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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 michael.addelman@manchester.ac.uk or on +44 (0)161 275 2111.

Latest news

Study advocates psychological screening for the carers of child burn victims
(6 November 2018)

A new study published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology highlights the need for psychological screening for families/primary caregivers after a child sustains a burn injury.

Drug combo doesn't benefit depression but leaves room for doubt
(5 November 2018)

A large clinical trial led by researchers at the Universities of Bristol, Exeter, Keele, Manchester and Hull York Medical School, and published in the British Medical Journal has found that a popular combination of antidepression drugs was no more effective in improving depression than a placebo. The studies' author's call on doctors to rethink their use.

Poverty blamed for widening north-south gap in young adult deaths
(31 October 2018)

A major study of mortality across England led by University of Manchester data scientists blames socioeconomic deprivation for sharp rises in deaths among 22 to 44-year-olds living in the North of England.

Planetary science could save thousands of lab mice
(31 October 2018)

File 20181016 165905 17k44vb.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1 Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

 

Paul Tar, Research Associate, University of Manchester

 

Experimenting on animals is a big part of biomedical research and also a big concern for those interested in animal welfare. Scientists are encouraged to use as few animals as possible in their research, but reducing animal numbers also reduces how precise a researcher can be about the results of a study. If a treatment only has a small effect, lots of animals are needed to see it.

However, a new machine-learning technique (a type of AI) could reduce the number of animals needed in certain studies and still give precise results.

The method, called linear Poisson modelling, developed at the University of Manchester, was created to help planetary scientists automate the inspection of images of Mars and the moon. It was used to learn the different textures of planetary terrain, then measure how much of those same textures appeared elsewhere on the same planet. The method also helped the citizen science project MoonZoo count craters on the moon.

Now back on Earth, it has found a new use as a tool for cancer researchers to inspect medical images of tumours implanted in lab mice. And compared with traditional statistical methods, early tests show that using this method up to 16 times fewer animals may be needed to detect the effects of treatments in cancer research.

From the moon to cancer tumours. taffpixture/Shutterstock

The machine learning method can describe the differences between groups of tumours that have been treated and those that have not. The medical images that were used in a proof-of-concept study we carried out used a type of scanning that measures the random motion of water molecules. This is useful because treated tumours become more watery as cell tissue breaks down.

Looking for these changes can be difficult because treatments take time to have an effect and tumours change over time whether they have been treated or not. Plus, there are lots of different ways that tumours can change and no two tumours are exactly alike. This complex behaviour can now be learnt using the machine learning method, allowing treatment effects to be precisely measured in individual tumours.

The more traditional approach, using what statisticians call a t-test, often requires using a dozen or more animals before a precise result can be seen.

A more sensitive method

Cancer treatments can work better in certain combinations and can work better or worse depending upon the genetics of a tumour. Finding out which combinations of treatment work best for different tumours is an ongoing challenge.

The number of genetic differences between tumours and the number of treatment combinations that are possible leads to many thousands of experiments that need to be performed. This new method has the potential to significantly reduce the number of animals needed for large experiments. The sensitivity of the method may also allow shorter experiments to be performed, thereby reducing the discomfort and distress of the animals involved.

Our proof-of-concept study is the first step to fully realising the benefits of the new approach, but it must first be demonstrated that similar results can be repeated on other tumour images. We are optimistic that they will.The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Drugs’ side effects in lungs ‘more widespread than thought’
(29 October 2018)

A systematic review of research has revealed that the toxic effects on the lung of drugs commonly taken to treat a range of common conditions is much more widespread than thought.

Antibiotics are ‘avoidable trigger’ for bowel disease
(25 October 2018)

Scientists at The University of Manchester have shown for the first time how antibiotics can predispose the gut to avoidable infections that trigger bowel disease in mice.

Alzheimer's disease: mounting evidence that herpes virus is a cause
(19 October 2018)

File 20181017 41153 xdfg3e.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1 Atthapon Raksthapu/Shutterstock.com

Ruth Itzhaki, Professor Emeritus of Molecular Neurobiology, writes

More than 30m people worldwide suffer from Alzheimer’s disease – the most common form of dementia. Unfortunately, there is no cure, only drugs to ease the symptoms. However, my latest review, suggests a way to treat the disease. I found the strongest evidence yet that the herpes virus is a cause of Alzheimer’s, suggesting that effective and safe antiviral drugs might be able to treat the disease. We might even be able to vaccinate our children against it.

