Results from a clinical trial of the experimental anti-Ebola drug TKM-130803 in Sierra Leone have shown that, at the dose given, the treatment did not improve survival in people with the disease.
The Wellcome-funded trial used a new design to compared results from 14 people who received the drug with historical records of Ebola patients, instead of using a placebo control group.
This design allowed the team to determine very quickly, in the midst of the ongoing epidemic, whether or not the drug was working. This meant that they could stop the trial immediately when it became clear the drug was not benefitting patients.
Professor Peter Horby from the University of Oxford, who led the study, said they now had a much clearer picture of the drug’s potential, adding: “We are obviously disappointed that it does not seem to offer a benefit to patients with severe Ebola but it remains to be seen if the drug will help those with less severe illness.”
Scientists from the University of Oxford and Sierra Leone worked with the humanitarian organisation GOAL Global, the World Health Organisation, and collaborators from a number of other institutions on the study, which took place last year at the GOAL Ebola Treatment Centre in Port Loko, Sierra Leone.
You can read about some of the other research we’ve supported on our Ebola funding page.
Research teams in Ivory Coast, Kenya, Senegal and Uganda have been given a further £21 million through the DELTAS Africa initiative, which will support world class health research and help train the next generation of African scientists.
Four new research programmes will focus on the most urgent health challenges in the region, from infectious diseases to child health and wiping out malaria. All four will have a focus on career development by supporting women in science, creating opportunities for postgraduate study and providing mentorship.
The DELTAS Africa initiative was set up to address the ‘brain drain’ of the continent’s best scientists by promoting Africa-led development of research leaders. The new funding from the Wellcome Trust brings the total number of teams supported through DELTAS Africa to 11, a total investment of £60 million.
The five-year scheme is a partnership between Wellcome, the African Academy of Sciences’ Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) and the UK Department for International Development.
AESA Director Dr Tom Kariuki called DELTAS “a massive vote of confidence in Africa’s improving R&D capabilities as captured in the mantra of an Africa Rising”.
Our fortnightly round-up of news from our research community…
Slowing down ageing
Scientists have identified a new molecule that could be targeted to slow the ageing process, according to new Wellcome Trust-funded research published in Cell Reports.
Researchers found that fruit flies given low doses of lithium – a known mood stabiliser – lived on average 16% longer than those not given the drug. Higher doses, given during adulthood or later life reduced the flies’ lifespan.
How lithium works to stabilise mood in people is not well understood. This new study found that lithium delays ageing by blocking the action of a molecule called glycogen synthase kinase-3 (GSK-3), and activating another called NRF-2, which is important for defending cells against damage. GSK-3 therefore presents an attractive target for drugs to control ageing.
Professor Dame Linda Partridge, Director of the UCL Institute of Healthy Ageing said: “Our aim is to identify ways to intervene in ageing, with the end goal of keeping us all healthier for longer and compressing the time at the end of life when we suffer from physical decline and diseases. This can be done by diet, genetics or drugs, which is why we want to identify promising drug targets. The response we’ve seen in flies to low doses of lithium is very encouraging and our next step is to look at targeting GSK-3 in more complex animals with the aim of eventually developing a drug regime to test in humans.”
Fever and pregnancy in Laos
Infectious diseases such as dengue, pyelonephritis and typhoid are a common cause of fever in pregnancy in Laos, and may be contributing to the high levels of maternal death seen in the region, according to a new study.
Laos has the highest levels of maternal mortality in mainland Southeast Asia and also a high incidence of infectious disease. But there has been little investigation into the impact of these illnesses during pregnancy.
Wellcome Trust-funded researchers at the Lao-Oxford-Mahosot Hospital-Wellcome Trust Research Unit recruited 250 pregnant women with fever, which is often an indication of infection, to investigate the cause and impact of their high temperature. Of these women, 132 had a single infectious disease and 17 were diagnosed with mixed diseases. The most common single disease was dengue, followed by pyelonephritis (inflammation of the kidney tissue), rickettsiosis disease and typhoid.
Twenty-eight of the women with dengue, rickettsiosis or typhoid also suffered from serious complications, including miscarriage and premature birth and death.
The researchers hope that this hospital based study will provide evidence of the cause of illnesses in pregnant women admitted to hospital, but stress that larger community cohort studies would help us learn more about fevers and their impact on pregnancy.
This research is published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.
Genetic links to neuroticism
Wellcome Trust-funded researchers have identified nine new gene-associations that can be linked to neuroticism according to a new study published in Molecular Psychiatry.
Neuroticism is a personality trait heavily associated with mental illness and anxiety, as well as physical conditions such as obesity and even heart disease. In the largest ever study of a personality trait, the University of Glasgow researchers tested 100,000 people, including individuals from UK Biobank, to identify genes associated with neuroticism.
The exact DNA changes responsible are still to be identified, but molecules thought to be involved in neuroticism already have important roles in the body’s response to stress and the function of glutamate, an important chemical involved in a range of psychiatric disorders. Researchers believe that the existence of these gene associations could indicate a person’s predisposition to the personality trait.
Dr Raliza Stoyanova, Neuroscience & Mental Health Senior Portfolio Developer at the Wellcome Trust, said: “By combining a number of very large studies, including UK Biobank, the researchers have identified new genetic associations for neuroticism – one of the five fundamental personality traits present in all of us. It will be important for future work to uncover how these genetic links affect brain function, and to pin down whether they increase someone’s chance of developing clinical depression.”
Rhythm of the night
Magnesium is essential for helping us to adapt to the rhythms of day and night, according to new research published in Nature.
Wellcome-funded researchers investigated how this nutrient, found in many everyday foods, helps to control how cells keep their own form of time to cope with environmental cycles. Researchers measured magnesium levels in human cells, algae and fungi, and observed the levels rising and falling in a daily cycle. These magnesium cycles also impacted metabolism in cells, controlling when they converted food into fuel.
