Only showing posts tagged with 'medicine' Show all blog posts

Can we cure back pain in the future?

by YPU Admin on September 21, 2017, Comments. Tags: Engineering, masters, medicine, and STEM


Hey, my name is Farah Farzana and I am a medical student at the University of Manchester. Last year after I completed my third year, I decided to take a year out of medicine to do a Masters in Research degree in Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine.  This is known as an intercalated degree, that many medics opt to do if they have further interests in research or any subject in general.  After completing this Masters, I will go back to medical school to complete my final remaining two years and hopefully graduate and become a doctor.

I never imagined or really anticipated during the first few years of Medicine, that I have any interest in research. To be honest, I was always scared by the prospect of going into research and imagined it to be pretty intense and hard. However during my third year I started becoming more interested in regenerative medicine, especially cell based therapies and the potential of regenerating tissues. The growing area of research that focuses of regenerating damaged organs or tissues, so in effect you are giving them a new life every time they are damaged intrigued me. So I decided to look into regenerating the structures within our spines known as the intervertebral discs.

In Depth

What is the intervertebral disc and how does it cause back pain?

The intervertebral discs are structures that make up our spine, and helps in overall mobility. With progressive age the spine goes through trauma and increase pressure due to many factors such as obesity, because of which these discs slowly starts to breakdown gradually. This causes severe pain and discomfort for suffers and is known to be one of the major causes of back pain. The pain occurs mainly because the discs are no longer mobile enough to support our range of movements, such as twisting and turning or even sitting which puts pressure on our spine. It is estimated that approximately 60-80% of people will at some point in their lifetime experience back pain. Despite the condition not being life threatening, it imposes a huge economic burden on our health care system, as well as being one of the foremost causes of disability due to chronic pain between the ages of 45 and 65 worldwide. Current treatments are costly and only offers symptomatic relief for the patients and most treatment available are a temporary fix to the underlying problem. Therefore research is now focussing on understanding the disease process itself of why the breakdown of the discs occurs and what cells are involved in such disease. Identifying the exact cells involved in the process that leads to breakdown of the discs will allow researchers to target such cells and stop them from causing the breakdown.

What does my research focus on?

Researchers have discovered that some cells act to maintain the discs health, which can be also targeted to restore the damaged disc. My research is looking to find out more about the types of cells present within the innermost layer of the disc. Some cells within this layer of the disc have the ability to stimulate rejuvenation of the damaged disc, when given signals. These findings of how these cells function and what signals they need to remodel the damaged disc will further guide upcoming research that will look at developing treatments by manipulating such cells to regenerate the discs. Such treatments will target the underlying disease itself in order to give patients suffering from back pain a permanent cure to back pain caused with progressive age. Such discovery in the future can even lead to developing treatments that can potentially cure back pain forever and change millions of lives.

Going Further

I made a video on studying medicine and how it is like to be a medical student, if you would like to have a look:

This research is a hot topic now and we even managed to somehow feature on the daily mail a few years back!

Feature on medical news today about future and techniques of regenerating the spine:

Interested in studying medicine here is a good website to look at:

Interested in becoming a scientist? Look at this website for a step by step explanation:

A detailed scientific paper explaining disc degeneration and processes of regeneration:


Researching into Asthma and Rhinitis

by YPU Admin on May 18, 2017, Comments. Tags: Asthma, Health, medicine, Research, Rhinitis, and UoM


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  :


World Allergy has provided a good overview about why asthma and rhinitis are linked and how they can affect people:

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?”

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:


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


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 - 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. 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, 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, is one of many websites that may be able to help you choose. 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


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:

If you are keen to know more about gene therapy in general, visit: or

For updates on MPS disorders in the UK, please visit:


Studying the Placenta to understand and prevent Fetal Growth Restriction

by YPU Admin on August 31, 2016, Comments. Tags: Fetal Growth Restriction, medicine, Placenta, Research Scientist, and UoM


My name is Kirsty McIntyre and I am a 2nd year PhD student funded by the Medical Research Council. I am based in St Mary's Hospital where I carry out my research as a member of the Maternal and Fetal Health Research Group. The work that I do aims to help us understand more about a condition called Fetal Growth Restriction, where the baby does not grow to its potential in the womb and can tragically lead to stillbirth. To learn more about how the nutrient demands of the baby are met during pregnancy I study the placenta - the organ attached to the baby's umbilical cord.

This lab work allows us to compare how appropriate growth is achieved in normal pregnancies, and compare this to cases of Fetal Growth Restriction. Understanding more about the placenta will allow us to understand more about the cause of Fetal Growth Restriction and thus help us to prevent it!

In Depth

I became interested in the field of pregnancy research and obstetrics from a single lecture I was given whilst studying for my undergraduate degree at Edinburgh Napier University. In the lecture we were taught about the 'Barker Hypothesis' which is the theory that chronic disease in adult life is associated with conditions in the womb. I was enthralled by this, it amazed me that our relatively short period in utero could have an influence on our long term health. I went on to investigate fetal development for my undergraduate honours project and that was me hooked!

In 2012 I graduated with a 1st class honours in Biomedical science and went on to spend a brief period in industry working for LifeScan Scotland (a Johnson & Johnson company) developing diabetic test strips. Whilst still keen on pursuing pregnancy research and to achieve a PhD, I spent the 2 years that followed traveling Asia and Australasia including a period teaching at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia. I subsequently applied for my PhD here in Manchester via Skype having never visited the city!

Now in the 2nd year of my PhD, my days are varied but usually included some combination of lab work, data analysis, written work or planning future studies.

Our team is multi-disciplinary and consists of not only other lab scientists but also research midwives and clinical fellows who lead clinical trials and specialised clinics for high risk groups of women. I enjoy this work environment immensely as it is a constant reminder of the need for, and direct impact of, our research. Additionally, the collaboration between clinical and lab scientists creates an unique opportunity for researchers to carry out studies on human tissue. Our lab space is in the hospital building which allows me to collect placentas from consenting women who have given birth to babies with or without Fetal Growth Restriction for my experiments. These samples enable me to determine whether there are any differences between the 2 groups. It is this important research that I hope will ultimately lead to the development of therapeutic options for these women and their children.

I am very grateful to those women who donate their placentas to research, they are invaluable to my work!

Going Further

To read about what a day in the life of a research scientist is like, this blog was written by a student who shadowed me in the lab last year.

You can read about my research group here and here

Our research centre is one 3 UK centres funded by the charity Tommy's

I also collaborate with CADET Manchester.

Twitter @_kirstymcintyre