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It Matters That It Matters

by YPU Admin on April 3, 2020, Comments. Tags: bioethics, Health, Humanities, Law, patient safety, PhD, Philosophy, and Research

Introduction

Hi, I'm Vicki. I'm a second year PhD student in Bioethics and Medical Jurisprudence here at the University of Manchester. I'm also part of the Greater Manchester Patient Safety Translational Research Centre - yes, it's a very long name! The 'translational' bit means that we are developing and testing new ideas and approaches to patient safety. My research aims to understand how effective our healthcare regulation system is at keeping patients safe when they leave hospital.


In Depth…

Before starting my PhD I studied for my undergraduate degree in Philosophy, and a master's degree in Healthcare Ethics and Law. I had no idea when I graduated with my Philosophy degree that I’d end up where I am now. I worked for a charity as a Fundraising Manager and studied for my master’s degree via distance-learning. My master’s was helpful for me in switching job roles – after graduating I spent a few years working for the General Medical Council, which regulates doctors in the UK. This really sparked my passion for healthcare ethics, regulation, and patient safety!

After that I applied for my PhD, which is funded by the National Institute of Health Research. Unlike a traditional PhD, my PhD is 'by publication'. This means that rather than writing one huge piece of writing, I produce a series of shorter articles to be published in academic journals. But these articles still need to relate to each other under a common theme! At the end, they will form the middle chapter of my PhD, sandwiched between an introduction and a conclusion.

One of the main aims of healthcare regulation is to keep patients safe. This is done by several different regulators in the UK. Some regulate healthcare professionals (like doctors and nurses), whilst others regulate healthcare providers (such as hospitals). The common theme of my research is how do all of these regulators make sure patients are kept safe when they leave hospitals? You might be surprised to learn that leaving hospital can be a really dangerous time for patients, especially the elderly! I’m nearly halfway through my research but I already have several ideas for how regulators could be doing more to keep patients safe.

A friend once said to me that when choosing her career 'it matters that it matters'.  She meant it was important that her work made a real difference to people's lives. It’s an odd quote but it sums up how I feel about my research! I hope that it will be useful in improving safety for patients at a time when they should be going safely home.

Going Further…

  • For a useful introduction to the variety of topics that philosophy examines, see here.
  • Visit this blog by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, to learn more about the field of bioethics.
  • You can read about my research centre here.
  • Find out more about the exciting work Greater Manchester are doing to improve patient safety.
  • For more information on distance-learning see here

 

From Law to International Relations to Politics!

Introduction

Hi everyone! My name’s Moises Vieira. I’m currently doing a PhD in the Department of Politics. In my research, I’m looking at the intersection of migration and healthcare. In a nutshell, I’m interested in the (legal and ethical) challenges around providing healthcare for migrants, in the UK. I have been a student at Manchester since September 2018, where I’ve had the opportunity to discuss my work with world-class researchers, professors and fellow colleagues in the field of International Relations.

In addition to being a researcher, I am also a graduate teaching assistant in the Faculty of Humanities. So far, I have taught a module on the ‘Politics of Globalization’ where the students and I discussed different aspects of living in a globalised world, and how that impacts on social, economic and political life. Furthermore, I have also taught online modules addressing a range of issues within the field of International Relations and beyond: creating a sustainable world, security and trust, cybercrimes, partnerships for development, among others. 

As you can see, life as a university student goes way beyond simply attending classes and hitting the books. There are always a lot of extra activities you can engage with, according to your interests, academic background and previous training.

In Depth…

I went to Law School as an undergraduate student, and decided to pursue an academic career following my Master’s degree in International Relations. I undertook my studies in Brazil, so doing my PhD at Manchester has been an incredible experience both on the academic and personal levels. Most of my activities take place on campus, such as attending seminars, lectures, workshops and specific training events for career advancement. Doing a PhD in Politics is a great opportunity to move around and explore the world, too: as a researcher, I have attended academic events in a range of cities in the UK, and international conferences in a few countries, such as Switzerland and Denmark. These have been invaluable experiences in order to further my research, but also to meet new people and explore new places.

