Health and Medicine

Dr Mina Sadeq – Physiological Impact of Nitrate Intake from Non-disinfected Drinking Well Water

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.

Dr Victoria Morgan – Mapping Brain Networks to Understand Epilepsy

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.

Dr Arun Swaminathan – Improving the Diagnosis and Treatment of Neurological Diseases

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.

Professor Wilfred D. Stein – Using Quantitative Tools to Learn More About Genes

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.

Cultivating a New Generation of Biomedical Entrepreneurs

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.

Dr Richard B. Brandon | Dr Thomas D. Yager – A Fully Integrated Diagnostic Test to Discriminate Sepsis from Infection-negative Systemic Inflammation

Sepsis is a serious medical condition that manifests with a dysregulated immune response to an infection in the bloodstream, and is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Many non-infectious conditions can lead to a state of hyper-inflammation known as the systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), which clinically can look very similar to sepsis. A lack of analytical tools that allow for the early detection of sepsis makes discrimination between sepsis and SIRS a very complex but critical diagnostic task. Dr Richard B. Brandon, Dr Thomas D. Yager and their colleagues at Immunexpress have developed a molecular diagnostic platform capable of detecting genetic biomarkers diagnostic for sepsis in about an hour. Early sepsis diagnosis can potentially lead to better patient management, more efficient use of resources, and a more sensible approach to the use of antibiotics.

Dr Johannes Bircher’s – Driving Forward A Paradigm Shift in Healthcare: The Meikirch Model

Healthcare systems around the world are under increasing pressure as a result of depleting resources accompanied by rising demands. Dr Johannes Bircher’s reflections on the inherent failings of modern healthcare systems have coalesced into an important proposal for a new concept of health, known as the Meikirch model. Here, we look at the potential of the Meikirch model to drive forward a critical paradigm shift in healthcare delivery.

Dr Yasuhiro Sakai | Dr Kazuhiko Kuwahara – GANP: An Immunoactive Protein with a Key Role in Tumourigenesis

Investigating the role of an immune system protein, GANP, and its coding gene, ganp, Dr Yasuhiro Sakai and Dr Kazuhiko Kuwahara (Fujita Health University School of Medicine) have unveiled a potential role for this important protein in tumourigenesis. The scientists apply a multidisciplinary approach to identify potential therapeutic solutions to aid cancer prognosis, a collaboration that occurs in the emerging field of immunopathology. The researchers focus on the differential levels of GANP which appear to correlate with breast cancers (low GANP) and with lymphocytic cancers (high GANP).

Dr Babita Agrawal – Targeting the Immune System to Our Advantage

The rise of pandemic-causing viruses is a worrying development arising as a by-product of our hugely connected world, and scientists must forge new paths to tackle these diseases. With researchers like Dr Babita Agrawal from the University of Alberta at the helm, we can hope to enter a new era of preventatives and therapeutics to help us fight disease. Dr Agrawal and her team are investigating novel vaccines and immunotherapeutics for influenza, Hepatitis C, tuberculosis, and even cancer.

Dr Yi Sheng – The Ubiquitin and Proteasome System in Tumour Management and Drug Discovery

Ubiquitin is a polypeptide that is tagged on to various proteins to signal a range of biological processes. The alteration of the ubiquitin system plays a pivotal role in the pathogenesis of diseases including autoimmune disorders and cancer. The process of ubiquitinylation involves a cascade of enzymes, E1, the activating enzyme, E2 (conjugating enzymes) and E3 (ligases). Characterisation of the ubiquitinylation process of key proteins that impact stems cells, immune cells, and cancers is vital to identify therapeutic targets which may influence the progression of autoimmune conditions and cancers. The ubiquitin system is compromised in the majority of cancers and is the focus of research by Dr Yi Sheng of York University, Canada.

Dr Logan M. Lawrence – Evidence-Informed Decision Making: Breaking Down the Walls Between Researchers and Policy Makers

Anyone who has worked closely with government, be it local, national or international, will know the frustrations of trying to influence policy and decision makers. The ‘dark arts’ of the political analyst and the political lobbyist, particularly those that seem to succeed in having influence, remain a mystery to many. Dr Logan M. Lawrence at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, explores the concept of ‘policy capacity’ to try and understand, measure and operationalise the best approaches to assist and support policy makers to make ‘the right decisions’.

