Range High School Students annual visit to NMR Centre

On Friday 9th March 15 chemistry A-Level students from Range High School visited the Institute for a workshop in the NMR Centre for Structural Biology organised by Dr Jill Madine and Dr Marie Phelan. This visit has been an annual event for the past several years which the students look forward to in order to gain enhanced understanding of NMR to help with their A-level courses and also gain an insight into what goes on in an academic research environment.  The students were given lectures on the basic applications of mass spectrometry and NMR from Stephen Moss (School of Physical Sciences) and Dr Marie Phelan. This was the followed by practical workshops where the students carried out chromatography and learnt to prepare and run NMR samples along with how to interpret the data.  Prior to their visit, as part of a school practical, they have made salicylic acid – a precursor for aspirin. We obtained these samples and collected NMR spectra of their products ready for analysis on the day.  This enabled them to establish how successful their synthesis had been and compare their results across the class, with previous years’ students (and to the teacher!). This final part of the day is always the most exciting for the students where there is no hiding that they actually dropped their sample and scraped it off the desk!

PhD student James Torpey along with internship students Daniel Thomas and Raven Chandramohan  helped with the day providing practical and theoretical advice.


Baltic Science Journal

This journal is founded by year 12 students from Liverpool Life Sciences UTC with support from Senior Editors from Liverpool and Wigan UTC, University of Sheffield and Dr Hannah Davies, Institute of Integrative Biology, University of Liverpool. Hannah’s involvement began a couple of years ago working with the students to design and run projects incorporating cell culture as a research tool supported by a Biochemical Society Outreach grant (link to previous posts).  This journal provides an excellent way for students to engage with other young scientists around the world and develop their skills in written scientific communication and networking. Through reporting their research findings they will develop important skills that will be invaluable in their future careers. The journal has received a lot of attention and positive feedback. We praise all of the contributors and editors for their hard work and hope that the BSJ will continue to grow in the coming months and years. Please visit the first edition of the journal here.


Jerry Turnbull helps raise dementia awareness at charity walk

IIB’s Prof Jerry Turnbull joined 3,000 people this weekend to unite against dementia at a charity walk in the city. He was accompanied by teenager Jay Stout, whose father was diagnosed with dementia just a year ago, at the start line of this year’s Memory Walk in Croxteth Country Park, along with the “Only Men Aloud” singing group (see picture). It is one of two major walks in the city organized by the Alzheimer’s Society to raise funds to fight dementia.


The Turnbull lab is developing drug candidates based on the blood thinning drug heparin designed to prevent or slow down the development of Alzheimer’s and treat the major underlying cause of the disease for the first time. The work is supported by a £260,000 grant from the Alzheimer’s Society. He said: “This funding was vital for extending our translational studies on safety and efficacy in mouse models, and it was fantastic to see the support by so many people at the Memory Walk.”

 For further information, click here.


Quantum dots for Immunofluorescence

Guest post by Dave Mason; reblogged from rapha-z-lab

In modern cell biology and light microscopy, immunofluorescence is a workhorse experiment. The same way antibodies can recognise foreign pathogens in an animal, so the specificity of antibodies can be used to label specific targets within the cell. When antibodies are bound to a fluorophore of your choice, and in combination with light microscopy, this makes for a versatile platform for research and diagnostics.

Most small-dye based fluorophores that are used in combination with antibodies suffer from a limitation; hit them with enough light and you irreversibly damage the fluorochrome, rendering the dye ‘invisible’ or photobleached. This property is the basis of several biophysical techniques such as Fluorescence Recovery After Photobleaching (FRAP) but for routine imaging it is largely an unwanted property.

Over 20 years ago, a new class of fluorescent conjugate was introduced in the form of Quantum Dots (QDots); semiconductor nanocrystals that promised increased brightness, a broad excitation and narrow emission band (good when using multi-channel imaging) and most importantly: no photobleaching. They were hailed as a game changer: “When the methods are worked out, they’ll be used instantly” (ref). With the expectation that they would “…soon be a standard biological tool” (ref).

So what happened? Check the published literature or walk into any imaging lab today and you’ll find antibodies conjugated to all manner of small dyes from FITC and rhodamine to Cyanine and Alexa dyes. Rarely will you find QDot-conjugated antibodies used despite them being commercially available. Why would people shun a technology that seemingly provides so many advantages?

