There's always something new to read about the Faculty, whether it's a new discovery by one of our academics, an award won by one of our students, or an upcoming event.
Most press releases will specify media contacts, but if in doubt, please get in touch with our Media Relations Officer, Michael Addelman, at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +44 (0)161 275 2111.
New cancer screening study could affect treatment for thousands in the UK
(17 September 2020)
The first UK study to estimate the proportion of womb cancers caused by an inherited cancer predisposition called Lynch syndrome has been carried out by The University of Manchester.
NHS implements antifungal resistance test
(11 September 2020)
Research funded by the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) has led to UK-wide implementation of a novel NHS diagnostic test that uses pyrosequencing (a method of identifying genetic markers in DNA), to identify the right treatment for people with aspergillosis.
Hearing appointments could be enhanced when done remotely
(10 September 2020)
A survey has shown that audiologists feel the COVID-19 lockdown has brought about some beneficial changes to care of patients with hearing problems.
Virtual exhibition marks World Suicide Prevention day
(10 September 2020)
To mark World Suicide Prevention Day on Thursday 10 September a patient safety research centre has created a virtual photographic exhibition, ‘Hope during the COVID-19 Pandemic: perspectives from people with personal experience of self-harm, suicide, and mental health.’
Conversion to Type 2 Diabetes declining
(7 September 2020)
The number of people with pre-diabetes who go on to develop Type 2 Diabetes has been reducing over the past 2 decades, according to a study led by University of Manchester epidemiologists.
Young people with chronic health conditions cope with all of the usual challenges of growing up – making friends, changing schools, adapting to new situations, developing a sense of self, and dealing with interpersonal conflict. But they also have to deal with the challenges of their illness.
Young people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a group of chronic conditions that includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, have to deal with unpleasant symptoms, intrusive treatment and uncertainty. Typical symptoms include diarrhoea, abdominal pain, weight loss, blood in their stools and fatigue. The disease can go into remission, but there is no cure and flare-ups can result in hospital stays and missing school or work.
Findings from our recent study on mental health among young people with IBD show that when experiencing symptoms, some young people feel negatively about their friendships because they are embarrassed about their condition. And we found that this can lead to loneliness along with depression and anxiety.
‘Hiding my condition’
Many young people with IBD choose to conceal their diagnosis from friends and colleagues. Our study found this is often out of a desire to present themselves as “normal” along with wanting to keep health issues private for fear of being judged.
Being diagnosed with IBD can create an abrupt shift in a young person’s expected biography, derailing their plans and expectations of life. Challenges to our identity are difficult to manage at any age, but can be particularly hard for young people as they transition towards adulthood.
Some young people we talked to said they feared being stigmatised because of their condition – which has been shown to happen to adults with IBD. This can be a key concern for young people with IBD, particularly just after diagnosis and during major life transitions such as moving schools, going to university, or starting a job.
To disclose or not
In our study, all of the young people had told at least one friend something about their IBD. Mostly their decision to tell had been their choice. But, visible indicators of their condition, such as a nasogastric tube, meant several young people felt compelled to disclose.
For such long-term chronic conditions, disclosure is ongoing and young people must make decisions throughout their life about what to disclose (or not) as they meet new people and enter into new situations. And although the social taboo of talking about bowels is being challenged, there is still a strong sense that toilet habits are awkward to talk about.
Starting a conversation about IBD was described as “tricky” and young people had to judge who they could trust – typically close friends – and how much to share. They generally avoided going into “too much detail”, or “making a big a thing about it” but also wanted friends to know it isn’t “just an upset stomach” as one young woman explained:
It’s hard to explain colitis, it’s the hardest thing in the world, still now after so many years. It’s not just an upset tummy, it’s the whole body and lots more complications and medication.
Some young people told stories of negative reactions from friends arising from misconceptions about IBD. Some friends worried they could catch IBD. Others were scared by the word “disease” or did not want to be friends with someone who was “different to them”. Some young people’s friendships were severed. Yet many found their friends to be supportive and their friendship ties strengthened.