The virus implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1), is better known for causing cold sores. It infects most people in infancy and then remains dormant in the peripheral nervous system (the part of the nervous system that isn’t the brain and the spinal cord). Occasionally, if a person is stressed, the virus becomes activated and, in some people, it causes cold sores.

We discovered in 1991 that in many elderly people HSV1 is also present in the brain. And in 1997 we showed that it confers a strong risk of Alzheimer’s disease when present in the brain of people who have a specific gene known as APOE4.

The virus can become active in the brain, perhaps repeatedly, and this probably causes cumulative damage. The likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease is 12 times greater for APOE4 carriers who have HSV1 in the brain than for those with neither factor.

Later, we and others found that HSV1 infection of cell cultures causes beta-amyloid and abnormal tau proteins to accumulate. An accumulation of these proteins in the brain is characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

Most people are infected with the herpes simplex virus by the time they reach old age. Spectral-Design/Shutterstock.com

We believe that HSV1 is a major contributory factor for Alzheimer’s disease and that it enters the brains of elderly people as their immune system declines with age. It then establishes a latent (dormant) infection, from which it is reactivated by events such as stress, a reduced immune system and brain inflammation induced by infection by other microbes.

Reactivation leads to direct viral damage in infected cells and to viral-induced inflammation. We suggest that repeated activation causes cumulative damage, leading eventually to Alzheimer’s disease in people with the APOE4 gene.

Presumably, in APOE4 carriers, Alzheimer’s disease develops in the brain because of greater HSV1-induced formation of toxic products, or less repair of damage.

New treatments?

The data suggest that antiviral agents might be used for treating Alzheimer’s disease. The main antiviral agents, which are safe, prevent new viruses from forming, thereby limiting viral damage.

In an earlier study, we found that the anti-herpes antiviral drug, acyclovir, blocks HSV1 DNA replication, and reduces levels of beta-amyloid and tau caused by HSV1 infection of cell cultures.

It’s important to note that all studies, including our own, only show an association between the herpes virus and Alzheimer’s – they don’t prove that the virus is an actual cause. Probably the only way to prove that a microbe is a cause of a disease is to show that an occurrence of the disease is greatly reduced either by targeting the microbe with a specific anti-microbial agent or by specific vaccination against the microbe.

Excitingly, successful prevention of Alzheimer’s disease by use of specific anti-herpes agents has now been demonstrated in a large-scale population study in Taiwan. Hopefully, information inother countries, if available, will yield similar results.The Conversation

Ruth Itzhaki, Professor Emeritus of Molecular Neurobiology, University of Manchester

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We’re doing drug trials wrong – here’s how to fix it
(18 October 2018)

File 20181011 154577 1up2l31.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1Image by Jason Salmon/Shutterstock.com

 

By Professor Tracy Hussell, Director of the Lydia Becker Institute of Immunology and Inflammation, which is launched today

By the age of 65, at least half of us will suffer from two or more long-term diseases. And the chance of having multi-morbidity, as it is known, increases with age.

Only 9% of people with coronary heart disease have no other condition. The other 91% have various combinations of hypertension (high blood pressure), heart failure, stroke, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, depression, dementia, chronic kidney disease and so on.

And it’s not just the elderly who suffer from several long-term conditions – young people do too. In poor areas, the occurrence of two or more diseases in the young [can occur ten to 15 years earlier] compared with those in wealthier regions.

People with multi-morbidities have to take a range of drugs: one or more for each disease. But whether drugs developed to treat single diseases are effective in patients with multi-morbidity is a matter of debate. In some patients, their body attacks the drug as though it were a pathogen. In other patients, the treatment causes [side effects] that are worse than the disease being treated, including an increased risk of infection.

A new class of drugs, so-called disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, are being used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. These drugs treat the underlying disease rather than just ease the symptoms. This is a major advance, but at least 40% of the people taking them won’t see an improvement in their symptoms. This is probably because most patients have another disease, which may stop the drug working properly.

