It’s organ music like you’ve never heard before – and not a church organ in sight! It’s Body of Songs – an album of new music based on interpretations of different organs of the body, produced as part of a Wellcome Trust funded project.
Bringing together talented musicians and clinicians to create a remarkable collection of songs, the Body of Songs album comprises ten new songs each inspired by a different organ of the body.
From Goldie’s brain-inspired ‘Electrical Abyss’ to Bat for Lashes’s ‘Skin Song’ the album takes you on a tour of the body through sound, science, emotion, and personal history.
The artists spent time with medical specialists and scientists, gaining insights from operating theatres, labs and patients as well as exploring their chosen organs through exhibitions and museum collections. Mixing these experiences with their personal feelings about organs in the body, they created a range of tracks to express how we understand our bodily systems.
Launching today, Body of Songs features tracks from Goldie, Ghostpoet, Bat For Lashes, Mara Carlyle & Max De Wardener, Afrikan Boy, Dave Okumu, Scruffizer, Sam Lee & Llywelyn ap Myrddyn, Raf (2 Bears) and Andreya Triana.
The project has also brought in animation artists to create original films for some of the Body Of Songs tracks. You can see the first of these films, by Ben Wheele, on the Appendix with more to appear over the next few weeks.
Wellcome Collection was transformed into a sparkling party venue this evening to host the announcement of the 2015 Wellcome Trust Screenwriting Fellowship, in partnership with BFI and Film4. The Wellcome Trust’s Director of Culture and Society, Simon Chaplin announced our new Screenwriting Fellow. Natalie Hodgson was at the event…
Ending months of speculation, British writer and director Carol Morley has been awarded the prestigious 2015 Wellcome Trust Screenwriting Fellowship, in partnership with BFI and Film4. The announcement was made tonight at an award party at Wellcome Collection attended by a host of people from the worlds of film and science.
Now in its third year, the Screenwriting Fellowship is celebrated as a major annual award designed to nurture enquiring minds and unique voices, bringing the worlds of film and science closer together. Fellows receive an award of £30,000 together with a tailored experience including unparalleled access to some of the most exciting scientific and humanities research in the world.
Carol is best known for her films exploring the human condition, including The Falling, about a fictional fainting epidemic at a girls school in 1969, and Dreams of a Life, a semi-documentary uncovering the life of 38 year old Joyce Carol Vincent, who died in her flat and was only discovered three years later.
Receiving the award at the ceremony Carol Morley said: “I am at my most stimulated when I am doing in-depth research – so for me the Fellowship is a dream come true. As well as continuing my interest in aberrations of human behaviour that stem from the mind or the brain, I am looking forward to exploring new areas and stepping into the unknown; this Fellowship will have a significant and lasting impact on the way I see the world and on my future films.”
In November 2013, the inaugural Fellowship was awarded to Clio Barnard in recognition of the inimitable way she explores the human condition, and in November 2014 Jonathan Glazer, a writer and director of real vision, appetite and curiosity, became the second Fellow.
Reflecting on his year, 2014 fellow Jonathan Glazer said: “Wellcome is so alive, it’s like a big brain. The fellowship has exposed me to a diversity of brilliant people. Scientists, doctors, historians, curators, researchers and archivists whose knowledge has helped transform my understanding of the film ideas I’m developing. It’s been an honour to have had such a unique opportunity. I’m very thankful for it.”
As part of her Fellowship Carol will also have the option to take-up some, or all, of the following:
- Access and introductions to leaders in the fields of science and medical history
- Behind-the-scenes access to Henry Wellcome’s library, archive and collection of curios
- Visits to research institutions and programmes which carry out work in areas such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis and mental health conditions
- A personal MRI brain scan and genome analysis for insight into neuroscience and genetics
- Direct access to contemporary science research trials
- Access to a new interdisciplinary space to work alongside scientists, scholars and creative practitioners – The Hub at Wellcome Collection
Crucially, and unusually for the industry, the Fellow is not required to produce anything at the end of the year; the intention is to allow time and space to explore without the constraints of a specific project. In doing this, it is hoped the Fellowship’s influence will be profound and long-lived, inspiring films for years to come.
The Wellcome Trust Screenwriting Fellowship is part of a range of initiatives the Wellcome Trust runs to support writers, directors and producers in exploring biomedical science and its impact on our lives.
The windows of Wellcome Trust HQ on Euston Road in London have long been used to exhibit works of art around the themes of science and discovery. ‘Tools of the Trade’ is the latest installation, created by artist Stuart Haygarth, who enjoys elevating the commonplace or discarded object into realms of the exquisite. In Tools of the Trade, Haygarth has transformed a selection of commonly-used plastic and glass laboratory equipment into vivid light installations. We took a closer look…
“My work revolves around everyday objects, collected in large quantities, categorised and presented in such a way that they are given new meaning” says Haygarth. “It is about banal and overlooked objects gaining new significance”.
Stacking over 2,500 petri dishes, Haygarth produced this wonderful light installation. A far cry from agar jelly and bacterial cultures in the lab.
“I was immediately drawn to the diversity of glass laboratory apparatus collected by Henry Wellcome during a visit I made to Wellcome Collection” says Haygarth. Who has created six eye-catching sculptures, which can currently be seen in the windows of the Wellcome Trust building on Euston Road.
The cylindrical glass vials are lined up regimentally to create an Art Deco styled chandelier.
“The items were chosen purely for their aesthetic quality, the form or shape taking prominence over their use” says Haygarth.
“Many of the glassware items have a rounded sensual shape created from crisp borosilicate glass, which hang or sit on clear acrylic shelving”.
Arranged according to the items’ profiles and shape these shelves reference the pristine and practical atmosphere of the science laboratory.
“These beautifully crafted objects are at the core of any scientific experiment and essential for testing any chemical idea where substances require distillation, filtration, separation or simply pouring.”
“When placed together and repeated, these items take on a new form, which imitates a molecular structure or organism” says Haygarth.
“The plastic items such as pipettes, petri dishes and powder funnels are assembled in large quantities and in a modular way” he explains.
The acute vertical lines of the pipettes (used to hold and dispense liquids) suggest rods of rain water seen against a faint sun or moon.
While even the simple funnel takes on a new form of symmetrical beauty…
These imagined structures propose new perspectives on these functional scientific objects.
You can see the full set of six sculptures in all their glory, in the windows of the Wellcome Trust, so come and take a closer look for yourself.
Our fortnightly round-up of news from the Wellcome Trust community…
Kicking back cognitive ageing
Stronger leg muscles are associated with a slower rate of ageing of the brain, new research published in Gerontology suggests. The Wellcome Trust-funded study is the first to show a link between the power of leg muscles and cognitive change in a healthy population.
Over a ten-year period, scientists studied 324 healthy female twins, measuring different health and lifestyle predictors. Results showed that those with stronger leg muscles at the start of the study had fewer brain changes associated with ageing over the decade. Researchers controlled for genetic factors that could affect changes in cognitive function.
