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Belly and the Brain: Research into nerve endings and the gut

by YPU Admin on April 14, 2016, Comments. Tags: Digestion, Digestive Tract, Guts, Life Sciences, Research, and UoM

Introduction

Hi, my name is Victoria Kinsley and I am just starting my third year as a PhD student in Neurosciences here at the University of Manchester.  I finished my Masters in Immunology and Immunogenetics in 2012 and started my PhD in 2013.  My PhD involves studying the nervous system in the gut and investigating a possible link between nerves and the immune response.  Hopefully this will help us to better understand how and why diseases of the digestive system occur and why some people are more susceptible than others. 

In Depth

The gut, or gastro-intestinal tract, is responsible for taking nutrients from food, and also for making sure any bugs we inadvertently digest are recognised by our immune system and eliminated quickly.  However, we all have naturally occurring (commensal) bacteria in there too that we need to tolerate in order to be healthy.

The gut is full of nerves, so many in fact that it is known as the ‘mini-brain’.  It is controlled by these nerves along with input from the brain; however the mini brain is capable of working alone. Nerves are important to keep the gut moving and push through the contents, but it appears they may have another role as well; we know that there is a cross talk between this ‘mini-brain’ and the immune system to maintain a healthy gut environment, but this is not yet fully understood.  Some receptors and soluble factors are shared by both nerves and immune cells and these may work together to keep the gut healthy, but we don’t know yet how this impacts the progression of disease and recovery from illness.  Many people suffer from diseases and disorders of the gastro-intestinal tract and some, such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, have no known cure.  These patients seem to have slightly different gut nerves than those who are unaffected, and it may be that the nervous system in the gut plays an important role in driving the disease.  The gut is also affected in conditions such as diabetes, and changes in gut commensal bacteria have been linked with autism and depression, but further research is needed.

My research

My research aims to look at the nerves in the gut and investigate what is happening during and after infection to see if there is a long term impact on the nerve ‘maps’ that may then affect the way our guts respond to future infection or disease.  During the course of ordinary life our gastro intestinal tract works hard; we all encounter the odd bout of gut infection. Might this change our gut nerves and then affect our immune responses in the future? Might this be why some people get chronic gut disease and some people don’t? If we can understand the nervous system of the gut a little better we may get closer to being able to answer some of these important questions, and we may be able to help people suffering from gut disease.

Going further

To find out more about my research image, click here-

http://www.psrs.manchester.ac.uk/images/personalexperiences/victoriakinsley/

To find out more about studying neuroscience at the University of Manchester, have a look at this-

http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/undergraduate/courses/neurosciencebsc/

Look here if you are interested in what type of research is going on in the Faculty of Life Sciences-

http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/research/


 

Ticking Body Clocks: Research in Life Sciences

by YPU admin on February 4, 2016, Comments. Tags: biology, Body Clocks, Life Sciences, Neuroscience, Research, and UoM

Introduction

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.

In Depth

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 functions.

 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 area.


What do I research specifically?

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.

Going Further

·  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:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-27161671

·  Some excuses to start school/work later:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PSZ76rFZS0&index=11&list=PL9uTU-SI30pTlVyigGcnvDgHpDAFo4AEP

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11851311/Staff-should-start-work-at-10am-to-avoid-torture-of-sleep-deprivation.html

·  Here are links to interviews with circadian researchers at The University of Manchester

https://lsmanchesterblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/tuesday-feature-episode-17-qing-jun-meng/

https://lsmanchesterblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/tuesday-feature-episode-16-andrew-loudon/


 

Video Gaming and the Human Brain

by YPU admin on January 21, 2016, Comments. Tags: Life Sciences, Neuroscience, Research, UoM, and Video Games

Introduction

My name is Catalina Cimpoeru and I have recently graduated from The University of Manchester with a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience. My degree captivated me from the beginning, taking me from interesting facts about the human brain to how we use our senses (vision, hearing, touch) and the way medicines interact with our bodies to alleviate the pain.  During my third and final year of study we all had to carry out a project in order to complete our degrees. I based my project on something that I think is very popular at the moment, which is gaming, and what effect this has on people. More specifically, I was looking at the impact video games had on people’s motor and visual skills, which is basically the effect on our eyes and movement. I have also reviewed what role technology and games have in rehabilitation treatments regarding movement problems.


In depth

How did I decide on what to study?

When I was in high school, I knew I wanted to study Science in University, but there were a lot of courses involving science so I had to narrow it down to the things I enjoyed studying the most. I decided then that I wanted to study something biology related, which is part of the Faculty of Life Sciences. This helped me look at the different courses that different universities have to offer in this area. I chose a biological area specialising in the brain as I wanted something more specific to focus on.

Why precisely the brain?

The brain is the most complex and outstanding organ in the human body, weighting only 1.5 kg and having more than 86 billion neurons that connect and work with our body to produce all our emotions, the languages we speak, the tasks we carry out daily and so much more. The work that the students and, more importantly, that the researchers carry out is aimed at discovering how the human brain works. By discovering this, we find out what each of the parts of the brain are involved in, what causes different illnesses, to ultimately find a cure for them. The work researchers and their students conduct is very important in order to improve and prolong human life.


Why video games?