The root of the problem in developing all new medicines lies in the tendency to research, diagnose and treat diseases as a single entity. The single disease approach goes right back to the way biology is taught at school and university.

Multi-morbidity is the norm

A growing number of medical researchers think we should learn from disease combinations. This may seem like an impossible task, given the number of possible combinations, but some combinations are very common, such as heart disease and high blood pressure. And not taking multi-morbidities into account affects every stage of introducing a new drug, from its discovery to testing it in patients.

The decision to develop a new drug is based on the careful analysis of thousands of patient groups. But these groups are not divided based on the presence of other existing diseases. By not grouping patients based on pre-existing conditions, many relevant new drugs specific for particular disease combinations may be missed.

Once new drugs have been developed, they are first tested in animal models of a particular disease or in tissue culture, containing an individual cell type. There is no guarantee that this type of test is relevant for human disease, and there is also no guarantee that relevant drugs won’t be missed that might have worked in more complex disease combinations.

Multi-morbidities are also not taken into account when new drugs are tested in patients. Remarkably, the patients who have the most severe disease combinations, and are the most problematic to treat, are mostly excluded from clinical trials. In coronary heart disease, for example, on average, 69% of patients with multi-mobidities are excluded from clinical trials because clinicians are wary of making their disease even worse. Yet these are the patients that most need the treatment. Also, how the drug works may differ in patients with one disease compared with patients with more than one disease.

The situation is even worse for dementia patients where 95% have other diseases, yet in 86% of trials, patients with other conditions are excluded. Instead, recruitment for clinical trials picks those patients who are potentially less affected by the disease in question, as they do not have any of the commonly associated multi-morbidities, which could also mean they are in a younger age group that responds differently to the drug.

Some combinations, such as hypertension and heart disease, are very common. Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Appetite for a new approach

Is it any wonder that little progress has been made in the treatment of the most debilitating conditions affecting the human race? New targets for drugs should not be chosen irrespective of what else is wrong with the patient. Rather patients with a particular disease should be sub-categorised and studied based on the other diseases they have, and treatment specifically tested and tailored to their needs.

Also, science funding bodies and the pharmaceutical industry should drive the development of new animal and tissue culture models in which to test new drugs that encompass patient disease complexity. There is an appetite among researchers for this approach, but the momentum needs toincrease.

Tracy Hussell, Professor of Inflammatory Disease, University of Manchester

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hypothesis underpinning dementia research ‘flawed’
(16 October 2018)

A hypothesis which has been the standard way of explaining how the body develops Alzheimer’s Disease for almost 30 years is flawed, according to a University of Manchester biologist.

Older people who self-harm at highest risk of suicide, finds study
(16 October 2018)

People over 65 who harm themselves are more likely to die by suicide than other age groups according to new research published in the Lancet Psychiatry by University of Manchester and Keele University academics.

Candida test could save lives
(15 October 2018)

A study by a team of clinicians and scientists from Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and The University of Manchester, published in the latest issue of the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, shows how deaths from a serious blood stream infection caused by the yeast Candida can be avoided.

Hearing and visual aids linked to slower age-related memory loss
(12 October 2018)

Hearing aids and cataract surgery are strongly linked to a slower rate of age-related cognitive decline, according to new research by University of Manchester academics.

Greater Manchester universities to offer more mental health support to students
(10 October 2018)

Greater Manchester will be the first place in the country to establish a dedicated centre to help support higher education students with mental health needs.

Downward mobility link to violent crime and self-harm
(10 October 2018)

The children of families who fall upon hard times are at significantly greater risk of being involved in violent crime and harming themselves as young adults, according to a major new study.

Public initiative to raise awareness of psoriasis
(8 October 2018)

Following on from its success in previous years, the Psoriasis Shout Out is taking to the road this year, expanding its reach across the UK and Ireland. World-leading psoriasis expert Professor Chris Griffiths, Director of the Manchester Centre for Dermatology Research at The University of Manchester is heading the series of special events to get people talking about this often overlooked chronic condition.

Discharged mental health patients ‘at greater risk of dying’
(2 October 2018)

Mental health patients are at much greater risk of dying from unnatural causes following their first discharge from inpatient care than the rest of the population, according to new research.