While the study’s findings are encouraging, further research needs to be done to better understand the relationships between muscle fitness and brain changes, including cause-and-effect of one on the other.
Dr Claire Steves, lead author and Senior Lecturer in Twin Research at King’s College London said: ‘Everyone wants to know how best to keep their brain fit as they age. Identical twins are a useful comparison, as they share many factors, such as genetics and early life, which we can’t change in adulthood.
‘It’s compelling to see such differences in cognition and brain structure in identical twins, who had different leg power ten years before. It suggests that simple lifestyle changes to boost our physical activity may help to keep us both mentally and physically healthy.’
Sex on the brain
People who show compulsive sexual behaviour are more driven to find new sexual images than those who don’t, according to a new study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.
Wellcome Trust-funded researchers observed the behaviour of male sex addicts and ‘healthy’ volunteers undertaking a series of tasks. The findings revealed that sex addicts were more likely to choose new sexual images over familiar ones.
This builds on previous work, also from the University of Cambridge, where scientists identified three brain regions that were more active in sex addicts than in ‘healthy’ volunteers. These regions (the ventral striatum, dorsal anterior cingulate and amygdala) also happened to be active in drug addicts when they were shown drug stimuli.
In this study, sex addicts experienced a greater decrease of brain activity compared to healthy volunteers when they were exposed to the same sexual images repeatedly. This is known as ‘habituation’, where the addict finds the stimulus less and less rewarding the more they are exposed to it. To avoid habituation, sex addicts must search for new images.
Dr Valerie Voon from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge explains, “We can all relate in some way to searching for novel stimuli online – it could be flitting from one news website to another, or jumping from Facebook to Amazon to YouTube and on. For people who show compulsive sexual behaviour, though, this becomes a pattern of behaviour beyond their control, focused on pornographic images.
“Our findings are particularly relevant in the context of online pornography. It’s not clear what triggers sex addiction in the first place and it is likely that some people are more pre-disposed to the addiction than others, but the seemingly endless supply of novel sexual images available helps feed their addiction, making it more and more difficult to escape.”
Apathy linked to brain structure
Apathy is often viewed as an outlook or attitude, but research published in Cerebral Cortex reveals that biology might be to blame.
Scientists funded by the Wellcome Trust studied a group of young people to identify any differences between the brains of those who were motivated compared to those who were apathetic.
Forty volunteers answered a questionnaire and researchers used this to score their level of motivation. The participants then played a game where they were offered a reward in return of some physical effort. Participants decided whether to undertake the task based on whether the award was worth the effort.
Unsurprisingly, apathetic participants chose not to take part in the game if the task required a lot of effort. However, when they did choose to partake, their brains had a much higher level of activity in the pre-motor cortex compared to more motivated participants.
Dr Raliza Stoyanova, Senior Portfolio Developer in the Neuroscience and Mental Health team at the Wellcome Trust, said: ‘Lack of motivation to act towards achieving even simple goals, for example taking medication, is a feature of some brain disorders but also varies naturally within the population.
“It’s well known that some people are more motivated to achieve the same goals than others, but interestingly, very little is known about the biological basis of such apathy. This study provides important new insights, showing us that the brain systems involved in motivation and preparing for action are important components.”
In other news…
Congratulations to Lidia Vasilieva for being awarded the 2016 Women in Cell Biology Early Career Award Medal by the British Society for Cell Biology.
The Wellcome Trust has joined over 120 patient, research and medical organisations in an open letter published in The Times that asks the European institutions to find a balance in the Data Protection Regulation that enables life-saving research to continue, while keeping individuals’ data safe. You can help us get this important message across by signing the Data Saves Lives petition.
The Wellcome Trust’s director Dr Jeremy Farrar has written an article for The Telegraph on how the junior doctors’ contract threatens research and medical progress. Since the piece was published, over 80 academic doctors have signed a letter in support of it.
The Harvard-LSHTM Independent Panel on the Global Response to Ebola has published a report today in The Lancet, including a comment from Dr Jeremy Farrar.
Individuals’ health data is vital resource for health research and researchers have used this data for decades to understand more about the factors underpinning health and disease. The EU is reaching the final stages of negotiations on a new data protection law that will control how researchers use individuals’ data and we’ve been working hard to ensure that amendments that would have a damaging impact on research are not included in the final text. That’s why we’ve joined over 120 patient, research and medical organisations in an open letter published in The Times that asks the European institutions to find a balance in the Data Protection Regulation that enables life-saving research to continue, while keeping individuals’ data safe. Beth Thompson from the Wellcome Trust’s Policy team explains why this issue is so important to us and what you can do to help…
The Trust recognises the vital contribution that personal data has made to improving health in the past. To continue to see these benefits in the future, it’s important that we facilitate research with personal data while ensuring that individuals’ data is kept safe and used appropriately. We’ve been working on the Data Protection Regulation since 2012 to make sure that it achieves strikes this balance.
The initial draft Regulation proposed by the Commission set out a proportionate mechanism for protecting privacy, while enabling health and scientific research to continue under certain safeguards. However, since 2013 we’ve been very concerned about amendments adopted by the European Parliament that would upset this balance and have a devastating impact on research involving personal data if they were implemented. MEPs have recently reassured us that their amendments were not intended to have such a negative impact.
Now, the EU is in the final stages of negotiations and it’s crucial that these positive words are turned into real action.
We know the European Parliament, the Council of Ministers (which represents the Member States) and the European Commission all support research as a way to improve the lives of European citizens. We’ve signed this letter to ask the institutions to build on their shared interest to find a compromise that will continue to support genuine scientific research conducted under robust safeguards, like our current legislation. We also want to make sure that the Regulation is clear and does not leave doubt about how the text should be interpreted.
The outcome is far from certain and further action is needed to secure a positive result for research. The European institutions will be developing their solution over the next few weeks. You can help us get this important message across to them. Join 5,000 others by signing our petition to show that you want the new data protection law to allow researchers to continue to use individuals’ data safely and securely in health research.
Here’s the full text of letter:
Some of Europe’s most important medical discoveries, such as establishing the link between smoking and cancer, would not have been possible without using personal data. Countless lives have been saved and our growing understanding continues to improve health.
Disproportionate limits on the use of personal data in health research have been proposed to the EU Data Protection Regulation that would threaten crucial studies across Europe. It’s critical these restrictions are not included in the final version of the law.
Protecting privacy is vital. Strong safeguards and governance structures already exist to help ensure that personal information is used safely, ethically and securely in research.
We urge the European institutions to ensure that the Regulation works with these safeguards to strike an appropriate balance that protects the interests of individuals while enabling research that benefits us all.