 Around seven in ten British households are active video games players, from playing games on their smartphones to computer games and PlayStation or Nintendo Wii. Does it have an impact on people that play very often? Yes. This is what my research has looked at and what I have written in my Literature Review, which is a piece of writing you submit prior to your big final year project write-up. Research showed that active video gamers have improved dexterity, finesse and speed of their hand movements. Data was recorded using Microsoft Kinect, a technological tool that records and traces your eye and hand movements whilst playing games. This tool was initially released in 2010 as a controller for Xbox 360, so for gaming purposes. Soon enough, its powerful tracing sensors were discovered and it was introduced in science and research clinical trials. It is now used in different areas of research such as computer graphics, human-machine interaction, eye-hand coordination and rehabilitation programs for motor diseases-Parkinson’s Disease, cerebral palsy. I soon found out researchers demonstrated that using exergames (a type of video games focusing on exercising) improved the patients’ hand movements and reduced shakiness. Microsoft Kinect was also used to produce different educational games for children with autism, dyslexia, ADHD in order to enhance eye-hand coordination, focal attention and short-term memory.In my degree, especially in my final year of study, I was able to choose my own topic for my project, which combined two very important topics to me: science and technology. As we are all aware of this, technology is a big part of people’s lives, both socially and academically. Technology is fast making advances in science, with continuous advances in prosthetics 3D printing and developing a needle-free kit for diabetics by using patches instead.

What about the future?

After graduation, I have been working as an intern at the University of Manchester. During my university degree I have been a very active student ambassador, which already allowed me to have a taste of the work field. I am not working in Science or in my domain at the moment (which is fine if you aren’t!) but I plan to return to health/technology in the future.  I still find it tremendously interesting and I always keep updated with the new technologies used in medicine and neuroscience. I have ‘’challenged the known and embraced the unknown’’; I wanted to try something different - which is great because my degree equipped me with a wide set of transferable skills that allows me to work in different areas!

Going further

For more information about the Life Sciences courses that The University of Manchester offers, visit: http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/undergraduate/courses/

For information about the research we carry out at the University of Manchester, visit: http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/research/

For more information about different careers path you can follow after graduating from a Life Sciences degree, visit: http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/undergraduate/careeropportunities/

For interesting facts about the brain, visit: http://www.oddee.com/item_98246.aspx

For neuroscience news, you can visit: http://neurosciencenews.com/ or http://www.bbc.com/future/tags/neuroscience

To find out more news about science, visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science

To find more news about technology you can follow: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology

For medical technology news, follow: http://www.medgadget.com/


 

Museum on the brain?

by YPU Admin on September 2, 2013, Comments. Tags: and study, careers, Life Sciences, Neuroscience, pathways, and Research

The new Thinking Careers section will explore non-academic career options pursued by PhD students. The first case study will be on Emily Robinson, who completed an undergraduate degree and a PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Manchester. Emily now works as a Secondary and Post-16 Co-ordinator for the Sciences at the Manchester Museum.


Introduction 


When I was in sixth form, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I liked both biology and geography, but wasn't sure if I wanted to spend years of my life studying either. Then one day, in a very small section of books termed 'Careers Library' in the corner of our study room, I found a book about Neuroscience – the study of the brain and the nervous system. With every page I turned, I realised that I had found what I wanted to study. My mum was shocked that evening when I announced over my spaghetti bolognese, “I'm applying for Neuroscience”. Her first reaction was to ask, “What is Neuroscience?” But as she heard me enthuse about this intriguing subject and how interesting studying the brain would be, she realised that she was going to have to trust me.


Current job

Flash forward ten years and I am now working at Manchester Museum coordinating their secondary and post-16 science programme. Therefore, I get to share my passion for science by creating engaging science workshops using Manchester Museum's stunning collection. But how did I get from Neuroscience to museum? Well, I did end up studying Neuroscience for my degree at the University of Manchester and I liked it so much I stayed and did a four year research PhD in Neuroscience.


My research

The focus of my PhD research was on trying to block the immune system's damaging reaction to brain injury. It might seem odd to try to stop our immune system – which normally protects us from dangerous injections. However, when a brain injury occurs, such as a stroke, our immune system can overreact and as the brain is such a sensitive organ, it can easily be inadvertently damaged, making the situation worse. The research group I was working with are currently trialling an anti-inflammatory treatment which will hopefully reduce the potential damage caused by a stroke if it is given within a few hours of it occurring. Alongside my lab work, I also enjoyed communicating the research to the public. Therefore, I was involved in creating a lot of family and school activities to try and get people interested in Neuroscience and to highlight the important research we were doing. So my current job is an extension of that in the wider context of science; as I get to simplify complex scientific concepts and get to show students the real life application and importance of the science you are taught in school.


Experience

Although my current job does not directly use my Neuroscience knowledge, my PhD has been invaluable and helped me to get my current job. Conducting research, no matter what subject, develops your analytical skills as well as your specific subject knowledge. So whether I mean to or not, I now think like a scientist! Along the way you also gain many useful transferable skills such as communication and project management skills. Don’t get me wrong, doing a PhD isn’t all rosy; there were tough times when things got me down and I had a few wobbles with my confidence – but the challenge was all definitely worth it. I loved being part of a large laboratory group, seeing how everyone’s separate research linked together in the hope of making a big difference to people’s lives in the future. On top of that, I have made some lifelong friends along the way. Looking back, I can't say that I had the last ten years mapped out since sixth form. I could never have guessed I would end up becoming a doctor and working in a museum. But I’m always glad I chose to study a subject that I found so interesting.


Going further...

To find out about studying Neuroscience at the University of Manchester, go to the Faculty of Life Science's webpage and the Neuroscience Research Institute.

The book which inspired my interest in Neuroscience.

For up-to-date news about Neuroscience, go to Neuroscience News.

The Guardian has excellent articles about Neuroscience.

For more ideas about what you can do with a Neuroscience degree, visit the British Neuroscience Association’s website.

To find about more about non-academic career options for PhD students, visit the Prospects website.