The researchers believe this discovery at the cell level will be linked to circadian rhythms of the whole body and could offer insights into the development of treatments scheduled to specific times of the day.
Dr John O’Neill from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge said: “Although the clinical relevance of magnesium in various tissues is beginning to garner more attention, how magnesium regulates our body’s internal clock and metabolism has simply not been considered before. The new discovery could lead to a whole range of benefits spanning human health to agricultural productivity.”
Other Wellcome Trust research news
Wellcome Trust funded researchers from the University of Edinburgh have mapped thousands of genetic mutations in yeast to identify how these can affect a cell’s chances of survival. It is the first time scientists have been able to measure the effects of every possible combination of mutations in a gene and the technique could help studies into the effects of mutations that lead to diseases in humans. This research is published in Science.
Cancer cells are able to ‘persuade’ healthy cells around them into helping the disease to grow and spread, according to new research published in Cell. Wellcome Trust-funded researchers investigated the KRAS gene, the most commonly mutated gene in cancers, and found that it is able to influence healthy cells to ‘help’ the cancer by encouraging growth. You can see a video of how this process works here.
In other news
UK Biobank has launched the world’s biggest body scanning project to shed new light on major diseases. Funded by the Wellcome Trust, MRC and BHF, the £40m project will collate scans of the internal organs of 100,000 current Biobank participants. Dr Sara Marshall, Head of Clinical Research at the Wellcome Trust, said: “Each day we’re discovering more and more about how genetics and lifestyle play a part in the onset and development of diseases, but this extra piece of the puzzle – seeing physical changes even before symptoms develop – will give us a completely new perspective on how we can prevent and treat them.”
Congratulations to Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow, and Director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, Professor Karl Friston who has won the Charles L. Branch BrainHealth Award. The award, set up in 2010 to honour neurosurgeon Dr Branch, recognises pioneering neuroscientists whose innovations have made a tremendous contribution to the area of brain research.
The results of the third wave of the Wellcome Trust Monitor were announced last week. The survey of 1,500 adults in the UK tracks the public’s understanding and attitudes to science and medical research. You can read a round-up of the main results in a previous post on this blog and see the full report on our website.
Image credits: (from top to bottom) MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology, Wellcome Images; Dengue fever Sanofi Pasteur via Flickr, CC-BY-NC-ND; Sue Moberly, Wellcome Images; Fiona Pragoff, Wellcome Images; Jimmy Bell, University of Westminster and AMRA
Diagnosing and treating mental health conditions is a huge challenge in low and middle income countries, where resources are scarce. Dr Dixon Chibanda is a Wellcome researcher at the University of Zimbabwe, and has a DELTAS Africa award to tackle the gap in provision for mental health disorders in sub-Saharan Africa. Here he talks us through five cost-effective projects he thinks could have a big impact…
More than 10% of the total disease burden in low and middle income countries (LAMIC) is due to mental health disorders, yet they receive less than 1% of many of these countries’ health budgets. A striking example of this is in Zimbabwe, where only 12 psychiatrists serve a national population of 15.3 million.
Considering this huge under-investment, a key question is how to provide support for people suffering from mental ill health when resources are scarce.
These five collaborative, low-cost care packages – delivered by lay people who are trained and supervised by professionals – all have the potential to close the treatment gap, and improve the mental health of hundreds of thousands of people.
In Kenya the Africa Mental Health Foundation’s TEAM project enlisted African traditional healers, faith healers and community health workers to detect mental illness, and refer cases to clinicians. Referrals of people suspected of having mental illness rose from zero to 1,593. 494 went on to be clinically diagnosed with a mental health disorder.
The Government of Makueni County has now committed to scale up the project, from two to 20 facilities. They anticipate identifying 6,000 more suspected cases of mental illness, and for 2,000 people to be diagnosed within the year.
In rural Pakistan Wellcome helped to fund the Thinking Healthy Programme, which screened 4,000 pregnant women and identified 903 as having perinatal depression. 42 Community Health Workers were trained to deliver 16 sessions of an evidence based “talking therapy” until a year after their babies were born.
The intervention cost led to recovery in three-quarters of women treated, and cost less than £7 per woman each year.
In Goa Wellcome funded MANAshanti Sudhar Shodh (MANAS), led by Professor Vikram Patel, which trained non-specialist health workers to deliver psychosocial interventions, including psychoeducation, yoga and interpersonal therapy.
They ran a trial of 2,796 people with common mental disorders and found 65.9% of those who were treated with a collaborative care approach, including psychosocial interventions, recovered after 6 months, compared to just 42.5% in the control group.
In the Nashik district of India the Atmiyata programme is training 15,000 people from self-help groups and farmers clubs, alongside doctors and social workers, to work together to identify mental illness cases in the community.
The people trained receive smartphones which help them identify mental health problems, and are uploaded with videos, including a myth-busting Q&A with a psychiatrist in the local language.
In Zimbabwe benches have been placed outside health clinics, which people visit for treatment of all kinds of conditions including HIV and AIDS. Lay health workers, known as Golden Ladies or ‘Grandmothers’, are trained to deliver low-intensity cognitive behaviour therapy to anyone referred to the benches by clinicians.
To date over 15,000 people have used the Friendship bench. The project has already shown promising results, and is being scaled up to 60 clinics in the 3 cities, where it’s hoped up to 50,000 people will have access.
WHO and World Bank’s recent ‘Out of the Shadows: Making Mental Health a Global Development Priority’ event made a strong case for mental health to move up the global development agenda. Now is the time for LAMIC governments to invest in scaling up cost-efficient, highly effective interventions. The cost of inaction is just too high.
Have you ever wondered where fat is lurking in your body? This scan of fat distribution reveals all. 100,000 of these scans will be carried out between now and 2020 as part of an ambitious new study at UK Biobank.
As well as fat, they’ll also be collecting scans of the brain, heart, bones and carotid arteries of participants. It will create the biggest collection of scans of internal organs, and transform the way scientists study a wide range of diseases, including dementia, arthritis, cancer, heart attacks and strokes.
