Our image of the week this week is a rather special one since it marks the end of an era – and the beginning of a new one – at the Trust.
On one hand, we wish a fond farewell to Sir Bill Castell, Wellcome Trust Chair for the past 10 years, who has now officially retired from the Trust, and on the other, we extend a welcome to Baroness Manningham-Buller, who takes over as the new Chair of the Board of Governors.
During Bill’s decade at the Trust, his positive influence, humour, and challenge for us to be braver, was widely felt. He championed the view that all research outputs should be made freely available to all, and played a key role in ensuring that the Trust became the first research funder in the world to introduce a mandatory open access policy.
Bill was particularly engaged with the Trust’s efforts to improve science education, and this did not just improve our thinking, but brought tangible benefits, as Hilary Leevers, Head of Education and Learning explains. “Bill’s commitment to enabling teachers and technicians to participate in funded professional development at the National Science Learning Centre led him to forge a unique partnership across government, industry and the Trust”. The result of this – Project ENTHUSE – continues to embrace new organisations, and almost £50 million has been committed to it. “This investment has had a measurable impact on the educators themselves, and, most importantly, upon their students” she says.
The image above captures something of the spirit of Bill’s leaving party at Trust HQ. Bill shared memories of his time at the Trust and was presented with a special Wellcome medal in thanks for his work. With Eliza in attendance at the party, the metaphorical baton was passed.
Joining us, she said: “I am delighted to be starting as Chair of the Wellcome Trust. After a happy and fulfilling career in MI5, I did not expect to have such an interesting job again”.
“I feel immensely lucky to have joined the Board of Governors in 2008, and now to become Chair. The Trust’s power to do so much good in the world makes it a rewarding place to work. And I am really looking forward to making our ambitious plans succeed which I am sure, with your help, they will.”
We hope you will join us in thanking Bill, welcoming Eliza to her new post, and taking the Wellcome Trust to new levels.
As summer transitions into autumn and conkers fall from the trees, we’ve collected a host of events, exhibitions, talks and more to keep you active. From alien sex to sloth(s), freediving to time travel we’ve got something to tempt the full range of your senses…
Exhibitions and Installations
Journeys Through Medicine: Henry Wellcome’s Legacy – Science Museum, London – from 1st October
Building on Henry Wellcome’s collection and legacy, this exhibition shows the range of ways that people have thought about health – through modern medicines, prehistoric surgical tools and many things that no longer seem medical. This exhibition provides a taster of what is to come in the new Medicine Galleries, opening in 2019, and supported by the Wellcome Trust.
Under – Ambika P3, London – until 11th October
A multi-screen film installation on the art of freediving, this immersive work sees artist and BAFTA award-winning filmmaker Martina Amati return to her artistic roots to express her passion for freediving – the act of swimming deep underwater on a single breath of air. Amati combines her fascination for the water with her art and film background, capturing herself and other freedivers performing beneath the water’s surface.
Artist talk – 1st October, 7-8pm, at the gallery: Martina Amati will be in conversation with filmmaker Sophie Fiennes and British freediving Champion Liv Philip.
States of Mind: Ann Veronica Janssens – Wellcome Collection, London – 15th October–3rd January 2016
This new installation by Ann Veronica Janssens explores light and colour as she invades the gallery with coloured mist. Colour is caught in a state of suspension, obscuring any detail of surface or depth. Instead, attention is focused on the process of perception itself. Janssens’s work is both disorienting and uplifting as the daily wonder of conscious experience is given renewed emphasis. This installation launches States of Mind: Tracing the edges of consciousness, a year-long investigation into the experience of human consciousness.
Alice Anderson: Memory Movement Memory Objects – Wellcome Collection, London – Until 18th October
How do we remember the past and commit moments to memory? This is one of the questions that Alice Anderson addresses in her latest exhibition. Her beautiful and uncanny sculptures prompt you to rediscover the things you thought you already knew. Members of the public are able to donate an object to be mummified until Saturday 3rd October.
The Heart and Lung Convenience Store – Kings Mall, Hammersmith – 19th October-1st November
Imagine a future where you can diagnose flu from a handkerchief or match a personal healthcare plan to your genetic make-up. The Heart and Lung Convenience Store will be a one-off collection of interactive exhibits and installations exploring how medicine is becoming more available, more personalised and more convenient. Visitors of all ages can discover the future of heart and lung healthcare and find out about fascinating research conducted on their doorstep by Imperial College London’s National Heart & Lung Institute.
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.
Alien Sex Club – Camp & Furnace, Liverpool – 30th October-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 our Small Arts Awards, Alien Sex Club puts HIV back on the agenda of the visual arts 30 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.
Cracked – UK tour, from 30th September
The first signs of psychosis are frightening and isolating for both carers and sufferers. This new play from Mike Kenny and Julie Boden combines verbatim text drawn from research at the University of Warwick with poetry performed by an ensemble of young adults. The play follows three narratives as they weave through social defeat, bullying and drug misuse with dark humour, percussive sound and beautiful verse. After each performance, there will be a post-show discussion with an expert panel consisting of mental health service users, psychiatrists, social scientists and theatre practitioners, and with local mental health user groups and activists.
Mouthful – Trafalgar Studios 2 – until 3rd October
Darkly comic and at times heart-breaking, MOUTHFUL is a theatrically imaginative response to the global food crisis from six of the world’s most exciting dramatists including Lydia Adetunji, Bola Agbaje, Clare Bayley, Inua Ellams, Neil LaBute and Pedro Miguel Rozo. Written in partnership with six of the world’s leading scientists in their fields including the UK Champion for Global Food Security Professor Tim Benton.
The Barometer of My Heart – Sir Ludwig Guttman Health and Wellbeing Centre, Stratford – until 4th October
A participatory arts project offering a view of male identity that challenges dominant representations of potency and manhood. Following creative workshops with men in religious, military, sports and corporate settings, and research with men attending erectile dysfunction clinics at a London hospital, Mark Storor has carved out a distinctive space for men to talk freely. Inspired by these conversations and real experiences, intimate public performances made in collaboration with an international company of artists and participants will give powerful insights into the relationship between sexual and psychological potency, men’s health and masculinity.
Under the Covers – UK tour – from 7th October
Following a sold-out run in Spring, Under The Covers returns due to popular demand. 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.
Contact Theatre – Manchester, 7th-10th October
Southbank Centre – London, 24th and 25th October
Chrysalis Festival – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 7th November
The Time Travelling Operating Theatre – National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh – 10th October
Supported by a People Award, the Time Travelling Operating Theatre invites you to immerse yourself in operations taking place during 1884, 1984 and 2014. Find out about what has and hasn’t changed in the operating theatre over this time and talk to clinicians, ethicists and policy makers about what we can learn from the past to inform the future. The event is run by the Imperial College Centre for Engagement and Simulation Science.
Electric Dreams – UK tour – from 10th October
Dumbshow’s new piece of theatre is inspired by ideas in Naomi Klein’s ground breaking book, The Shock Doctrine. Rose can’t remember the first 18 years of her life. Seeking to unravel this mystery she turns investigator, piecing together her history from fragmented memories, documents and dreams. Using live music and video, Electric Dreams journeys from 1950’s Canada to the Iraq war; but does exploring the past offer a warning for the future?
TV, Radio and Apps
Messy goes to Okido – CBeebies and BBC iPlayer
A series on CBeebies for 3-5 year olds, following a curious, adventure seeking and unruly monster called Messy, who goes on incredible adventures with his two best friends Zoe and Felix to find the answers to questions such as: Why do things fall down and not up? Where do echoes come from? Messy’s questions cover all aspects of science, from nature and biology to technology, and from atoms to outer space. Based on the Okido magazine, which was funded by a Large Arts Award.