Dr Jeremy Farrar
Director, Wellcome Trust
Dr Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive
Cancer Research UK
Dr Wendy Yared, Director
Association of European Cancer Leagues
President Anders Overgaard Bjarklev
Chairman of the Danish Rectors’ Conference – Universities Denmark
Prof Peter Strohschneider
President of the German Research Foundation (DFG)
Professor Martin McKee CBE FMedSci
President, European Public Health Association (EUPHA)
Professor Françoise Meunier
European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC)
Professor Gilles Vassal
President of SIOPE, European Society for Paediatric Oncology
Dr Katrín Fjeldsted
President of the Standing Committee of European Doctors/Comité Permanent des Médecins Européens
Professor Jane Elliott
CEO, Economic and Social Research Council, UK
This week is the first ever global Antibiotic Awareness Week, which aims to increase understanding of how bacteria are evolving to beat our best drugs and what we can do about it. The Wellcome Trust recently commissioned research which showed that the problem of drug resistant infections has not been well communicated. In this post, Clare Ryan, a Senior Media Officer at the Wellcome Trust, takes a closer look at seven common bacteria which are becoming harder to treat with the antibiotics doctors have available.
Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB)
A lot of people still associate TB with industrial revolution era Britain, but the disease has been on the rise in the UK over the past 10 years. TB ought to be treatable by prescribing a course of drugs including the once potent antibiotics isoniazid and rifampicin, but bacteria have developed resistance to these medicines. This has led to the emergence of multi-drug-resistant TB and the even less treatable extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB) of which there are still thankfully few cases in the UK.
Neisseria gonorrhoeae (gonorrhoea)
People are often reluctant to talk about this sexually transmitted infection, but recent outbreaks of the infection in the north of England have raised its profile. Although gonorrhoea was once treatable with penicillin and other antibiotics, the bacterium that cause this disease have developed such high levels of resistance that there is only one drug left that can treat it. Worryingly, even this last antibiotic, called ceftriaxone, is becoming less effective.
Perhaps less well-known than some of the others on this list, Klebsiella pneumoniae was recently highlighted in a WHO report into global antibiotic resistance as being increasingly common in hospitals. The bacteria can cause a wide range of conditions including pneumonia, urinary tract infections, septicaemia, meningitis and diarrhoea. It fits into a wider group of bacteria with the apt acronym of ESKAPE owing to their ability to avoid the effects of the drugs used against them.
Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
Probably the most famous hospital-acquired infection or ‘superbug’, MRSA is so-called because of its resistance to the antibiotic methicillin (hence Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureas). The bacteria are often carried on the skin or in the nose and throat and commonly lead to mild skin infections such as boils and impetigo. However, if the skin is broken MRSA can cause very serious blood poisoning. Thankfully, MRSA infection is decreasing in the UK because of better control methods and awareness by patients and hospital staff.
This bacterium, sometimes also known as ‘Group A streptococcus’, is responsible for a range of infections, but is commonly associated with sore throats (hence ‘strep throat’) and tonsillitis. Up to now, we have not seen this bacterium regularly developing resistance. To keep it this way, doctors don’t usually prescribe antibiotics for sore throats (even those that may be caused by bacteria), unless the infection is particularly severe or you are at risk of a more serious infection, as they should generally clear up of their own accord.
This bacterium, commonly known as ‘C. diff’, leads to infection of the digestive system resulting in diarrhoea, a high temperature and painful stomach cramps. Between 2004 and 2006 there was an outbreak of new strains of highly resistant forms of this bacterium, which quickly spread throughout the UK, US, Canada and Europe. The new strains are totally resistant to the antibiotic fluoroquinolone and reports suggest that resistance is also beginning to develop to alternative antibiotics.
Again, Pseudomonas probably won’t be a bacterium that many people are familiar with, but it’s one of the most common causes of pneumonia in hospitals, especially in patients with weakened immune systems and those on breathing machines. It’s a particular worry for medical staff as it is very resilient and therefore has an ‘inbuilt’ resistance to antibiotics. In the US, it’s estimated that there are 51,000 hospital Pseudomonas infections each year and more than 6,000 (13%) of those are multidrug-resistant.
So what can be done?
Antibiotic resistance is a problem we can all help to reduce. Good hand hygiene when visiting people in hospital helps. Only taking antibiotics when prescribed by a doctor, and listening to the advice of your GP about whether antibiotics are needed or not, are both very important. In addition, doctors themselves should only be prescribing these medicines when patients truly need them.
These may be small things, but if we all do them it will have an impact and maybe prevent a future where treatable diseases once again become potential killers.
It’s also worth remembering that although this campaign is about better use of antibiotics, other microbes including parasites, viruses and fungi also evolve to evade our best treatments. Modern medicine is often something we take for granted, but it’s important to consider that many drugs are not infallible and it’s up to all of us to make them last as long as possible.
If you would like to read more about drug-resistant infections and what you can do to help, you might like to think about signing up to become an Antibiotic Guardian, following the progress of the Longitude Prize to develop better diagnostics for bacteria, or simply reading the World Health Organisation’s Antibiotic Awareness website.
Tackling drug resistant infections is also one of the Wellcome Trust’s new priorities, which you can read about in our strategic approach. So watch out for more on this topic from us!
Louise Powell is doing an MA in Medieval and Renaissance Literary Studies with a focus on the way twins are represented 17th century literature. She recently got a Wellcome Trust bursary for postgraduate/early-career researchers, which enabled her to present this work at the ‘Dissecting the Page: Medical Paratext’ conference in Glasgow, and we wanted to find out more…
What are you working on?
Although my background is in literature, I’m most fascinated by how the medical works of the 17th century represented twins. My work is looking at these to see what we can learn from them about the way twins were understood back then.
At the moment I’m examining the illustrations of twins in two 17th-century midwifery books, James Guillemeau’s Childbirth or, the Happie Deliuerie of Women (1612) and Thomas Chamberlayne’s The Compleat Midwives Practice (1656).
I’m thinking about what the illustrations imply about twins, compared to what the texts say and I’m particularly interested in the quality of touch. Though the twins in the illustrations constantly touch, they never do in the texts unless they’re conjoined.
What does your average day involve?
It depends where I am in my research. In the early stage, when I’m looking for seventeenth-century midwifery books, I’ll scour the database Early English Books Online (EEBO), which contains digital facsimiles of thousands of printed texts from that time.
I’ll find the midwifery books, check their contents to see whether they contain any chapters on twins, and then if they do, I’ll make a note of them. Once I have a list of works, I return to them in detail. I read what the chapters have to say about twins, then examine their illustrations, considering where they’re located, what their purpose is, and any particular details they represent. I’ll make a note of all of these, ready for when I eventually write them up.
Why is your work important?
I particularly like what Dr Will Viney of Durham University, who is producing a monograph on twins, said to me once: ‘research into twins justifies itself.’ There are over 9,000 sets of twins born in the UK each year, and the percentage of twins born is rising.