All of these scans, along with the vast amount of data UK Biobank already hold on participants, will create a one-of-a-kind resource for researchers. For the last ten years UK Biobank has gathered huge quantities of data on its 500,000 participants – including their lifestyle, weight, height, diet, physical activity and cognitive function, as well as genetic data from blood samples. Linkage to a wide range of health records is also under way, including data from general practices.
With all of this data researchers can begin to answer intriguing questions like ‘does having a lot of abdominal fat affect someone’s chances of developing dementia?’ The imaging will also help doctors understand risk factors that could help prevent diseases, so that one day earlier targeted treatment, or changes in lifestyle, could prevent major diseases from ever happening.
Image credit: Jimmy Bell, University of Westminster and AMRA
Exploring the ethics of involving pregnant women in clinical trials for diagnostic tests, treatments and vaccines for Zika virus is one of five new research projects funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Department for International Development as part of the UK’s response to the outbreak.
Pregnant women are thought to be especially vulnerable to Zika because of the reported link to fetal abnormalities, yet this group is often automatically excluded from medical research because of safety concerns.
Now, researchers at John Hopkins University, USA will devise rapid guidelines for carrying out ethically responsible studies with pregnant women during Zika and other global health emergencies. This guidance is needed to ensure that any new medicines that are developed, such as a Zika vaccine, are made available to those most at risk from the virus.
Other scientists to receive funding include:
- Professor Ricardo Ximenes (Instituto de Apoio à Universidade de Pernambuco, Brazil) will investigate the suspected link between Zika and microcephaly in a cohort of mothers and one of pregnant women.
- Professor Hugh Willison (University of Glasgow) will investigate possible biological processes underlying the link between Zika and the serious neurological disorder Guillain-Barré syndrome.
- Professor Gavin Screaton (Imperial College London) will investigate the body’s antibody response to Zika, which could help to develop better diagnostics and new vaccines against the virus.
The latest projects bring Wellcome’s total commitment to Zika research to around £2.8m. Last month, we announced support for 26 proposals funded jointly with the Medical Research Council through their Zika Rapid Response Initiative.
Find out more
The ethics of including pregnant women in clinical trials are explored in more detail in this recent piece from Mosaic.
Our previous news story outlines some of the other work underway to tackle the epidemic.
The Wellcome Trust blog has a series of Q&As with experts on mapping, climate and medical anthropology. These are available in English and Spanish.
The Wellcome Trust Monitor provides a unique insight into how the public understands and views medical research. Through interviews with a sample of the UK population every three years since 2009, the Monitor enables the medical and scientific community to understand themes such as public trust in medical information, participation in medical research and levels of knowledge and understanding. Ethan Greenwood from the Insight and Analysis team explores some of the key findings…
The latest Monitor findings reveal insights about what people think they know about science and medicine, compared to what they actually do. This has implications for the way in which people make sense of medical research and use that information to make judgments about their own health needs.
For example, respondents were asked how well they understand the term ‘antibiotic resistance.’ Among those who say they have a strong understanding of this, less than half correctly state that antibiotics cure bacterial infections but not others such as viral, flu, fungal infections etc. When those who had heard of the term were asked what they understand by it, 31% said it was the body that became resistant, not the bacteria.
Around two in five of the public say they usually understand stories about science in the news, and a further half say they sometimes understand them. But only 13% of those who say they usually, or sometimes, understand these stories feel very confident discussing them with others.
Engagement with medical research
The majority of people are interested in medical research and hearing from scientists, particularly in relation to new drugs, treatments and how the body works. When asked about more specific areas, 55% of people noted interest in mental health research. This is the only area that has seen a significant rise in interest since 2012, when 48% of people said they were interested in the subject.
Most of the medical research that the public encounter passively occurs via the TV, mainly through the news or a factual documentaries. When actively seeking medical information, 90% of people, perhaps unsurprisingly, use the internet.
Over a fifth of the public participated in informal science activities in the last year, such as going to a science museum or zoo/aquarium. Findings suggest that there is some unmet demand for science engagement, especially among those who are very interested. For example last year 7% of the public went to science talks but 20% said they would be interested in listening to a lecture, talk or debate from a scientist
Trust in medical research
There has been an overall decline in trust in institutions responsible for disseminating medical research information, especially medical research charities where trust has declined from 60% in 2012 to 37% in 2015. The reasons for this drop in trust are not clear, and respondents were not asked about these in the survey.
Doctors and other medical practitioners are the most trusted and trust in scientists depends on the type of place they work; university scientists being the most trusted while those working for private industry the least. The main reason expressed for trust in doctors, university scientists and medical research charities is faith in their expertise, while journalists and private industry scientists are distrusted for exaggerating information relating to their research. Those who distrust scientists working for pharmaceutical companies say this is because they believe they will always be trying to present themselves in the most positive light.
In terms of interactions with GPs, the public feel overwhelmingly confident about when it’s appropriate to book a doctors appointment, and just under half feel they can challenge their diagnoses.
The Wellcome Trust Monitor also explores the publics’ attitude to food and drink, sharing of medical data and the value of science in everyday life. If you would like to explore the results in more detail, please visit the website.
Genomics is fast becoming part of everyday healthcare, with DNA already being used to help predict and manage conditions such as cancer and heart disease. But how comfortable does the everyday person feel when striking up a conversation about genomics? And do we understand what it means for us and our health?
The UK has a rich history of genomics research. It played a leading role in sequencing the very first whole human genome in 2000 and is now leading the world’s largest sequencing project, the ‘100,000 Genomes Project.’
The outcomes of this research will have huge implications for research, medicine, and our health. However, the last Wellcome Trust Monitor survey found that only 12% of the population would say they had a good understanding of what a genome is.