James Allison and Tasuku Honjo: deserving winners of this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
(1 October 2018)

The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to two immunologists for their revolutionary approaches to treat cancer. Professor Sheena Cruickshank explains the science

Researchers' work on self-harm receives major award
(1 October 2018)

A University of Manchester research team has received a prestigious Royal College of General Practitioners award for their work on adolescent self-harm.

Stillbirth reduction strategy remains unproven, study finds
(28 September 2018)

A care package aimed at reducing the risk of babies being stillborn may offer marginal benefit, research suggests.

Findings from a major study were inconclusive, but experts stressed that advice for pregnant women remains the same.

Women who notice a change in their baby’s movements in the womb should seek advice from their midwife or local maternity unit immediately.

Previous research had suggested that encouraging women to pay attention to their babies’ movements, combined with additional checks and early delivery of babies at risk, might help cut rates of stillbirth by 30 per cent.

Professor Alexander Heazell, Director of the Tommy’s Stillbirth Research Centre at the University of Manchester and co-investigator on the project led by the University of Edinburgh investigated whether a similar care package could help to reduce rates of stillbirths in a large randomised controlled trial.

The study – called AFFIRM – analysed outcomes from more than 400,000 pregnancies from 33 hospitals around the UK and Ireland.

It is the largest study of fetal movement awareness to date and the first in the world to investigate fetal movement combined with an intervention designed to reduce stillbirth.

Results indicated a marginal drop in the stillbirth rate, from 44 in 10,000 births after standard care to around 41 in 10,000 births with the intervention.

 

Test could detect patients at risk from lethal fungal spores
(20 September 2018)

Scientists at The University of Manchester have discovered a genetic mutation in humans linked to a 17-fold increase in the amount of dangerous fungal spores in the lungs.

Scientists develop new drug treatment for TB
(11 September 2018)

Scientists at The University of Manchester have developed the first non-antibiotic drug to successfully treat tuberculosis in animals.

Research exposes pitfalls of opening up on social media
(11 September 2018)

Opening up about your feelings on social media has an association with lower self-esteem, mood, paranoia and opinions about the self in comparison to others according to a new study.

High blood sugar during pregnancy ups risk of mother’s type 2 diabetes and child’s obesity
(11 September 2018)

Research conducted in part at The University of Manchester has found that mothers with elevated blood glucose during pregnancy – even if not high enough to meet the traditional definition of gestational diabetes – were significantly more likely to have developed type 2 diabetes a decade after pregnancy than their counterparts without high blood glucose.

For children born to mothers with elevated or normal glucose, researchers found no statistically significant difference between the two groups of children in terms of their combined overweight and obesity, the study’s primary outcome. However, when obesity was measured alone, children of mothers with elevated blood glucose were significantly more likely to be obese.

The results are part of a follow-up study published Sept. 11 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Funded primarily by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institute of Health, and conducted at ten study sites, including The University of Manchester the Hyperglycemia and Adverse Pregnancy Outcomes-Follow-up Study or HAPO-FUS, followed mothers and their children 10-14 years after birth.

Professor Peter Clayton, who led the Manchester research team, said: “Here in Manchester, we recruited more than 500 mother-child pairs from the original HAPO study, conducted when the children were born. Many of the mothers and their children had also helped us with studies through childhood, as part of the Manchester Heart and Growth study.

“The work was carried out by our research team, which included Avni Vyas, Aysha Khan, Fiona Pritchard, Jane Howell and Andy Whatmore (from Developmental Biology & Medicine in the School of Medical Sciences), supported by the NIHR Manchester Clinical Research Facility and the Greater Manchester Clinical Research Network”.

The original HAPO study found that even modestly elevated blood glucose levels increased the risks of complications for the baby both before and shortly after birth. Based on these results many, but not all, organizations adopted a new definition of gestational diabetes, a type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy.

HAPO-FUS compared the long-term effects of blood glucose levels in mothers who would have met the new definition of gestational diabetes with those who did not. Researchers aimed to learn if modest increases in blood glucose increased the mother’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes or prediabetes and the risk of obesity in the mother’s offspring at least a decade after giving birth.