By talking about their experiences and sharing images of previously hidden aspects of treatment – such as their stoma bag – young people are breaking down taboos and reducing the sense of isolation that can come with having a chronic health condition.
But while challenging social stigma is essential, our study also shows how important it is for young people with IBD to look after their mental wellbeing – and friendships can be a key part of this. This is why we’ve worked with young people to come up with the “telling my friends” resources, that will hopefully help other young people with Crohn’s or colitis talk to their friends about their condition.
It’s also important to highlight that our findings show that despite the struggles young people with IBD experience, none of them wanted to be or felt defined by their condition. They have the same concerns, aspirations and desires as other young people, and ultimately just want to be seen as normal – whatever that might look like.
Bernie Carter, Professor of Children's Nursing, Edge Hill University; Alison Rouncefield-Swales, Research fellow, Edge Hill University, and Pamela Qualter, Professor of Psychology for Education, University of Manchester
Immunologist Professor Tracy Hussell from The University of Manchester and a team from across the UK will be investigating the nature of COVID-19 infection outside hospital.
A simple new heart-monitoring technique has been developed to help people self-monitor their conditions at home without the need for hospital visits.
A third of over fifties with hearing loss could be undiagnosed
(27 August 2020)
Up to a-third of older adults with hearing loss in England could be undetected and untreated , according to a new study by University of Manchester researchers.
A new study by The University of Manchester and Liverpool John Moores University has found that the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown has been an ‘emotional rollercoaster’ for teenagers, which has created many difficult and intense feelings, as well as bringing some positives.
The severity of COVID-19 can vary hugely. In some it causes no symptoms at all and in others it’s life threatening, with some people particularly vulnerable to its very severe impacts.
The virus disproportionately affects men and people who are older and who have conditions such as diabetes and obesity. In the UK and other western countries, ethnic minorities have also been disproportionately affected.
While many factors contribute to how severely people are affected, including access to healthcare, occupational exposure and environmental risks such as pollution, it’s becoming clear that for some of these at-risk groups, it’s the response of their immune system – inflammation – that explains why they get so sick.
Specifically, we’re seeing that the risks associated with diabetes, obesity, age and sex are all related to the immune system functioning irregularly when confronted by the virus.
Inflammation can go too far
A common feature for many patients that get severe COVID is serious lung damage caused by an overly vigorous immune response. This is characterised by the creation of lots of inflammatory products called cytokines – the so-called cytokine storm.
Cytokines can be really powerful tools in the immune response: they can stop viruses reproducing, for example. However, some cytokine actions – such as helping bring in other immune cells to fight an infection or enhancing the ability of these recruited cells to get across blood vessels – can cause real damage if they are not controlled. This is exactly what happens in a cytokine storm.
Many white blood cells create cytokines, but specialised cells called monocytes and macrophages seem to be some of the biggest culprits in generating cytokine storms. When properly controlled, these cells are a force for good that can detect and destroy threats, clear and repair damaged tissue, and bring in other immune cells to help.
However, in severe COVID the way monocytes and macrophages work misfires. And this is particularly true in patients with diabetes and obesity.
Glucose fuels damage
Diabetes, if not controlled well, can result in high levels of glucose in the body. A recent study showed that, in COVID, macrophages and monocytes respond to high levels of glucose with worrying consequences.
The virus that causes COVID, SARS-CoV-2, needs a target to latch onto in order to invade our cells. Its choice is a protein on the cell surface called ACE2. Glucose increases the levels of ACE2 present on macrophages and monocytes, helping the virus infect the very cells that should be helping to kill it.
Once the virus is safely inside these cells, it causes them to start making lots of inflammatory cytokines – effectively kick-starting the cytokine storm. And the higher the levels of glucose, the more successful the virus is at replicating inside the cells – essentially the glucose fuels the virus.
But the virus isn’t done yet. It also causes the virally infected immune cells to make products that are very damaging to the lung, such as reactive oxygen species. And on top of this, the virus reduces the ability of other immune cells – lymphocytes – to kill it.
Obesity also causes high levels of glucose in the body and, similar to diabetes, affects macrophage and monocyte activation. Research has shown that macrophages from obese individuals are an ideal place for SARS-CoV-2 to thrive.