Gingersnap – The John Snow Adventure– Available for iOS on the app store
Created in partnership with museums, the Gingersnap app is a fun new way for grandparents and children to stay in touch, designed for children aged 5-9. There are lots of interactive stories to choose from – find fossils together on the Jurassic Coast, or catch comets on St. Helena, then continue the adventure beyond the screen with creative challenges and educational activities, whether it’s building a shoebox dinosaur, or dressing up as a Pirate.
Liberty Cap – BBC Radio 4 – 23rd October
Liberty Cap is another radio drama that was commissioned as a result of one of our Experimental Stories workshops, which bring together researchers, writers and producers to create radio dramas inspired by science, this time on the theme of Consciousness, linking to the upcoming Wellcome Collection exhibition. It’s the first of three that were commissioned following that workshop; the other two will be aired in mid-2016. Check out BBC Radio 4 for more details nearer the time.
Exploring the Group Mind – Bloomsbury Studio Theatre, London – 1st-2nd October
In an evening of social science, live music and games, the audience use their mobile phones to take part in experiments, exploring whether they are better as individuals or a collective mind.
Queering Love, Queering Hormones – no.w.here, Bethnal Green, London – 2nd October
This free screening takes place within the context of the BFI’s forthcoming season Love, and launches a call for applications for artists to Queering Love, Queering Hormones, a project developed between no.w.here, BFI, and King’s College London. The evening features a programme of artists’ film and video works which deploy a queer sensibility as they explore ideas about love, romance and desire. The event aims to explode some of the tensions between art and “hard” biomedical science when it comes to love, competing between notions of queer romantic agency, biological determinism, and Hollywood.
Retina Day – etc. venues St Paul’s, London – 10th October
A free, one day event supported by a People Award and organised by the Gene and Cell Therapy Group, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and NIHR Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre. Come along to hear about some of the latest innovations in research around gene and cell therapies for inherited retinal conditions from world-leading researchers, meet some of the charities who support their work in our exhibitor and poster session, and take part in a range of interactive activities and share your personal experiences and views about inherited retinal conditions to help shape future research.
Sloth: What’s in a name? – ZSL London Zoo – 4pm-6.30pm, 10th October
As part of its ‘Authors for Animals’ series, ZSL London Zoo is exploring the concept of sloth in both humans and animals. The event will start with a tour of the Rainforest Enclosure to see if you can spot the sloths and be followed by poetry and discussion. This is a collaboration between Hubbub and ZSL London Zoo.
Einstein’s Garden Presents… Sandscape – Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Festival – 10th-11th October
Join scientists and acclaimed sand sculptors, Sand in Your Eye, to build a landscape complete with mountains, valleys, skyscrapers and power stations. How does the air that we breathe move around these spaces? And what are the invisible invaders in the air that can affect our health? Come and dip your toes into a sea of experimentation brought to you by Einstein’s Garden – who are taking even more of their events on tour with the help of a Wellcome Trust award.
Sex in the Afternoon – Yorkshire Playhouse, 12th October
An evening of poetry, prose and conversation exploring sex in all its pain and glory. Featuring Malika Booker and Rachel Mars, together with special guests RashDash and Sexology Researcher Dr Lena Wånggren. Part of Wellcome Collection’s Sexology Season.
What is potential? Exploring Aristotle, art and medicine – Wellcome Collection, London – 1pm-6pm, 10th October
Aristotle’s thinking on potential allows us to understand how things change around us. Come and join artist Per Huttner and a group of artists, researchers, scientists and thinkers who put Aristotle’s ideas to the test in the Reading Room through conversations, performances, artwork and everything in between. This drop-in event takes place in the Reading Room.
Battle of Ideas Festival – The Battle over Life and Death – Barbican, Frobisher Auditorium 1-17th October
Science and medicine have achieved things that seem almost miraculous in the past 200 years, allowing us to live longer and healthier lives than ever before. But is there a danger of going too far, whether it is manipulating genes or regulating our lives? And if we care so much about health, how should our care be organised in the future? Come and join a range of debates on topics such as the future of the NHS and what makes a good death.
FarmHack @ FarmLab – Manchester Science Festival – 24th and 31st October
Help solve farming problems by designing new open source tools, working alongside farmers, scientists, engineers, artists and designers. After a creative brainstorm and design session on 24 October, selected designs will be prototyped at FabLab on 31st October and shared online via Creative Commons for farmers around the world to use. No previous experience required, but creative and open minds are very welcome. Erinma Ochu, Wellcome Engagement Fellow, is involved in the event.
Playing with Light – part of the Bloomsbury Festival, London – 12pm-5pm 24th October and 2pm-5pm, 25th October
Join us for a weekend of light-related creativity as part of this year’s Bloomsbury Festival. Make your own lantern to add to our expanding lantern city and use torches, glow-sticks and long exposure photography to paint with light. With drop-in activities around the building, you’re guaranteed to find something illuminating!
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.
Wellcome Collection: Sex in the Afternoon short films sharing – Camden People’s Theatre – 4th October
Four celebrated writers – Malika Booker, Kei Miller, Warsan Shire and Rachel Mars – share their own poetry and prose, exploring and exposing sex in all its joy, pain and glory. How can we express our desires? What stops us? With an introduction from the Sexology Season Producer Elizabeth Lynch.
Let’s talk about sex – Camden People’s Theatre – 4th October
What could the porn industry and the arts learn from each other about provoking positive conversation about sex? This discussion brings together professionals in the fields of the arts and sex to explore this sticky subject. The line-up features pornographer Vex Ashley, performer & creator of ‘Art Wank’ Ophelia Bitz, theatre director Josh Roche and Wellcome Collection’s Sexology Season Producer Elizabeth Lynch. Chaired by sex journalist Gareth May.
Database Addiction – ISAM Congress, University of Dundee – 5th October
Database Addiction is the first phase of an arts research project into the role of databases currently utilised in the delivery of health governance. The project, funded by a Small Arts Award, will be driven by key experts in the field of art and medicine, specific to drug and alcohol misuse. Graham Harwood will be giving a presentation about the project as part of the Culture & Arts festival programme at the International Society of Addiction Medicine (ISAM) Congress, at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design.
Revisiting Genesis – Goldsmiths – 8th October
Revisiting Genesis is a web series in development to be shot in December 2015, featuring a nurse who creates biographical slideshows for those actively preparing for death, and Genesis, an artist who is dying symbolically and otherwise. This public talk will consider the span of the project in relation to the politics of fiction. The project is supported by a Small Arts Award.
Overpowered!: The Science and Showbiz of Hypnosis – British Library – 13th October
Performer and entertainer Christopher Green tells the intriguing history of hypnosis, tackling brain imaging, clinical trials and hypnotherapy. His book launches on the same day as this talk, and explores the different guises of hypnotism as portrayed by pseudo-scientists and showmen alike. It asks: why do we want to give up our power? Why do we think someone else can change us, if we can’t change ourselves? Why do we want to alter our normal patterns of cognition?
The thing is… Beards – Wellcome Collection, London – 7pm-8pm, 15th October
The history of the beard can take us to the heart of debates about masculine appearance and ideals of the male face. In this discussion, historian Alun Withey uncovers a mystery object and looks to the 18th century, when the beard fell out of favour and the clean-shaven look became popular.
Packed Lunch: Vaccine Confidence – Wellcome Collection, London – 1pm-2pm, 21st October
Pauline Paterson is co-lead of the Vaccine Confidence Project, which monitors public perceptions of vaccines around the world. Join her to discuss what the concerns are, why these persist and how her team keeps track of levels of confidence.