Dr Sean Lawler – Overcoming the Barriers to Brain Tumour Therapy

Brain tumours and other central nervous system diseases can be exceptionally difficult to treat. This is often due to the blood-brain barrier which can pose a significant obstacle when trying to get drugs to their intended site of action. Dr Sean Lawler and his team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School are aiming to bridge the gap between laboratory research and clinical treatment in their quest to find new ways to effectively deliver therapies to the brain and treat challenging diseases, especially the lethal brain tumour glioblastoma.

Dr Rock J. Mancini – Exploiting Drug Metabolism to Activate Immunity Against Cancer

Multidrug resistance is one of the main culprits underlying the failure of chemotherapy as a cancer treatment. Whilst many therapies are initially effective, a considerable proportion of patients eventually incur a poor prognosis and recurrence of malignant spread due to developing drug resistance at a later stage. Dr Rock J. Mancini, from Washington State University, has devised an approach that exploits proteins over-expressed in drug-resistant cancers to convert inactive prodrug substrates into active drugs that initiate an immune response targeted at cancer cells.

The Thinnest of Materials May Hold a Cure for Osteoarthritis

Since the turn of the century, a myriad of exciting applications for graphene have emerged. Amongst the most exciting might be its use as a scaffold for promoting tissue growth in the treatment of various medical conditions, including osteoarthritis. Researchers at Boise State University in the USA and Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg in Germany are gaining a greater understanding of the interactions between graphene and cells, towards the development of implantable graphene-based devices that can rebuild damaged tissue.

UK Biobank

UK Biobank is a large-scale biomedical database and research resource containing genetic, lifestyle and health information from half a million UK participants. The database, which is regularly augmented with additional data, is globally accessible to approved researchers and scientists undertaking vital research into the most common and life-threatening diseases. UK Biobank’s research resource is a major contributor to the advancement of modern medicine and treatment and has enabled several scientific discoveries that improve human health. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Professor Sir Rory Collins FMedSci FRS, Principal Investigator and Chief Executive of UK Biobank, to hear about the achievements to date and the ambitious and unique potential of this exciting project.

Dr John Paul Y.C. Shen – Exploiting the Cancer Genome for Personalised Therapies

The effectiveness of cancer treatments could be hugely improved by a greater understanding of the cancer genome. This is the focus of the work of Dr John Paul Y.C. Shen, MD, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, who is creating comprehensive molecular ‘maps’ of cancer cells and their interactions. Understanding cancer at a molecular level is the first step towards Dr Shen’s very real hope of bringing personalised cancer treatments into the clinic.

Professor Dr André Fringer | Mrs Sabrina Stängle – The Voluntary Stopping of Eating and Drinking: Dying with Dignity?

To die with dignity is a common wish but not one that is easily granted. Professor Dr André Fringer and Mrs Sabrina Stängle, both of the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, are investigating the voluntary stopping of eating and drinking (VSED) as a means to hasten death as an alternative to active euthanasia. Their work is driving forward our understanding of the medical and ethical ramifications of this practice.

SFB 1309: Collaborating to Understand the Chemical Biology of Epigenetic Modifications

The discovery of DNA has been one of the most important findings of the last century, yet there is still much more to uncover about the ‘additional chemical layer’ brought about by the chemical modification of amino acids and nucleotide bases. A large collaboration of researchers at institutions across Germany, known as SFB 1309, is led by Professor Thomas Carell at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich. A key focus of SFB 1309 is to elucidate the details of the second layer of information beyond the sequence layer of biochemical molecules called Watson-Crick bases within our DNA.

Dr Muy-Teck Teh – A Novel Diagnostic Tool for Cancer Detection

Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) constitutes around 90% of all head and neck cancers. Millions of individuals are diagnosed across the globe every year, very often too late and with poor prognosis. Among other factors, alcohol consumption and smoking increase the risk to develop HNSCC. Dr Muy-Teck Teh, from Queen Mary University of London, is driving forward our understanding of the factors leading to cancer, leading the development of novel less invasive detection methods, and progressing better therapeutic options.

Dr Guo-Qiang ‘GQ’ Zhang – Faceted Query Systems for Interrogating Clinical Data

Scientists and clinicians rely on data to inform their practice and make decisions in a variety of medical settings. For data to be meaningful they need to be translated into actionable information and interpreted by the user. Access to a sheer amount of data can, in itself, pose a challenge. Dr Guo-Qiang ‘GQ’ Zhang from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) has developed several innovative systems that provide a user-friendly interface for handling large-scale, multi-centre clinical data.

