Health and Medicine
The arrival of COVID-19 changed the world as we knew it. Global priorities underwent seismic shifts and measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 changed our daily and working lives beyond recognition. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Worldwide Cancer Research’s Director of Research, Dr Lynn Turner, to hear how the pandemic has impacted the ongoing battle against cancer, and what challenges must now be faced as a result.
Cancer presents a global challenge. With over 17 million new cases of cancer worldwide in 2018 and 9.6 million deaths in the same year, better approaches to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer are urgently required.
Founded in 1979, Worldwide Cancer Research is a UK-based charity dedicated to meeting these needs by starting new cancer cures worldwide. In this exclusive interview, we speak again with Worldwide Cancer Research’s Chief Executive, Dr Helen Rippon, to hear about their recent efforts and plans for the future.
Professor Mary Rezk-Hanna – Hookah (i.e., Waterpipe) Smoking: Understanding User Perceptions and Health Risks
Hookah smoking is the least regulated tobacco form. It is rapidly gaining in popularity to the extent that we are now facing a contemporary epidemic of tobacco abuse. Of particular concern is the level of usage among youth and young adults. Professor Mary Rezk-Hanna from the University of California, Los Angeles works with a group of scientists who aim to drive policy regulation of tobacco and alternative tobacco products, including hookah smoking, by investigating their health effects on the cardiovascular system.
Neurodevelopmental disorders range from those on the relatively common autism spectrum to much rarer disorders such as KDM5C-disorder and Weidemann-Steiner Syndrome. Exciting advancements in human genetics have shown that histones – the proteins our DNA wraps around – play a vital role in healthy brain development. Dr Shigeki Iwase from the University of Michigan studies how mutations in the enzymes that regulate histone structure and function can cause cognitive disorders. His work has led to important new discoveries, including how counterpart enzymes can be utilised for therapies.
Shockingly, there are around 55,200 new breast cancer cases in the UK every year. As such, breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in women and a leading cause of cancer death. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Richard Bahu, Chair of Trustees at the UK research charity Against Breast Cancer to hear about their vital work.
Exposure to childhood trauma increases the risk of developing mental health issues in adulthood. However, the processes through which this occurs are currently unknown. Using magnetic resonance imaging, laboratory-based measurements of fear, and the assessment of clinical symptomatology, Dr Tanja Jovanovic from Wayne State University is investigating the effect that trauma has on brain development. She hopes her findings will help identify those children at risk of anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder so that preventative measures can be put in place to ensure brighter futures for children in their adulthood years.
Dr. Roy Jafari – Artificial Neural Networks: Utilising Machine Learning for Equitable Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Breast cancer is the most commonly occurring cancer in women, and it is pivotal that it is diagnosed correctly and promptly. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is now widely used in diagnosis to produce more accurate results. Dr. Roy Jafari from the University of Redlands is training a type of AI called an Artificial Neural Network to make more equitable diagnosis decisions for patients. He hopes that focussing on decision-making will reduce stress on patients and create a better care experience.
As medicine progresses, new techniques are needed to visualise abnormal extracellular structures with greater specificity and resolution. Currently, there is a clear lack of molecular tools to image extracellular structures with the detail needed for early diagnosis of various medical conditions. Based at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the Collaborative Research Centre 1340 represents a large collaboration of researchers from institutions across Berlin, who are working to establish new methods for medical imaging and research at the anatomical and molecular levels.
Dr Jessica Galgano – Exploring the Neural Mechanisms of Speech and Language to Inform Clinical Practice
The neural mechanisms behind speech and voice production are intricate but not yet fully characterised. For speech and vocal disordered populations, understanding the central mechanisms behind speech and sound production is essential to improve treatment options and rehabilitation techniques. Taking a scientist-practitioner approach, Dr Jessica Galgano, of New York University Grossman School of Medicine and founder of Open Lines Speech and Communication, is researching the underpinnings of speech and the clinical efficacy of current treatments for voice, speech, and language disorders.
While antibiotics have transformed modern medicine, helped to extend life expectancy in the UK by as much as 20 years and saved millions of lives around the world, the rapid rise of resistance to these drugs presents an imminent global health disaster if not adequately managed in the very near future. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Professor Colin Garner, founder and Chief Executive of Antibiotic Research UK, the world’s first charity focussing on bacterial antibiotic resistance, to hear about their vital efforts targeted at overcoming the challenge of antibiotic resistance.
