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Your chance to push the frontiers with the Wellcome Trust

7 Jul, 2015

Frontiers_976x150_disruptive-thinking_v2 (2)

As the Wellcome Trust grows and evolves, it is important that we take a step back to look at the bigger picture and ensure we’re heading in the right direction. This is not a journey that we are taking alone and so we are inviting you to help us decide which are the frontiers we should be pushing. Clare Matterson, Wellcome Trust Director of Strategy, explains how you can get involved in shaping our strategic direction…

The scope of our Frontiers meetings is broad and their topics can relate to any area of the Trust’s work. This can include research possibilities – such as those relating to major disease areas, health challenges or developments in basic sciences, innovative ways of supporting training and development, or how science is given context in culture and society.

The primary idea behind the meetings is to address issues where we are at the limit of our current understanding or capacity in an area, and where we need new thinking and innovative solutions to progress. They are provocative, and bring together experts from different sectors and nations to disrupt thinking and encourage fresh perspectives. At their best they are a melting pot of ideas that help catalyse new thinking and drive change in important areas.

We want your ideas!

We want your ideas!

As an organisation, we are currently looking at our strategy for the future, but we know that this is not something that we can do alone. We need the input from the community, from those on the cutting edge, people we currently fund – or perhaps should be funding in future.

This is your chance to help shape our thinking. We are inviting you to share your ideas for future topics for our Frontiers meetings. What should we be discussing, and what role you see for the Trust in contributing to these subjects?

If you have an idea for a topic, please let us know by submitting your idea on the Frontiers webpage, outlining the key questions that need to be addressed, the different sectors that could feed the discussion, and how you think that the Wellcome Trust could help to shake up thinking on the issue.

We are interested in all suggestions, and we’re keen to hear from a range of different communities, including researchers, businesses and anyone with an interest in health and science. If your idea is selected we will give you the opportunity to work with us and see it evolve. Frontiers meetings will take place two or three times a year so there will be additional opportunities to share your ideas going forward.

Grants_Holder_Thumbnail_02In terms of the bigger picture, Frontiers meetings are one way to help us identify possible new directions for us to focus on to drive change. This fits in with the work we are doing to develop our strategic thinking, and builds on last year’s refreshed funding framework. The funding refresh introduced our new Seed Awards to support researchers who want to develop original and innovative ideas, and Collaborative Awards for team research, alongside our existing schemes such as the (now simplified) Investigator Awards. These new schemes are proving to be popular and successful, with some very high quality applications, and we look forward to announcing the first awards soon.

The Wellcome Trust is always going to be strongly committed to supporting the best research in biomedical science, humanities and social sciences, and public engagement, in a flexible way that is responsive to the best ideas that emerge from our community. We look forward to hearing your input on which areas deserve further exploration in future Frontiers meetings.

Further information about our Frontiers meetings and the current topics we are thinking about can be found on the Wellcome Trust website. Contact Holly Baines via the website if you have any questions, and submit your ideas here.

Researcher Spotlight: Dr Lolitika Mandal

6 Jul, 2015

6th june pic 1Dr Lolitika Mandal is an assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Mohali, India. She has an Intermediate Fellowship from the WellcomeDBT Indian Alliance and uses fruit flies as a model for understanding the development of blood cells.

What are you working on?
My team is interested in understanding development of blood cells (haematopoiesis) using the fruit fly (Drosophila) as a model system. Work in the last decade has established Drosophila as the best invertebrate model to study blood cell development.

Exploiting the strength of fly genetics, and the fact that there is a high degree of similarity in blood development between Drosophila and vertebrates, we strongly believe that our work will have far-reaching implications and we are poised to unravel the molecular signals required for specification and maintenance of blood cell development in flies.

What does your average day involve?
After I have sent my two daughters off to school, I start my day interacting with PhD students and undergraduate students. This daily interaction is limited to briefing about the previous day experimental results and chalking out troubleshooting if any required. We meet once a week for detailed discussion and brainstorming on their individual projects.

Since our Institute conducts BSc-MSc integrated course, we are also involved in teaching, so almost everyday I invest an hour and half in taking class or preparing them.

Why is your work important?
We believe that our work is of immense importance and has the potential to shed light to numerous aspects of blood cell development – in both normal as well aberrant situations.

Studying blood cell development in Drosophila has not only enriched our understanding of basic cell fate decisions, but also has far-reaching implications that spill into stem-cell biology, immunity and cell migration.

6th june pic 3

The larval haemopoeitic organ in Drosophila. Haemocyte progenitors indicated in red.

What do you hope the impact of your work will be?
Blood cell development in Drosophila has been shown to have similarities to that of vertebrates. Haemocytes arise from distinct waves during the development of the fruit fly and share many important signalling molecules necessary for their formation and differentiation with vertebrates. Their characterisation can thus help us elucidate basic mechanisms of blood cell development in vertebrates.

Very recently we have been able to identify the active sites of blood cell formation and specification in adult flies. These active haematopoietic sites/hubs are capable of responding to bacterial challenges. Our work has also revealed that these active hubs harbour bi-potent and biased progenitors, and differentiated haemocytes, embedded in a functional network of Laminin A and Pericardin, that is similar to vertebrate bone marrow.

Given the fact that the vertebrate bone marrow is not easily accessible, we believe that our finding will establish Drosophila adult haematopoiesis as a simpler, yet genetically testable, model to separate out normal and aberrant blood cell development. This will help us to answer questions related to blood stem cells, haemocyte migration, immunity, wound healing, and senescence.

How did you come to be working on this topic/in this field?
During my postdoctoral studies at UCLA, I was lucky to have two fantastic scientists, Professor Volker Hartenstein and Professor Utpal Banerjee as my mentors. Working with them was an absolute pleasure and a great learning experience.

