Health and Medicine
People living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) now have very effective treatment options to allow them to live long lives but the need for new and improved therapeutics remains. Dr Delphine Muriaux from Le Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) in Montpellier, France, researches HIV infection and replication utilising advanced state-of-the-art microscopy. This super-resolution imaging has led to new findings on the importance of the HIV-1 Gag proteins and the cellular host co-factor IRSp53, a membrane curving protein, and how they interact with host cell membranes.
Professor Gregory S. Anderson | Professor R. Nicholas Carleton – Building Resilience in Public Safety Personnel
While it is impossible to imagine a stress-free working environment, border services personnel, correctional workers, firefighters, operational and intelligence personnel, paramedics, police, public safety communicators, and search and rescue personnel are regularly exposed to dramatic, potentially psychologically traumatic experiences. Unsurprisingly, people working in these professions suffer from mental health challenges more often than the general population. The research of Professors Anderson and Carleton focuses on improving the well-being of these key workers in Canada.
A stimulating and nurturing early childhood experience is critical to achieving better educational outcomes in later life. But what are the best childcare arrangements? Is it better to be looked after by family members or a nanny at home, or would care provided by qualified carers in a more structured environment bring additional benefits? A large study by Dr Gabrielle Garon-Carrier, from the Université de Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada, sought to find answers to these burning questions.
X-rays and other forms of medical imaging let doctors peer into the body, revealing the internal structure of organs and tissues without invasive surgery. Doctors use the results to identify abnormalities such as broken bones, diagnose diseases such as cancer, or even monitor the health of a foetus within the womb. Although this technology is remarkable, the images aren’t useful in isolation. Experts must analyse the resulting data and parse what is healthy or unhealthy from the noise. Yiqiao Yin, Jaiden Schraut, Leon Liu and Jonathan Gong have created new machine learning technologies to support that crucial interpretation, focusing on X-rays and lung health.
Dr Orlando Auciello | Ultrananocrystalline Diamond Coatings for Transformational Medical Devices and Prostheses
Far from the days of being exclusively used in jewellery, diamond is finding a new lease of life as a coating for a wide variety of new medical devices and prostheses. In his recent book, Dr Orlando Auciello discusses his research in materials science and device development for medical applications. He evaluates how ultrananocrystalline diamond (UNCD) coatings can be used to improve upon existing biomedical technologies, with the goal of providing a better quality of life for countless patients around the world.
Some of the greatest advances in medical history have revolved around the creation of new materials that can replace damaged tissues in the body. Today, many researchers focus on creating materials that can replace damaged bone tissue, which often cannot heal naturally. Dr Susmita Bose and her team at Washington State University have been researching ways to engineer exciting new materials that mimic the structure of natural bone, allowing us to live happier, healthier, and longer lives.
Two-dimensional materials, like graphene, have enriched the world of nanoscience and shown great potential for a variety of different application areas. In medicine, the use of graphene is being developed and adapted to offer novel solutions in addressing clinical challenges. The 2D-Health research programme, headed by Professor Kostas Kostarelos, is a multi-disciplinary research effort looking to engineer and refine graphene-based technologies that can be clinically utilised. Based mainly at the University of Manchester, work at 2D-Health is split into three Themes addressing needs in wound care and orthopaedic surgery, cell therapeutics and cancer immunotherapy. This exciting work is aiming to offer novel solutions in healthcare whilst deepening our knowledge of two-dimensional materials interacting with the living body.
Following exposure to injury or infection, the body elicits a counteractive immune response which involves many different cell types and processes. Cytokines are substances secreted by cells which play a pivotal role in the regulation of this response. Professor Paige Lacy and colleagues in the Department of Medicine at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, have conducted extensive research into the exact mechanisms underpinning the regulation of cytokine release during the immune response with a particular focus on airway inflammatory disorders.
Chemotherapy, one of the mainstays of cancer treatment, can unfortunately act as a double-edged sword. While achieving the intended aim of killing cancerous cells, it also generates an accumulation of cell debris, which in turn, promotes tumour growth by stimulating inflammation in the tumour microenvironment. Dr Dipak Panigrahy and his colleagues from Harvard Medical School, USA, have conducted several studies in mice showing that targeting the tumour cell debris-mediated surge of proinflammatory and protumourigenic factors provides a strategy for enhancing the efficacy of chemotherapy.
Dr Doug Brugge | The Community Assessment of Freeway Exposure and Health Studies: Minimising Exposure to Traffic-related Air Pollution
People who live close to busy roads and highways are exposed to high levels of traffic-related air pollution. This puts them at risk of significant health difficulties such as high blood pressure, heart attacks and cancer. The Community Assessment of Freeway Exposure and Health Studies led by Dr Doug Brugge from the University of Connecticut represent community-engaged research into the biological impact of high exposure to pollution and importantly, possible solutions to this. This work has shown that high-efficiency particulate arrestance filters are one promising intervention for minimising exposure to pollution and thus improving health.