Other risks tied to inflammation
The same sort of inflammatory profile that diabetes and obesity cause is also seen in some older people (those over 60 years). This is due to a phenomenon known as inflammageing.
Inflammageing is characterised by having high levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. It’s influenced by a number of factors, including genetics, the microbiome (the bacteria, viruses and other microbes that live inside and on you) and obesity.
Many older people also have fewer lymphocytes – the very cells that can specifically target and destroy viruses.
This all means that for some older people, their immune system is not only poorly equipped to fight off an infection, but it is also more likely to lead to a damaging immune response. Having fewer lymphocytes also means vaccines may not work as well, which is crucial to consider when planning a future COVID vaccine campaign.
Another puzzle that has been worrying researchers is why men seem so much more vulnerable to COVID. One reason is that cells in men seem to be more readily infected by SARS-CoV-2 than women. The ACE2 receptor that the virus uses to latch onto and infect cells is expressed much more highly in men than women. Men also have higher levels of an enzyme called TMPRSS2 that promotes the ability of the virus to enter the cells.
Immunology is also offering some clues on the sex difference. It’s long been known that men and women differ in their immune responses, and this is true in COVID.
A recent pre-print (research that has not yet been reviewed) has tracked and compared the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 in men and women over time. It found that men were more likely to develop atypical monocytes that were profoundly pro-inflammatory and capable of making cytokines typical of a cytokine storm. Women also tended to have a more robust T cell response, which is needed for effective virus killing. However, increased age and having a higher body mass index reversed the protective immune effect in women.
Studies like these highlight how different people are. The more we understand about these differences and vulnerabilities, the more we can consider how best to treat each patient. Data like these also highlight the need to consider variation in immune function and include people of varied demographics in drug and vaccine trials.
COVID-19 history project given £1million
(21 August 2020)
A University of Manchester team of researchers and volunteers who have been documenting NHS voices of COVID-19 since March, are to join forces with the British Library thanks a grant of nearly £1m.
A study, led by researchers at Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, the University of Manchester and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), has found that young women are most vulnerable to postpartum mental illness.
Bisexual people up to six times more likely to self-injure
(19 August 2020)
Bisexual people are up to six times more likely to engage in non-suicidal self-injury compared to other sexual orientations, according to University of Manchester researchers.
Public health responses to the pandemic have focused on preventing the spread of the virus, limiting the number of deaths and easing the burden on healthcare systems. But there’s also potentially another, less visible epidemic we should be focusing on: mental illness.
Our recent study found that people’s mental health worsened following the onset of the pandemic. We discovered this by analysing data provided by 17,452 UK adults, who were surveyed in April 2020 as part of the UK Household Longitudinal Study. This is a large ongoing study of people who contribute data every year, some from as far back as 1992.
Not everyone, we discovered, was affected equally. Young people, women, and those with small children saw their mental health worsen significantly more than other groups.
How we measured distress
The survey measured mental health using 12 questions, which covered people’s difficulties with sleep, concentration and decision making as well as their emotional state, such as whether they were feeling strained or overwhelmed.
People’s answers were then assigned a value between zero and four, with higher scores indicating worse mental health. These scores were added together to give each person a total of between zero and 36, which offered an overall measure of their mental health. We also applied a separate scoring system to people’s answers to estimate whether they were showing clinically significant levels of psychological distress – that is, if their distress was high enough to potentially need medical assistance.
We found that many common and well-known mental health inequalities persisted in the middle of lockdown. For instance, women showed substantially worse mental health than men (with a mean score of 13.6 compared with 11.5), and one-third of women had clinically significant levels of distress compared with one-fifth of men.
Mental health also tended to get worse further down the income scale. The lowest fifth of earners had an average score of 13.9, with 32% showing clinically significant levels of distress. This compared with an average score of 12.0 in the highest fifth of earners, of whom 26% showed high distress levels.
Yet while this told us where the mental health need was, it didn’t tell us what the pandemic’s effects had been. We got a better sense of this by comparing this year’s scores with prior measurements – and indeed, mental health was, on average, worse this year. Average scores have risen from 11.5 in the 2018/19 financial year to 12.6 in the recording made in April 2020. We also saw a significant overall increase in the proportion of people showing clinical levels of distress: 19% in 2018/19 versus 27% in April 2020.