How has Wellcome funding helped you/your research/your career?
WellcomeDBT Indian Alliance has been a boon to researchers like me. In July 2009 I joined the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Mohali, which was then in its infancy. Having been motivated to return to India and set up my team and independent laboratory I feel very blessed to have received the Intermediate Fellowship within a year of my return.

With the Intermediate fellowship and Institutional support, I was able to build up a fully equipped and functional laboratory from scratch. Apart from the visibility that it endows on the recipients, the flexible financial support is an added advantage to new researchers like me.

Drosophila melanogaster  Credit: Audio Visual, LSHTM. Wellcome Images

Drosophila melanogaster
Credit: Audio Visual, LSHTM. Wellcome Images

What’s the most frequently asked question about your work?
Do fruit flies have blood – and is it red in colour?

Which question about your work do you most dread – and why?
I do not dread any question related to my work. Rather, I feel elated that my research has stimulated people enough that they have invested time in framing a question.

Tell us something about you that might surprise us…
Whenever I am sad, I eat ice cream – irrespective of the seasons! I also love watching Tom and Jerry with my kids whenever I get a chance.

What keeps you awake at night?
Somehow solutions to problems I encounter in the experiments strike me at night. With the ticking of the clock and silence all around, I am able to sense a lifeline to the hurdles that obstruct my progress.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
When I was a doctoral student, the first years were bogged down with lots of failure, in spite of my endless effort. Once, while talking to my dad, I got the best piece of advice and now I always share it with my students.

A PhD is almost like running a marathon. Along with physical fitness you also require mental strength.

You can only complete it if you know how to set small milestones and rejoice on their completion. More importantly, running the first half slower than the second half is the key to running a smart and enjoyable marathon – and the same is true of a PhD. That is something that I also realised later.

The chain-reaction question, set by our previous spot-lit researcher, Dr Rosemary Green, is this: What other research area are you most envious of and why?
I am so happy with my field that I do not feel envious of any!

You can find out more about Dr Lolitika Mandal and her work by reading her papers: Active Hematopoietic Hubs in Drosophila Adults Generate Hemocytes and Contribute to Immune Response and Interaction between differentiating cell-and niche-derived signals in hematopoietic progenitor maintenance.

Image of the Week: Fruit fly nervous system

3 Jul, 2015

Fruit-fly nervous system

Are you a scientist, photographer or artist? Submit your images now for the 2016 Wellcome Image Awards and they could reach a global audience. The winning images will go on display at science centres and public galleries around the world. Also introducing the new Julie Dorrington Award for outstanding clinical photography named in honour of one of the founding members of our clinical collection. We are looking for high quality imagery that relates to biomedical science and contemporary healthcare, and are interested in all artistic media and imaging techniques, from hand-drawn illustrations to super-resolution microscopy and functional MRI scans. Any images we receive before 9th September 2015 will be considered for the 2016 Awards. For more information see our website or email Sabrina Taner.

To inspire you, this week’s image focuses on one of our 2015 Award winners. Is it science? Is it art? Or is it both? Reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock painting, it is in fact part of the central nervous system in a fruit fly. To capture this image, thin, sequential slices of tissue from a fruit fly larva were first imaged by transmission electron microscopy (serial section TEM) and then reconstructed to make a digital 3D model. In this model, different structures were digitally traced or outlined and then colour-coded to form a map of the neural circuits in the area.

An organism’s nervous system controls everything it does, from breathing and moving to thinking and feeling. Instructions to perform these tasks are carried by cells called neurones. A neurone able to sense vibrations (yellow) is surrounded here by lots of other neurones, each depicted as a single line. Messages enter (blue circles) and exit (red circles) neurones at points of contact called synapses. Other features of interest (orange circles), such as mitochondria, are also marked, which together reveal just how complex connections in the nervous system can be.

This image was taken by Albert Cardona, a group leader at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia, USA. Albert’s group studies neural circuit structure and function using electrophysiology, genetics and behaviour.

New for the Wellcome Image Awards in 2016 is the launch of the Julie Dorrington Award for outstanding clinical photography named in honour of one of the founding members of our clinical collection. With this award we not only honour Julie’s contribution to Wellcome but also to the clinical photography profession and the service that it provides to medicine and medical education.

Image credit: Albert Cardona, HHMI Janelia Research Campus/Wellcome Images

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. All our images are available in digital form so please click the link above if you would like to use the picture that features in this post, or to quickly find related ones. Many are free to use non-commercially under the terms of a Creative Commons licence and full details of the specific licence for each image are provided.

Who are you? Recognising researchers with ORCID identifiers

30 Jun, 2015

pipes

Strategic insights can only be as strong as the evidence they’re built upon, and evidence about researchers and their activities can be surprisingly hard to come by. Jonathon Kram of the Evaluation Team at Wellcome explains the importance of infrastructure and the reasoning behind Wellcome’s new mandate for Open Researcher and Contributor iDs. This article was originally published on the ORCID blog.

We at Wellcome are happy to announce that we’re about to start mandating ORCID as part of our grant application process. Starting in August 2015, we will ask all applicants to provide an ORCID iD when they sign up with our grant application system – creating one takes just 30 seconds at orcid.org and, if you haven’t seen an ORCID iD before, the best introduction is to check out an example.

The simplicity of a single profile, however, belies its true power: as plumbing. By allocating and centralising the identities of researchers, systems which previously could not exchange flows of data now can. By moving from full names to unique identifiers (referring to Dr Craig Roberts as 0000-0002-9641-6101, rather than “C. Roberts”) different interested parties can start reliably talking about the same people, which is a vital first step toward any deeper understanding of researchers, artists, and their activities.

