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Wellcome Trust Research Round-up

17 Mar, 2014

Welcome to the first of our Wellcome Trust “Research Round-up”s where we bring you news of the interesting work that our researchers are involved in. We will be publishing these fortnightly for a trial period and we welcome your feedback on the idea. If you have a story that should be included let us know on Twitter or get in touch with the Media Office.

Flu without the fever

Three quarters of people infected by recent seasonal and pandemic flu outbreaks had no symptoms, according to the latest results from the Wellcome Trust and MRC-funded project Flu Watch – a major new community-based study about influenza incidence in England between 2006 and 2011.

In study published in Lancet Respiratory Medicine, Flu Watch researchers found that around 1 in 5 of the population were infected in recent outbreaks of seasonal flu and the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, but just 23% of these infections caused symptoms, and only 17% of people were ill enough to consult their doctor.

Lead author Dr Andrew Hayward from UCL said: “Reported cases of influenza represent the tip of a large clinical and subclinical iceberg that is mainly invisible to national surveillance systems that only record cases seeking medical attention.”

“Most people don’t go to the doctor when they have flu. Even when they do consult they are often not recognised as having influenza. Surveillance based on patients who consult greatly underestimates the number of community cases, which in turn can lead to overestimates of the proportion of cases who end up in hospital or die. Information on the community burden is therefore critical to inform future control and prevention programmes.”

That loving feeling

Dr Stephen Goodwin and colleagues at the University of Oxford are step closer to understanding why female Drosophila melangoster fruit flies change their behaviour after mating.Drosophila neurons

While virgin female Drosophila are highly sexually receptive and rapidly copulate with appropriate males, after copulation these females shift their priorities, becoming less receptive to further mating and focussing instead on feeding and producing eggs.

The team’s research in Current Biology shows that this change in behaviour is due to concentration of the neuromodulator octopamine. When the octopamine level in unmated virgin females was artificially increased by researchers, the files exhibited behaviour usually only seen in successfully mated females.

The team also pinpointed the specific neurons affected by octopamine, which are located in the abdominal ganglion, a part of the fly’s nervous system that is equivalent to the mammalian spinal cord.

Fast food nation

People who live and work near a high number of takeaway food outlets tend to eat more of these foods and are more likely to be obese than those less exposed, according to new research published in the British Medical Journal.

The first UK study to combine home, work and commuting environments of 5,442 adults (aged 29-62) found that those most exposed to takeaway outlets were almost twice as likely to be obese than those who encountered the fewest outlets.

Takeaway exposure was also strongly associated with a greater BMI and increased consumption of takeaway food. Those with the highest combined exposure to takeaway outlets consumed an extra 40g of calorific food a week (equivalent to half a small serving of French fries from a typical takeaway food outlet), and had a BMI on average 1.21kg/m2 greater than those least exposed. The association was most pronounced for exposure near people’s place of work.

The study was funded through the UK Clinical Research Collaboration, which is supported by the Wellcome Trust.

Cancer therapy too targeted?

Two novel cancer genes that are associated with the development of a rare, highly aggressive, cancer of blood vessels, called angiosarcoma have been identified by researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the University of Oxford.

These genes may now act as markers for future treatments and explain why narrowly targeted therapies that are directed at just one target fail.

Although angiosarcoma is quite rare, with approximately 100 people diagnosed with the cancer in the UK each year, the survival outcomes for the cancer are poor. Drugs developed to target individual cellular pathways involved in the formation of blood vessels have been unsuccessful.

In a Nature Genetics study the team found that 40 per cent of angiosarcomas carry mutations in genes that control blood vessel growth, including two novel cancer genes, PTPRB and PLCG1.

In other news…

Professor Eleanor Maguire, from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, recently gave the prestigious Friday Evening Discourse at the Royal Institution. It is entitled The Neuroscience of Memory.

Congratulations to Professor Alex Rowe (University of Edinburgh) and Professor Mike Barrett (University of Glasgow) who share the 2014 British Society for Parasitology Wright Medal

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