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Wellcome Trust Research Round-Up: 28.09.15

28 Sep, 2015

Our fortnightly round-up of research news from the Wellcome Trust community…

A shot in the dark

Caffeine crystals Credit: Annie Cavanagh and David McCarthy. Wellcome Images

Caffeine crystals. Credit: Annie Cavanagh and David McCarthy. Wellcome Images

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

B0007363 Mouse liver with blood cells Credit: Jackie Lewin. Wellcome Images The internal structure and specialist regions of liver tissue from an adult mouse. The sinusoids (vascular channels lined with endothelial cells) can be seen as pink structures running through the tissue. These contain red blood cells (erythrocyte) and Kupffer cells (specialist macrophages of the liver). Hepatocytes, shown in brown, are arranged in plates surrounding the sinusoids. Bile is secreted into the canaliculi, shown as green channels. These are dilated intercellular spaces between adjacent hepatocytes and bile flows through them en route to the small intestine. Wellcome Image Award winner 2009 Scanning electron micrograph Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 4.0, see

Mouse liver with blood cells
Credit: Jackie Lewin. Wellcome Images

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

B0006421 Breast cancer cells Credit: Annie Cavanagh. Wellcome Images A cluster of breast cancer cells showing visual evidence of programmed cell death (apoptosis). Scanning electron micrograph 2006 Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc-nd 4.0, see

Breast cancer cells
Credit: Annie Cavanagh. Wellcome Images

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.

Euro report

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.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mark Booth permalink
    28 Sep, 2015 12:13 pm

    I’m sure I read somewhere that drinking coffee before bedtime has less effect than in the morning as it tops up existing levels of caffeine that reduce during sleep and are built up again during waking hours. What about tolerance to the effects at night time? Surely not everyone is affected to the same extent?

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