding to physical changes to
their environment. But, we don’t know exactly how the cell is able to feel
these mechanical signals and convert them into a response. My work is to try to
determine the exact molecular events that are involved in sensing, and
responding to, these mechanical signals. I am trying to work out HOW the cells
use the force. This could lead to a better understanding, and treatment of, a
number of associated diseases.
I particularly enjoy studying this topic because it is a
very ‘new’ area of biology. For years biologists focussed on the chemical side
of cell signalling; however, now we are just beginning to see the importance of
this more physical-based signal interpretation. This means there is still a lot
to be discovered, which makes it a very exciting field to work in. We work a
lot with various biomaterials, in order to manipulate the ‘stiffness’ of the
artificial environment that the cells are growing in. This uses aspects of
physics and engineering and really highlights the importance of
cross-collaboration between these different areas in order to fully understand
the complexity of our bodies.
I also write a blog about science that we come across in our
everyday lives, but is often ignored. Please check it out here: http://thatsinteresting.scienceblog.com/
As I mentioned, this is a relatively young field, so there
aren’t a huge number of websites with further information that aren’t boring
research papers! Here are some that I could find.
Our lab group: http://ballestremlab.com/
For general info about cell signalling: http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/cell-signaling-14047077
The mechanobiology institute in Singapore has some pretty
cool videos on their YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDXgKXsx2cK-662Ta6wvtEQ
My name is
James McCaffrey and I am doing a medical PhD. I went straight into medical
school after finishing my A-levels, and graduated in 2007. I continued my
training as a junior doctor in Manchester before deciding to specialise in
paediatrics in 2009. After a few years of being a paediatric doctor, I became
interested in children’s kidney disease and began a PhD at the University of
Manchester in 2011.
My PhD focuses on a childhood kidney disease called ‘nephrotic syndrome.’ The
medication we have for treating nephrotic syndrome only works for a proportion
of children, and sometimes results in unwanted side effects. No one knows
exactly how this medication works. By trying to understand more about the
important actions the medication has in children with nephrotic syndrome, we
may be able to develop more effective drugs with fewer side effects in the
What is nephrotic syndrome?
One of the
main functions of the kidney is to filter the blood, so unwanted substances can
be removed from the body. However, it’s also vital that the kidney filter does
not let important proteins and minerals leak through. An essential part of the
kidney filter is a cell called the podocyte, which keeps blood proteins in the
body, while letting substances harmful to the body pass through.
syndrome, the podocytes become damaged and the kidney filter becomes abnormally
leaky, so these important blood proteins are lost from the body. These proteins
help regulate where water is stored in the body and are needed to fight
infection. When they are lost in nephrotic syndrome, children have a high risk
of developing serious infections and water moves from the blood into various
tissues so patients develop massive body swelling.
How is nephrotic syndrome treated?
nephrotic syndrome receive an 8 week course of a type of steroid called
prednisolone (this is very different to the steroids body-builders use!). Some
children respond very well to this treatment, the kidney filter returns to
normal, and they never have the disease again. Some children respond well
initially, but the disease comes back several times over a number of years.
Unfortunately, some children do not respond to steroids at all, and more
powerful medications are needed. The children who do not respond to steroids
during their first treatment course sometimes have long term problems with
nephrotic syndrome important?
200 new children develop nephrotic syndrome in the UK every year. As late as
the 1950’s approximately half of children with nephrotic syndrome died (mostly
from infections). Although today we have more effective treatments available,
children taking steroids sometimes experience unwanted drug side effects such
as weight gain, high blood pressure and acne. Children who do not respond to
steroids have a high chance of developing long-term kidney problems, which may
ultimately require kidney transplantation.
What do I investigate?
steroids have been used in nephrotic syndrome for many decades, no one knows
exactly how they work! It’s also unclear why some children respond well to
steroids, while others do not. I mainly work on podocytes grown in the
laboratory and characterise their response when they are treated with steroids.
This involves finding out what new proteins are made when podocytes are treated
with steroids, and investigating whether any of these may be important in the
response that the kidney filter has in children with nephrotic syndrome when
they receive medication.
Steroids do a
lot of things: some of them helpful to the kidney barrier, and some of them
unhelpful (which is why children experience side effects). If we could
understand more about the helpful actions that steroids have in nephrotic
syndrome, we may eventually be able to make drugs that are effective for all
children with nephrotic syndrome and also have fewer side effects.
information about nephrotic syndrome from a patient’s perspective can be found
great website for finding out about all the kidney research happening in
explanation of other projects happening in my PhD supervisor’s laboratory can
be found here (http://www.wellcome-matrix.org/research_groups/rachel-lennon.html)
Here are some
PhD projects that doctors in the North West are currently working on (http://www.liv.ac.uk/north-west-england-mrc-fellowship-cpt/fellows)
Dunham, and I’m currently in the third year of my PhD research in Biomedical Science.