Back to my main research interest: What does it mean to be looking at the intersection of migration and healthcare? Let’s say an immigrant (with unlawful residence in the UK) falls ill, and is denied access to the NHS. In my research, I analyse issues like that, and ask questions such as: Is it ethical to deny healthcare for migrants on the grounds of immigration status? What are the human rights implications of refusing healthcare for non-citizens? By addressing these questions, I seek to raise people’s awareness of these important issues around public health and migration, which are very relevant for both migrants and UK citizens alike. 

Going Further…

A short guide for healthcare provision for migrants by the charity ‘Doctors of the World’:

The British Medical Association (BMA) opinion on refusing migrants’ access to the NHS:

Some reflections on charging migrants for healthcare:

Some context on the extension of ‘hostile environment’ into a range of areas, including healthcare:

A special focus on pregnancy and migrant women:

A report on the health of migrants in the UK, by the Migration Observatory, at the University of Oxford:


 

My Journey as a Geography Student

Introduction

I’m Alex, a 2nd-year Geography PhD student in the School of Environment, Education and Development at the University of Manchester. My research is focused on grasslands, and using new sensing technologies to better understand the ecosystem processes that take place in them – mainly cycling of carbon, nutrients and water. I look at images taken from satellites and drones to study the landscapes over a much larger scale than would be possible on the ground, which means we can monitor how climate change is affecting these environments, and predict what might happen in the future.

In depth...

HOW I GOT HERE:

I always found Geography exciting; thinking about far-away places and the different lives that take place in them was a fun escape from the routine of school life. I visited quite a few different universities before I chose Manchester. This would be my top piece of advice if you’re thinking of moving away – you will do a lot of growing up during your university years, so it’s really important to find the right place. Take a few days to visit different options, get a feel for them, chat to people and imagine yourself living there.

The highlight of my degree was my dissertation project, which was my first taste of designing my own research tailored exactly to the things I most enjoyed. I wrote it about landscape restoration in the moorlands of the Peak District, a place I had visited and loved as a kid which I got to see from a new, scientific perspective. The other most important thing is the friends I made. There are so many ways to meet new people and make friends at university – some of my best friends I didn’t meet until my final year, when I joined circus club.

After graduating I did some conservation internships with two wildlife charities. I was sick of sitting indoors reading about the outside world, and wanted to go and spend time in it! Both the organisations have lots of volunteering opportunities if you’re interested in a career outdoors (links at the bottom). After a couple of months however I’d had my fill of the outside, and moved to the University of Leicester to work as a Research Assistant, making a map of landcover changes in the UK as part of a Europe-wide project. I met so many interesting and inspiring people at Leicester that I realised I wanted to continue my career in academia after all, and this is when I decided to apply for my PhD. There are lots of different routes into academia, so if you don’t know exactly what you want to do then it is absolutely fine to spend some time exploring, doing different jobs or volunteering. That way, when you do finally decide on your PhD topic you know it’s the perfect choice for you.

My first study site, in the Yorkshire Dales

MY RESEARCH:

For me, it is very important in research to feel that you are contributing to something bigger, important and worthwhile, but also doing something interesting and fun day-to-day.

The big picture of my research is focused around climate change, and how we can manage our ecosystems to ensure that they will continue to thrive and provide us with food, fuel, water and other essential resources in the future. I’m interested mostly in the belowground communities of soil bacteria and fungi, which are an essential part of any ecosystem as they keep soil healthy and make it possible for plants to grow, but are often forgotten about (probably because they are difficult to see). I want to know if it is possible to make predictions about these communities – for example how diverse they are, or how active they are – based on properties of the plants that we can see aboveground. To do this I use sophisticated imagery (this is the fun part!); cameras which can see the whole spectrum from ultraviolet to short-wave infrared light, rather than just the blue/green/red we can detect with our eyes. This reveals very detailed information about the plants, which I hope will hold the clues to what is going on in the soil.