Beating The Biological Clock: Should You Freeze Your Eggs? – UCL – 21st October
This evening event will explore the science, statistics, cost and ethical/legal/political implications of the cryopreservation (freezing or vitrification) of women’s eggs, especially when this is done for non-medical reasons (so-called ‘social egg freezing’) to delay having a child. Speakers include experts in fertility, cryopreservation, law and feminism. The event is run by the Progress Educational Trust, which is funded through our Society Awards.
Alzheimer’s: An afterthought? – CityLab, Manchester – 26th October
If a member of your family was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, how would you handle it? Is there enough being done to help prevent and treat dementia? Can we cure it? Hear from the team behind #HookedOnMusic, Alzheimer’s Research UK and the University of Salford, who explain the findings of their experiments and how they’ll help develop more therapies and research into combatting the disease. Erinma Ochu, Wellcome Engagement Fellow, is involved in the event.
The Wellcome Library is a treasure trove of books and archives than span a wealth of biomedical and health related subjects. The newly-catalogued National Childbirth Trust (NCT) archive, containing over 270 boxes of rich archive material, brings to life the history of childbirth and maternity care from the post-war period to the present day. Elena Carter, Project Archivist at Wellcome Library shares what she has discovered in the NCT’s rich archive…
In 1956, a woman gave birth and lost her baby. As she was discharged from the hospital, a sister flippantly commented “that’s the last we’ll hear of you”. Bereaved, and angered at how she’d been treated, this woman – Prunella Briance – decided to take matters into her own hands. In her words, she “wanted to do something positive to prevent such tragedies happening to other mothers”.
So she put an advert in The Times newspaper – a call to arms to form a Natural Childbirth Association, run by mothers, for mothers.
Letters began to flood through the door from women sharing unhappy stories of childbirth. Some wrote of being left alone in stirrups to labour for hours by themselves; others of how they had gas and air forced on them against their will; of fathers not allowed on maternity wards; and of babies taken away from their mothers as soon as they were born.
Galvanised by this shared outrage, the women set about founding an organisation to promote natural childbirth based on the teachings of Grantly Dick-Read. Their aims were to teach women how to prepare themselves for birth through antenatal classes and education, so that they were able to approach labour free from fear and ignorance.
Erna Wright (founder member and author), teaching NCT antenatal class. The National Childbirth Trust. Image credit: Wellcome Library, London.
The archive available at the Wellcome Library charts the story of this organisation – the Natural Childbirth Association (later National Childbirth Trust, NCT) – from its grassroots beginnings in the 1950s to the present day. Through letters, birth reports, and heated meeting papers, the archive lays bare the challenges facing the organisation as they tried to rail against the ‘doctor knows best’ attitude of the 1950s.
It wasn’t an easy battle and the early papers in the archive show just how fraught the organisation’s relationship with the medical profession often was. These early documents show the group struggled to work out the best way to press for change in the provision of maternity care – with debates raging over whether to fight the medical profession head on, or try to win them over through tact and cooperation.
There was a fair bit of suspicion facing the organisation in its formative years, so it didn’t take long before the organisation was called to appear before the Ethical Committee of the British Medical Association (BMA). The BMA had received alarmed approaches from doctors concerned that the NCT was “challenging existing hospital rules and teaching midwifery”.
The NCT argued that they were offering something different – by having mothers teaching mothers, they hoped to develop a network of peer support and information unlike that found in the health service; their antenatal classes were offered in support of, and not instead of, medical care. Once the Committee were convinced that the women were not trying to overthrow the medical establishment, they offered the NCT a nod of approval to continue their work – but, interestingly – instructed them to do so quietly.
Havering Branch, 1968: photograph of woman practising using hexham air bolster. The National Childbirth Trust. Wellcome Library reference: SA/NCT/B/1/2/1/3/5.
“Quietly” could be an apt way to describe how the NCT tried to go about their work in these early years. Certainly the language in documents from the 1950s and 1960s in the archive seems to suggest the organisation’s attempts to appease the medical profession – in the words of one member, to work “towards advocacy rather than head-on collision”.
Early documents talk about using “dignity”, “charm”’ and “tenacity” to work alongside doctors, to persuade and influence. In order “to establish cordial and harmonious relations”, it was up to the NCT member to use her feminine charm and middle class connections to speak to doctors on their level.
To avoid treading on any toes, the NCT also asked doctors for permission for women to attend its classes. A few of these permission slips survive in the archive. And in another self-conscious attempt to placate the medical profession, the organisation changed its name from the Natural Childbirth Association to the National Childbirth Trust, dropping the word ‘natural’ to appear more respectable to doctors.
However as time went on, and in the context of the rising consumer and women’s rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s, the organisation was able to grow in strength. A growing dissatisfaction with the ‘do-as-you’re-told-and-don’t-make-a-fuss’ attitude of the 1950s gave way to a developing lexicon around notions of choice, control and individual rights. In this context, it became easier for the NCT to fight its battles more openly and politically.
Through the 1970s and 1980s – a time of the rise of the machines – the NCT became more vocal, raising concerns over the rising rate of inductions, caesarean rates, and use of episiotomies. In 1974, word reached NCT that women due to give birth over Christmas were being told they would have their births induced to avoid the festive period. In anger, then-President Philippa Micklethwait wrote to the papers, voicing her indignation that there was ‘no room at the inn’. NCT was not alone in its outrage, and a larger public backlash against inductions developed, alongside a wider feminist, anti-doctor critique.
Throughout its history, NCT has aimed to bridge the gap between lay-person and medical establishment. Its successes, failures and compromises are all charted in this rich archive collection, which demonstrates how attitudes of doctors towards expectant mothers have changed, as well as how expectations of parents have shifted.
The archive not only tells the institutional history of the National Childbirth Trust, but also contains letters and labour reports from mothers, reflecting the experiences of parents over the years.
This post has been adapted from a post that originally appeared on the Wellcome Library blog. You can find out more about the NCT archive, and other archives that we hold, on the Wellcome Library website.
Our fortnightly round-up of research news from the Wellcome Trust community…
A shot in the dark
Drinking a double espresso three hours before going to bed can rewind our body clock by an hour, according to a study published in Science Translational Medicine.
Wellcome Trust-funded scientists have shown that caffeine delays sleepiness by slowing down the normal rise in levels of the main sleep hormone, melatonin.
US-based researchers studied five people in a laboratory over 49 days, exposing them to only artificial light in a clock-free environment. Before sleeping, the subjects were given either caffeine and exposed to dim light or a placebo and exposed to bright light.
Melatonin levels in the first group rose 40 minutes later than those in the second.
Researchers in the UK wanted to understand what caused this so they added caffeine to human cells which delayed the cells’ internal body clock, known as the circadian rhythm. By switching genes on and off in each cell throughout the day, the circadian rhythm allows us to adapt to the external cycle of night and day.
Disrupting the circadian rhythm can increase risk of diseases like cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders.
Dr John O’Neill, joint lead researcher at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, said: “The effect of caffeine on sleep and wakefulness has been long established, but its impact on the underlying body clock has remained unknown. These findings could have important implications for people with circadian sleep disorders, where their normal 24 hour body clock doesn’t work properly, or even help with getting over jet lag.”
New treatment for liver failure
A treatment that boosts patients’ immune systems and tackles infections could help with liver failure, new research suggests.
The Wellcome Trust-funded study published in Gastroenterology shows that natural defence mechanisms in the liver can be triggered by an immune-boosting molecule called CSF-1.