However, because the pandemic arose against a background of worsening mental health in the UK, we expected some deterioration. We took account of this by looking at each individual’s pre-pandemic answers, stretching back to 2014. These helped us predict what the scores were likely to have been in April 2020 had the pandemic not happened.
Overall, we found that scores were 0.5 points worse this year than we would have expected, suggesting that the pandemic – specifically – has had an effect on mental health.
Not everyone is affected equally
This worsening of mental health differed considerably for different groups. Compared to what we would have predicted to see, men’s scores got only marginally worse (+0.06), while the change for women was far greater (+0.92). Young people, aged 18-24, were most affected, seeing a relative increase of 2.7 over what we would have expected if the pandemic had not happened.
We had also predicted that fear of the virus would be a driver of poorer mental health, and that this would disproportionately affect key workers or people with underlying health conditions. But this was not the case.
The factors driving the decline in some people’s mental health are not yet clear. But some clues are revealed when we consider who was most affected. The deterioration in women and those with young children points to the difficulty of managing the domestic load during lockdown. Having young children is challenging at any point, and we know that reliable support from family members, paid childcare and friends lessen its impact. The government’s social restrictions and lockdown abruptly cut off most of these supports.
The effects on young people are especially troubling to see. These have happened against a background, in the past decade, of significant worsening mental health for young people and of young people’s mental health services struggling to cope.
Some young people are vulnerable to social isolation and are affected badly by being withdrawn from school. They may lose oversight of their wellbeing by teachers and other responsible adults, as well as access to regular meals and peer support from friends.
Could there be long-term effects?
As lockdown measures ease, we may see improvements in people’s mental health. It remains to be seen whether there will be any long-term effects, such as pre-existing mental health inequalities becoming more entrenched.
The pandemic has brought people’s differing life circumstances into stark contrast. Access to outside space, household crowding, food insecurity, domestic violence, addiction, maintenance of social connectivity, and economic reserves are all relevant to mental health. It’s likely these differences will become more important during the anticipated economic recession, and these may have different effects on mental health compared with the government lockdown.
What these changes will do to people’s overall health, wellbeing and family is not known. But to mitigate and manage any additional mental health needs requires them to be closely monitored. People also need to receive high-quality information about mental health in public health messaging and be provided with adequately resourced services. We would do well to remember that our mental health is as important as our physical health, and this should not be lost in our future planning.
Researchers discover how genome controls early human development
(10 August 2020)
A team led by scientists from The University of Manchester has discovered how our genome controls the development of many of the organs critical to human life.
Three University of Manchester academics have been recognised for their “outstanding” work at this year’s Advance HE Teaching Excellence Awards for Higher Education.
A significant number of patients reported a deterioration in their hearing when questioned eight weeks after discharge from a hospital admission for COVID-19, according to University of Manchester audiologists, in a study supported by the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC).
New technique can reduce heart transplant rejection
(29 July 2020)
University of Manchester scientists have discovered that removing immune cells from donor hearts using a new technique can reduce the risk of acute rejection after heart transplant surgery - even without the use of powerful immunosuppressant drugs.
Drug target for aggressive breast cancer found
(27 July 2020)
A team of British and American scientists have discovered a way to slow the growth of breast cancer stem cells in the lab.
Early results from a survey of 2000 people in the UK and US has suggested that the COVID-19 transmitted through aerosol transmission is materially significant.
During lockdown, we saw how the pandemic was leading to new forms of social solidarity. In addition to claps for carers and rainbow pictures, the very act of staying home was a demonstration of a collective responsibility to protect the vulnerable. It was a sacrifice for the “greater good”, adhered to by all but a well publicised minority.
However, in our ongoing research – in which we’re exploring public attitudes to COVID-19 and social distancing – we’re finding that people are stigmatising those who might have the disease or might transmit it. At its core, this stigmatisation is based on what social scientists call “othering”. This is where we define, often negatively, certain individuals or groups in terms of how they are different from us. Othering is at the root of stereotyping and discrimination.
