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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/

 

What about the plants?! A merging of history and science

by YPU Admin on July 5, 2019, Comments. Tags: Bioscience, botany, history, HTSM, medicine, science, and technology

Introduction

My name is Jemma and I am a second year PhD student in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (HSTM).  I took a somewhat roundabout route to this subject area. After finishing my A-Levels, I didn’t really know what I wanted to study at university. I enjoyed both Biology and Chemistry so ended up applying for Biochemistry at the University of Manchester in 2012. With a number of the bioscience degrees at Manchester, there is the option to do them as a 4-year undergraduate rather than the standard 3 – with the additional year being spent working in industry. By the time my placement year came around I realised that, whilst I found the theory and topics fascinating, I hated lab-based research. As a result, I chose to spend a year working at the Manchester Museum’s herbarium – the botany department of the Museum. My project with them centred on a 19th century medical collection called the Materia Medica, which contains plants, animal and mineral products that used to be employed in the teaching of pharmacy at Owens College (later this became the University of Manchester). I became obsessed! I changed my degree for my final year to Biology with Science and Society, which is basically a Biology degree with HSTM modules, and did my final year dissertation on the domestic use of opium (the plant extract which morphine comes from) by women in the 19th century. HSTM has been a great way to combine my love of history and science.

After my undergraduate degree, I received a 1+3 studentship to do my Masters and PhD in HSTM at Manchester. My Masters dissertation returned to the Materia Medica collection as I compared pharmacy education in Manchester and London in the 19th century. In 2018 I started my PhD, looking at the place medicinal plants had in 20th century pharmacy.

In Depth…

Pharmaceuticals drugs today are often presented as being created intentionally – often synthetically by chemical processes – and somehow separate from traditional medicinal knowledge. However, many drugs still have a basis in herbal medicine. So how did this perception come about? Why do we view modern drugs as being divorced from traditional knowledge practices? My research therefore focuses on medicinal plants, specifically within the context of conventional pharmacy, during the 20th century. It examines how plants were used as well as perceived following the rise of synthetic pharmaceutical drugs to present a more complicated history of drugs than a simple forward progression from traditional herbal knowledge of the 19th century to modern, synthetically produced drugs of the late 20th.

I really enjoy my research, but I don’t spend all my time just doing the PhD. I am a strong supporter of academics not just doing research but also engaging people with their work. I therefore split my time between doing my PhD and other activities (though with the emphasis on my PhD of course). Along with being a Widening Participation Fellow, I am a Heritage Guide for the University and still volunteer at the Manchester Museum’s Herbarium. At the Museum, I often get involved with their events as well as designing activities myself (such as an activity on medicinal plants used by the Romans - https://blogs.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/pharmacy/2018/11/02/manchester-science-festival-2/). I am also a big fan of interdisciplinary collaboration, having worked with members of the pharmacy department as well as artists on public engagement activities. My current project is setting up a podcast series, called In Pursuit Of Plants, dedicated to sharing cross-disciplinary research on medicinal plants – from history to biophysics – with the public. Along with other PhD students, I even co-organise conferences to promote interdisciplinary connections amongst Masters and PhD students at the University of Manchester. Whilst it is important to balance these so they don’t detract from my research, doing things beyond the PhD is very rewarding and a great way to get others excited about the topic.

Going Further…

Links to the In Pursuit of Plants podcast series and website can be found via our twitter page: @IPOP_Podcast

History of Science, Technology and Medicine is such a diverse field, to find out more about the types of research conducted in our PhD group check out our website: https://chstmphdblog.wordpress.com/people/

For a look at some of the public engagement I have done, you can read this blog post (plus see the final video!) of a collaborative project with a creative from Reform Radio: https://chstmphdblog.wordpress.com/2018/10/12/mixlab-2018-a-public-engagement-experiement/

You can also follow me on twitter for more on my research (plus lots of photos from the Manchester Museum): https://twitter.com/PlantHistorian

For more on the Biology with Science and Society with Industrial/Professional Experience see: http://www.chstm.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/

 

From practising policy to a Politics PhD

Introduction

My name is Dayo and I am a second year PhD student at the University studying Politics. I am researching how underrepresented members of the public in policy making (in the case of my research, Black and Minority Ethnic young adults aged 18 – 25) are included in the process of policy making. I also work as a teaching assistant for politics related courses in undergraduate and Master’s level courses.