Scientists analysed patients’ blood samples and recorded levels of the CSF-1 molecule. They observed that patients with high levels of CSF-1 in their blood had a better chance of survival than those with lower levels.
When researchers gave CSF-1 to mice with liver damage, they found that the treatment enabled the immune system to manage infections.
If the therapy is also successful in patients with liver failure, it could treat those who are not suitable for a liver transplant.
Professor Stuart Forbes, of the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said “Severe infections are common in patients with liver failure and are often fatal. Our next step is to test whether the treatment is safe and effective in people, before it can be made available for patients with liver failure.”
Detecting recurrent breast cancers
There has been a step forward in our understanding of why some breast cancers return while others do not, according to a study published in the European Society for Medical Oncology.
Scientists have identified genetic factors that only occur in relapsing cancers, which could help doctors identify at-risk patients and provide personalised treatment.
A team from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute analysed data from sequencing 1000 tumours from breast cancer patients. They found genetic differences between cancers sampled at first diagnosis (primary tumours) and recurring cancers. The large number of relapsed breast cancer samples studies means that this is the most comprehensive study on this subject to date.
Approximately one in five breast cancers come back after treatment, either to the same part of the body or spreading to new areas, known as metastasis.
Presenting the results to the 2015 European Cancer Congress last Saturday, Dr Lucy Yates, a Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Fellow, said, ““We have found that some of the genetic mutations that drive breast cancers that relapse are relatively uncommon amongst cancers that do not relapse at the point of primary diagnosis. We believe that the differences we have seen reflect genetic differences that can predispose a cancer to return, combined with mutations acquired throughout the period from first diagnosis to the subsequent relapse. Some of these genetic alterations are potentially targetable with drugs”.
In other news…
Congratulations to Professor Simon Hay, Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow who was awarded the Chalmers Medal at the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (RSTMH), and our Director, Dr Jeremy Farrar, who was awarded an honorary fellowship at the same meeting.
The use of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) – an antidepressant medication – is modestly associated with violent crime, according to Trust-funded research published in PLOS Medicine. Scientists found an association between SSRIs and violence in young adults aged 15-24.
The World Health Organisation’s Regional Office for Europe has published the European Health Report 2015. The report, a partnership between the Wellcome Trust and WHO Europe, takes a multidisciplinary approach to measuring health and wellbeing.
The first Frontiers meeting on ‘One Science – Life at the interface’ took place on 22nd-23rd September at the Wellcome Trust. The meeting convened a diverse range of people to spark new thinking and help us better understand how the Trust and others can best support collaboration across disciplines.
Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute involved in the UK10K population genome sequencing effort have published their latest findings. The study involves nearly 10,000 individuals, and has helped health and disease, according to a new study published in Nature.
For Bob Marley (according the lyric from Trenchtown Rock) “One good thing about music, is when it hits you, you feel no pain”. There have been many scientific studies looking at the power of music to help reduce pain and anxiety, change heart rate and blood pressure, and even affect the amount of food we consume.
“Why music?” aims to take you on a journey of discovery across the weekend, exploring the unique power of music to influence and manipulate us, alter our emotions or enhance our memory.
With live broadcasts from their pop-up studio in the foyer of Wellcome Collection, Radio 3 and Wellcome Collection will host world-class musicians, composers, songwriters, DJs, Jazz improvisers, psychologists, singers and even a musical psychiatrist.
So if you fancy something different with your morning coffee, why not pop in to the Collection café and experience the Radio 3 breakfast show live? Or if you prefer to use your weekend to catch up on sleep, be sure to tune in for the live broadcast premiere of Max Richter’s SLEEP – an eight hour lullaby being performed overnight from Saturday to Sunday in the Reading Room at Wellcome Collection.
Maybe you’re with Friedrich Nietzsche – “Without music, life would be a mistake”, but we’ll leave you with this, from Hans Christian Andersen, “Where words fail, music speaks” – over to you, Radio 3!
We’re pleased to announce our three new Engagement Fellows for 2015 – Bella Starling, Delia Muir and Steve Cross – who begin their two-year Fellowships this month. They will be working on projects that will take the field of public engagement in new and exciting directions, so we thought it would be good to hear a bit more about what public engagement means to them…
What’s your background/current position?
I’m currently a Patient and Public Involvement Officer at the University of Leeds. I spend most of my time working with patients and carers to help shape health research. I originally studied acting and I still love to create theatre and perform whenever I can.
What does public engagement mean to you?
For me public engagement is about bringing people together to learn from and with each other. The public have expertise that can help to shape the work of organisations like the NHS and universities. Equally, those organisations have a duty to share their learning with the public.
What are you hoping to get out of your time as a Wellcome Trust Public Engagement Fellow?
I’d like to explore how performance practice can be used to facilitate public involvement in health research. I’d also like to explore the differences and links between public involvement and public engagement. I’m really looking forward learning from other fields and excited about having the space to experiment with new approaches.
What first engaged you with science?
One of my earliest science memories is visiting the hospital where my mum used to work. Her colleague showed me around a lab where they stored the specimens used for teaching. I was fascinated by the jars containing strange, diseased organs. I liked the fact that I could see the things which I felt working inside me every day. I was also shown a large ball of hair that had been removed from someone’s stomach. Needless to say I never chewed my hair again!
Dr Steve Cross
What’s your background/current position?
I’m a freelance comedian and engagement consultant, and until recently was Head of Public Engagement at UCL.
What does public engagement mean to you?
Helping researchers to change people’s lives for the better by listening to them and working with them.
What are you hoping to get out of your time as a Wellcome Trust Public Engagement Fellow?
I’ve been working in engagement for 13 years, and really want to look forward at the challenges of the next 10-15 years, getting my skills to match what’s needed.
What first engaged you with science?
I don’t even remember – I was raised by people with science degrees, so I think that asking questions and looking for realistic answers has been part of my life all along.
(I have a PhD in Neuroscience but I’m fine with not being called Dr!)
What’s your background/current position?
My current job title is Director of Public Programmes for Central Manchester NHS Trust Research and Innovation Division (what a mouthful!). I lead a small team engaging and involving people from all walks of life with biomedical and health-related research. Our activities are really diverse, including working with young people, adults, patients and underserved voices, through media such as festivals, performance and creative educational activities.
We support and train researchers in engagement and involvement, and carry out ground-breaking research into patient involvement – including within the pharmaceutical industries. We also operate strategically and nationally to influence engagement and involvement with biomedical and health related research. Our Public Programmes team evolved from Nowgen – which specialised in public engagement with genetics – and now covers all areas of biomedical and health related science.
Before moving to Manchester, I worked for the Wellcome Trust’s public engagement and biomedical ethics funding programmes, and set up schemes for these programmes to support activities in low to middle income countries, including with the Wellcome Trust’s overseas programmes.
Before that, I was a science writer and (a long time ago now!) a neuroscientist – my work on stem cells during my postdoctoral studies turned me on to public engagement!
What does public engagement mean to you?
Many things! From communicating science, to democratising research, and everything in between. I am particularly interested in the social outcomes of public engagement with science.
What are you hoping to get out of your time as a Wellcome Trust Public Engagement Fellow?
The central question of my Fellowship is ‘how can public engagement with science act as a catalyst for social change?’ I want to understand if and how engagement with biomedical research contributes to civic life, social mobility and socio-economic identities.
I hope to become a leader in the field specialising in equity, inclusion and access in public engagement and influencing our sector to consider diverse types of evidence, approaches and values to including under-served voices. Being an Engagement Fellow is an immensely prestigious award for me personally and professionally.
What first engaged you with science?