Most if not all infectious diseases are stigmatising to some extent, precisely because coming into contact with those who have the disease may lead to us becoming sick. But the fact that COVID-19 is a new disease with no cure or vaccine – and (compared say to flu) has a relatively high case fatality rate – adds to the fear factor that often drives othering. Stigma can also, as we are seeing in this pandemic, potentially undermine efforts to control and fight disease.
How stigma is playing out
Our research shows that what were once relatively innocuous behaviours like coughing and sneezing are now being experienced as significant, dramatic, anxiety-provoking events. For example, one participant, who has a long-term cough from being a smoker, reported feeling as though they were being treated like a “leper” while out shopping.
Another participant, a hay fever sufferer, reported feeling “on edge” going out for fear of sneezing and worrying over what people might think or say. Many of our participants also described strong reactions to others’ coughs and sneezes in public spaces:
It’s interesting how we have gone from being polite and saying “bless you” to now having to defend people’s coughs and sneezes. If somebody does cough, it draws a really strong negative reaction towards them.
Often these reactions were expressed as anger toward those getting too close or not adhering to new social norms, such as sneezing into the elbow. We’ve also seen general condemnation of those perceived not to be adhering to social distancing rules, for example by getting too close to others in shops or on pavements. Of course, where distancing and hygiene guidelines are being blatantly flouted, frustration and anger are arguably both expected and justified.
There is also a broader form of othering taking place between people with different interpretations of the guidelines, or between those who have differing opinions over whether those guidelines are too cautious or not cautious enough. For example, in our research we found a general division between those who were keen to be “living completely as normal” as soon as possible and those who felt things were moving too fast. Those who were taking advantage of or stretching the guidelines were deemed “inconsiderate” and a source of “frustration”.
As we continue to emerge from lockdown and socially reintegrate, the rules on how to behave – and what we can and can’t do in public – are getting increasingly complex. We can expect new forms of social division and social stigma to emerge as a result.
The wider negative impact
The worry is that this divisiveness will deepen over the course of the pandemic as measures continue to ease. The real problem is that official guidelines have often lacked clarity. It’s little wonder that the recent government equivocation around facemasks is a source of contention. Conversely, clear guidelines can help to reduce othering and divisiveness by reducing confusion and uncertainty around what is or isn’t acceptable.
There’s a clear need to avoid social division. Research on past pandemics has shown how stigma can seriously delay detection and treatment efforts, cooperation with contact tracing and isolation measures, and the effective distribution of resources for disease prevention and control. In the current climate, if stigma is associated with having COVID-19, then some people may be reluctant to report symptoms, take a test or input information into a contact-tracing app.
For example, in research we conducted in May we found that one of the initial misconceptions some people had about contact-tracing apps – and one of the reasons they wouldn’t consider using them – was that the app might allow users to specifically identify others (or be identified themselves) as having COVID-19 (though this isn’t actually possible).
One participant said about the app: “It’s like being branded with a horrendous black mark. I could look and be like, ‘my friend, my neighbour has COVID’.” Another participant felt as though “it could cause hate crime as well, finding out ‘oh, you know, I got it from this person’”.
These views reveal implicit assumptions around COVID-19 being something shameful, socially undesirable, and a potential cause of discrimination and social exclusion. And they demonstrate the power of stigma to undermine efforts to control the virus through the government’s track and trace programme.
There is, though, some guidance available on reducing stigma. Past research on other diseases such as pandemic flu and HIV/Aids, as well as advice from organisations like UNICEF and the World Health Organization, offer a number of lessons. Avoiding military metaphors (such as the “war” on COVID-19 and there being COVID-19 “victims”), addressing misinformation surrounding the disease, and not allowing a person’s identity to be defined by having COVID-19 can all have a positive effect.
A copy of their peer reviewed study published in BMJ Open is now available here:
Manchester doctors have played a leading role in global coronavirus research, which has found the first drug shown to increase survival rates in people hospitalised with COVID-19.