Founded in 1992, Alzheimer’s Research UK is the UK’s leading dementia research charity. Their work is dedicated to furthering our understanding of the causes, diagnosis, prevention, treatment and cure of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Characterised by declines in memory and other cognitive functions such as thinking and reasoning, these progressively worsening neurodegenerative and ultimately fatal diseases sadly remain without a cure. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Ian Wilson, Deputy Chief Executive, to hear about the vital work conducted by Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Bacteria are found everywhere – in humans, animals and the environment – and are best known for being able to cause painful and even fatal infections. It may come as surprise, therefore, to learn that bacteria can also have useful applications. The lifetime work of Dr Bert Lampson at East Tennessee State University in the USA has focussed on the dangers and applications of bacteria. Over his career, Dr Lampson has discovered new mechanisms of antibiotic resistance, novel antibiotics, and bacterial proteins, with important applications for science and healthcare.
The availability of skilled health practitioners is fundamental to the health of a nation. Unfortunately, many countries experience shortages of healthcare professionals. Shortages typically result when too few choose to enter the health professions and when too many exit the health professions, whether to pursue an alternate career or to retire. Dr Sarah Hewko, based at the University of Prince Edward Island, is conducting valuable research into the reasons why health professionals retire earlier than planned.
When the concentration of antioxidants and free radicals in your cells is out of balance, they experience oxidative stress. This may, in turn, result in damage to important cellular components that alter their original function, potentially having a role in the progression/development of disease. Professor Marino Resendiz from the University of Colorado Denver is researching how the modifications generated by oxidative stress alter the function and structure of RNA, an important component of all cellular organisms. His work has already demonstrated some of the changes that oxidative damage can result in, and how the oxidative modifications may potentially lead to novel structures with potential therapeutic uses.
Professor Hani El-Gabalawy – Emerging Approaches to the Detection and Prevention of Rheumatoid Arthritis in a Predisposed Indigenous North American Population
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long-term, systematic disease that causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. Professor Hani El-Gabalawy and his research team from the University of Manitoba in Canada are finding ways of better identifying those at risk for future RA as a prelude to developing and testing prevention strategies. Since other autoimmune diseases are known to have similar preclinical phases, prevention strategies that can effectively lower the risk of developing RA can potentially be adapted and applied to a broad range of similar disorders.
Professor Tara Perrot and her team at Dalhousie University, Canada, are working to better understand how early development – including the experiences of parents before their offspring are even born – may influence the stress reactions and resilience of their offspring later in life. This research involves not only looking at the brain and hormones but also the gut, and holds important implications for understanding human stress reactivity in the current day.
The prevalence of Alcohol Use Disorders represents a serious concern given the deleterious impacts observed on individuals, their families, and society more widely. A better understanding of the factors associated with the development and recovery of Alcohol Use Disorders is essential to the development of more effective treatments. This is the focus of research by Dr Sara Blaine from Auburn University, USA.
Being overweight is a well-recognised risk factor for the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases, and certain types of cancer. As such, obesity represents a significant public health issue worldwide. It is the leading cause of death in the USA, notably in Arkansas, where Dr Jamie I. Baum, at the Department of Food Science at the University of Arkansas, is exploring, with her colleagues, the relationship between dietary protein intake and its impact on body composition and metabolism to develop efficient nutritional guidelines to prevent and treat obesity.
Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from sunlight has been identified as a leading risk factor for the development of melanoma. Despite numerous research studies, the molecular mechanisms underlying the link between UVR and melanoma remain still poorly understood. Dr Chengyu Liang, from The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia and her collaborators from the University of Southern California have identified the function of the UV irradiation resistance associated gene (UVRAG). Their studies show that inactivation of UVRAG affects the ability of the cell to repair UVR-induced damage mechanisms. The researchers also provide compelling in vivo validation of a novel prognostic and predictive biomarker in melanoma.
Fracking has long been controversial for its potential to contaminate local water sources and cause damage to the environment. Dr Kathleen Mullen at Littleton Equine Medical Center in Colorado and her team have carried out novel research into how fracking in close proximity to a horse-breeding farm may be the cause of a specific birth defect in the foals born there. Her findings may be relevant to human babies and considerations of the implications of fracking on long-term health.
Dr J. Kenneth Hoober | Dr Laura L. Eggink – Glycomimetic Peptides as Immune System Activators in the Treatment of Cancer and Viral Infections
Immune system cells express a number of receptors that bind to sugar ligands. This binding initiates the activation of T-cell lymphocytes and natural killer cells. Dr J. Kenneth Hoober, Dr Laura L. Eggink and the team at Susavion have designed peptides that bind to different receptors on immune cells. The peptides effectively extend the lives of mice with glioblastoma and ovarian cancer, and prevent the replication of viruses in the presence of non-neutralising antibodies. The mechanism of action of their peptides could inspire the development of effective treatments for Covid-19 and other viral infections.
Severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) is associated with high rates of disability and even mortality. Understanding the relationship between patient outcomes and the treatment received, as well as other physiological factors such as inflammation, can improve how we approach TBI. Dr Jack Jallo and his team from the Department of Neurological Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University are researching the factors that influence TBI recovery to help design better care management protocols and optimise patient recovery.