In Depth…

My route into PhD has been an interesting journey rather than a direct path. It has been a process of re-inventing myself and following my passion. My undergraduate degree was in Economics which I realised quite early on was not for me so I did not particularly excel in this degree. After a year out working, I figured out what my next steps would be so I did Master’s degrees in Human Resource Management and Management Psychology. I did well in these courses. Doing a PhD was something I had previously considered as it was suggested by my academic adviser during one of my Master’s degrees but I did not pursue it.

On graduating, I worked for about seven years in the private and not-for-profit sectors in Learning and Organisational Development. The knowledge and soft skills I gained at university meant that I was able to progress in my career by successfully utilising these skills.

Whilst I had no academic knowledge of policy making, I began to get interested in policy making as one of my jobs gave me exposure to this field. I then started to notice the lack of diverse representation in decision making bodies of public policy. There were ‘hidden’ and ‘silent’ groups of people who were not getting involved in decision-making.

I wanted to know why this was the case and also find solutions that would increase representation in policy making so that their experiences of issues could be taken into account when policy is being made.

Transitioning from being a practitioner to being back in university has been great; it has given me the opportunity to have the headspace to read and articulate the issues I am concerned about. I am doing lots of reading! What is also great and a highlight of my degree is that my fieldwork - working with real people in the real world - provides the opportunity to design an approach based on academic theories and study whether it works or not.

Skills gained from the practitioner work, in particular project management skills (time and resource management as well as organisational), are helping me progress with my PhD.

Through my journey, I have hopefully shown that a route to doing a PhD in Politics does not have to be typical. I have also shown that political parties and elections is just one component of a Politics degree.

So if you want to be the change, a degree in Politics could be for you!

Going Further…

If you are interested in finding out more about politics, here are some links you may find useful.

Politics degrees in Manchester: https://www.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/politics/study/courses/

Career options as a Politics graduate: https://www.socialsciences.manchester.ac.uk/politics/study/careers-and-employability/

Information about how Government works: http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/

Information on the UK Parliament: http://www.parliament.uk/

How research impacts on Policy: http://www.policy.manchester.ac.uk/blogs/

 

Can birdsong save endangered species?

Introduction

My name is Rebecca and I am a 2nd year PhD student in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. I have been interested in animals and the natural world since I was very young, so chose to study Natural Sciences, specialising in Zoology, at undergraduate level. Following this, I was selected for an animal husbandry internship at Chester Zoo, which cemented my desire to work with animals in zoological collections. I focused on this in more detail whilst completing my MSc Wild Animal Biology, examining multiple aspects of conservation and animal husbandry.

My research focuses on how birdsong can influence conservation. Birdsong exhibits clear population differences known as dialects, which are similar to accents in humans. These dialects can form very rapidly, especially in small, ex situ populations. They also play an important role in mate choice, with females preferring local over foreign dialects. Conservation interventions often bring birds from different populations together, so dialect differences could impact mate choice. This could cause many problems, the most serious being that birds may not integrate and breed in their new population. 

Automated recording unit

In depth

Many songbirds are threatened with extinction. Unfortunately, critically endangered species are often hard to access and have low sample sizes, meaning this kind of research is not possible. To avoid this, I work with a model species, the Java Sparrow (Lonchura oryzivora), which is numerous in zoos and aviculture but threatened in its home range. Once studied in the model, we can expand our techniques to more critically endangered birds.

Recording birds

Recording birds can be surprisingly challenging! Environments are full of noise, whether natural (like water and wind) or man-made (like traffic or electrical appliances), which also show up on our recordings. Lots of different equipment is available for different situations. Recordings in controlled conditions can make use of sensitive directional microphones. However, recordings outdoors require sturdy automatic recording units (ARUs), which can be left for long periods in all weather.

Analysing songs

Although we may be able to hear differences between the songs of different birds, it can be difficult to understand and explain how songs are different through listening alone.  We can visualise songs as a spectrogram, which allows us to analyse songs much more accurately.

Generally, we are interested in two main parts of song: spectrotemporal and structural features.