The Covid-19 lockdown is hitting the mental health of women, young people and parents of children under 5 the hardest according to a study led by researchers at The University of Manchester, King’s College London and the National Centre for Social Research and the National Centre for Social Research.
Top Ten Organisations for Animal Research Announced
(20 July 2020)
Understanding Animal Research (UAR), an organisation that promotes open communications about animal research, has today released a list of the ten organisations in Great Britain that carry out the highest number of animal procedures – those used in medical, veterinary and scientific research. These statistics are freely available on the organisations’ websites as part of their ongoing commitment to transparency and openness around the use of animals in research.
The figures coincide with the publication of the national Home Office statistics for animals used in research in 2019.
They show that these ten organisations carried out 1.66 million procedures, 48.7% or nearly half of the 3.40 million procedures carried out in Great Britain in 2019. More than 99% of these 1.66 million procedures were carried out on rodents or fish.
The ten organisations are listed below alongside the total number of procedures that they carried out in 2019. Each organisation’s name links to its animal research webpage, which includes more detailed statistics. This is the fifth consecutive year organisations have come together to publicise their collective numbers and examples of their research.
Number of Procedures
To accompany the Top Ten list, UAR has also produced a list (see appendix) of 42 organisations in the UK that have shared their own statistics on the animal research they carried out in 2019.
All organisations are committed to the ‘3Rs’ of replacement, reduction and refinement. This means avoiding or replacing the use of animals where possible; minimising the number of animals used per experiment and optimising the experience of the animals to improve animal welfare. However, as institutions expand and conduct more research, the total number of animals used can rise even if fewer animals are used per study.
All organisations listed are signatories to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK, a commitment to be more open about the use of animals in scientific, medical and veterinary research in the UK. More than 120 organisations have signed the Concordat including UK universities, medical research charities, research funders, learned societies and commercial research organisations.
Wendy Jarrett, Chief Executive of Understanding Animal Research, which developed the Concordat on Openness, said:
"Animal research is essential for the development of new drugs and vaccines for diseases like cancer, dementia, and COVID-19. Over the last six months we have witnessed researchers from across the world work tirelessly to develop new treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, which it is hoped can prevent thousands of further deaths. Existing drugs, developed using animals, have also been found to be effective against the virus: Remdesivir, an anti-viral drug that was initially developed using monkeys to treat Ebola, is being used to treat severe cases of COVID-19, and dexamethasone, a steroid originally developed using animal research to treat rheumatoid arthritis, has been found to save the lives of some patients on ventilators. Research involving commonly used animals like rodents, and more unusual animals like llamas, alpacas, bats, and hamsters has also yielded important information on how COVID-19 can be treated."
Jan-Bas Prins, director of the Crick’s Biological Research Facility, said:
“At the Crick our researchers are working hard to understand a wide range of devastating diseases. While we use alternatives to animal research wherever possible, these diseases are complex, frequently interacting with and affecting multiple parts of the body. Research into what causes different diseases and finding new ways to prevent and treat them often requires us to work with animals.”
Frances Rawle, Director of Policy, Ethics and Governance at the Medical Research Council, said:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of research using animals in understanding the biology of diseases and developing new treatments and vaccines. The MRC is committed to ensuring that this research is carried out to the highest possible levels of animal welfare and to replacing, refining and reducing the use of animals in research wherever possible.”
Researchers at the University of East Anglia and University of Manchester have made an important breakthrough that could lead to ‘kinder’ treatments for children with bone cancer, and save lives.
Placebo effect ‘could treat pain’
(9 July 2020)
Placebo pain-relief is reproducible in patients with chronic pain compared to healthy volunteers according to a unique University of Manchester study.
New analysis by northern universities - including The University of Manchester - shows a larger increase in COVID-19 deaths, and deaths from all causes, in the north of England compared to the south and indicates the efficacy of lockdown has differed across the UK.
A new consortium, led by The University of Manchester (UoM) and Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT), has been awarded £4.5 Million to help patients with liver disease receive earlier, more accurate, and potentially life-saving diagnoses.
A little-known non-toxic antiseptic developed in the Soviet Union during the Cold War has enormous potential to beat common infections, say University of Manchester scientists.