B0003198 Genetic fingerprinting - print + sequence Credit: J. Pendjiky & D. Becker. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Genetic fingerprinting - close-up of a human finger showing the pattern of whorls and ridges making up the fingerprint. DNA sequence has been overlaid to follow the unique pattern of the individual's fingerprint. Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 4.0, see http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/page/Prices.html

Nearly 1.5 million researchers across the globe have in some way recognised this value and created ORCID iD and an increasing number of publishers, funders, HEIs and researcher information platforms are now requesting the inclusion of an ORCID iD in their workflows. Speaking at the ORCID-CASRAI meeting in Barcelona this May, ORCID board member and Executive Editor and Head of Researcher Services at Nature Publishing Group, Veronique Kiermer summed up the state of affairs pithily:

“It was amazing to see the evolution of the concept of ORCID from the outreach meetings we held only a couple of years ago. It’s no longer about if ORCID is integrated but when.”

Getting these identifiers built into our research and researcher information platforms is one of the first steps on the road to improving the quality of information we have on our grantholders, and reducing the time taken and administrative burden required in applying for a grant.  It will also help keep us in touch with what is happening during the lifetime of the grant and potentially beyond.

This latter burden is especially important for the researchers and artists we fund who receive funding from multiple sources. We in the Evaluation Team at Wellcome Trust aren’t the only ones seeking insights about the activities we fund.  Everyone is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of rich and complex information on the outputs and impacts of funding, so everyone is asking similar questions of their grantholders: what have you produced?; how openly accessible is the work you’ve published?; what shape is your career trajectory taking, and how have we changed that?

B0000545 Comparitive DNA profiles of 14 people

We hope that by encouraging the use of an ORCID iD at many touchpoints across the research information infrastructure and by pre-populating our systems with data via the registry, researchers need only verify their information, instead of re-entering it in yet another (slightly different to the last) web form. We also recognise the potential for ORCID to help researchers get the credit they deserve for activities which don’t result in a publication output, such as peer review, which are currently difficult to quantify and acknowledge.

The capacity for widespread ORCID uptake to transform how we evaluate impacts and efficiently handle data is making the benefits of adoption clearer to system administrators and researchers alike. Currently, if we wish to gain insights about researchers, we have to commit to resource-intense efforts to even get a hold of the requisite data, encountering barriers as soon as any of our data collection systems try to talk to one another about individuals. The ability to uniquely identify contributors is a deceptively simple concept which, if realised, could enable forms of real-time understanding of scientific research that up to now have been extremely costly (if not impossible).

These potential benefits have already been recognized by over 50 UK universities who have expressed an interest in joining the newly formed UK national consortium arrangement, organized by Jisc, seeking to contribute to and take advantage of the increasingly rich narratives accessible via the ORCID registry.

You can find out more about ORCID by reading previous blog articles: Distinguishing researchers with an ORCID and Improvements to the ORCID Researcher Identification System.

Image credits: (from top to bottom) Pipes by Chris Bentley via Flickr CC-BY-NC-ND; J. Pendjiky & D. Becker, Wellcome Images; Sue Moberly, Wellcome Images

Wellcome Trust Research Round-up 29.06.15

29 Jun, 2015

Our fortnightly round-up of news from the Wellcome Trust Community

Expanding our DNA’s alphabet

B0009740 DNA double helix, illustration Credit: Maurizio De Angelis. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Illustration of the DNA double helix structure first discovered by Watson and Crick in 1953. Three DNA fragments are depicted here. The sugar-phosphate backbone is visible on complementary nucleotide strands with paired bases represented as rungs on a ladder. Digital artwork/Computer graphic 2014 Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 4.0, see http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/page/Prices.html

Our DNA’s alphabet may be more extensive than previously thought according to Wellcome Trust-funded research published in Nature Chemical Biology.

Researchers have found that a rare DNA base, that was previously thought to be just a temporary modification, is stable in living mouse tissue. This rare base, called 5-formyclcytosine (5fC), has currently unknown function. However, scientists believe that due to its position in the genome, it is likely to play a role in regulating the activity of our genes.

The order of the four known DNA bases (A, T, C and G) determines our genetic makeup, but scientists have also identified small modifications to these chemical structures. These epigenetic changes can alter how the DNA is ‘read’ and therefore whether certain genes are switched ‘on’ or ‘off’.

5fC is a modified version of the cytosine (C) base.. The addition of oxygen to methylated DNA by TET enzymes was thought to be a transitional state; however, researchers found very small amounts of it in all tissues, showing that it can exist in a stable form.

“If 5fC is present in the DNA of all tissues, it is probably there for a reason,” said Professor Shankar Balasubramanian from the University of Cambridge, who led the research. “It had been thought this modification was solely a short-lived intermediate, but the fact that we’ve demonstrated it can be stable in living tissue shows that it could regulate gene expression and potentially signal other events in cells.”

Rapid diagnostic hopes for drug-resistant Tuberculosis  

B0006594 Scientist loading enzyme beads into DNA sequencing plateA new diagnostic test will enable doctors to rapidly identify which drugs can and cannot be used to effectively treat patients with drug-resistance tuberculosis (TB), according to research published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Multi-drug-resistant strains of TB (MDR-TB) affect nearly half a million people globally and treatment is currently a long-term regime of second-line drugs. One of the biggest problems associated with MDR-TB is the lack of rapid diagnostic tools which would allow faster treatment with the right drugs?, decreasing infectiousness.

Although doctors have been carrying out genetic tests on small sections of TB DNA for the last 20 years, they still have to confirm their results using time-consuming laboratory tests. The new technique sequences the entire TB genome allowing doctors to identify any mutations that may cause drug resistance.