Insects. And a fascination with the way people (read: grown-ups) think.
Covering 53 member states and a population of 900 million people, the European Health Report 2015 is a landmark publication of the World Health Organisation’s Regional Office for Europe (WHO Europe). The report details the progress the European region has made towards the goals laid out in Health 2020, the European-wide health policy framework. Wellcome Trust Head of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dan O’Connor, welcomes the report’s multidisciplinary approach to measuring health and wellbeing…
Did you know that 30% of Europeans still smoke, even though it’s one of the three leading causes of mortality? Or that despite life expectancy going up across the continent, the gap between the countries with the highest life expectancy and those with the lowest is over ten years?
These are just an example of the facts you can find in the report, but in amongst all the usual interesting health and policy measures there is also a very welcome commitment to thinking about health more broadly, and to exploring the influence of culture on health and wellbeing.
The European Health Report 2015 represents not only a widespread acceptance that cultural factors (such as gender norms, faith traditions, and racial prejudice) impact health, but also an understanding that to measure and analyse such factors requires a multidimensional and interdisciplinary approach that includes the humanities and social science.
The Wellcome Trust has a long track record of thinking about health in the broadest possible contexts, from curious exhibitions at Wellcome Collection, through innovative work in public engagement, to our growing investment in humanities and social science research.
The report commits WHO Europe to engaging in further work on the cultural influences on health and wellbeing. The aim is to begin measuring health and wellbeing not just with numbers and bar charts, but with the subjective and narrative tools of the humanities and social sciences too. This will build upon work already supported by the Wellcome Trust in partnership with WHO Europe – connecting our humanities and social science researchers with policy makers at the national and international level.
The European Health Report 2015 reflects the partnership between the Trust and WHO Europe, which we hope will be the beginning of an on-going and broader collaboration with other major health organisations committed to making significant changes in the way we measure and improve health.
You can read the complete “European Health Report 2015 – Targets and beyond – reaching new frontiers in evidence” on the WHO Europe website. The highlights of the report are also available in English, French, Dutch and Russian, and WHO Europe have also created a smartphone app for Android and iOS, which allows you to search the data from the report.
Professor Thumbi Ndung’u is the Victor Daitz Chair in HIV/TB Research at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. He works in the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV and is the Programme Director of Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV research Excellence (SANTHE) network, funded with a DELTAS Africa Award. The aim of the network is to strengthen partnerships in HIV and TB research across 12 African research sites, and to train the next-generation leaders of African science and create enabling environments for excellence in research and collaboration in Africa. With so much interesting work to talk about, we couldn’t wait to read his answers to our Researcher Spotlight questions…
What are you working on?
Our research goals are to understand how the immune system fights off HIV and TB and how these pathogens in turn evade or adapt to continuous immune pressure. Ultimately, we hope to use this knowledge for rational vaccine, immunotherapeutic or cure strategies against these two major killer diseases.
What does your average day involve?
I have this odd habit of first checking baseball scores when I get to the office – to see how the Red Sox did! Blame that on the time I spent in Boston as a graduate student. I then embark on a lot of meetings! I may start the day with a lab meeting or a meeting with one of my students or postdoctoral fellows. I will then sit to work on a grant application, draft manuscript, student thesis or sit to discuss experiments. I will then be interrupted by a student or other colleague – which is the best part of my work! Next might be dashing to a meeting, then on to a conference/Skype call, attend a lecture and then I’m off for an evening jog before heading home to catch up with my family…
Why is your work important?
Vaccines are the most effective public health tool available for the control of infectious diseases. It is a great honour to contribute to the effort to develop effective vaccines against the two major infectious killers in the world.
In addition, I am contributing to knowledge generation and capacity development in the region of the world with the least collective scientific capacity and yet which has the greatest burden of infectious disease in the world. There is no greater calling.
What do you hope the impact of your work will be?
Reduction in human suffering, and better scientific capacity to combat major diseases and socio-economic development for Africa.
How did you come to be working on this topic/in this field?
I have been blessed with a supportive family and friends and great mentors who believed in me. I have incredibly gifted colleagues who make me look forward to fun at work every day!
They have collectively guided, encouraged, cajoled and intimidated me into the field of HIV/TB research and ensured that I stayed the course. Along the way, they have taught me to take my work seriously, but never take myself too seriously.
How has Wellcome funding helped you/your research/your career?
This is a turning point for my career. Not only is it an opportunity to undertake cutting-edge research and train scientists focused on African problems, but we also want to build attractive research environments and engage communities in which we work. It is an opportunity to do transformative science that solves problems, builds for the future, and is good for society in a holistic way.
What’s the most frequently asked question about your work?
“When will we get an HIV vaccine?”
Which question about your work do you most dread – and why?
“When will we get an HIV vaccine?”
I dread this because my answer remains as it was ten years ago: “I don’t know!” – and yet I am optimistic that there will be one.
Tell us something about you that might surprise us…
I grew up on a coffee farm in rural Kenya, I hand-milked cows as a young man on the farm and I did a newspaper delivery job as a postgraduate student at Harvard University. I still get a chill down my spine thinking of my newspaper delivery route during the Boston winters!
What keeps you awake at night?
Experiments that are not working…
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
There are so many gems over the years, but I grew up in a Christian home that valued time and hard work, so Psalm 90:12: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” easily comes to mind.
The chain-reaction question, set by our previous spotlit researcher, Naomi Penfold, is this: “If you were transitioning from school to university now, what undergraduate degree course would you take and why?”
I love inquiry and discovery, so it would have to be medicine or medical sciences. Medicine, law and journalism all best epitomize the human instinct to know, which appeals to me a lot.
Medicine or medical sciences take the prize because of their ability to change the human condition in a personal, visible and ultimately universal way.
You can find out more about Prof Thumbi Ndung’u’s DELTAS Africa Award and the work that he is involved in on his profile page on the K-RITH website. Our DELTAS Africa press release and recent blog post have more information about DELTAS Africa and the awards made under this scheme.
It’s a far cry from an Ebola treatment unit in West Africa, but over 50 researchers came together in the Rector’s Garden at Exeter College on a fine late-summer evening this week, to be awarded medals for their contribution to tackling the Ebola epidemic. Principal Investigator Professor Peter Horby, from the University of Oxford tells us more…
The Epidemic Diseases Research Group in Oxford, with colleagues in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Médecins Sans Frontières and GOAL Global, and volunteers from 12 other countries set up two clinical trials of experimental treatments for Ebola. The team worked under incredible time pressures and extremely challenging conditions to set up the trials in record time.
The work was funded by the Wellcome Trust, and almost a year to the day after the grant was awarded the investigators were honoured at a ceremony hosted by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford, Professor Andrew Hamilton, and the Head of the Nuffield Department of Medicine, Professor Sir Peter Ratcliffe.
30 team members received the Ebola Medal for Service in West Africa, announced by the Prime Minister on 11th June, and 39 received a medal specially commissioned by the University to recognise their unique contribution.
Project Manager Dr Catrin Moore came up with the idea of the Oxford medals, “Peter Horby and I were discussing how wonderful the Ebola medals are, but that they are only available to Brits who have spent over 21 days in one of the affected West African countries” she says.
“We thought that it would be wonderful to thank all of the West African, non-British and Oxford staff who dedicated so much of their time and effort to our project. We were unable to find a medal anywhere which expressed this so I suggested that we design a University of Oxford Ebola medal.”
The medals were awarded in a ceremony that followed a full day workshop on ‘Fast-tracking clinical research in an epidemic’ which sought to capture the collective experiences of the team and the research partners over the past year. The workshop findings will be published as a Rapid Research Response Framework that will outline the key steps for a successful and fast research response to infectious disease outbreaks.