A new project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, Genomics England and the Sanger Institute, hopes to address this by sparking new conversations about a subject that might be totally alien to some people. Socialising the Genome aims to bring genomics out of the lab and into dinner table conversations, breaking apart the often-dense scientific language.
The team, led by Dr Anna Middleton, has created a series of short animations based on research with the British public. They cover some of the common misconceptions associated with the science, such as the belief that genomics has no impact on most people’s lives.
Now they want to know what the public think. Are the ideas in the animations likable? Do they resonate? But, most importantly, are they sharable and could they be used as a starter for a conversation?
View the animations and take part in the research at genetube.org
With Ebola and Zika grabbing so many headlines these days, it may come as a surprise that the biggest global health crisis affecting developing nations is not caused by yet another rare virus we had never heard of, or an exotic tropical parasite, but rather something far too familiar to us all – diabetes.
The condition is the focus of this year‘s World Health Day – a campaign that aims to increase awareness about the rise of diabetes and the staggering burden it places on health systems, as well as triggering a set of actions to tackle it. Wellcome Trust Strategic Partnerships Manager Marta Tufet takes us through the recent research that has revealed the true scale of the crisis…
Once a disease affecting mainly richer nations, type 2 diabetes has risen exponentially in the past two decades in parallel to the obesity epidemic, with more than 80% of diabetes deaths now occurring in low and middle income countries. This dramatic increase of diabetes in the developing world is happening as these countries are struggling to tackle existing and emerging infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, Ebola and Zika. Needless to say that this double burden of disease imposes a huge economic strain on health systems, individuals and their families. It also threatens to compromise many of the significant national and international efforts made in the past few decades to reduce the infectious disease burden in these regions.
A new study published in The Lancet, supported by Wellcome and led by Professor Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London, has estimated that the cost of diabetes worldwide is $825 billion a year, with half of all cases coming from China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and USA. Published in The Lancet, this research follows a previous study from the team looking at the global change in BMI trends. The global diabetes epidemic seems to be driven largely by a combination of social and economic factors such as rapid urbanisation, greater consumption of fatty foods and increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
Obesity is the greatest risk factor for diabetes, and the obesity epidemic too is soaring out of control. A recent report from the same Imperial research group showed that more people in the world now overweight than underweight. That study also found that between 1975 and 2014, the global population’s BMI increased at a rate which correlates with every person becoming on average 1.5kg heavier each decade.
Research is increasingly demonstrating that diabetes can largely be prevented through healthier lifestyles and diet. However, translating this evidence into policy and practice is not an easy feat and will require significant reform of public health policies, health systems, and changes to the food and built environment.
Wellcome has supported a number of efforts towards increasing this evidence base and to translate it into policy and practice:
- In Brazil, Wellcome Trust Investigator Dr Pedro Hallal is investigating links between physical exercise and lifelong health. His research is directly helping to drive government policy in Brazil, with the introduction of community ’health gyms’ which are already demonstrating impact.
- In the UK, the Centre for Diet and Activity Research led by Professor Nick Wareham and supported by Wellcome through the UK Clinical Research Collaboration is contributing evidence on the wider factors that influence diet and physical activity related behaviours, developing and evaluating interventions and helping shape practice and policy around these.
- In China, with support from multiple funders, including Wellcome and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, the Kadoorie Biobank led by Professor Zhengming Chen is collecting health data on half a million healthy adults in a prospective cohort study to investigate genetic and environmental causes of chronic diseases developed later in life, including diabetes.
Other Wellcome Trust initiatives such as Our Planet our Health, the Joint Health Systems Research Initiative and the Joint Global Health Trials Initiative, provide regular funding opportunities for researchers to address such matters.
All of these schemes have a strong emphasis on collaboration. If we are to beat diabetes, in line with calls from the WHO and others, researchers and funders must work together with governments, civil society, private sector, the public and media to develop new ways of preventing, diagnosing, treating and caring for people with diabetes.
Map and graph courtesy of NCD-RisC. For all data visualizations from the obesity and diabetes study please visit their website.
There are loads of brilliant Wellcome Trust supported events to put a spring in your step this April.
My Beautiful Broken Brain – Netflix
This feature documentary is a voyage into the complexity, fragility and wonder of the human brain, after Lotje Sodderland miraculously survives a haemorrhagic stroke at the age of 34 and finds herself starting again in an alien world, bereft of language and logic. Supported by a Development Award.
Winter – Old Granada, Manchester – 2nd-3rd April
A delicate portrait of an individual at the end of a life, Winter is a film in triptych, made with someone who knows that they’re dying. Directed by filmmakers Daniel Saul and Rachel Davies, Winter is part of Quarantine’s Summer. Autumn. Winter. Spring, a piece of mass portraiture supported by a Small Arts Award.
Adult Life Skills – Tribeca Film Festival, New York – 17th-22nd April
Premiering at the festival, this feature film is a dark comedy about a lost woman finding herself. Anna (played by Jodie Whittaker) is on a downward spiral after the loss of her twin brother, and moves back to her rural home town and into a shed in her mother’s backyard. Expanded from her BAFTA-nominated short, this film from Rachel Tunnard explores the universal themes of being lost and finding yourself. Supported by a Small Co-Production award.
50 Years of Shame – Bowland Auditorium, University of York – 21st April
50 years ago, Thalidomide slipped into the lives of thousands of families. Grünenthal is the pharmaceutical company that created and sold the drug, responsible for a story that is still largely untold. The film’s UK premiere will be followed by a round table discussion.
Shh… BANG! – The Place, London – 9th April
A delicate dance-theatre performance for ages 3+, playfully exploring silence and noise. “Quiet” lives in a muffled world of clouds and softness. Next door, “Loud” collects more and more noises and wild sounds. Funded by a Small Arts Award, Shh… BANG! is created by Peut-etrre Theatre.