You might not be a twin, but the chances are that you know someone who is, or you’ve read about or watched twin characters. They’re a very big part of our existence and culture.
What do you hope the impact of your work will be?
I hope that it will offer a point of reference for the way in which we understand twins now. When we see people who act or look alike, we might jokingly call them ‘twins’ even though they’re not related – so twin-ship here is being used as shorthand for similar characteristics. Then there are other ideas associated with twins – the notion that each can sense when the other is ill, for example.
I hope to go back to the seventeenth century and see if those ideas were circulating then, or if there were different associations – and if there were, what were they?
How did you come to be working on this topic/in this field?
It’s largely thanks to Dr Amritesh Singh, now of the University of South Africa, who taught my second-year ‘Renaissance Literature’ module at Teesside University.
Dr Singh asked my cohort to consider how important it was that the Duchess and Ferdinand of John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi (1614), were twins. I went away thinking that it would be easy to find out how twins were understood during the Renaissance – and was proved completely wrong!
I searched every database I knew of, paced up and down the library, and read as many articles as I could – but I could find no answer to this. I was very frustrated until I realised that I could potentially answer that question by researching it myself – and then I was excited. I still am!
I spoke to Dr Singh about twins at this time and he suggested that midwifery books would be a good place to start. I took it from there.
How has Wellcome funding helped you/your research/your career?
I received a bursary of £150 which allowed me to present at the ‘Dissecting the Page: Medical Paratexts’ conference at the University of Glasgow. Without that funding, I would never have presented there, or be writing on this blog!
Receiving that funding has also helped me to broaden the scope of my intended doctoral research. I’ve always known that I was most interested by the medical ideas surrounding twins during the Renaissance, but I didn’t realise that this was a topic in itself until I started researching for the paper.
What’s the most frequently asked question about your work?
“Are you a twin then?”
Definitely that one! Then accompanied by a double take, as if the person asking it expects someone identical to me to step out and reveal themselves!
I don’t mind explaining time and again that I’m not a twin, because I think the question itself suggests something interesting about them – as though the relationship between twins is so personal that you need to be one to comment upon it with any authority.
Which question about your work do you most dread – and why?
“So what did they think about twins during the Renaissance?”
I don’t so much dread this question as wish that I could give a comprehensive answer!
It’s the question which motivates me and my research, but I’m at such an early point that I can only give a brief outline of what I’ve discovered so far. Still, people always seem to find what I do have to say interesting, so perhaps I should take it as a good sign for the future!
Tell us something about you that might surprise us…
I’ve always been very interested in horse racing. I don’t gamble, but I love the spectacle of Flat racing on a sunny summer’s day or evening, and I’m fascinated by the breeding side of it. My favourite racehorse of all time is Frankel, trained by the late and great Sir Henry Cecil (who was also, incidentally, a twin). I went to watch Frankel run in the Juddmonte International at York in August 2012, and the memory of his instant, devastating acceleration still sends shivers down my spine.
What keeps you awake at night?
Worrying about whether I’ll secure funding for any of my upcoming PhD applications. I try not to think about it if I want a good night’s sleep!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
My parents have always said “never forget where you’ve come from”. It’s excellent advice because it’s a constant reminder of how lucky I am to have the chance to build a career around research I’m passionate about.
The chain reaction question set by our previous spotlit researcher Dr Thuy Le is this: “What is your best career advice to your children?”
I don’t actually have children (I have a pet budgie, who is as demanding as a child, but he can’t take career advice!). It is an excellent question, so I’ve tried to think about the advice I could give to my younger cousins who are reaching the age when they start to think about their future careers.
It would probably be this: your own sense of fulfilment is worth more than material possessions. Choose a career that you think is right for you, not a career which other people think is right for you. Be motivated by your own values and interests, rather than money – as long as you make enough to support yourself (and anyone else important in your life) then you will be fine.
This week’s image of the week is a ‘Movember’ special, celebrating Henry Wellcome’s moustache through the ages.*
From a questionable goatee in the 1880s to a more restrained turn of the century ‘tache, Henry Wellcome’s portraits are a showcase for the changing face of Victorian Britain. He sported a moustache throughout his life, as did his business partner Silas Burroughs. But what does the history of facial hair have to do with health?
Well, quite a lot really. Dr Alun Withey, a Wellcome Research Fellow at the Centre for Medical History, University of Exeter, is embarking on a major study titled ‘Do Beards Matter?’ exploring the connections between facial hair, health and hygiene in Britain from c.1700-1918. He argues that the decisions we make about facial hair, how to grow it, shape it or shave it, can shed light on attitudes to male appearance, gender, identity and the body, and how they have changed through time.
If you’d like to know more, visit the Wellcome Library blog where this month Alun is assuming the title of ‘Pogonologist in Chief’ (pogonology is the study of beards) to curate a series of blog posts about the history of facial hair.
And this month more than ever, facial hair has a lot to say about health, as people around the world mark ‘Movember’ by growing a moustache to raise awareness and funds to improve men’s health. I think Henry would have approved.
You can read more about Alun Withey’s month of pogonology on the Wellcome Library blog or visit his blog to find out about his research. For more information about ‘Movember’ and how to get involved visit the Movember Foundation’s website.
As we pause to mark Armistice Day, artist Paddy Hartley considers the act of remembrance. His delicate ‘Papaver rhoeas’ poppy sculptures, made from paper-thin slices of lambs’ hearts, are currently being exhibited at venues across London. We asked him to tell us more about the inspiration, collaboration and creation of his vanishing bio-tissue sculptures…
In the lead up to Remembrance Day, there hasn’t been a day without some sort of controversy or debate in the media regarding the wearing of poppies – our national symbol of remembrance. Be it a newsreader, politician, or professional footballer choosing to not wear a poppy – or even a war veteran refusing to publicly wear a poppy because he believes that it has become a politicised symbol.
Some regard the poppy as a tool of propaganda and patriotism, and as someone who chooses to not wear a poppy during remembrance week, I find the increasingly vocal peer pressure to wear one is tangible, and at times disquieting. In the mix of the controversies, and the pressure to make a public display of remembrance, the origins of what the poppy represents can become somewhat diluted.
It was with these concerns in mind that I set about creating sculptures which sought to respond to the origins of the symbolism of this delicate little flower in our remembrance culture.
While lambs hearts, horsehair and tissue clearing processes may seem an unlikely combination with which to spark debate around the cultural phenomena of remembrance, I wanted to craft an object whose material made a direct reference to the corporeal loss of war. To represent the human and non-human sacrifices (willing and unwilling) that have been made – the destruction and loss of flesh, bone, blood – the obliteration of the body and of life. Not only those of our (then) Commonwealth and allies, but to mark all losses, regardless of nationality, gender, age and religious belief.