The most effective drugs can then be selected, and any drugs that the strain is resistant to will be ruled out.

The new results from the largest study of its kind involving over 3,600 samples from the UK, Germany and further afield from Sierra Leone, South Africa and Uzbekistan. Researchers now hope to develop the test into an affordable, handheld device which would be especially useful in developing countries where TB rates are highest.

Lead investigator Professor Tim Peto, a consultant in infectious diseases at the Churchill and John Radcliffe Hospital said:  “This is the beginning of the end for routine laboratory culture for TB drug resistance. We are moving from 130 years of culturing TB to a new digital era in microbiology. It is particularly exciting for low-income settings where the lack of laboratories currently leads to under diagnosis of drug resistance.”

Can cancer drug slow down time?

B0007386 Fruit flyWellcome Trust-funded researchers have found a way to potentially slow the ageing process in fruit flies using a cancer treatment drug.

Trametinib, originally developed for the treatment of skin cancer in humans, was shown to increase the lifespan of adult fruit flies to 12% longer than average. Adding the equivalent of a daily adult dose for a human to the food of female fruit flies increased their life span by 8%, with the 12% increase recorded in flies given a much higher dose of the drug.

Researchers also tested the effects of giving the drug to flies much later in their life, to examine how the drug could work if given to the elderly. Older flies given the higher dose still exhibited an increased lifespan of 4%, suggesting that the earlier the drug is given, the greater effect it has on slowing the ageing process.

Trametinib works by targeting the Ras-Erk-ETS signalling pathway in cells, which is already identified as a key target for cancer therapies. Defects within this pathway can lead to the uncontrollable cell growth exhibited in cancer patients, but it has also been shown to be involved in the ageing process.

First author, Dr Nazif Alic from the UCL Institute of Healthy Ageing, said: “Our aim is to understand the mechanisms of ageing and alter the processes that lead to loss of function and to disease. We studied this molecular pathway in flies because they are reasonably complex and yet age more quickly than mammals. We were able to extend their lifespan both genetically and by using a cancer drug to target the Ras pathway, which provides us with the first evidence for the anti-ageing potential of drugs developed to dampen this pathway.”

This study is published in Cell. A video explaining the research can be viewed here.

Understanding Klebsiella pnuemoniae

KlebsiellaResearchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have sequenced the genomes of the largest collection of Klebsiella pnuemoniae bacteria, with samples taken from around the world.

The data set has also given scientists an insight into the impact of antibiotics on the bacterial population and it’s rapidly emerging resistance to certain antibiotics. K. pneumonia can cause serious health complications, such as meningitis and pneumonia. The bacterium is also one of the leading causes of bloodstream infections in children in lower income countries.

The 300 samples were taken from plants, cattle and humans from across the globe with the aim of increasing researchers’ understanding of how the bacterium may evolve and how resistance could spread between lineages.

Most samples that contained drug resistant genes were taken from people who were already being treated for a hospital-acquired infection and from people who showed no symptoms of being ill. These strains are less likely to infect a healthy person, but researchers are still concerned that drug-resistant genes may appear in more virulent strains of the bacterium.

“For too long with Klebsiella, we have focussed on single lineages,” says Professor Nick Thomson from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. “We will now be able to recognise emerging lineages from a huge cloud of Klebsiella diversity, helping us to follow and tackle drug resistance in this increasingly dangerous pathogen.”

This research is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Other Wellcome Trust research news

A new study using data from the Wellcome Trust-funded UK Biobank has found that the timing of puberty in both men and women is associated with 48 health conditions later in life. Of the half a million samples tested, those in the earliest or latest 20% to go through puberty were at a higher risk of diseases including psoriasis, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis and depression. The study is published in Scientific Reports.

Newborn babies’ visual attention to objects and later behavioural patterns, including hyperactivity, could be linked according to a new study published in Scientific Reports. Through observations of babies’ looking patterns in their first days of life, scientists found that spending longer looking at an individual object or stimulus was associated with less behavioural problems in middle childhood.

Rat (2)Researchers from UCL have discovered that a sleeping rat’s brain will simulate a journey to a point in the future – perhaps a place where food can be found. By monitoring brain activity, researchers could see that the rats replayed a journey in their sleep using specialised brain cells in the hippocampus that are involved in navigation. Published in eLife, the study may help to explain why people who have damaged their hippocampus are unable to imagine the future.

Image credits: (from top to bottom) Maurizio De Angelis, Wellcome Images; Wellcome Library, London;  Anne Weston, LRI, CRUK, Wellcome Images; Klebsiella pneumonia Bacterium by NIAID via Flickr CC-BY; Rat graphic © Deepmind Ltd

Image of the Week: Pneumococcal vaccines in Kenya

26 Jun, 2015

 

This week, our image of the week comes from work experience student Tallulah Tacchi and features a video from the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Centre and Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, on the impact of the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV-10) in Kilifi, Kenya.

Around the world, Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children under five, accounting for approximately 15% of deaths. In 2000, it was estimated that more than 16,000 Kenyans, mostly children, died from Pneumococcal infections.

In January 2011, following recommendations by the World Health Organisation and Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, Kenya’s health ministry added PCV-10 to the country’s infant vaccine regime. Described as a ‘10-valent’ vaccine, it targets the 10 strains of pneumococcal bacteria that cause the serious, and often fatal, invasive pneumococcal disease (IPD). Newborns now receive PCV-10 in three doses, at six, 10 and 14 weeks.

As pneumococcal bacteria are carried in the nose of both healthy and sick people, the team looked at how prevalent the bacteria are in the population as an indicator of its carriage. Within six months of the vaccine being introduced, they saw a two-thirds reduction in the prevalence of strains targeted by the vaccine across the whole population.