After completing my GCSEs (many moons ago!), I went to college to study Biology,
Psychology, Sport Science (A-levels) and Maths and Chemistry (AS-levels). At
the time I thought I wanted to do Medicine, but changed my mind to continue
into research. I got a place studying a straight Biology degree at Cardiff
University. Throughout the course, I went on field courses to Tobago, and worked
for a leading pharmaceutical company (AstraZeneca) and contributed to a
published study. Upon graduating from Cardiff University, I started on my PhD
research at the University of Manchester. My work here focusses on
understanding how growth hormone, present in all humans, is regulated and how
changes may contribute to differences seen between individuals.
does it matter that we understand the differences? Whilst “variation is the
spice of life”, we like these variations to be within a ‘normal limit’. Growth
hormone (as the name suggests) controls growth and development in all mammals,
and is the main cause for the variation in our heights and sizes. Some people
make more of it, and others make less…
however, the regulation fails from keeping growth hormone at a ‘normal’ level,
and unfortunately this can result in disease. For example, misregulation may
cause cancer, acromegaly and growth hormone deficiency. Whilst some of the
characteristics of these are noticeable as being much taller or shorter, other more
detrimental symptoms are also caused. These include joint pain, limited vision,
headaches, increased fat mass, decreased bone density and even death.
I am aiming to
identify the ‘normal’ patterns of the growth hormone gene. This gene in humans
is unique to any other mammals as it has vital components allowing for
stringent control. I look at single cells under a powerful microscope to
observe these patterns. To make this possible, I have added a section into the
growth hormone gene which makes it glow when it is present. That way, when
growth hormone is being made in the cell it brightens up, and then goes dull
when production stops. Each blob is a cell in a dish with my modified growth hormone
gene in. Measuring the time, frequency and intensity of these events will allow
me to identify ‘normal levels’ which can then be compared to different
my Biology BSc and my PhD, I have learnt so many theoretical and practical
skills within the laboratory. I regularly use high-tech microscopes, manipulate
genes and apply a number of analytical tests. Working with some of the newest
technology in a lab with people from different places and backgrounds to understand
something nobody else yet knows is extremely rewarding, and I now have skills
which can be transferred to many different research areas and jobs.
Going FurtherFound out about studying Biology
at the University of Manchester here.
For a link to the medical and
human sciences page go here and you can find all the research done at University of Manchester.
And here you can find the
research done specifically looking at human development.
For a great video which explains
genetics and variation go here.
My name is
Joe and I am a final year PhD student at the University of Manchester where I
study Neuroscience. Having finished my A-levels in Biology, Chemistry and
History, I applied to study Zoology in Manchester. Once accepted, I deferred the start of my
degree for a year to fulfil a childhood dream to travel the length of South
America while attempting to learn Spanish along the way - albeit pretty badly.
survived my travels, I finished my undergraduate course with a first class degree
and decided to carry on my studies at Manchester through a research masters in
Integrative Biology. It was during this time that I ended up on a
laboratory-based project with my current supervisor and I became interested in
the field of biological rhythms and their role in neurological disorders.
Almost four years on, I am still focused on trying to understand how changes to
your body’s biological clock within your brain can contribute to the unusual
behaviour seen in bipolar disorder.
As you have continued reading, I imagine you may be wondering what are biological clocks and what do they have to do with bipolar disorder? As we live on a planet that rotates over a 24-hour cycle, all organisms are subjected to daily changes in light, temperature and many other factors important to life. Almost every species on earth has responded to these environmental changes with the slow evolution of biological clocks that allow us to anticipate these daily cycles. These clocks are made up of genes and proteins that strictly control the timing of cellular and body processes.
In humans and mammals, these biological clocks now exist in a deep part of our brains as two dense clusters of brain cells known as the suprachiasmatic nuclei. These tiny but intricate structures strictly control the timing of almost everything in our bodies, from when we wake up to when our hormones are released. They also they let our cells know when they need to do specific jobs at different times of the day. When these biological clocks go wrong, there is a growing amount of evidence that has shown you are much more likely to become ill.
Illnesses that have been linked to faulty body clocks are quite varied but include neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. People with these diseases very often have highly disturbed sleep-wake rhythms, often sleeping much less, or waking up a lot during the night and we think that faulty body clocks might be to blame.
My work focuses on trying to understand how molecular and electrical activity changes in the suprachiasmatic nuclei during bipolar disorder and whether any such changes in biological rhythms may contribute to disruptions in our daily behaviour. As many drugs that can change our body clocks are being rapidly discovered, we hope that this type of work will pave the way for the use of new medicines that improve body rhythms to help treat people with bipolar disorder and other similar neurological problems.
Find out what’s going on in Manchester’s vibrant Neuroscience department here
The University of Manchester’s Neuroscience course page, where you can find out about what you can study and what you need to do if you are interested.
Find out what type of body clock you have here and compare yourself to others around the world via this global questionnaire, set up by the world’s most prominent biological rhythm researchers:
The Guardian’s two Neuroscience blogs, with some nice articles on the most recent advances and stories in the field - click here and here.
Take a look at the British Neuroscience Association (BNA) for up-to-date news and information from the UK’s biggest Neuroscience organisation.
Only for the most intrepid minds out there! A link to the most prominent neuroscience journal out there including a weekly open-access article (you need to pay to read these normally). Don’t be put off by the crazy language as you will only really understand this after years of study, but you can get an idea of what real neuroscience looks like here.