Aside from the loss of human life, possibly the most prevalent symbol of sacrifice – across a wide range of religious beliefs – is the lamb. It was this “innocent’s” engine, the heart, which became the primary material I used to create my poppies.
With Dr Ian Thompson (my collaborative partner at King’s College London) facilitating the creation of the work, I set about the task of taking thin slices of lamb’s heart tissue, large enough to create petals, leaves, and the head and stem of Papaver rhoeas. Compressing, freezing, slicing, moulding, stitching and binding eventually resulted in poppies with the appearance of being in full bloom, but also on the cusp of wilting and dying.
Considering the unspeakable losses on the battlefield due to extensive use of heavy artillery during WWI, the form of a spent artillery shell casing provided the inspiration for the presentation of these heart tissue blooms. Blown glass receptacles influenced by the cylindrical form of an artillery shell case, combined with the aesthetic of glass vessels used to present pathological specimens, house my poppies.
In addition to marking the loss of life, of equal concern for me while creating this work were the notions of “memorialisation”, memory and the passing of memory.
As the distance between our own time, and wars of the past increases, so we actively ‘remember’ them with a lesser frequency. It could be argued that the passing of time and fading of memory are what allow us to heal, perhaps more so even that an act of forgiveness or remembrance.
Subjecting my pathologised memento mori to a process known as “tissue clearing” means that the poppies I’ve created will literally fade, fragment and vanish over time, existing only in the memory of the viewer.
Having lovingly fashioned each poppy from a single lamb’s heart, the hardest part of this work is accepting its finite, terminal nature, and that each poppy has a limited lifespan. Their existence must be cherished for the time they – we, you or I – exist.
When we remember them, we remember the good of each individual and less so, the events and circumstances which brought about their end.
You can see Paddy’s Papaver rhoeas bio-tissue sculptures at a range of venues in London, including the Saatchi Gallery, Kew Gardens, and the Brunei Gallery at SOAS. They will be on display until 28th November, and are then touring the UK, thanks to exhibition curator Niamh White. Visit papaver-rhoeas.com for more details of the project and the artist, or watch this film about how the poppies were made.
Papaver rhoeas is a collaborative project led by artist Paddy Hartley in collaboration with Dr Ian Thompson (Device Innovation), William Edwards (Curator of the Gordon Museum of Pathology) and Professor Malcolm Logan, (Randall Division of Cell & Molecular Biophysics), all at King’s College London. It was funded by a Wellcome Trust small arts award.
Our fortnightly round-up of news from the Wellcome Trust community…
A small molecule called microRNA (miRNA) may help fruit flies control their movements, according to new research published in Science.
The new study indicates that miRNA may be the reason why fruit flies can flip over when placed on their backs, a finding that disproves previous assumptions that the molecule doesn’t impact on animal behaviour.
miRNAs are encoded in the genome of all animals, including humans, and regulate the activity of individual genes. They are already known to affect the formation of the nervous system. However, researchers discovered that the molecules might also have very specific roles for controlling particular movements.
‘Switching off’ miRNA molecules did not have an effect on the structure of the nervous system, but it did affect whether it ‘worked’ properly. When individual miRNA molecules were ‘switched off’, the flies could no longer turn over when upside down.
Dr Claudio Alonso, a Wellcome Trust Investigator based at the University of Sussex, explains: “We know very little about how simple movements are encoded in the genome. Yet, the survival of all animals – including humans – strongly depends on our ability to perform simple movements since the moment of birth, such as primitive reflexes essential for feeding. This knowledge might in the long-term contribute to the understanding of the underlying mechanisms of human disorders of the nervous system that lead to loss of movement coordination such as Parkinson’s disease.”
Genetic flexibility in some insect species allows them to switch roles from a worker to a queen at any stage in their life, according to new research published in PNAS.
The study focused on two insect species from Latin America – the dinosaur ant and the red paper wasp. Researchers used paint spots or identification tags to observe the behaviour of the insects in their natural environment to determine which ones were workers and which were queens.
Surprisingly, researchers found very few molecular differences between queens and workers of both species. This differs to the honeybee, where hundreds of genes are involved in distinguishing queens from workers.
Scientists suggest that the difference in social behaviour is unlikely to be controlled by a major gene, but instead by a subtle network of genes.
Professor Wolf Reik, Head of the Epigenetics Programme at the Babraham Institute, associated faculty at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and a senior author on the paper, said: “We are excited about discovering molecular mechanisms which in these wasps and ants allow easy switching between workers and queens. There are some applications of these principles to human stem cells to make them more plastic, potentially leading to better stem cell therapies in the future.”
Why we develop allergies
Developing allergies could be a by-product of our evolved immunity to parasites, according to a new study published in PLOS Computational Biology.
The research indicates that part of our immune system has evolved in order to protect against infection by parasitic worms. However, if there isn’t a parasitic infection, this same section of the immune system can become hyper-responsive and mistakenly target allergenic proteins in food (such as peanuts) or the environment (such as pollen).
Researchers were able to accurately predict which proteins in parasitic worms could cause an immune response similar to an allergic reaction in humans. Using computational techniques, they identified the first known example of a pollen-like protein found in a parasitic worm.
Due to the tools provided in this study, scientists will be better able to identify allergy-causing proteins in foods and the environment more easily, and design protein molecules for treating allergies.
Dr Nick Furnham from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: “Our findings address an outstanding question: what makes an allergen an allergen? We’ve shown that the off-target effects of the immune system in allergy are due to the significant molecular similarities we have identified between environmental allergens and parasitic worm proteins. The findings demonstrate that allergy is the price we pay for having immunity to parasites.”
In other news…
Congratulations to Professor Keith Matthews, a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator at the University of Edinburgh for being awarded the Sanofi-Pasteur mid-career laureate for tropical and neglected diseases. He explains his research here.
MQ, the mental health charity supported by the Wellcome Trust, have announced the winners of their 2015 Fellows awards. Congratulations to the new Fellows Dr Johannes Gräff , Dr Martijn van den Heuvel, Dr Ian Maze and Dr Etheldreda Nakimuli-Mpungu.
The Wellcome Trust-funded film Curing Cancer has won the Grierson Award for Best Science or Natural History Documentary – congratulations to Brian.
We recognise the importance of clinical research and as part of refreshing our funding schemes, we have made some changes to the way we support clinical researchers. The Wellcome Trust’s Head of Research Careers, Anne-Marie Coriat, explains our approach, and opens the competition to host our new clinical PhD programmes…
In July, we explained that we had updated our thinking on how to better support clinicians who want to pursue a career in research. An important part of this is the new clinical PhD programme competition and I am delighted to announce that the competition is now open for applications.
The UK is a unique place to be a clinical researcher. Many funding opportunities are available from organisations like the Wellcome Trust, the MRC, NIHR, CRUK and other charities. Exciting opportunities also exist in our overseas programmes. The Trust is collaborating with other funders to agree consistent principles to underpin the support for clinical academic research so that, together, we can ensure the best career development for this critically important group of researchers.