RUFF – Barbican – 14th-16th April
Performance artist Peggy Shaw ruminates on life before and after the stroke she had in 2011, delivering a freewheeling monologue with deadpan humour and arresting honesty. In paying tribute to the family, friends and performers who have inspired and kept her company over the years, she reflects on what is lost and equally celebrates the space left behind for new insight. Funded by a People Award.
Calculating Kindness – Camden People’s Theatre – until 16th April
A new production based on the life of George Price (1922-1975), presented within yards from where Price lived, worked and died. Price taught himself the basics of evolutionary genetics and formulated an equation widely acknowledged as the mathematical explanation for the evolution of altruism – something science had been trying to do since Darwin. Presented by Undercurrent, this show is supported by a Small Arts Award.
Opening Skinner’s Box – Northern Stage, Newcastle – 22nd-30th April
Improbable’s new show is a whistle-stop tour of the scientific quest to make sense of what we are and who we are, told through ten great psychological experiments and the stories of the people who created them. After Northern Stage, the show will move to the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Supported by a Small Arts Award.
Elegy – Donmar Warehouse, London – 21st April-18th June
What if every neuron in the human brain could be mapped and decoded? Every act of human behaviour catalogued and wholly understood? Elegy imagines a very-near future with radical and unprecedented advances in medical science, through the story of three women who’ve made the choice between love and survival. Supported by a Small Arts Award.
The Marked – Brighton Fringe Festival – 7th-9th May
Theatre Témoin returns with a new show, using mask, puppetry, and physical theatre to navigate a dark and imaginative landscape. As a boy, Jack lived in a world of angels and demons who fed off the bravery and pain of the adults around him. Now grown, when a ghost from his past turns up Jack must harness the power of forgotten myths to defeat her. Funded by a People Award.
Conversation C – Camden Lock Market, London – 7th-8th April
Step into the conversation pod with Cancer Research UK and UCL scientists for a deceptively simple challenge: 15 minutes to come to a consensus on how your hypothetical resources should be allocated across six different areas of cancer research. Conversation C is an interactive debate and sound installation, developed by Green Man’s Einstein’s Garden. Supported by a Society Award.
Level Up Human – various locations – 7th April-7th July
Combining gene splicing, surgical enhancement and ambition, Level Up Human takes a light-hearted look at the alternatives to being human. Join Simon Watt and guests for the live recording of an exciting new podcast series at various venues, including Edinburgh Science Festival, the Science Museum, and Cheltenham Science Festival. Funded by a People Award.
The Birds, The Bees And Fertility Treatment: A Sting In The Tale? – Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, London – 13th April
An evening event about sex education, schools and (in)fertility, chaired by Professor Adam Balen. Should secondary schools have more focus on infertility? The event is organised by the Progress Educational Trust (PET), who are supported by a Society Award.
The Science of Laughter + Panel Discussion – Barbican Cinema – 28th April
This short film programme and panel discussion assembles a range of expert voices from the fields of science, medicine and comedy to discuss why we are so compelled by things that make us laugh. A screening of comedy shorts is followed by a discussion with speakers who will investigate comedy’s therapeutic and social functions and its physiological effects. Supported by a People Award.
Week 53 – The Lowry, Manchester – 28th April-8th May
A festival of innovative, provocative, national and international work in a series of spaces including areas of the building normally off-limits to the public. It brings together contemporary dance, visual arts, music and theatre in interactive installations, exhibitions and performances, including Three Little Pigs, a new show for ages 2+. The festival is part of Clod Ensemble’s Sustaining Excellence Award. See the full programme here.
ASCUS Lab – Edinburgh International Science Festival – 1st-10th April
This year ASCUS Lab will be running a programme of events at the Festival, many of which take place at their publicly accessible lab in Summerhall:
Menagerie of Microbes: an exhibition about the micro-organisms which exist in and around us.
Atopic Art – 26th March-13th May: an exhibition of personal stories of those “living with eczema”.
Teaching and Poetry with Sam Illingworth – 1st April, 10-11.30am: Learn how teachers can use poetry to teach a variety of subjects.
Bedtime Balancing Act with Josie Valley – 1st April, 11am-4pm: Make a mini mobile from bold colourful shapes and wire and work out how to balance it so that it hovers above your head.
Dermatological Distractors with Trevor Gordon – 1st April, 11am-4pm: Use dental alginate to take casts of your fingers, and explore textures and shapes to make small one off distractors.
Restoring and Preserving Nature’s Beauty: The Art of Taxidermy – 2nd April, 2-6pm: Live demonstrations of the processes involved in taxidermy at different stages.
Glow in the Dark Bugs: Bioluminescence (living light) explored – 5th April, 2-3.30pm: A demo of natural living bioluminescent bacteria and fungi, and a “biological firework show” created using the rare purified proteins activated in water.
Seeing Speech, Hearing Tongues with Jim Scobbie and Janet Beck – 5th April, 6-8pm: Prof Jim Scobbie explains how our vocal tract creates the sounds of language and lets you see your own tongue functioning in real time to generate the sounds of vowels and consonants as you speak.
From Worms to Humans: The Sensory World of a Nematode – 6th April, 6-7.30pm: Explore sensory stimulation in worms and how it’s similar to the human senses.
Chemistry of Natural Dyes and Pigments with Ryan Lewis – 8th April, 2-8pm: Learn about natural dyes and take a take a tour through a spectrum of colours while dyeing some cotton and wool.
Mini Maker Faire at ASCUS Lab – 10th April, 10am-5pm: Various stalls to explore, from live Taxidermy to DNA analysis.
The Demiurge – HOME Gallery, Manchester – until 10th April
A new film inspired by Francis Crick’s Panspermia theory on the origins of life.
Under the Microscope – Great Ormond Street Hospital – until 10th April
A series of installations and artworks developed by Sofie Layton, exploring how children and families understand medical information and disease. Displayed in the Octav Botnar Wing of GOSH and at the Institute of Child Health.
Nobody’s Home – UK tour – until 28th May
Set in a bathroom, Nobody’s Home follows a soldier’s journey through his own mind, as he struggles with the monsters of his past to finally come home. The next tour date is at Nuffield Theatre in Southampton on 12th April.