Meningitis and septicaemia are serious, life-threatening illnesses that can kill within hours. The Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF) is the leading UK, Irish and international charity working to bring together people and expertise to defeat these diseases. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Vinny Smith, Chief Executive, to hear about their vital work, key achievements and future plans.
Malnutrition, occurring as either a lack of food or not eating enough of the right types of food, is a significant concern in many African countries, particularly for children. To address this issue, Dr Marlyse Leng and her colleagues at the University of Douala in Cameroon have recently developed a nutritious weaning food for infants, made from an endangered yam species to increase its production and use. After processing the yam with other key nutrients into an optimised formulation, they explored the food’s nutrient availability and antioxidant activity in comparison to other products.
Dr Claudine Bruck | Professor Edward Morrisey | Professor Jason Burdick – A Hydrogel with the Ability to Recover Heart Function
The human heart is a muscle, and like all types of muscles, it can be injured. In humans, heart muscle is not able to regenerate after injury, and this can lead to heart disease which develops over time, eventually leading to an untimely death. A team of researchers, Doctor Claudine Bruck (Prolifagen), Professor Edward Morrisey (Department of Medicine and Cell and Developmental Biology) and Professor Jason Burdick (Department of Bioengineering) at the University of Pennsylvania, have collaborated to develop a novel therapy to regenerate damaged heart muscle.
Dr Charles Vite – Naturally Occurring Diseases in Dogs and Cats Help to Develop Treatments for Inherited Neurological Disorders
Many inherited neurological diseases are rare but can have severe outcomes, frequently resulting in disability and even death for children. New treatment options are essential to prevent suffering and decrease mortality, but to find such treatments, these diseases need to be more closely studied. Dr Charles Vite and his team at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, are committed to achieving these goals. By utilising animal models and unique markers for inherited neurological disease, they have already delivered promising results supporting the development of new treatment options.
Prolonged exposure to nitrate from contaminated water affects the transport of oxygen in blood. Nitrate can react with haemoglobin, oxidising it into methaemoglobin, which is unable to carry oxygen. High methaemoglobin levels among infants result in a medical condition known as methaemoglobinemia or blue baby syndrome. Dr Mina Sadeq and her team from the National Institute of Hygiene in Morocco, conducted two studies to investigate the combined effects of nitrate and bacteria on the development of methaemoglobinaemia in infants and young children.
Epilepsy is one of the most common causes of disability worldwide, but for many patients, treatment fails to be effective. Dr Victoria Morgan and her team from the Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are using functional connectivity mapping to find out why some patients respond better to treatment and what alternative ways there may be to tackle this debilitating disorder.
Dr Anton Iliuk – A Non-invasive, Low-cost Procedure to Detect Cancer Biomarkers from Biological Fluids
Liquid biopsies have recently gained attention as sources of non-invasive diagnostic cancer biomarkers. Traditional biofluid sampling methods, however, are onerous and time-consuming and present many limitations including poor sensitivity for biomarkers in low concentrations. Dr Anton Iliuk and his team at Tymora Analytical Operations, West Lafayette, USA, have developed a way to isolate extracellular vesicles from plasma, urine and other biofluids. They now aim to grow their network of collaborators to use their platform for the discovery of protein biomarkers from several cancers, neurodegenerative diseases, and other conditions.
Medical conditions that affect the brain can have severe impacts on people’s lives. Many of these conditions can be difficult to treat, including epilepsy which affects the brain to cause seizures and the common form of dementia known as Alzheimer’s disease. Dr Arun Swaminathan at the University of Nebraska Medical Center specialises in the treatment of epilepsy. He also collaborates with fellow researchers to explore treatment options for Alzheimer’s disease.
Applying mathematics to biology can help reveal the elusive details of life. Professor Wilfred D. Stein and his colleagues from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and institutes worldwide have used quantitative tools to tackle topics ranging from cancer treatment to drug-resistant malaria, and lately, the evolution of the human genome. His extensive and broad work has supported scientists in many different areas of biomedicine and will leave a lasting impact on life science.
In recent years, scientific and technological advances have brought great innovation within the life sciences industry, introducing the need for entrepreneurship training for medical and engineering graduates. With this in mind, Michal Gilon-Yanai, Dr Robert Schneider and their collaborators developed an academic program designed to provide students and faculty members with the skills they need to become successful entrepreneurs. The team of collaborators includes Dr Gabrielle Gold-von Simson, an expert in implementing academic programs, and Dr Colleen Gillespie, who specialises in education, evaluation and dissemination science. Their pioneering program trains students on how to bring new biomedical technologies to the market.