We know that embedding research alongside healthcare is key to understanding the biological basis of disease, driving medical innovation and developing cutting-edge treatments. However, we have heard from you that being a clinical researcher can be challenging, with many different competing demands – including time in the lab, completing a clinical specialism and maintaining a work-life balance.
From 2016, we will provide support for clinical PhD training (around 60 PhD students per year) through a portfolio of PhD programmes run by institutions, rather than awards to individual PhD studentships. Applications to host a clinical PhD programme are welcome across the breadth of research supported by the Trust including allied health professionals, veterinarians and those working in medical humanities.
Programmes should provide diverse cohorts of trainees with excellent career development support and mentorship. We are looking for institutions that are innovative with their programme development, encourage work across disciplines and within and across institutions.
In parallel to today’s launch we have committed substantial funds to increase postdoctoral support for clinical researchers by 50%. Over the coming months, we will develop a new Postdoctoral Clinical Scientist Fellowship, which consolidates two of our existing schemes into a single, flexible award. This scheme will match the changes we have already introduced for our basic science fellowships.
The new approach provides the option of longer-term support and a greater ability to balance research and clinical training responsibilities. The scheme will be open to those who are re-entering academia after career breaks or extended periods of clinical training, and will adapt to the evolving clinical training model.
Our primary aim in developing these revisions is to provide flexible support for the next generation of clinical academics. We will continue to work with medical schools, other PhD funders, and NHS partners in developing this model of academic clinical training to ensure an environment that is creative, collaborative and supportive of early career researchers.
We are holding a workshop later this month for the directors of our overseas programmes, and from medical, veterinary and dental schools in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. This meeting is an opportunity to find out more, and input into, our thinking. It will also provide an opportunity for discussion across institutions.
I look forward to this chance to hear your views, and would be delighted to receive feedback or questions via email. Please do contact me at email@example.com.
For more information about the competition for clinical PhD programmes please visit our website.
This Sunday (8th November 2015) marks 20 years since the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was passed by parliament in the UK. The Act made discrimination against disabled people unlawful for the first time – or to put it another way – before that day in 1995, discriminating against disabled people was not illegal. The legislation was the result of a tireless civil rights campaign by disabled activists who lobbied parliament, led rallies and protested with direct actions.
Many people are critical of the Disability Discrimination Act (which has now been replaced by the Equality Act), but the civil rights movement was a turning point for the disability community. Today people continue to work tirelessly to dispel stigma, discrimination and misconceptions about disability, both in the UK and around the world. This week’s image of the week celebrates their achievements.
The photograph was taken by Samuel Bradley and was originally published as part of ‘Doing Disability Differently’ on Mosaic. It shows a group of dancers from Candoco – a professional dance company that integrates disabled and non-disabled dancers. The company had its beginnings in a series of dance workshops at a spinal injury centre in London in 1991 and in the years since then has overcome preconceptions to become a respected contemporary dance company. Candoco now tour the world, performing, training other dancers and helping to change attitudes towards disability in dance.
If you’d like to find out more about Disability Discrimination Act and the civil rights movement, visit Scope’s website, where the charity are celebrating the stories of the activists and campaigners who fought, inspired and organised the movement. You can also read the Mosaic piece ‘Doing Disability Differently’ on the Mosaic website.
This week, we announced that the Wellcome Trust has made the first awards under our new funding partnership with the Global Health Innovation Fund – a Tokyo-based public-private partnership which hopes to reduce the burden of infectious diseases by unlocking the potential of Japanese innovation. Dr Ann Mills-Duggan from the Wellcome Trust Innovations Division explains the significance of funding into this community.
With the third largest economy and the second largest pharmaceutical industry in the world, Japan is one of the major players on the international stage. But this hasn’t always been the case. For over two hundred years between 1639 and 1853, a policy of national seclusion was in place that banned all international trade aside from the occasional Dutch or Chinese merchants.
This all changed in 1853 when Commodore Perry of the US Navy sailed his fleet of so-called “Black Ships” into the port of Uraga, eventually forcing Japan into a trade agreement that marked the start of the country’s reintegration into global activities. Fast forward another 150 years and modern-day Japan enjoys an enviable position at the forefront of innovation and technology.
Now a new investment fund is seeking to harness the might of Japanese research and development to tackle the crushing burden of infectious tropical diseases, which have a devastating effect on some of the world’s poorest people. The Tokyo-based Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT Fund) is one of the latest initiatives working to overcome the barriers of social inequality and foster international research collaboration.
Formed in 2012 as a public-private partnership, the GHIT Fund invests in Japanese innovation and expertise to tackle diseases of the developing world such as malaria, tuberculosis, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis. In addition to leveraging Japan’s strong science base, the GHIT Fund builds new partnerships by insisting that every project must include a collaboration partner from outside of Japan.
Like Japan itself, the GHIT Fund has an interesting history. It was originally conceived in the pharmaceutical industry – rather than the public or charity sector – following discussions between two giants in the field Eisai and Takeda. By the time of the launch as a five-year $120M program the GHIT Fund had garnered the support of three other companies (Astellas Pharma, Daiichi Sankyo and Shionogi), together with two ministries from the Japanese Government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Wellcome Trust became one of the newest funding partners when it joined GHIT in 2015. With a focus on unmet medical needs and developing new health technologies, the GHIT Fund’s aims are closely aligned with those of the Wellcome Trust, and in particular the Innovations Division. This team works globally to develop new medicines and healthcare technologies, but surprisingly has never before funded science in Japan. This is in part because we lacked some of the close working relationships that we have built up with scientists in other countries over the years. That’s all set to change.
By partnering with the GHIT Fund, we’ve been able to tap into new networks of researchers within the Japanese scientific community and so build awareness of the Wellcome Trust, and the opportunities it can offer. It’s a partnership that’s already paying off, and this week we had the pleasure to announce the first two projects that we’ll be supporting through the partnership.
Both are ‘hit-to-lead’ projects that look to develop promising new drug candidates for tuberculosis and malaria, and which began by screening the extensive compound libraries of two of Japan’s biggest pharmaceutical companies. If successful, the projects could then move forward into clinical trials and will hopefully result in new treatments for these diseases.
Both projects enable us to engage with two Japanese companies (Takeda, Shionogi & Co) and an organisation (The Research Institute of Tuberculosis, Japan Anti-Tuberculosis Association) that we have never worked with before. And, importantly, they also enable scientists to work with libraries of chemical compounds from Japanese companies that until now have been difficult to access. It’s an excellent start to what we hope will be a successful partnership.