Satellite image of the Dee estuary

ACADEMIC LIFE:

There are some brilliant things and some big challenges that come with academic life. The best thing is how vibrant and busy the university environment is; everyone has their own project or projects going on, and there are loads of opportunities to get involved in all sorts of activities. In the past year I have been out helping friends with their fieldwork, running events at schools and museums, helped charity projects, and been on two training schools abroad in Estonia and Austria. You will never be bored! The downside of this is that, as you are trusted to manage your own time, it can be easy to get carried away and overstretch yourself, get stressed out and feel alone in tackling your enormous workload. My main advice is to communicate honestly with your colleagues and peers if you are struggling, as you will find that there are plenty of people who feel the same and are happy to help out.

Going further...

This is a website with some introductory information and tutorials about remote sensing for secondary school learners. Topics range from mapping areas affected by the 2010 Haiti earthquake to correcting distorted images resulted from a plane being buffeted by the wind. It is developed by the University of Bonn, so parts of the website are in German. There’s plenty for English speakers too though! If you’re really keen this might be good to do in a group with a teacher, perhaps as a lunchtime club. Or you could try yourself at home!

This is a mapping project set up by Dr Jonathan Huck in the Manchester Geography department. We need your help to map remote parts of Uganda using satellite imagery, in order to deliver prosthetic limbs to people affected by war.

The Royal Geographical Society has lots of inspiring Geography content on its website. There’s a section for schools, with competitions and events throughout the year for secondary school pupils.

The Wildlife Trusts and Woodland Trust have lots of events and opportunities for getting involved, especially as a young person. Their websites are really informative and easy to navigate.

You will have heard of National Geographic, but I thought I should mention it as this magazine is what first got me into Geography. You don’t have to get a subscription yourself – your school or local library might have one.

Finally, here is the website for Geography at the University of Manchester! It has loads of information about the courses, facilities and research that goes on in the department.


 

Keeping Kidneys Alive (in a lab?!)

by YPU Admin on February 28, 2020, Comments. Tags: biology medicine health, BMH, doctor, intercalation, kidneys, medicine, PhD, and tissue engineering

Introduction

My name is Sirat Lodhi and I am a medical student at the University of Manchester. After completing four years of medical school, I realised I wanted to take a break from Medicine to study a new degree. This is known as intercalation. I decided to pursue a Master of Research degree in Tissue Engineering for Regenerative Medicine. Following this year, I hope to complete my final year of Medicine so that I can graduate as a doctor.

Many medical students complete an intercalated degree so that they can study a new subject which they may not have had the opportunity (or time!) to study at medical school. As a medical student, I especially enjoyed the small research projects I completed. However, I did not consider intercalating until a supervisor suggested that a research degree may be for me! Now, I am hoping to develop my research skills because I am certain that I would like to pursue an academic career. I am interested in learning how to repair and replace parts of the body that have been damaged by trauma or disease. My research is in the field of kidney transplant surgery. 

In Depth...

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE DONOR KIDNEY?

Good kidney function is important because the kidneys filter our blood so that toxic waste can be removed from the body. Also, the kidneys make urine. Unfortunately, there are over 60,000 people in the UK who are suffering from kidney failure. These individuals need a kidney transplant to allow them to survive - this is when someone donates their kidney to the patient. Once the kidney has been removed from the body of the donor, it is stored in ice. This is done because if the kidney is kept in a good environment, it will work better in the person who receives it. 


However, keeping the kidney in a cold environment is damaging. Instead, it may be better to connect the kidney to a machine so that warm blood can flow through it. This means the kidney can work just like it would in the warm body. Although we know that cold storage can be damaging for donor organs, this technique is still used in the NHS. Fortunately, there is increasing research looking at developing techniques to keep organs alive in warm conditions.

WHAT DOES MY RESEARCH FOCUS ON?

Overtime, blood breaks down and damages the donor kidney. To prevent this from happening, a ‘fake’ blood has been developed. My research tests whether a warm solution of ‘fake’ blood can be pumped through pig kidneys without causing damage. If the ‘fake’ blood is found to be safe, it could be used to make donor kidneys work better in the new body.  Most importantly, kidneys which are not good enough to be donated could be improved using this technique so that more people can receive a life-saving kidney transplant. 


This is a very exciting time to be conducting transplant research because the organ donation law is changing from spring 2020. England will move to an ‘opt out’ organ donation system. This means that most adults will be considered as being potential organ donors when they die. It is hoped that this will increase the number of organs transplanted. This is very important because there is a shortage in donor organs. For example, every year, around 60% of people on the kidney transplant waiting list are not offered a kidney so they must continue waiting. 