The best indicator of the vaccine’s impact in the population comes from looking at invasive pneumococcal disease, a serious disease where the bacteria spread from the lungs to the blood. Before the introduction of PCV-10, the hospital in Kilifi saw roughly 40-50 cases of IPD a year. Since the vaccine, doctors have seen only one case in two years, and are pleased to say they believe they are at a point where the disease is under control.

Policy makers, experts and other stakeholders in Kenya and the East African Region gathered in Nairobi this week to hear the latest results from the on-going Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine Impact Study (PCVIS) and to discuss the policy issues arising.

For more information on the PCV-10 vaccine impact study please visit the KEMRI website.

Video credit: Couresy of Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance via YouTube

Researcher Spotlight: Dr Rosemary Green

22 Jun, 2015

RosemaryThis week the spotlight shines on Dr Rosemary Green from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. A lecturer in Nutrition and Sustainability, her work is focused around the health and environmental impacts of a world with 9 billion people and how we will manage to feed everyone. Despite spending her days looking at one of the biggest questions facing humanity, she talks to us about how she still manages to find time to play music and appear in Downtown Abbey…..

 

What are you working on?

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Meat and dairy have huge environmental impacts

My specialism is in the area of healthy and sustainable diets, so I try and look for ways in which the foods people eat can be beneficial to their health and ideally not damage the planet at the same time. Much of this involves looking at consumption of meat and dairy, which is not an easy problem to solve: these foods are a good source of protein which is needed for many people in developing countries, but at the same time they can have detrimental health effects and are also responsible for a huge share of our carbon footprint. At the moment I’m looking at the health and environmental impacts of diets in India and Thailand for two Wellcome Trust projects, which will hopefully help us to understand how people are currently eating in these countries and what could be changed in future.

What does your average day involve?

It depends what stage of a project I’m working on, but at the moment I’m at the stage I consider the most fun! This involves putting together a dataset for analysis (this could be based on data collected at my university or it could be a larger publicly available data source) and then constructing models to answer my research questions. At the moment I’m trying to model the different dietary patterns people in India fall into, so I’m busy cleaning the data and checking for inaccuracies. I also teach MSc Epidemiology students and supervise a couple of PhD students, so I’ll usually spend time talking to them about their research projects.

Rosemary's research looks at the health and environmental impacts of diets in Thailand and India

Rosemary’s research looks at the health and environmental impacts of diets in Thailand and India

Why is your work important?

With the world’s population likely to reach at least 9 billion by 2050, there’s an urgent need not only to make sure that we can feed all those people, but also do so without destroying the planet. Most work on food and nutrition until now has treated the health and environmental issues as if they were separate, so I’m happy to be part of some work that’s trying to find combined solutions.

 

Researchers meeting at the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health

Researchers meeting at the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health

What do you hope the impact of your work will be?

The nice thing about researching impacts on health and the environment is that sometimes there are win-win solutions that work for both. For example, my previous research found that just switching to a healthy diet could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food in the UK by 17%. I’d like to identify tasty and healthy diets that people all around the world could eat knowing that they weren’t harming the environment, and then I’d like to work on convincing people that changing their diet is a good idea!

 

How did you come to be working on this topic/in this field?

I originally trained as a musician, so I’m not using many of those skills at the moment (although the ability to count definitely helps in my current job). However, I then did a Masters in research methods and realized that I had a passion for data and problem solving, which led me to a PhD in Epidemiology. My PhD focused on the diets of people in the Channel Islands during World War II, and I became fascinated with the health impacts of diets. The environmental aspect to my work is more recent as it’s a newly emerging area, but I can’t wait to develop my ideas further.

How has Wellcome funding helped you/your research/your career?

The Wellcome Trust have taken a leap that many funders weren’t prepared to and funded combined projects looking at both the environment and health. This has helped me immeasurably, and has also led me to collaborations with people working in other disciplines like environmental science and economics. I’m now at the point where I’m looking to build my own research team, and this would have been much more difficult without the support of the Trust.

What’s the most frequently asked question about your work? Apart from “epidemiology – is that something to do with skin?”, it’s usually along the lines of a new superfood that people have heard about. I usually respond that if it’s fresh and plant-based it’s going to do you some good, but no food is a miracle-worker.

Which question about your work do you most dread – and why?

“Are we all going to have to be vegan?” People don’t like the idea of being told what to eat, and we have to be very aware of this in our research. It’s a challenge to try and find ways to engage people so that they can make positive changes but also still feel in control of what they’re eating.

5673042848_a56bcba78c_zTell us something about you that might surprise us…

I actually like people just as much as data! I think people imagine that scientists and researchers are locked away in a lab all the time, but I like my work because it has relevance to people’s lives. I hate to sit behind a computer all the time, and in my spare time I still play music and have even appeared in Downton Abbey!

What keeps you awake at night?

Suddenly thinking of a new way to analyse my data that I couldn’t manage to come up with all day at work, or (more frustratingly) suddenly realising that I need to start again doing something slightly differently…

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Everyone needs to know when to ask for help, no matter how competent they seem.

The chain-reaction question, posted by previous spotlightee Dr Teela Sanders is this: What advice would you give to a student starting out on their PhD?

Don’t worry if you feel like you don’t know anything yet, by the end of 3 years you will know more about your particular subject than anyone in the world. And for that reason, pick something you’re REALLY interested in…

If you’d like to read more about Dr Rosemary Green’s research, the following paper may be of interest: Health effects of adopting low greenhouse gas emission diets
in the UK 

 To find out more about what the Wellcome Trust is doing on Sustaining Health visit our website

Image credits: (from top to bottom) Provided by author; Dairy Cows by CAFNR via Flickr CC-BY-NC; Terrace paddy field by James J8246 via Flickr CC-BY; Provided by author; Highclere Castle (Downtown Abbey) by Richard Munckton via Flickr CC-BY

Image of the Week: The Earth’s orbit around the Sun

19 Jun, 2015

V0025017 Astronomy: a diagram of the Earth's orbit around the Sun in

Our Image of the Week is a coloured engraving depicting the Earth’s orbit around the Sun in a solar year.