Wellcome Collection Events
This is a Voice – 14 April–31 July
This is a Voice traces the material quality of the voice by looking inside vocal tracts, restless minds and speech devices to capture its complex psychological and physiological origins.
Conceived as an acoustic journey, the exhibition focuses on the emotions that resonate in the voice through rhythm, pitch and tone, as well as non-verbal forms of communication.
Voicings, a series of live vocalisations, will take place in the gallery every day (Tuesday to Sunday) at 12.00.
States of Mind: Tracing the edges of consciousness – Until 16 October
This evolving exhibition examines perspectives from artists, psychologists, philosophers and neuroscientists to interrogate our understanding of the conscious experience.
Exploring phenomena such as somnambulism, mesmerism, and disorders of memory and consciousness, the exhibition examines ideas about the nature of consciousness, and in particular what can happen when our typical conscious experience is interrupted, damaged or undermined.
The exhibition features a series of changing installations. The first is The Whisper Heard by Imogen Stidworthy, until 24 April. On 26 April, this will be replaced by H.M. by Kerry Tribe.
Wellcome Book Prize
2016 Wellcome Book Prize: Authors in Conversation – Saturday 23 April, 15.00–16.30
Hear from some of the authors shortlisted for the 2016 Wellcome Book Prize just days before the winner is announced on Monday 25 April. See the whole shortlist online.
5×15: Wellcome Book Prize – Sunday 24 April, 16.00–17.00
Join us to hear shortlisted authors Cathy Rentzenbrink, Amy Liptrot, Steve Silberman, Suzanne O’Sullivan, Alex Pheby and Sarah Moss talk about their books – encompassing personal stories of devastation and recovery, a fictional exploration of the schizophrenic mind, and studies of autism and psychosomatic illness.
The Art and Science of Doodling – Thursday 14 April, 19.00–20.30
How often do you find yourself doodling in a meeting? Does doodling help us to concentrate or take our minds elsewhere? Join broadcaster Claudia Hammond for an exploration of doodles. This event is in partnership with Hubbub.
Packed Lunch: From Plate to Planet – Wednesday 20 Apr, 13.00–14.00
Public health nutritionist Alan Dangour makes connections between the food on our plate and global environmental changes. He discusses how changing our diet could not only improve our health, but also reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Saturday Studio: Stop-motion animation – Saturday 23 April, 14.00–15.00, 15.00–16.00 and 16.00–17.00
A series of stop-motion animation workshops for anyone aged 14-19. Come along for a creative introduction to stop-motion animation in workshops led by professional visual artist Dan Brown. These workshops will take inspiration from our States of Mind exhibition.
The Crunch 2016
The Crunch is an exciting year of activities, experiences and discussions about our food, our health and our planet. Through The Crunch we want to help people think about how our food, our health and our planet are all interconnected. The year of events is just getting under way:
Dramatised dialogue event Act 1 – Roots and Shoots Walnut Tree Walk, London – 23rd April and Duncairn Centre, Belfast – 24th April
Join us for an immersive theatrical experience exploring our food, our health and our planet. You will be taken on a journey of discovery starting from looking at our current issues and views (Act 1) and progressing to plausible futures (Act 2).The event is free and spaces are limited, so be sure to sign-up now!
Our fortnightly round-up of news from the Wellcome Trust research community.
An apple a day
Increasing the amount of fruit and vegetables we eat may significantly reduce the progression of cataracts, a common condition affecting vision.
In a 10-year study that tracked 324 pairs of twins, Wellcome Trust-funded researchers found that a higher intake of vitamin C was associated with a 33% reduction in the risk of cataract progression.
Cataracts form when the lens in the eye becomes oxidised over time, resulting in cloudy eyes. The condition is often associated with ageing, and surgeons perform over 300,000 procedures a year to replace damaged lenses.
Scientists tracked the diets of the twins throughout the study and analysed photographs of their eyes for signs of cataracts.
The fluid that baths our eyes, preventing oxidation is high in vitamin C, and researchers believe that increasing dietary intake of this vitamin may protect the lens by increasing the levels present in this fluid.
The findings, published in Ophthalmology, suggest a greater role for environmental factors rather than genetic factors in cataracts.
Professor Chris Hammond from Kings College London said: “The findings of this study could have significant impact, particularly for the ageing population globally by suggesting that simple dietary changes such as increased intake of fruit and vegetables as part of a healthier diet could help protect them from cataracts.”
Understanding chromosomal abnormalities
Early embryos with genetic abnormalities may still be capable of developing into healthy babies according to new research in mice, published in Nature Communications.
Chromosome abnormalities can cause a range of developmental disorders, including Down’s syndrome, with babies born to older mothers being especially at risk. Currently, expectant mothers are offered genetic testing to detect abnormal placental cells, but geneticists have limited understanding of the fate of embryos with these abnormalities.
Wellcome Trust-funded researchers from the University of Cambridge used mouse models to investigate the fate of embryos with an unusual number of chromosomes (instead of the normal 23 pairs) in some of the cells of the placenta. They found that mouse embryos with a mix of half normal and half abnormal cells developed into fully healthy embryos with all normal cells. The researchers observed that the abnormal cells were killed through programmed cell death, or apoptosis, to remove all cells with chromosome abnormalities.
“The embryo has an amazing ability to correct itself,” explains Professor Zernicka-Goetz. “We found that even when half of the cells in the early stage embryo are abnormal, the embryo can fully repair itself. If this is the case in humans, too, it will mean that even when early indications suggest a child might have a birth defect because there are some, but importantly not all abnormal cells in its embryonic body, this isn’t necessarily the case.”
Blocked up immune cells
Smoking can cause our immune cells to get ‘clogged up’, increasing the risk of contracting tuberculosis (TB) and making the infection worse.