The Wellcome Trust is a leading partner in the Public Health Research Data Forum, which brings together research funders who are committed to increasing the sharing of health research data in ways that are equitable, ethical and efficient and will accelerate improvements in public health. On behalf of the Forum, the Trust funded a major international study of stakeholders’ views about best practices for sharing public health research data from low and middle income settings, which recently published its results. Dr Susan Bull and Prof Michael Parker, from The Ethox Centre, University of Oxford, discuss the key issues and findings of the study.
Data-sharing is increasingly seen as an important component of effective and efficient biomedical research – both by researchers, and research funders. At the same time, it is recognised that efforts to increase access to individual-level data raise important ethical and governance challenges, some of which may vary depending on the context in which the research takes place.
The primary argument in favour of more routine sharing of de-identified research data is its potential to generate more – and higher quality – science. This could in turn lead to improved health outcomes, and promoting the public good.
Maximising the use of data is also seen as an efficient use of resources, and a key element of demonstrating respect for research participants – by increasing the impact of their contribution to research.
While previous studies have examined the perspectives of research stakeholders in high-income settings on sharing research data, there is a dearth of evidence about the perceptions and expectations of stakeholders in low- and middle-income countries. To help address this, our study examined the views of researchers, research managers and community members about best practices in data sharing. We conducted the research in Thailand, India, Vietnam, South Africa and Kenya in order to begin to establish an evidence base for models of good data sharing practice.
The findings of the study suggested four key factors as being important considerations in judging whether any particular data sharing initiative is likely to be viewed as an example of good data sharing practice, and thus likely to command support in the development of models of data sharing practice.
- assessing the value and benefits of data sharing
- minimising risks of harm and safeguarding the privacy and confidentiality of research participants,
- promoting fairness and reciprocity,
- instilling trust and trustworthiness among participants, communities, researchers and the wider public .
In the majority of the settings we looked at, routine sharing of data from clinical and public health research was a relatively new concept, even among researchers. The majority of sharing that had taken place was with known researchers and in collaborative relationships.
Researchers noted the value of sharing within existing or novel collaborations as this helped them to minimise the potential risks of sharing data, and appropriately promote participants’ interests. Sharing data within collaborations was seen to support trust building and capacity development. In addition, collaboration could improve the quality of research by ensuring that the research context was understood and any errors addressed early. It also helped to ensure appropriate recognition of the initial researchers’ contributions to the secondary research.
Participants in the study emphasised the importance of transparent, accountable, efficient, fair, and proportionate governance processes in instances where data sets are shared with researchers where there is no ongoing collaborative relationship during secondary data analysis.
Given the relative novelty of sharing data from clinical and public health research, some participants discussed the value of reviewing different approaches to governing data sharing that are currently in place in a range of settings. They also mentioned that guidelines for the constitution of governance procedures might be useful.
Our research, together with existing evidence, suggests that whilst greater data sharing is desirable, high ethical standards of practice are going to be an essential component of sustainable, successful data driven science.
It is likely that some approaches to data sharing are more likely to promote effective and efficient research (while also maintaining public trust) than others. It is also possible that the most effective and sustainable approach may vary between settings and different forms of data or research.
As a key output of our project, we have established a website that focuses on ethics and research data sharing, with useful links to reports, articles, guidance and platforms for sharing data.
We invite you to join the discussion group and let us know about your experiences with sharing individual-level data, and look forward to your input.
Find out more about the study results and related resources in this special issue and accompanying paper, website and free online course. Please visit the Public Health Research Data Forum website to discover more about the Forum’s work.
Last week the Wellcome Trust and the Department for International Development (DFID) announced funding for seven new research and training programmes under our Delivering Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science (DELTAS) Africa scheme. The focus of the programmes ranges from biostatistics, to malaria genetics, to mental health. This news formed part of a larger announcement of the launch of the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) – a new initiative that shifts the centre of gravity for research funding decisions to Africa. Supported by the Wellcome Trust, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and DFID, AESA will drive the African Union’s science, technology and innovation strategy in the area of health. Sophie Mathewson, International Operations Adviser at the Wellcome Trust, explains why this is an evolution of our funding strategy and a step forward for science on the continent…
DELTAS Africa is a new scheme that aims to establish environments that will promote the production of world-class research at African universities, and create training opportunities for the next generation of African researchers. The first seven DELTAS awardees, funded for the next five years, were announced last week at a press briefing in Nairobi.
The awardees are spread across six countries in sub-Saharan Africa – Ghana, Kenya, Mali, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe – and, together with their co-awardees, they will help to create a network of research excellence across the continent.
Most people with an interest in global health are familiar with the need for research in HIV, TB and emerging infectious diseases in sub-Saharan Africa. They also recognise the leading role of African researchers in developing the treatments and interventions that have increased life expectancy in countries with the greatest burden of diseases such as HIV or malaria. Some of the new DELTAS Africa programmes will continue to respond to these needs, and will build on the longstanding collaborations between leading institutions within and outside of Africa.
However, while the high burden of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa is common knowledge, less attention is paid to the common mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, which are associated with major chronic illnesses, including HIV. The DELTAS Africa programmes include awards to address diverse topics such as mental health, biostatistics and host-pathogen genetics.
These programmes have been funded for their excellent science, and because they bring together leading health researchers in these fields, working in institutions across the continent. They are also all examples of subjects that have been underrepresented in sub-Saharan research but which are no less important to researchers and the communities they serve.
By funding research training in these areas, we hope to advance scientific knowledge, so that we know more about the disease burden and effective interventions, but also to develop career opportunities for researchers in these fields so that they can begin to collaborate and advance the research agenda.
On the surface, DELTAS Africa may sound like many of the activities that the Wellcome Trust has long supported in sub-Saharan Africa, including the African Institutions Initiative, our long-term funding of three Major Overseas Programmes in Africa, and the Public Health and Tropical Medicine Fellowships, of which we are rightly proud. The DELTAS scheme draws on this history, and continues a commitment to funding research in places where research will play a critical role in addressing major health and social challenges.
However, DELTAS Africa represents a clear evolution in the way in which the Wellcome Trust provides support to African researchers and our role as a funder on the continent. Usually when the Wellcome Trust launches a call, most activities happen in London with the support of an international network of scientists as reviewers and committee members.
With this scheme, the Wellcome Trust has been working in partnership with a new organisation, the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA), which is hosted by the African Academy of Sciences (an organisation based in Nairobi, Kenya but with a pan-African network) in partnership with NEPAD. AESA is funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Gates Foundation and DFID, with the common aim of supporting African science, both financially and in terms of policy and advocacy work from within the continent. We are working closely with our colleagues in Nairobi with the intention that eventually they will lead on managing the DELTAS initiative, and as they develop, future funding schemes.
By working closely with the DELTAS Africa programmes, AESA will begin to address many of the issues that make the life of a scientist in Africa particularly challenging, such as under-developed research administration, reliance on funding from multiple donors and lack of clear pathways for research careers.
AESA will also be able to act as advocates to increase national governments’ funding for research, and for the greater use of research to inform policy. In part, this reflects recognition that while the Wellcome Trust can exert influence and address issues that affect researchers in the UK, it may not be the most appropriate agent to foster change in research institutions across sub-Saharan Africa or to engage with African governments.
Much of what we have done over the last year has been daunting and required the ability to experiment, improvise and be ready to adapt. But this process has also been rewarding. Over the last year, together with other colleagues at the Trust, I have seen the emergence of fully-fledged programmes from very early ideas. During last week’s inception meeting in Nairobi, we saw the initial encounters of researchers that we hope will form the basis of lasting relationships between the DELTAS Africa programme teams.