This Sunday marks the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, the longest day of the year and the traditional beginning of the summer season.  For hundreds of years, this key astronomical event has been a time of celebration and was also used as a marking point, a date around which calendars were organized.

The summer solstice occurs when the earth is tilted on its axis at an angle that is most inclined towards the Sun. In the far north, this is a time of continuous daylight that ranges from a few days to six months depending on how close to the north pole you are.

Drawn and engraved by John Emslie in 1851, this image shows the summer and winter solstices as well as the spring and autumn equinoxes. Equinoxes are the days where the sun crosses the earth’s equator, making day and night time approximately equal in length.

Around the edges are the twelve signs of the zodiac, which represent twelve 30 degree sectors of the sun’s celestial path. Originating in Babylonian astrology, these signs are today mostly associated with horoscopes which represent the specific position of the sun at the time of a person’s birth. Western astronomy measures and divides the sky from the solstice and equinox points, meaning that the zodiac signs don’t in fact line up with their similarly-named constellations.

Image credit: Astronomy: a diagram of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun in a solar year. Coloured engraving by J. Emslie, 1851, Wellcome Library, London

MERS-CoV: Dispatches from Korea

19 Jun, 2015

MERS1

The spread of Middle Eastern Respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) highlights the urgent need to improve how we prepare for and tackle emerging infectious diseases. The current outbreak in Korea is the largest outside of the Middle East, with 166 cases confirmed and 24 deaths. Helen Jamison, Head of Media Relations at the Trust travelled to Seoul for the World Conference of Science Journalists at just the time the city became the focus of a global public health alert. She shares her thoughts from the conference…

It was particularly prescient that South Korean president Park Geun-Hye opened the 2015 World Conference of Science Journalists by remarking how important the media are to informing the public during times of challenge, given that the country is currently experiencing the biggest outbreak of MERS outside of the Arabian Peninsula. Her comments came as the Korean Ministry of Health continued to confirm new cases and fatalities in what has been a rapidly developing situation.

MERS2Hot on the heels of the Ebola epidemic that has devastated and continues to impact West Africa, this latest infectious disease outbreak underlines yet again how crucial it is that the world is prepared for the emerging health threats it faces.

For Seoul, which is only a matter of weeks into the outbreak, there have already been lessons that could have been learned sooner. The initial opportunity to contain the outbreak efficiently was missed, with reports from science journalists and Korean health experts in Seoul suggesting the first case was not identified or isolated anywhere near quickly enough.

Simple but effective infection control measures – from history taking of potentially affected patients, to ensuring that healthcare workers consistently employ simple procedures like hand-washing – were not enforced. More efficient diagnostics and data sharing at the outset may also have helped prevent the outbreak get as far as it has. But the reality is that even in highly developed healthcare settings in rich countries, infectious disease outbreaks like this are incredibly difficult to prevent or contain once they get established.

“Defending against infectious diseases is a wicked problem. It is in the nature of germs that spill over from animals, or evolve greater virulence, or drug resistance, that they pose great uncertainty. But while we cannot know which disease will threaten next, we know a lot about which ones pose the greatest danger and how to prepare.”

Jeremy Farrar on tackling infectious disease

Fear and misinformation amongst the public also led to panic, resulting in the widespread use of facemasks and temporary shutting of many schools, despite the risk of spread in the community actually being very low. The importance of timely and accurate communication in times of crisis, including in the media, was indeed a recurrent theme of the journalism conference in Seoul.

So far, evidence suggests this particular coronavirus may not be as virulent or transmissible as its distant cousin SARS, which caused over 8000 cases and almost 800 deaths twelve years ago, and the WHO has said that MERS is not a global public health emergency.

The virus does not yet appear to have changed in a way that would enable sustained human to human transmission. Infections are largely restricted to over-crowded emergency rooms in hospitals and close contact, mostly in older patients and those who already have underlying health problems. Fatality rates in otherwise healthy younger people, such as most healthcare workers, may be as low as 5%.

MERS3

Beyond the initial spread, South Korea has made significant strides towards bringing the outbreak under control, through detailed contact tracing, quarantine and improved data sharing. The number of cases looks like it may be peaking if it has not already done so. Trials have also now launched in hospitals for an experimental treatment using blood plasma from recovered patients.

This does not mean there is not concern. There are still many unknowns about this virus and whether it may develop to become more easily transmissible. New cases in other countries suggest that similar outbreaks may easily spring up elsewhere (there are just today reports of a patient in Thailand) and the events in South Korea are a stark warning for what might happen if this were to occur in countries with much more fragile and over-stretched health systems. With major gaps in our understanding of this infection and no vaccines or proven treatments three years on from the emergence of this novel respiratory infection, there remain huge amounts of work to be done.

Global collaboration, including partnerships across governments, industry, NGOs, academia and funders like the Trust, is essential to tackling these challenges. Proposals at the recent G7 meeting in Germany, to establish a global task force of infectious disease experts and reform the WHO to give it the resources and flexibility it needs to coordinate emergency responses, are also critical. The world must act now, and do so together, so we are better prepared to face such threats in future.

 

Q&A – MERS CoV

What is MERS?

Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a viral disease that causes acute respiratory illness in infected patients. Symptoms can include fever, cough and shortness of breath, with gastrointestinal symptoms also being reported.

When was it first discovered?