It’s getting dark out there. The nights are drawing in and the weather is gloomy, but you’ll find plenty to light up those long evenings in this month’s collection of public events and activities, including the promisingly named ‘Happiness Project’, a brand new Roundhouse production exploring our understanding of happiness and well-being. Rather just stay on the sofa? Tell us about it…no really, the Hubbub group have just launched the ‘Rest Test’, a survey of the nation’s resting habits. It’s an online survey and you’re all invited to take part, so pop the kettle on and read on to find out more.
The new series of Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6 Year Olds starts next week on Channel 4, funded by a Small Co-Production Award following a successful pilot show last year, which was funded by a People Award. The documentary series follows children in this key stage of development as they interact with each other, under the watchful eye of leading psychologists Dr Paul Howard Jones and Dr Sam Wass.
Brainstorm: Live from Television Centre – BBC iPlayer – 15th November
After successful runs at the Park Theatre and the National Theatre, Islington Community Theatre’s ‘Brainstorm’ will be produced as a piece of television for the BBC, released exclusively on BBC iPlayer. Brainstorm is a life-affirming piece of theatre with a company of young people from Islington exploring the workings of the teenage brain. Created with leading cognitive neuroscientist, Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, it is supported by a Small Arts Award.
Talks and events
BFI Love: Gregory’s Girl immersive cinema event – Varndean School, Brighton – 13th November
As part of the BFI Blockbuster season: Love, ten immersive science education events inspired by Bill Forsyth’s 1981 British classic ‘Gregory’s Girl’ will be delivered in ten different venues with Film Hub partners in Scotland, Wales and the South East of England. These will see 1,200 young people explore our scientific understanding of human attraction from a psychological and endocrinological perspective through an immersive educational format that combines project-based learning approaches with content delivered by professional scientists. Funded by a People Award.
Jazz & Surgery: A Jazz in the Round special – The Cockpit Theatre – 16th November
Part of the London Jazz Festival, this event explores the unlikely parallels between surgery and jazz, with former trauma surgeon and Professor of Surgical Education Roger Kneebone, Consultant Neurosurgeon Mark Wilson, pianist Liam Noble and drummer Ollie Howell. Join them on the operating table as The Cockpit’s theatre space transforms into the setting for a simulated brain surgery. Roger Kneebone is a Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow.
Medicine Unboxed: Mortality – Parabola Arts Centre, Cheltenham – 21st-22nd November
Medicine Unboxed engages the public and front-line NHS staff with a view of medicine that is infused and elaborated by the humanities. This event will look at life and death, and will explore how death is felt in war, in hospital, in our homes and fields, as well as looking at social and cultural differences in the experience of death, how immortality is conceived in mythology and sought in technology, and our pursuit of the afterlife. Speakers include Henry Marsh and Marion Coutts.
A one-day conference exploring the advent of new methods of making enduring changes to the human embryo – changes that, if used in treatment, will affect not only the person born but also subsequent generations. Speakers include the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, the creator of Dolly the sheep, and a pioneer of mitochondrial donation. The event is run by the Progress Educational Trust, who are funded through the Society Awards.
Papaver Rhoeas – various venues – 3rd-29th November
Artist Paddy Hartley has created a series of highly emotive and thought provoking hand-made poppy sculptures using pathologically preserved lamb’s heart tissue. Drawing on the poppy’s synonymity with the commemoration of World War 1, the sculptures address contemporary notions of remembrance and the cultural phenomena of memorialisation. Each sculpture will be placed in a diverse range of cultural institutions, including the Saatchi Gallery, the Foundling Museum, and Kew Gardens. Funded by a Small Arts Award.
Death: The Human Experience – Bristol Museum & Art Galley – until March 2016
This People Award-funded exhibition is about the most universal of experiences that we will encounter. Hundreds of incredibly diverse objects – from a Ghanaian fantasy coffin to a Victorian mourning dress – reveal captivating stories from cultures across the world, from the earliest human societies to the modern day.
Gifts for the Gods: Animal Mummies Revealed – The Manchester Museum – until April 2016
This new exhibition funded by a People Award will explore ancient Egyptian animal mummies, prepared in their millions as votive offerings to the gods. It will examine life and the environment in ancient Egypt and the British fascination with ancient Egypt, and the discovery of animal mummies by excavators, their purchase by collectors and how they came to be in the UK.
The Happiness Project – The Roundhouse – 3rd-14th November
A brand new Roundhouse production exploring our understanding of happiness and well-being, devised by a company of young artists, scientists and academics. Devised in response to reports that raised concerns over young people’s well-being in the UK, The Happiness Project is an intergenerational piece of personal and moving contemporary theatre that journeys through autobiographical stories set to a musical landscape to explore the human condition. Supported by a Small Arts Award. You can read a blog post by the Scientific Advisor to the project, Robb Rutledge, here.
Under the Covers – Chrysalis Festival, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh – 7th November
Developed through workshops with artists including Kate O’Donnell and Rosana Cade, Under The Covers examines young people’s contemporary attitudes to sex, questioning myths and breaking down taboos. The show is performed by Contact Young Company, a young ensemble recruited from a diverse mix of performers, actors, dancers, musicians, poets and MCs. The show is inspired by the Wellcome Collection exhibition The Institute of Sexology, and the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles.
Mr Foote’s Other Leg – Theatre Royal Haymarket – from 28th October
Following a successful run at Hampstead Theatre, Mr Foote’s Other Leg will transfer to Haymarket for a 12-week run. The play, set in Georgian London, follows the satirist, impressionist and dangerous comedian Samuel Foote, who becomes adored by many and despised by some. His colleagues from the worlds of science stage begin to wonder: does fame make you mad? Originally funded by a Development Award.
Going Viral – UK tour – until 3rd December
Daniel Bye’s Going Viral is an urgent, fantastical story from the front line of an epidemic about how things spread – disease, panic, ideas. Funded by a Small Arts Award. The next tour date is 18th November at the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter.
The Liberty Cap – Radio 4
Pete has been suffering from depression for many years but no therapy or medicine has had any lasting benefit. Now he is considering taking part in a clinical trial that is testing a new treatment that uses Psilocybin, the psychoactive chemical found in magic mushrooms. This drama came out of the 2014 Experimental Stories workshop on consciousness and is inspired by the research at Imperial on psychoactive drugs working with Robin Carhart-Davis.
Fugue State – Radio 4
In the heart of the English countryside in a specialist residential hospital, a man, a government agent, is in a fugue state – a psychological shutdown – the result of something seemingly threatening that has taken place in a remote village. This radio drama was inspired by the 2013 Experimental Stories workshop when the writer Julian Simpson met Paul Fletcher, a Wellcome-funded neuropsychiatrist who is also involved in the Hellblade game we’re funding.
The Rest Test – Radio 4
The Hubbub’s Rest Test launched on the 3rd November on BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind, hosted by Hubbub collaborator Claudia Hammond. This online survey aims to investigate the nation’s resting habits and their attitudes towards relaxation and busyness, and hopes to be the world’s largest ever survey into subjective experiences of rest.