Spectrotemporal features include information about the timing of the song, for example its duration and the intervals between notes, and spectral details, such as minimum and maximum frequency.

Structural features relate to the notes themselves - their shape, how they are grouped together.

Once we have extracted these features for songs from multiple birds, we can compare them to see how similar their songs are.  If bird songs are more similar within than between populations, it is good evidence that dialects exist in the species.

Going further

Find out more about songbird conservation with Chester Zoo’s Sing for Songbirds (https://www.actforwildlife.org.uk/what-we-fight-for/conservation-challenges/our-campaigns/sing-for-songbirds) and EAZA’s Silent Forest (https://www.silentforest.eu) campaigns

The Macaulay Library (https://www.macaulaylibrary.org) is a great birdsong resource with recordings from thousands of species.

My links

Chester Zoo profile link:

https://www.chesterzoo.org/conservation-and-science/work-with-us/conservation-scholars/rebecca-lewis

DTP Profile:

https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/studentships-earth-atmosphere-ocean/our-students/2017-2018/rebeccalewis/

 

Selfish species: game theory and the ecosystem

Introduction

I am studying for a PhD in Statistical Physics and Complex Systems at The University of Manchester. My research studies a system of many interacting species where the population of one species can facilitate or hinder the growth of another species. This relationship is determined by a specific interaction coefficient between the species. The interaction coefficients for the relationship between every pair of species are drawn randomly from a two-dimensional Gaussian distribution, and we use the parameters of this distribution to predict how the ecosystem behaves. We can then simulate these interacting species using a computer programme to check our predictions.


In Depth…

I studied Mathematics and Physics for my undergraduate degree at The University of Manchester. I chose this degree because I enjoy understanding how the world works, and appreciate how bizarre and counter-intuitive our reality is. I had a fascination for quantum mechanics and relativity, higher dimensions, and sub-atomic particles. I really enjoyed learning about these concepts as well as being introduced to many other fascinating ideas. I enjoyed the lecture style of teaching but I also developed my ability for independent learning, I became really good at managing my own time, and absorbing information at my own pace from reading textbooks and lecture notes. The most useful skill I learned during my degree was how to computer programme, I learned how use Matlab, C++, and Python, and I learned how to write codes for simulations, data analysis, solving complicated equations, and optimization algorithms. I decided to do a PhD after my undergraduate degree because I really enjoy self-study and programming, and I am further developing these skills with new challenges every day.

I became interested in population dynamics after reading "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins, where he described behavioural evolution using ideas from Game Theory. He described how an animal’s behaviour, and the behaviours of the other animals it interacts with, would determine how successful the animal would be at surviving and passing on it genes. These successful behavioural strategies would dictate how the behaviour of the population as a whole would change over time, and evolve to an Evolutionary Stable Strategy which could be understood as stable Nash equilibria. During my degree I took the opportunity to study Game Theory further by writing my second year vacation essay on the topic. I researched many areas of Game Theory and went through a short online course. I discovered how it can be applied to statistical physics, in the Ising model for ferromagnets, and really enjoyed learning about how ideas from quantum mechanics could produce Quantum Game Theory, where a player could play multiple strategies at the same time. In my fourth year I undertook a project with my current PhD supervisor on a population of individuals who had the choice of two behavioural strategies to interact with. The population evolved by the number of individuals playing the more successful strategy increasing, but this model also considered the effect of time delay, such as a gestation period in nature. I really enjoyed my project with my supervisor and through this I continued onto a PhD with him.

Going Further…

Here is a link to my supervisor’s webpage, if you are interested in my research you could look at his publications:

https://www.theory.physics.manchester.ac.uk/~galla/

Here are links to the undergraduate Mathematics and Physics courses webpages:

http://www.maths.manchester.ac.uk/

https://www.physics.manchester.ac.uk/

If you are interested in game theory, here is a brief course:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZKErrvVMaY&list=PL76B0EB6DDFC42D02

If you are interested in “The Selfish Gene” here is a brief summary of the book, chapter 12 discusses game theory:

http://old.unipr.it/arpa/defi/econlaw/SELFISH%20GENE.pdf

and the full text can be downloaded here:

https://www.zuj.edu.jo/download/the-selfish-gene-r-dawkins-1976-ww-pdf/