MERS was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012, with health officials determining that the first case was in Jordan in April 2012.  Since then all cases have in some way been linked back to the Arabian Peninsula. 25 countries have reported cases.

Why has it emerged now? And where from?17053986812_6ce031c9a2_z

The exact source of the virus is not entirely clear, although it is thought that it is transmitted to humans through contact with infected dromedary camels (it is zoonotic). Other animals have been tested to try to locate other reservoirs of the virus (which may, for example, be in bats), but currently only camels have been found to be infected with a strain of the virus similar to that found in humans.

How does it spread between humans?

The virus can pass between humans – but researchers have found that it doesn’t appear to do this unless there is close contact with an infected person. Human to human transmission has occurred between patients and healthcare workers and within families, but currently it is not easily spread without this close contact.

For more information and FAQs about MERS-CoV please visit the World Health Organisation website.

Image credits: Provided by author; MERS-CoV Investigation by CDC Global via Flickr CC-BY

Wellcome Trust Research Round-up 15.06.15

15 Jun, 2015

Our fortnightly round-up of news from the Wellcome Trust Community

Green light for quit-smoking drug?

L0042090 A doctor with a stethoscope rejecting the offer of a Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A doctor with a stethoscope rejecting the offer of a cigarette. Anti-smoking campaigne. 195u By: namePublished: [195-] Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Researchers have found that there is no strong evidence that a drug commonly used to treat nicotine addiction can lead to an increase in suicidal behaviour, criminal offending or traffic incidents.

In a study published in the BMJ, Wellcome Trust-funded researchers analysed data from over 69,000 people in Sweden who were prescribed the drug varenicline. Despite being widely offered for people who are quitting smoking, there had previously been reports that the drug may be linked with psychoses, violence and depression.

Those working in transport jobs, including pilots and train drivers, are restricted from taking the drug as it was thought to be associated with an increase in traffic accidents.

The researchers performed detailed analysis of individuals taking the drug, adjusting for various risk factors already present in their lives. This was then compared with national registers, where they found no significant increase in the dangerous behaviours mentioned above.

In patients who had a pre-existing history of psychiatric disorders a small increase in the risk of anxiety conditions was seen, but this must be confirmed with further studies.

Parenting styles may cross generations

N0029146 Three generations - grandmother, mother and baby

A new Wellcome Trust-funded study has found that mothers and fathers are more likely to copy their own mothers’ parenting style than that of their father.

Nearly 300 parents were recruited from maternity wards in Oxford and Milton Keynes and were directly observed interacting with their two year old children at home. Researchers then asked the parents about their own experiences as a child and their perceptions of the quality of parenting given to them.

The study suggests that the parents who reported having affectionate mothers exhibited more positive styles of parenting with their own children, with parents reporting controlling mothers showing more negative behaviours. In contrast, no association was found between the parent-child interactions observed and their experience of their fathers’ behaviour.

Only a few studies have ever used direct observation of parent’s behaviour to investigate to the extent to which styles and quality of parenting is transmitted through generations.

Study author Dr Paul Ramchandani, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, said: “Parenting plays a fundamental role in children’s development, affecting health, social and educational outcomes in later life, so it’s of utmost importance to society that we have a greater understanding of the complex issue of parenting behaviour.”

This research is published in the European Journal of Public Health.

Unemployment being targeted with ‘psychological coercion’

8125991446_041f1c865d_zUnemployment is being rebranded as a ‘psychological disorder’ according to new analysis published by researchers at Hubbub, the residents of the Wellcome Trust Hub.

The team of interdisciplinary researchers investigated written accounts of those who had experienced the Government’s workfare scheme and found that many highlighted coercive interventions that promoted a positive psychological outlook. Emails encouraging ‘change of attitude’ exercises and ‘positive thinking’ were described as relentless, humiliating and meaningless.

These interventions are being used to try to get unemployed people back into work and failure to undertake these can cause claimants to lose their benefits. Many interventions now include coaching, motivational workshops and psychological approaches to encourage characteristics such as optimism and confidence.

The research, published in a special edition of BMJ Medical Humanities – Critical Medical Humanities, also claims that over-simplified terms such as ‘lack of motivation’ and ‘psychological resistance to work’ are being used to decide what type of workfare regime benefit claimants should have to undertake.

Lynne Friedli, co-author of the paper and researcher with Hubbub said: “Claimants’ ‘attitude to work’ is becoming a basis for deciding who is entitled to social security – it is no longer what you must do to get a job, but how you have to think and feel…By repackaging unemployment as a psychological problem, attention is diverted from the realities of the UK job market and any subsequent insecurities and inequalities it produces.”

Other Wellcome Trust research news

The youngest children in the academic year are educationally disadvantaged and have poorer academic progress, find a new Wellcome Trust-funded study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. The research suggests that the youngest children may not be ready to meet the demands of the classroom and often exhibit immature language and poor behaviour skills.

In other news…

Recipients of the first round of funding for the new Seed Awards funding scheme have just been announced. The scheme offers small, one-off grants to researchers in Science, Medical Humanities and Society & Ethics and is aimed especially at those at the start of their research careers. With the awards focusing on encouraging original and innovative ideas, the funded projects cover a huge range of subjects from drug targets in sepsis to healthcare in a digital world.

National humanities research festival ‘Being Human’ has announced 41 winners of their funding competition. Each winner will receive a small grant of up to £5,000 to engage the public with humanities research at a festival that will run across the UK in November.  Supported by the Wellcome Trust, funded projects include bus shop poetry, a zombie walk and a video game that will rebuild the architecture of Hull.