Professor Michael Bukrinsky | Human Immunodeficiency Virus Co-morbidities: How Lipid Homeostasis Alterations Lead to Cardiovascular and Neurological Disorders
Although human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is still prevalent worldwide, life-saving antiretroviral drugs can now prevent an infection from progressing into acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Nevertheless, people who are HIV-positive are still at increased risk of developing neurological disorders and cardiovascular diseases, known as co-morbidities. Professor Michael Bukrinsky from the George Washington University in Washington DC works to understand the underlying biological mechanisms that lead to these disorders. His research has produced interesting results that demonstrate the role of altered lipid (cholesterol) homeostasis in HIV-infected cells and how this comes to pass.
Most human diseases are localised in terms of their location but currently, injected or orally administered drugs are evenly distributed all over the body and thus, act indiscriminately. The targeted delivery of medication to the exact site where it is needed is a common theme in science fiction but thanks to Professor Richard Klemke and his team at the University of California San Diego’s Moores Cancer Center, this fantasy may soon become a reality.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a common health issue in adults that can lead to numerous co-morbidities. For hypertension to develop, a pathway called the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system needs to be activated, and a vital part of this system involves the angiotensin 1 receptor. Dr Sudhir Jain from New York Medical College studies this receptor and how specific groups of genetic mutations, known as haplotypes, promote hypertension under different conditions.
Dr Beate Aurich | Identifying, Understanding and Managing Treatment-related Risks of Medicines Prescribed to Children
The relatively new field of paediatric pharmacovigilance aims to improve the clinical care of children by understanding and appropriately managing the risks of medicines administered to this group of patients. Dr Beate Aurich is an established expert in this field, and with colleagues, has published an article on the practical aspects of paediatric pharmacovigilance. She notes that the assessment of the benefit-risk balance of available treatment options should be based on multidisciplinary efforts and include both children and their families.
As the strains of bacteria that are not killed by antibiotics proliferate, increasing numbers of people are at risk of severe illness and even death. Dr Rogier Hopstaken from Star-shl Diagnostic Centres in the Netherlands has shown that a simple, yet effective technique may be the answer to antibiotic over-prescription. A C-reactive protein test at primary points of care can indicate whether a patient with a respiratory tract infection has a severe (bacterial) infection and thus, whether antibiotics are required. This test may be our best tool yet to help combat antibiotic resistance in primary care.
The pH inside our cells is constantly changing, but also carefully controlled within certain limits. Dynamic intracellular pH (pHi) is essential for normal cell behaviours, but when it becomes dysregulated, it can enable an array of diseases from cancer to Alzheimer’s. Dr Diane Barber from the University of California San Francisco has carried out extensive research into how normal pHi dynamics regulate cell behaviours and the impact that dysregulated pHi can have in different diseases.
N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA for short) is a worryingly prevalent, potentially potent carcinogen found in food, water, cigarettes and medical drugs. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, are working to better understand what NDMA does and how cells can defend themselves from its effects, with important implications for public health.
Dr Alexandrina Agloro | Dr Shamsnaz Virani Bhada – HEART Collaboratory: Honouring Equity in Applied Research and Technology
Traditionally, research and technology development are top-down processes, which do not closely consider the needs of study participants or potential users. Dr Alexandrina Agloro at Arizona State University and Dr Shamsnaz Virani Bhada at Worcester Polytechnic Institute have recently created the HEART Collaboratory. This collaboration conducts community-based research that closely considers the needs, humanity and culture of all stakeholders and study participants.
Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that affects tens of millions of people globally. Although we can modestly improve the quality of life of patients, there is currently no cure, largely because the underlying biological mechanisms of the disease are poorly defined. Understanding the abnormal molecular characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease is the focus of Dr. Erin Norris’s research at The Rockefeller University. By studying the dysfunction of the plasma contact system, which may result in abnormal coagulation and inflammation that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Norris and her colleagues have uncovered novel biomarkers, paving the way for exciting new therapeutics.
On the surface of many of our cells, intriguing receptors called cannabinoid receptors reach out into their environment. The CB2 subtype of this receptor family is expressed largely on our immune cells and plays an important role in inflammatory responses, making it a promising target for anti-inflammatory therapeutics. To produce effective drugs, the molecules that bind to the CB2 receptor, known as ligands, need to be characterised. Dr Uwe Grether from F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd has dedicated his research to discovering useful CB2 receptor ligands and utilising them in the development of novel anti-inflammatory therapeutics.
The Biomedical Entrepreneurship Skills Development Program (BEEP): Educating a New Generation of Medical Innovators
Innovative, new technologies are rapidly being introduced into the medical world, as scientists and inventors continually discover solutions to all kinds of health issues. However, comprehensive education in medical product development, business process and strategy is distinctly lacking for science students who aspire to become commercial medical innovators and entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurially minded professionals at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine developed, implemented, and integrated programs to train early scientists in the business side of science to accelerate the pace of commercialisation and encourage individuals to pursue venture creation and entrepreneurship to impact highly relevant healthcare solutions.