We are proud of the programmes that we are funding and look forward to their successes. Yet we also recognise that, five years from now, our own measure of success, will be that our colleagues in Nairobi are leading on, and advancing, the cause of research across the continent.
Our fortnightly round-up of research news from the Wellcome Trust community…
ADHD from adolescence to adulthood
Wellcome Trust- supported researchers have found differences in brain structure and memory in young adults with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which suggests that teenagers may not ‘grow out of’ ADHD.
ADHD is a disorder characterised by short attention span, restlessness and impulsiveness. Doctors usually, diagnose ADHD in childhood or adolescence, but until now, most research into the maturing of adolescents with ADHD has focused on interview-based assessments. This approach leaves questions of brain structure and function unanswered.
In a new study, Published in the journal European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers compared the brain structure and memory function of a control group with those of a cohort of young adults who had been previously diagnosed with ADHD as teenagers. Results showed that the latter had both reduced brain volume and poorer memory function, regardless of whether or not they met diagnostic checklist criteria for ADHD. Furthermore, in the part of the brain that is key for storing and processing memory, known as the caudate nucleus, there was reduced grey matter in adolescents with ADHD.
Graham Murray from the Department of Psychiatry, University of Cambridge, who led the study, said: “in the controls, when the tests got harder, the caudate nucleus went up a gear in its activity, and this is likely to have helped solve the memory problems. But in the group with adolescent ADHD, this region of the brain is smaller and doesn’t seem to be able to respond to increasing memory demands, with the result that memory performance suffers.”
Can bacteria help protect our environment?
Bacteria that can oxidise methane, one of the greenhouse gasses, could be used in biotech applications to protect our environment, according to a new Wellcome Trust-funded study.
Published in Nature, the study explains how these bacteria, called methanotrophs, can use large quantities of copper for methane oxidation. The researchers identified a new family of copper storage proteins called Csp, which store metal in a way never seen before.
To oxidise methane, methanotrophs use methane monooxygenase, an enzyme requiring copper or sometimes iron to exploit this otherwise toxic recourse for the carbon and energy they need Understanding how methanotrophs use copper could point the way to other potential applications of these organisms, such as helping reduce the amount of methane being released into the atmosphere.
Lead author Chris Dennison, Professor of Biological Chemistry at Newcastle University explained: “Methane is such a useful and plentiful commodity but we need more cost effective methods to unlock its potential. Using bacteria could be the best option so a better knowledge of how these bacteria operate is required.
“As copper is so important for the oxidation of methane, all potential applications based on this reactivity requires knowing how methanotrophs acquire and store copper. The discovery of the Csps adds a new dimension to our understanding of this complex process.”
HIV self-testing success
HIV-self testing (HIVST) in Malawi is safe, accurate and acceptable, and could be widely used in urban sub-Saharan Africa, according to research published in PLOS Medicine.
Researchers from the London School of Tropical Medicine and the Malawi-Liverpool Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme studied HIV self-testing in Blantyre, Malawi. Trialling this method as an alternative to home-based HIV testing and counselling, HIVST requires much less intensive training, instead focusing on individuals learning to test and interpret their results.
The study sampled 16,600 adults in 14 neighbourhoods across two years. Overall, 75% of residents in the study took a self-test. The majority of these were women and adolescents, but uptake in men was also higher than expected.
HIVST received positive feedback from participants, with 94.6% reporting they were ‘”highly satisfied”.
While the authors acknowledge some limitations in the study design, the findings suggest that HIV self-testing could be scaled up to complement existing approaches to control the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Senior author Professor Liz Corbett, Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow and Clinical Epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “Continued high uptake in the second year suggests that scaling up HIV self-testing could have a sustained impact on the coverage of HIV testing and care in Africa, especially for men and adolescents.”
In other news…
A new study published in Immunity has found that a type of white blood cell known as cytotoxic T cells can destroy tumour cells and virally-infected cells. The researchers, funded by the Wellcome Trust, used advanced imaging techniques to record the process on film.
Wellcome Trust-funded researchers from the University of Oxford have developed a new powerful statistical tool that enables accurate prediction of ‘missing’ genetic data. The tool, called IMPUTE, has changed the field of human genetics.
The Wellcome Trust and the Department for International Development (DFID) have recently funded seven leading African researchers to establish cutting-edge research and training programmes across the African continent.
Along with almost 200 organisations from across the life sciences, the Wellcome Trust has signed a letter published in the Financial Times to urge the Government to protect the UK science budget.
The Wellcome Trust has outlined its initial position on genome editing, in a joint statement with other medical research funders in the UK. We believe continued research is important to learn more about the technique’s potential for clinical application in the future. You can find out more about genome editing in our Q&A.
Saturday Night Live, The Muppets, and 30Rock might not seem like the obvious source of inspiration for a TV science programme, but then Horrible Science is not your average science programme…
With episodes on “Gruesome Guts”, “Bulging Brains”, and “Chemical Chaos”, Horrible Science is a world away the sort of specialist science documentaries you might be familiar with.
Based on the popular series of children’s books of the same name, Horrible Science combines messy, gory and macabre elements of science with gooey slapstick, to create an entertaining and informative show to inspire young minds.
“Our brief was to create a show that didn’t feel like a science lesson but would impart interesting science facts by stealth” says producer John Pocock.
Supported by a Wellcome Trust Broadcast co-production award, the show has a core target audience of 6-12 year olds. But with familiar comics Ben Miller and Alexander Armstrong joining a varied line-up of stand-up and acting talent, there should be something for everyone.
“We collaborated very closely with The Wellcome Trust who steered the science” explains Pocock. “Each episode has its own scientific consultant, and we consulted the national curriculum to make sure the science was factually correct and also interesting to the viewer.”
The Trust’s involvement didn’t end there – children of Trust staff took on the role of honorary script editors, ensuring the content passed muster!
The Wellcome Trust is proud to support a wide range of different approaches to public engagement with science at all levels – whether that is squishy science on telly or tackling traditionally taboo subjects (such as impotence and mental health) in theatre productions, and much more besides!
Horrible Science debuts this Sunday morning on both ITV and cITV at 9am with an episode on “Deadly Diseases”. It is a Toff Media production, jointly funded by ITV, the Wellcome Trust, ABC Australia, and Discovery Asia.
New scientific techniques are constantly being developed, and some of them have the potential to make a large impact on future research and have possible applications for health. One technique showing great promise is CRISPR-Cas9 – which can be used as a genome-editing tool. As with any scientific advance, it is important that society has sufficient understanding of the potential of these techniques in order to make informed decisions about how and when they should (and in some cases, should not) be used. Hannah Isom and Kate Arkless Gray have collected answers to some common questions about CRISPR-Cas9 and genome editing…
What is CRISPR-Cas9?
CRISPR-Cas9 is a new technique that allows scientists to edit the genome, by removing, replacing, or adding to parts of the DNA sequence. It’s not the first tool to allow us to do this, but it is by far the most efficient, inexpensive and easiest to use, enabling precise genetic manipulation in practically any living cell, even those inside the body.
If you think of the genome as a book filled with millions of letters of genetic code, CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to insert or delete new words (genes) or even make a change to a single letter.
So how does it work?
We’ve actually borrowed the technique – or at least the principle – from nature. Some bacteria use a similar in-built gene editing mechanism to protect themselves from harmful viruses – a sort of rudimentary immune system.