The study found the harms of even modestly elevated blood glucose for both mother and child extend more than a decade. Among women with elevated blood glucose during pregnancy, nearly 11 percent had type 2 diabetes at the follow-up study visit 10-14 years after childbirth and about 42 percent had prediabetes. Of their counterparts who did not have elevated blood glucose during pregnancy, about 2 percent had type 2 diabetes and about 18 percent had prediabetes. The study examined 4,697 mothers for type 2 diabetes, prediabetes and other disorders of glucose metabolism.

Researchers analyzed 4,832 children for overweight and obesity, collecting data using body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage, skin fold thickness and waist circumference. They found that these measures all showed that children born to mothers with elevated glucose levels were more likely to be obese. For example, using BMI, 19 percent of children born to mothers with elevated blood glucose were obese, compared with 10 percent for children of mothers with normal glucose.

Adjusting for the mother’s BMI reduced – but did not eliminate – the differences between the groups.

“The differences in mothers and their children due to the mother’s higher blood glucose are very concerning. Even accounting for the mother’s weight, glucose had an independent effect,” said Dr. Barbara Linder, a study author and senior advisor for childhood diabetes research at the NIDDK. “Our findings add to the motivation to find ways to help women at high risk for gestational diabetes who are or plan to get pregnant to take steps to reduce their risk.”

The original HAPO study looked at 23,316 mother-child pairs and found that a mother’s blood sugar levels, even short of diabetes, were associated with her newborn’s birth weight and body fat. HAPO results led an international panel of experts to recommend new diagnostic criteria for gestational diabetes in 2010. However, not all professional groups adopted these proposed criteria.

“HAPO helped redefine gestational diabetes, and now its follow up continues to raise important alarms about the long-term danger of high blood glucose levels during pregnancy,” said study chair Dr. Boyd Metzger, emeritus Tom D. Spies Professor of Nutrition and Metabolism at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago. “This study shows that both mothers with elevated blood glucose levels and their offspring are at higher risk for adverse health effects later in life. More research is needed to find interventions to help both these women and their children.” None of the women in HAPO-FUS were diagnosed with or treated for gestational diabetes during their pregnancy. HAPO recruited an international, racially and ethnically diverse group. Limitations of the data in HAPO include that body mass index was obtained during pregnancy, not before. As well, HAPO-FUS did not collect data on the women or children’s lifestyles to evaluate other factors that could contribute to obesity or type 2 diabetes.

The results build on findings from other studies showing that type 2 diabetes in mothers during pregnancy is associated with obesity in that mother’s offspring and that elevated blood glucose increases risk of type 2 diabetes in the woman after pregnancy.

“HAPO and its follow-up study have shown the detrimental long-term effects of elevated blood glucose on both mother and child and the importance of early intervention for women at risk for gestational diabetes,” said NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers. “We hope these results will be used to improve the health of generations to come.”

HAPO-FUS was conducted at 10 clinical centers around the world

Body clock could be key to better Asthma treatment
(10 September 2018)

The human body clock could have a significant impact on the way doctors are able to diagnose and treat asthma, according to new research.

Burnout in doctors has shocking impact on care, review finds
(5 September 2018)

Burnout in doctors has devastating consequences on the quality of care they deliver, according to a large scale systematic review and meta-analysis.

New figures show 138 million women suffer from recurrent thrush
(3 August 2018)

Around 138 million women are affected by a distressing but treatable fungal infection world-wide, according to a research review by University of Manchester scientists.

Action plan can prevent over 600 stillbirths a year
(30 July 2018)

An estimated 600 stillbirths annually could be prevented if maternity units adopt national best practice according to an independent evaluation which includes University of Manchester experts.

Light device is effective ulcer treatment
(26 July 2018)

University of Manchester and Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust scientists have developed a lamp which could treat chronic ulcers with light.

Hidden abuse of Nigerian women revealed by researcher
(25 July 2018)

A study of 16 Nigerian women living with domestic abuse has shown how they are too frightened of being deported to ask for help from the UK authorities.

Manchester celebrates forty years since first test tube baby birth
(23 July 2018)

The world's first “test tube” baby was conceived by IVF in Greater Manchester, at Dr Kershaw's Hospital in Royton. Louise Brown was born at Oldham General Hospital forty years ago on 25 July 1978.