In a new study published in Cell, Wellcome Trust-funded researchers used zebrafish to study a type of immune cell called a macrophage. These specialised cells are our body’s first line of defence against Mycobacterium tuberculosis, engulfing the bacteria and destroying it using enzymes.
As well as destroying bacteria, macrophages also play a key role the body’s ‘housekeeping’ by recycling and removing unwanted material. It is this function that, when disrupted, can cause them to get ‘clogged up.’
The team studied genetic variants associated with increased risk of TB, identifying a variant that can prevent the cell’s housekeeping function. Without this essential activity, macrophages became large and slow, and were unable to move around to destroy bacteria.
Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow Professor Lalita Ramakrishnan from the University of Cambridge said: “Macrophages act a bit like vacuum cleaners, hoovering up debris and unwanted material within the body, including the billions of cells that die each day as part of natural turnover. But the defective macrophages are unable to recycle this debris and get clogged up, growing bigger and fatter and less able to move around and clear up other material.”
When the researchers examined the macrophages of smokers, they found that they were blocked with smoke particles which also caused them to be large and slow. The findings explain why smoking increases the risk of getting TB, because smoke particles also prevent macrophages from effectively removing the TB bacterium, in a similar way to those cells with the disrupted housekeeping function.
Other Wellcome Trust research news
Researchers at the Wellcome Trust-funded Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit are studying the accuracy and cost-effectiveness of different tests to diagnose non-malarial fevers in rural settings. They found that testing for the biological markers of inflammation, rather than specific pathogens, gave a better indication of which patients required antibiotics. The team hope the results will inform a more robust approach to managing antibiotic use in rural settings to help slow the spread of drug resistance. This research was published in PLOS ONE.
Researchers from the Wellcome-Trust funded Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit and the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam have recommended a more population-based approach to the prevention of drug resistance in malaria. In an article in PLOS Medicine, the researchers called for national and international health policy action to preserve the effectiveness of the drug artemisinin for as long as possible.
In other news
Congratulations to Professors Peter Horby and Heiman Wertheim who were awarded the Vietnam Ministry of Health’s Medal for the People’s Health. Both Professors are previous directors of the Wellcome Trust-funded Oxford University Clinical Research Unit, Hanoi and the medal recognises their major contribution to health in Vietnam.
Image credits: (from top to bottom) Kevin Mackenzie, University of Aberdeen. Wellcome Images; Dr David Becker. Wellcome Images; Macrophage engulfing Tuberculosis bacteria via Flickr CC-BY-NC-ND
This week museums across the world have been taking part in #MuseumWeek. Unfolding across social media platforms, the week celebrates all aspects of art and culture to connect museums with their visitors and each other. Each day has had a theme, from architecture and heritage, to museum secrets and innovation.
Located next to the Wellcome Trust on Euston Road, Wellcome Collection is a free destination exploring the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. Via their own blog, Wellcome Collection often shares behind the scenes insights into the curious collections and life at the museum. To celebrate #MuseumWeek, we re-publish an article from a series entitled ‘Would like to meet’ that finds out more about the Visitor Experience Assistants who, aside from invigilating the galleries, write and provide tours and are a wealth of knowledge for visitors.
Here, Daniela Vasco introduces Anna Firbank, one of our Visitor Experience Assistant team members…
Time to meet my colleague, Anna. I remember when she started in March last year and I always see her in a lively mood!
Anna is from the seaside town of Brighton, which she loves. She studied neuroscience at university, but she refuses to call herself an expert in the subject. Despite her modesty, you’ll find she is the best person in the team to discuss the complexities of the human brain. Ann Veronica Janssens’ recent ‘yellowbluepink‘, the coloured mist installation part of ‘States of Mind’, was a good opportunity for her to further explore the subject of perception and sensory experience with visitors.
Anna is especially excited about the second part of ‘States of Mind: Tracing the edges of consciousness‘. She says “consciousness is an immediately fascinating subject that gives no easy answers, so I’m looking forward to discussing it with visitors.” Organising the Perspective Tours series for States of Mind is Anna’s big project at the moment: “I am currently starting to research speakers who will have an interesting take on the gallery.” She’s especially happy if there are muffins in the office to help immerse herself in her research.
Anna cycles everywhere. She is a campaigner for global sustainability and when she is not working she might well be blogging about the environment. She quite likes cycling down Euston Road: “It feels very London-y with all the historical ornate buildings and tree lined avenues.” Unsurprisingly, the pollution levels are far too high for her liking!
If you want to have a look at the Anna’s current favourite object in Wellcome Collection, go to the Reading Room on Level 2 and find the piece by the artist Helen Pynor called Liquid Ground. She describes it as “an underwater photograph that depicts a floating dress and displaced internal organs on its side. Which sounds really macabre and, to be fair, it is inspired by tales of drowning in the Thames. But I find it really peaceful and the turquoise backdrop is full of life.” She also finds this piece an interesting reflection on our disassociation with our own visceral, watery interiors. “Our tendency to avoid confronting the fact that we’re not hollow souls, we’re bodies filled with… stuff.”
Learning can happen anywhere and at any time. Science Learning+ is an international initiative that aims to understand the power of informal learning experiences inside and outside of school. Phase 2 of the grant scheme opened at the end of February and will fund longer term research programmes. Mat Hickman from the Education and Learning team at Wellcome reflects on the origins of the scheme, the projects funded in Phase 1 and the hopes for Phase 2.
Informal science experiences
Nearly two years ago we launched Science Learning+. This arose from our interest in understanding the value of informal science experiences – the myriad of activities that includes trips to science and discovery centres, attending public lectures about science, doing hands-on science activities, watching YouTube videos, meeting a researcher…
There’s a lot of stuff out there! Wellcome has been funding these sorts of activities for decades because we believe that ‘informal science learning’ (ISL) has a positive effect on participants, including learning about science and especially on younger audiences.