It uses a pair of ‘molecular scissors’ that cut the two strands of DNA at a precise location, so that bits can be added or removed. These molecular scissors are actually an enzyme called Cas9, which is attached to a small piece of RNA (a close cousin of DNA) that helps guide the scissors to the desired location.
When the cut is made the DNA starts to repair itself, but because this natural repair method is error-prone it can cause bits of DNA to be added or deleted. When this happens it can change the way the gene at that location works. In some circumstances it is even possible to insert a desired DNA sequence to replace what was originally there, though this requires a slightly more complicated process.
Is this the first time we’ve been able to edit the genome?
No. Scientists have been able to make changes to the DNA in cells for a while and have used these techniques widely in research. But, CRISPR-Cas9 is widely acknowledged to be a game-changer because of the speed, simplicity and specificity with which edits can be carried out. It even allows researchers to make more than one edit at a time.
Due to its relative simplicity, the potential applications of CRISPR-Cas9 have become a hot topic of discussion, particularly the idea that it may one day be used to make edits to human reproductive cells or embryos (known as the germ line), that could then be passed to future generations.
Why would you want to edit genetic code in the first place?
There are lots of reasons scientists are interested in this idea, for starters it can be used as a powerful research tool. By making changes to genes using CRISPR-Cas9 and studying the effects, we can learn more about what these genes do in the body and how they might be involved in causing disease. It is particularly useful for studying diseases that involve more than one gene, as it can be used to edit the genome in several places at once.
This type of pre-clinical research may involve studying cells or tissues in a petri dish – which may include very early human embryos, under very strict conditions (it is illegal to implant these to create a pregnancy). It’s also possible to use CRISPR-Cas9 to introduce or remove genes in research animals (such as fruit flies, mice, zebrafish) so we can study the effects in living organisms.
Understanding more about diseases processes in this way can help in the development of new treatments.
So, it’s useful for research. What about treatments?
CRISPR-Cas9 has shown a lot of promise as a potential treatment in human somatic (non-reproductive) cells. Several teams around the world are already using CRISPR-Cas9 and other genome editing techniques to develop therapies for a range of conditions.
One such approach is a type of gene therapy – where cells are taken from the body and their DNA rewritten to correct a fault, or add a new function, before being put back into the patient. There is already work underway to apply this principle to bone marrow cells as a potential treatment for sickle cell disease and another blood disorder called thalasaemia.
Another interesting avenue of research is in CAR-T cell therapy for cancer. Here researchers are looking at using CRISPR-Cas9 to make changes to immune cells so that they can recognise and target tumours.
However, it is likely to be many years before any of these techniques are being used routinely in patients.
Can we edit human embryos?
CRISPR-Cas9 and other genome editing techniques have sparked a lot of interest, and some people believe that we should also explore the possibility of using them to prevent children being born with serious inherited diseases. One question is whether this could be done by editing the genome of embryos during the IVF process.
In reality, we currently know far too little about the technique to be able to use it in this way and even if our technical understanding had reached this stage, it is illegal in the UK and many other countries to edit the genome of an embryo and implant it into a woman to create a pregnancy. In fact, any research that involves human embryos is governed by strict legal, ethical and scientific regulations.
Even so, we believe it is important to start an open conversation about potential applications now, so that the ethical, safety, and legal issues can be widely debated. We need to consider a wide range of voices and opinions (not just those of scientists) to inform any future decisions.
Is this a slippery slope towards designer babies?
When discussing genetic research and how it may be used to improve health in future, we often hear the phrase “slippery slope”, which can cause alarm. The law currently forbids any use of this technique in human reproduction.
Some people are concerned that in future CRISPR-Cas9 could be used to engineer ‘desirable’ traits into babies, such as appearance, physical prowess or intelligence. These are complex traits, affected by both nature and nurture. We are a long way from being able to engineer these things and society may choose never to allow this. Editing any traits that can be inherited – even for health reasons – is a big step for humanity and so there needs to be a wide ranging discussion before we consider whether to allow this.
We wholeheartedly support the UK’s robust regulatory framework, which ensures that science progresses at a rate that society is comfortable with, and potential uses of technology such as genome editing undergo a high degree of scrutiny before being permitted.
Changes to the law should only ever be considered after extensive public consultation, ethical and scientific review. We must consider all concerns and ethical implications of being able to manipulate the genome before we consider making any changes to current rules and regulations.
In every case so far, this has meant that procedures have only ever been approved when they have shown compelling medical reasons to justify their use (as in the case of IVF and mitochondrial donation).
How is Wellcome involved?
The Wellcome Trust has funded a number of scientists who use CRISPR-Cas9 in their research. These include a collaboration between AstraZeneca and the Sanger Institute, who are working to use genome-editing technologies to identify and validate new drug targets for cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Last week, we published an initial joint policy position with several other research bodies, reinforcing our support for further research in this area, which we believe holds a great deal of promise.
We are not currently funding any genome editing research that involves human embryos, but would be open to doing so in the context of thorough ethical scrutiny and approval, high-quality science, and in accordance with all legal and regulatory requirements.
If the clinical applications are years away, why are we talking about this now?
We think it’s important to have an open and inclusive debate sooner rather than later so that scientists, ethicists, doctors, regulators, funders and policy makers can exchange knowledge and ideas on the issues and also to encourage the public, including patients and their families, to feed into those discussions.
There are lots of activities already in progress, including a project by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics looking at the impact of genome editing, a meeting of international experts called the Hinxton Group and an initiative led by the US National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine.
You can read our initial joint statement on genome editing on our website.
We’re joining almost 200 other life sciences organisations – from funders to pharmaceuticals companies – to ask the UK government to protect its investment in science in the forthcoming Spending Review. In an letter, published in the Financial Times today, we add our voice to those of leading investors, companies and charities, making the case that long-term public funding provides the foundation for the country’s world-leading multidisciplinary research base, delivers wide-ranging improvements to people’s health and wellbeing, underpins the development and retention of a highly skilled workforce, and drives economic growth and productivity.
The UK is a scientific superpower. Strong, predictable and long-term Government investment provides the foundation for this country’s outstanding, multidisciplinary research base. Diverse public funding is critical to maintain the UK’s world-leading position, and improve the health and wellbeing of the population. It drives economic growth and attracts a wealth of global corporations, investors and charities.
As representatives of almost 200 organisations from across the life sciences, we urge the Government to reinforce its commitment to science in the 2015 Spending Review and cement the UK as a global leader in research and development. Our investment and support depend upon it.
The UK pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical technology and diagnostics sectors generate an estimated annual turnover of £56 billion, and employ 183,000 people, even more in supply chains. Venture capitalists and specialist investors back early-stage innovative companies as they grow and flourish. Medical research charities attract support from millions of individual donors, investing £1.3 billion a year and funding the salaries of over 12,000 researchers in universities and institutes. None of this would be possible without strong Government support.
Securing public funding for cross-disciplinary research will deliver benefits to patients, increase private sector confidence, and deliver productivity gains, not least through the development and retention of a highly skilled workforce. In recent years, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has made it clear that science is a personal priority. We ask the Government to deliver its vision for this area by protecting its essential investment.
Dr Jeremy Farrar
Director, Wellcome Trust
Acting Chief Executive, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry
Chief Executive, Association of Medical Research Charities
Dr Menelas Pangalos
Executive Vice-President of Innovative Medicines and Early Development, AstraZeneca
Chief Executive, BioIndustry Association
Chief Executive, Cancer Research UK
President of Pharmaceuticals R&D, GlaxoSmithKline
President of Worldwide Research and Development, Pfizer
Chief Executive, Syncona Partners
Neil Woodford CBE
Head of Investment, Woodford Investment Management
Full list of signatories can be found here.