Worldwide, an estimated 38 million people are living with HIV. Many are still unaware of their status and so are not linked to care and treatment which can prevent them from passing HIV onto their partners and infants and keep them healthy. Dr Richard Hayes from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the UK has led the HIV Prevention Trials Network’s 071 (PopART) trial over the past ten years. This dedicated international collaboration of experts has successfully demonstrated how universal testing and treatment can reduce new HIV infections in Zambia, South Africa and beyond.
Scoliosis, the curving of the spine, is a relatively common condition that develops in early adolescence. Whilst there are surgical options to neutralise the curve, there is no solid evidence for its long-term impact. Dr Hans-Rudolf Weiss is an expert in scoliosis treatments and has dedicated his research to improving the care of scoliosis patients. Through his back brace innovations and novel exercise therapies, he has developed ground-breaking new standards of care for patients. Additionally, through his Schroth Best Practice program, he is educating a new generation of doctors and physiotherapists on his non-surgical methods.
Professor Arthur Grollman | Professor Francis Johnson – Kidney Disease and Urinary Tract Cancer: How a Traditional Medicinal Plant Causes Serious Health Issues
This is a recounting of a scientific investigation into a mysterious but potentially deadly disease that first came to light principally in the Balkan states, and then several Asian countries. It manifests itself first as a nephropathy resulting in the destruction of kidney tissue often followed by a cancer of the upper urothelial tract. Professors Arthur Grollman and Francis Johnson at Stony Brook University have achieved a revolutionary understanding of the molecular biology, epidemiology and root cause of both diseases. Their findings have critical implications for medical and scientific communities, as well as the general public.
Dr Vanessa van Ast from the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands is driving forward understanding of how and why our emotional memories change over time. As well as elucidating how our memories of specific events and emotions influence behaviour, her most recent work is unveiling the impact that different contexts may have on the storage and recall of memories.
Physiological responses to inflammation and pain are complex and varied, depending on which cellular structure you focus on. Planted within our cell membranes is a channel that facilitates the transport of ions in response to perceived dangers. Named P2X7 receptor, this channel subtype is activated by adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to open the gate for ions, and is of particular interest to Dr Fritz Markwardt at Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany. Dr Markwardt studies P2X7 to elucidate its structure, function and ATP activation mechanisms to provide novel avenues for drug development.
Dr Tewodros Rango Godebo – Using Innovative Technology to Investigate Bone Disorders Induced by Environmental Contaminants
Throughout the world, especially in low-income countries, environmental contaminants such as fluoride have huge health consequences. While some countries add fluoride to their drinking water, others have little control over its concentration, resulting in dangerously high fluoride concentrations. Excess fluoride exposure is known to cause the bone disease skeletal fluorosis, but Dr Tewodros Rango Godebo from Tulane University in Louisiana, USA, believes that current diagnosis techniques are incomplete. Using ultrasound technology, he has determined for the first time how fluoride exposure leads to reduced bone quality, and how this diagnosis can be used in fluoride-exposed populations.
Cancer comes with many symptoms, but its life-saving treatments also cause negative side effects. One of these is radiation-induced fatigue, a clinical subtype of cancer-related fatigue and a debilitating issue that causes extreme lack of energy in those receiving radiation therapy. While this is a well-known effect of the treatment, exactly why it happens is unclear. Dr Chao-Pin Hsiao at Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing in Case Western Reserve University, Ohio, is studying the molecular and genetic-level mechanisms that drive fatigue induced by cancer/cancer treatments. Her work on finding fatigue biomarkers provides promise for future combative therapies.
The Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) is dedicated to supporting medical research charities in saving and improving lives through research and innovation. Founded over 30 years ago, the AMRC has united more than 150 medical research charities in all areas of health and disease throughout the UK and overseas. In this exclusive interview, we follow up our 2019 interview with the new Chief Executive, Nicola Perrin, to hear their latest news.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that results in painful and swollen joints, among other complications. Although treatment can alleviate the symptoms, more research is needed to understand the underlying causal mechanisms that could be exploited to prevent it. Dr Mario Zaiss the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg has carried out extensive research in this field and focuses on the impact of diet. He has made the exciting and important discovery that a high-fibre diet produces metabolites that play a vital role in preventing the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.
Dr Y. Peng Loh – Discovery of Neurotrophic Factor-α1 Reveals New Treatment Strategies for Stress-induced Neurodegenerative Diseases and Depression
Stress produces numerous negative effects on the human body. Lying deep within the brain, one particularly sensitive area is the hippocampus, where chronic exposure to stress hormones can lead to the degeneration and death of neurons. Thankfully, the brain holds defence mechanisms that block some of these negative effects. Deciphering these mechanisms with the aim of better treating neurodegenerative diseases and depression is Dr Y. Peng Loh from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in the USA.
The human brain is wonderfully complex. Billions of neuron cells connect in unique ways to create networks that determine each individual’s brain function and consequent behaviour. Given the expanse and complexity of these networks, it is not surprising that they are not yet fully mapped out or understood. Bringing innovative new and exciting ideas to this field of neurobiology is Dr Martin Schwarz from the Institute for Experimental Epileptology and Cognition Research and the Life & Brain Center at the University of Bonn Medical Center in Germany.