Image credits: (from top to bottom) Wellcome Library, London; Libby Welch, Wellcome Images; Unemployment by Tax Credits via Flickr CC-BY

Space takes centre stage for our Biggest Picture yet

10 Jun, 2015

Big Picture is the Wellcome Trust’s free educational magazine exploring cutting edge science. It aims to place science in its cultural and historical context, as well as connecting research with social and ethical challenges. Calum Wiggins, a writer for Big Picture, gives us an insight into some of the exciting topics featured in the latest edition which is published today…

The Wellcome Trust’s work spans a broad range of areas, but rarely has the Trust’s reach stretched beyond planet Earth. But with the new Big Picture issue on Space Biology, maybe the Trust should expand its ambition beyond being a global charitable foundation… and go interplanetary!

The Tarantula Nebula.  Credit: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr CC-BY-NC

The Tarantula Nebula.
Credit: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center/Flickr CC-BY-NC

On second thought – that may not be needed. As Issue 22 of the Trust’s free educational magazine highlights, you’d be surprised how much space science impacts health on Earth. For example:

  • The MiniMed insulin pump. Credit: NASA Technical Reports

    The MiniMed insulin pump. Credit: NASA Technical Reports

    Technology designed for the Viking lander to sniff out life on the surface of Mars in the 1970s was later adapted and used in an insulin pump for people with diabetes.

  • The huntingtin protein is the cause of Huntington’s disease, a hereditary condition for which there is currently no cure. Scientists aiming to use X-ray crystallography to map out the protein’s structure have so far been unable to synthesise its crystalline form because it is so fragile. In 2014, an experiment was sent to the International Space Station with the aim of synthesizing the huntingtin crystal in the microgravity of space.
  • Astronomers from the University of Cambridge applied their technique for spotting galaxies in pictures taken by telescopes to detecting changes in a stained tumour sample. The technique detected the changes more quickly than doctors and matched them for accuracy.
Microscope image of a nervous system tumour alongside an image of stars in the sky. Credit: Left: CNRI/Science Photo Library; right: Rogelio Bernal Andreo (DeepSkyColors.com)

Microscope image of a nervous system tumour alongside an image of stars in the sky. Credit: Left: CNRI/Science Photo Library; right: Rogelio Bernal Andreo (DeepSkyColors.com)

Other highlights from the issue include:

Big Picture isn’t just for teachers and students, you can read all of the articles and access resources from the Space Biology issue on the Big Picture website.

You can also order a copy for yourself or multiple copies for your organisation, all adorned with the wonderful water bear (which in 2007 became the first living organism to survive to vacuum of outer space without protection).

Big Picture: Space Biology

Big Picture: Space Biology

You can also sign up to receive Big Picure updates here.

Bill Castell: reflections on a career in bioscience and the future of UK innovation

9 Jun, 2015

Bill CastellEarlier this year, Wellcome Trust Chairman Sir William Castell received the BioIndustry Association’s (BIA’s) Lifetime Achievement Award, recognising his outstanding contribution to the life sciences sector. To further commemorate and celebrate this, Bill delivered the BIA’s Annual Lecture last week. Louise Wren, a Policy Adviser at the Wellcome Trust, reflects on the lecture and a growing push to transform the UK’s innovation ecosystem.

Last week, a crowd spanning industry and academia gathered at the Wellcome Trust to hear William (Bill) Castell’s 2015 BIA Annual Lecture. Bill was perfectly placed to deliver this. He’s done much to support the UK bioscience, as have the BIA, a trade association representing Britain’s biotech sector with a membership ranging from university spin outs to multinational pharma companies.

Bill spoke about the UK’s research excellence. He said he felt lucky to work in healthcare because, if you’re successful, you can “improve the lot of humankind”. He reflected on his career spent pursuing technology platforms, noting the importance of learning from mistakes and having fun along the way. And while there is much to take pride in — including Britain’s world-class science, skills development in institutes and clusters, better commissioning across the NHS, and a growing respect for the UK’s capabilities — there are a number of barriers we must address. These include access to long-term capital, developing infrastructure to support our leading science clusters, and ensuring that university Technology Transfer Offices don’t put too much focus on generating royalties.

Some of these issues are also reflected in a Trust-commissioned analysis of the UK’s innovation ecosystem, carried out last year as part of an internal review of our intellectual property policy. In late 2014, we published a briefing which gave an overview of the findings and outlined four blocks to the effective commercialisation of life sciences research. In line with Bill’s views, these range from an academic culture that doesn’t facilitate translation, Technology Transfer Offices that fail to meet the needs of both industry and academia, a lack of funding and support for concept testing, and insufficient long-term investment to underpin commercialisation.

Over the last few months, we’ve discussed and debated our review with a wide-range of stakeholders from different sectors. While the issues it describes are not new, it’s clear that there is a real desire to address them once and for all, and make the UK one of the best places in the world to deliver ‘bench to bedside’ biomedical research. We were particularly interested in the BIA’s vision for the UK life sciences sector in 2025, published in April 2015. Although it focuses on unlocking the potential of the biotech industry, its 10 recommendations have strong synergies with our own and it charts a course that could cement this country as a world-leading biomedical cluster.

Over the coming months, we’ll be working with partners, including the BIA, to identify how we might work together to unlock barriers to translation. Yesterday, Professor Stephen Caddick joined the Trust as our new Director of Innovations and will further galvanize this. We’re also very pleased to be supporting the Office for Life Sciences’ Accelerated Access Review which aims to tackle a complex piece of the puzzle: opening up the NHS to innovative medicines and technologies.

With a collaborative push, we’re hopeful that we can challenge the widely-held belief that the UK only excels at basic science and not commercialisation, and ultimately make sure that people benefit from research discoveries as quickly as possible.

For more information about the Wellcome Trust-commissioned report on the UK’s innovation ecosystem visit our policy pages.

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