The extensive evaluation of the huge amount of public engagement projects clearly points to these positive effects. But there are still questions to answer – perhaps people who engage positively with these sorts of experiences are just reinforcing existing interests, rather than being steered by the experience. And we don’t really know how to measure whether or not ISL does affect people. We’re not expecting to be able to distil a two hour visit to a science centre to a single number that tells us whether a young person will become a scientist. But we would like to explore how we might somehow gauge to what extent an ISL experience might affect people’s learning, future choices and/or attitudes to science.
Linking practice and research
And so was born Science Learning+. The scheme is a partnership between the Wellcome Trust, the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the US (which has a strong history of supporting research in this area through its Advancing Informal STEM Learning [AISL] scheme) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in the UK. Science Learning+ aims to bring together people that develop and carry out ISL activities (‘practitioners’) with those who do research into these activities. Science Learning+ awards must be collaborations between practitioners and researchers, and between UK/Irish organisations and US organisations, such that there is wide sharing of learning and best practice.
Phase 1 of Science Learning+ provided seed funding to explore potential areas of interest, develop partnerships and scope out research questions more thoroughly. Through Phase 1, 11 projects were funded, five by Wellcome and ESRC and six by NSF. We funded a breadth of activity, with the projects looking at learning across settings such as zoos and aquariums, live science events and online. Details about the findings of the projects are available via the Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education.
Understanding learning, and more
For Phase 2 we are looking to explore questions about ISL experiences in much greater depth. Phase 2 projects are expected to be 3-5 years in duration – perhaps longer for more longitudinal research. As well as addressing the nature of the engagement activity (such as watching videos online), we also expect projects to consider audiences. We are particularly interested in projects that fall within or across the following priorities:
- understanding learning
- engagement in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)
- skills development
- equity, diversity and access to informal learning settings
- measurement of outcomes.
The call for proposals for Phase 2 is now open. All applications to Phase 2 of Science Learning+ must be made via NSF and respond to the Science Learning+ solicitation; applications must include a UK budget using the template budget form provided on our Science Learning+ web pages. Applicants based in the UK or Ireland should contact Wellcome at SLplus@wellcome.ac.uk should they wish to find out more about the scheme, how to apply or discuss their proposal.
More details about Science Learning+ are available via the Wellcome Trust’s Science Learning+ web pages.
Today the Wellcome Trust, in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, launches a new program for early career scientists who have trained in the UK or US but want to continue their research in country outside the G7. The International Research Scholar program is one of many ways that Wellcome supports early career researchers working outside the UK, as Anne-Marie Coriat, Head of Research Careers at the Wellcome Trust explains…
When Gordon A. Awandare was a student at the University of Ghana, he made a decision to go to the United States to do his PhD. For promising young scientists in lower and middle income countries, moving abroad to continue their training is common and understandable. What makes Gordon stand out is that after completing his PhD at the University of Pittsburgh he returned to Ghana to set up his own lab, thanks to initial support from the National Institutes of Health and the Royal Society, and later funding from the World Bank and a DELTAS Africa award. He’s now recognised as an outstanding malaria researcher and recently won the Royal Society’s early career scientist award.
For every Gordon there are many more researchers who go to the UK or US for further scientific training and stay for the remainder of their careers. There are many reasons for this, but important contributory factors are fewer career opportunities and unclear career structures for scientists in many non-G7 countries. The resulting ‘brain-drain’ is a problem because researchers have a crucial part to play in addressing the health issues in the country they live in and without embedded in-country research the goal of better health for everyone is harder to reach
However, as most PhD students know, science is a competitive business and establishing your own lab is difficult – whether you’re in Bristol, Buenos Aires or Beijing. But we recognise that for most scientists the early stages of an independent career are a time of maximum creativity and productivity and, like other funders, Wellcome have prioritised early career funding for scientists establishing independent laboratories.
At Wellcome, we also have a long track history of funding researchers at all career stages outside the UK. We have five successful overseas programmes across Africa and Southeast Asia, we have recently been involved in setting up the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) to bring the centre of gravity for major research funding decisions to Africa, and we support clinical fellows across the world.
But there is always scope to do more and explore how we might address this problem in different ways and with others who share our goals.
That is why we have decided, with our partners the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Gates Foundation and the Gulbekian Foundation, to trial a new International Research Scholarship program for researchers trained in the UK and US who want to set up an independent research lab.
Between us we hope to fund up to 50 scholars, 15 of whom will be Wellcome funded. We’re looking for applications from early career researchers in any area of basic biological, biomedical and public health research including chemistry, physics, computer science, and engineering where they relate to biology or medicine.
These scholars will be a small part of a larger focus that Wellcome has on providing opportunities and support to researchers in lower and middle income countries. We are continually thinking about how we can work together with our partners towards a common aim of better health around the world. Identifying excellent researchers who will benefit from the scholars program is another step along that road.
As ever, we welcome informal feedback. If you have any questions please email email@example.com
With Easter celebrations getting underway today, we’re bound to see more than a few eggs around. Most are likely to be of a chocolate variety, rather than the type portrayed here in our Image of the Week.
This rather startling image of a baby emerging from its ‘shell’ is an engraving that features in a book titled ‘Histoire des accouchements chez tous les peuples’ (History of births among all people). Published in 1887, the book is described as a ‘complete dogmatic study of delivery’ and includes literary stories and anecdotes of birthing experiences dating from antiquity to what was then the present day.
One peculiar story described in the book features a French woman who supposedly gave birth to two eggs. They were taken to the Academy of Science in Paris and later hatched to reveal two pigeon chicks.
Eggs have been a traditional part of Easter celebrations since before the Middle Ages and are symbolic of new life. Early Easter eggs may have been a decorated duck or hens’ egg, with France and Germany leading the move towards the modern decorative chocolate eggs we know today in the early 19th century.
We hope you all have a nice break, don’t forget that Wellcome Collection is open as usual this weekend, including Bank Holiday Monday.
Image credit: A new born child stepping out of a broken egg; Wellcome Library, London