If you would to learn more about anything I have discussed in this blog, please visit the links below!

Going Further

An article about the transplant research lab that I am working in can be found at:

If you are interested in studying Medicine, this is a good website to look at:

If you are interested in becoming a scientist, this is a good website to look at:

For more information about the NHS organ donation scheme, please look at:





 

Gene-ius Genetics

by YPU Blog on February 21, 2020, Comments. Tags: biology medicine health, biosciences, BMH, Genetics, PhD, and Research

Introduction

Hello! My name is Katie Sadler, and I’m a second year PhD student in Genetics. A few years ago I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be doing a PhD, but when I got restless as a graduate I decided I needed a new challenge. My research focusses on using genetic variants to identify people at higher risk of developing a type of brain tumour, called a vestibular schwannoma (explained later!). In the future this should mean that patients receive treatment sooner and hopefully help find new drug therapies.

Graduation Day! I'm in the middle.

In Depth…

How I got here:

During high school I loved art and textiles, and took Music Technology as one of my subjects in college. I also loved my science classes... even maths! I found it really interesting when science topics overlapped. Like using maths to figure out a chemistry equation, which related to the function of a biological process so, I ended up taking Maths, Chemistry and Biology at A level. I found it challenging!

I started my Genetics degree at the University of Manchester in 2012. I had always found the topics of evolution and inheritance fascinating, and during my degree I got especially interested in human genetic disease. I went on to do a one year Master’s degree in Genomic Medicine, again at the University of Manchester in 2015.

Then I got a job as a Genetic Technologist in a hospital laboratory, a job I couldn’t have got without my degree. I thought the job was great, regularly using the knowledge and skills I’d gained at university to do laboratory work and analysis, ultimately helping to provide answers for patients. After two years in the job I wanted to further my knowledge and applied for a 3 year PhD course with the University of Manchester.

My research:

The focus of my research project is finding new genetic associations with tumours called vestibular schwannomas (a vestibular what?!). Vestibular - because these tumours grow on the vestibular nerve, one of the major nerves in the brain that is responsible for hearing and balance. Schwannoma – because these tumours develop from Schwann cells, a type of cell that surround nerves.

Vestibular schwannoma tumours often cause hearing loss and balance problems, as well as other serious complications. Surgery to remove these tumours is an option, but it can also cause hearing loss. Finding these tumours earlier and figuring out who is at a higher risk of developing them would improve treatment outcomes for patients and their families.

By identifying genetic variants that increase the risk of developing these tumours, we would be able to risk profile patients and their relatives. Giving us a better idea of how likely a tumour is going to develop, if other types of tumour might appear and if the tumour might be fast growing. Doctors can then use these risk profiles to decide how often patients should come in for check-ups and MRI scans, helping to find tumours earlier. Improving our understanding of the genetic variants that cause these tumours could also help identify new drug treatments.

I enjoy doing my PhD project as it’s pulling together different skills I have and is challenging me to gain new ones, like coding and project management - the kind of skills I can highlight to future employers!

MRI scan showing a vestibular schwannoma tumour before and after surgery.

Going Further…

If you’re interested in genetic medicine and want to find out more there are some great FREE online courses available on FutureLearn. You can do as much or as little of these as you want, it’s a great way of getting a deeper understanding - https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/whole-genome-sequencing & https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/the-genomics-era

If you’re interested in studying genetics at university, here’s a link to the University of Manchester course page, there are other universities too! - https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2020/00571/bsc-genetics/

Not necessarily genetics related, but here’s a link to a BBC radio 4 podcast ‘More or less: Behind the statistics’. They cover some very interesting current news topics and scientific articles, digging deeper into the methods and numbers behind the claims. I think they’re funny and great examples of critical analysis, a skill that will come up again and again at university! - https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nrss1/episodes/downloads

If you have a Netflix account there is a great series of mini documentaries called Explained. Episode 2 of season 1 is ‘Designer DNA’, where you get a quick overview of genetics and DNA editing. Here’s a link to the series - https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/80216752