The Association for Women in Science

Founded almost 50 years ago, the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) is a global network that inspires bold leadership, research, and solutions that advance women in STEM, spark innovation, promote organisational success, and drive systemic change. In this exclusive interview, we speak with AWIS president and world-renowned biomedical innovator Dr Susan Windham-Bannister, who describes the barriers that women face in the STEM workplace, and the many ways in which AWIS supports women in science and works towards eliminating inequality through systemic change.

Dr James E. Goldman | Dr Osama Al-Dalahmah – Confronting the Challenge of Huntington Disease

Huntington disease (HD) is an inherited and progressive neurological disorder which is currently fatal. Dr James E. Goldman and Dr Osama Al-Dalahmah, both at Columbia University, USA, are utilising new techniques in molecular biology to better understand the brain pathology associated with HD. Their vision is to develop therapeutics that can slow the progression of the disease, and ultimately, treat and even prevent it.

Dr. Hamdy Awad – Eliminating Paralysis After Aortic Aneurysm Surgery

Ruptured and dissected aneurysms are medical emergencies that can have fatal consequences. There are two main surgical procedures to repair a ruptured aneurysm: open surgery and endovascular aneurysm repair. Unfortunately, both methods present a risk of developing spinal cord injury and paralysis. In addition, patients who develop paralysis after surgery have a significantly lower survival rate compared to non-paralysed patients. Dr. Hamdy Awad at The Ohio State University has spent most of his academic career focusing on the development of preclinical small and large animal models to understand the mechanisms of ischaemic spinal cord injury and discovery of novel therapeutics to prevent paralysis after aortic aneurysm surgery.

Dr Alan N. Schechter – The Role of Nitrate and Nitric Oxide in Muscle Blood Flow in Exercise

Nitric oxide is an ‘A-list’ celebrity amongst chemical compounds. Proclaimed ‘molecule of the year’ in 1992 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, its physiological importance, discovered in 1985, was recognised in 1998 by the award of a Nobel prize to some of the researchers who had discovered its vital role in regulating blood vessels and blood pressure. Here we look at the pre-eminent work of Dr Alan N. Schechter at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, USA, that is continuing to keep nitric oxide at the front and centre of groundbreaking biological research.

Dr Josh Rubin – Understanding Sex Differences in Cancer Promises Better Treatment and Survival

Differences in the prevalence and survival of male and female cancer patients have long been acknowledged but not well understood. Dr Josh Rubin (Departments of Paediatrics and Neuroscience at Washington University) and his collaborators have been the first to identify sex-specific differences in malignant transformation. This evidence will help to optimise sex-specific approaches to cancer treatment and contribute to the improvement of the outcomes and survival of cancer patients.

Neuroscience Ireland

Neuroscience Ireland (NI) was established in 2005 as Ireland’s National Neuroscience Society, and is a registered charity in the Republic of Ireland. NI has a membership in the region of 200 scientists and clinicians, and represents Ireland on the Governing Council of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies. In this exclusive interview, we speak with Professor Áine Kelly, President of NI, to hear about their vital work driving forward excellence in neuroscience in Ireland and internationally.

Dr Bhuvaneswari Ramaswamy | Dr Sarmila Majumder – Breastfeeding to Reduce Breast cancer Risk, Especially in African-American Women

Breastfeeding is widely accepted as being the best option for babies’ health and development. Dr Bhuvaneswari Ramaswamy, working with Dr Sarmila Majumder at Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Centre, USA, notes that breastfeeding also has long-term benefits for mothers, particularly in reducing their future breast cancer risk. Here, we explore their work to understand the connection between breastfeeding and cancer and how to reduce the risks for a particularly vulnerable population.

Dr Mary Whitman – From Nerve Development to Vision: A Bumpy Ride

The eye movement disorders strabismus (characterised by eye misalignment) and nystagmus (characterised by involuntary oscillation of the eyes) together affect up to 5% of the population and have a detrimental impact on vision. These disorders also impact on facial appearance and social interaction, which may, in turn, lead to psychological difficulties. Dr Mary Whitman, at the Boston Children’s Hospital, USA, is working to understand the genetic causes and neurological mechanisms underlying eye movement disorders to improve treatment and, ultimately, prevent their onset.