Unseen: The Lives of Looking – CPH:DOX, Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival – 5th-15th November
Dryden Goodwin’s film has been selected in the main competition for the prestigious CPH:DOX Festival in Copenhagen, as one of around only 15 feature length films as a nominee for the prestigious DOX. The film will have its Festival World Premiere here. Supported by a Small Arts Award.
Curing Perfect – Oska Bright Film Festival, Brighton – 10th November
A trans media arts projects that has fully involved people with learning disabilities in the creative process, the next Curing Perfect outing will show a film about a boy with a missing chromosome, shown on day 2 of the film festival. The work is supported by a Small Arts Award.
Adam Chodzko’s Deep Above – Watershed, Bristol – 20th-22nd November
The world premiere of artist Adam Chodzko’s new film Deep Above will take place at Watershed, followed by a Lunchtime Talk by the artist. With the world focusing on the imminent UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, Deep Above attempts, through art, to loosen our mental blocks about environmental catastrophe. Funded through the Small Arts Awards, Deep Above is commissioned by Invisible Dust, who have also received a new Sustaining Excellence grant from us.
Lesions in the Landscape – FACT, Liverpool – until 22nd November
How do our individual and collective memories influence our understanding of society? Shona Illingworth’s Lesions in the Landscape is a powerful new multi-screen installation revealing the devastating effects of amnesia on one woman and the striking parallels with the sudden evacuation of the inhabitants of St Kilda in the North Atlantic in 1930. As part of the exhibition, there will be a varied events programme of discussions, screenings and hands-on workshops. Funded by a Large Arts Award.
Alien Sex Club – Camp & Furnace, Liverpool – until 29th November
Alien Sex Club is a new art installation by British artist John Walter, which explores the relationship between visual culture and HIV today. Funded through the Small Arts Awards, Alien Sex Club puts HIV back on the agenda of the visual arts thirty years after the AIDS crisis first exploded, attempting to stimulate interest in the subject by displacing the biomedical discourse surrounding HIV and ART into an art context. Part of Liverpool’s Homotopia Festival.
Wellcome Collection Events
We think of recycling as a modern idea and the Victorian city as a hellish place of pollution and waste. Join us to challenge to some of those preconceptions. Warning: may contain local government and sewage.
Tibet’s Secret Temple – opens 19 November
A major new exhibition at Wellcome Collection ‘Tibet’s Secret Temple’ explores Tibetan Buddhist yogic and meditational practice and their connections to physical and mental wellbeing. Opens 19 November.
Dr Thuy Le is the Deputy Group Head of the Central Nervous System and HIV Infection Group based at the Wellcome Trust’s Major Overseas Programme in Vietnam. Her work focuses on the neglected fungal infection Penicilliosis, and she is interested in exploring the pathogen’s epidemiology, from both clinical and environmental perspectives.
What are you working on?
I run a research programme in Penicillium marneffei infection at the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam. Penicilliosis is a common, yet relatively neglected, fungal infection in HIV-positive people living in or traveling to Southeast Asia.
My research aims to understand the epidemiology of this pathogen, both from the clinical perspectives of what constitute severe disease and how we can improve the diagnosis and the management of patients, but also from the environmental perspectives of what exposure factors put patients at higher risk for infection and how we can prevent disease in susceptible people.
The Wellcome Trust, as part of the Global Health Trial Grant funder, is supporting a multi-centre clinical trial that I am conducting in Vietnam to see whether itraconazole, a cheap widely available oral antifungal drug, is at least as good as amphotericin B, an expensive intravenous drug that has lots of side effects and is not widely available in Southeast Asia, for the treatment of penicilliosis. The trial is recruiting patients in five major hospitals throughout Vietnam and will provide the answer that potentially can change the way penicilliosis is being managed in resource-limited settings.
What does your average day involve?
My average day involves seeing patients, attending conferences, supervising clinical and laboratory staff, lots of reading and writing (emails and more), and every three months traveling to northern Vietnam to visit the study sites.
The best part of my day is in the evening, when I come home and recharge mentally with my 7 year-old daughter.
Why is your work important?
Penicilliosis is emerging from a rare disease to one of the leading HIV-associated opportunistic infections in Southeast Asia. Critical questions about the natural reservoir of disease and risk factors for infection remain poorly understood. Despite antifungal therapy, mortality is up to 20%. There has not been a randomised clinical trial conducted to evaluate treatment options for penicilliosis.
What do you hope the impact of your work will be?
My work will increase knowledge and hopefully will directly lead to improve diagnosis, management, and outcomes of patients with penicilliosis.
How did you come to be working on this topic/in this field?
I came to Vietnam to work on HIV drug resistance, and penicilliosis came to me from my clinical rounds in the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City.
I was very fortunate to meet, very much by serendipity, Prof. Jeremy Farrar, then Director of the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam, now Director of the Wellcome Trust, who opened the door and gave me the opportunity to pursue my research questions.
How has Wellcome funding helped you/your research/your career?
I would not be writing about penicilliosis without the support of the Wellcome Trust-funded Oxford Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam which has a deep-rooted relationship with the Hospital for Tropical Diseases and provides tremendous clinical research infrastructure for young investigators like myself. The partly Trust-funded Global Health Trial Grant has enabled the first-ever conducted clinical trial (440 patients) in the treatment of penicilliosis. I am grateful to be supported by the Trust to work on this neglected but important fungal pathogen.
What’s the most frequently asked question about your work?
“What is penicilliosis?”
(My answer: penicilliosis is a systemic infection caused by a fungus called Penicillium marneffei that is endemic in Southeast Asia. In patients who are immunocompromised, such as those with HIV, the fungus causes a disseminated infection involving the lung, liver, spleen, gut, lymph nodes, blood stream, and skin. Up to 70% of patients will develop multiple skin lesions on the face, chest, back, arms and legs, as seen on the photos. The infection is diagnosed by visualisation of typical features of the fungus in clinical specimens under the microscope (see photo below) and by the isolation of the fungus by culturing in the laboratory for 4 to 14 days. The infection can be treated with antifungal drugs; however HIV-infected patients need to be maintained on antifungal drug until their immune system improves on antiretroviral therapy.) Which question about your work do you most dread – and why?
I really cannot think of one!
Tell us something about you that might surprise us…
I wanted to be a writer when I was young.
I wrote six ‘novels’ (in Vietnamese) between the ages of 14 and 15, both under the table during class and under a candle at night. This dream was quickly abandoned when I came to the US at 17 and needed to learn English from ‘scratch’.
What keeps you awake at night?
Internal conflicts, but mostly I sleep like a log!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Be endearing first.
The “Chain reaction” question, posed by our previous spotlight-ee Dr Angela Cassidy is this, “Do you have any tips, tricks and hints for doing collaborative research, either within or across disciplines?”
Successful collaboration rests on finding/maintaining the win-win situation.