Based on some strange observations, when trying to use QDot-conjugated antibodies, Jen Francis, investigated this phenomenon more closely, systematically labelling different cellular targets with Quantum dots and traditional small molecule dyes.


Figure 3 from doi:10.3762/bjnano.8.125 shows Tubulin simultaneously labelled with small fluorescent dye (A) and QDots (B). Overlay shows Qdot in green and A488 in Magenta. See paper for more details. 

The work published in the Beilstein Journal of Nanotechnology (doi: 10.3762/bjnano.8.125) demonstrates a surprising finding. Some targets in the cell such as tubulin (the ‘gold standard’ for QDot labelling) label just as well with the QDot as with the dye (see above). Others however, including nuclear and some focal adhesion targets would only label with the organic dye.


The important question of course is: why the difference in labelling when using Quantum Dots or dyes? This is discussed in more detail in the paper but one explanation the evidence supports is that it is the size of the QDots that hinder their ability to access targets in the nucleus or large protein complexes. This explanation further highlights how little we really know about the 3D structure of protein complexes in the cell and the effect of fixation and permeabilisation upon them. Why for example, can tubulin be labelled with QDots but F-actin cannot, despite them both being abundant filamentous cytosolic structures? At this point we can’t say.

So why is this study important? Publication bias (the preferential publication of ‘positive’ results) has largely hidden the complications of using QDots for immunofluorescence. We and others have spent time and money, trying to optimise and troubleshoot experiments that upon closer study, have no chance of working. We therefore hope that by undertaking and publishing this study, other researchers can be better informed and understand when (or whether) it might be appropriate to use Quantum Dots before embarking on a project.

This paper was published in the Beilstein Journal of Nanotechnology, an Open Access, peer-reviewed journal funded entirely by the Beilstein-Institut.



IIB visit from Alzheimer’s Society research grant monitors

IIB received a visit on Thursday 15th June from a group of public volunteers who act as lay reviewers of research grant applications and also monitor ongoing research funded by the Alzheimer’s Society. They were hosted by Prof Jerry Turnbull who is currently undertaking preclinical research funded by Alzheimer’s Society on candidate heparin-based drugs aimed at lowering amyloid levels. It is hoped that these might provide a safe early treatment to tackle an underlying cause of the disease, since current treatments only tackle disease symptoms. The research monitors were taken on a tour of the lab and updated on progress with the ongoing project. This was followed by lunch and lively discussions with Jerry Turnbull, Ed Yates and Jill Madine and their lab members.

Alz Soc visit 15 June no2


Dementia Awareness Week Public Engagement Event

Dementia awareness week (15th – 20th May) has all been wrapped up, and in light of the event Dr Jill Madine and her amyloid group (Kieran Hand, Dr Hannah Davies and James Torpey), Prof Jerry Turnbull and Dr Scott Guimond (Institute of Integrative Biology), and Prof Alan Morgan (Institute of Translational Medicine) participated in the Alzheimer’s Research UK North West public engagement event hosted by the University of Salford on Wednesday 17th May 2017. To celebrate the grand opening of the Universities new Dementia hub, scientific researchers from the University of Manchester, MMU, University of Liverpool, University of Salford and Liverpool John Moore’s engaged in an academic event in the morning showcasing what dementia research is taking place at each institution, followed by an afternoon demonstrating their on going efforts to tackle this life changing disease… to the public!  A breadth of “hands on” activities were available for all ages, and we also invited Liverpool Life Sciences UTC to get stuck in and showcase their ongoing collaborative projects! Activities ranged from how worms are really changing the way in which we can study dementia (with some brilliant videos) (Morgan group), how a ‘spoonful of sugar’ could help treat dementia (Turnbull group) and all the way to what dementia means to you (Madine group). In this activity, the Madine amyloid group asked individuals or groups if they could write or draw their feelings on dementia, have their photo taken with their work, where the public were delighted with the idea that it’s going to be made into a collage for others that were unable to attend the event to see. There were some truly incredible thoughts on the subject from individuals who had been directly impacted by dementia, and as a group we were incredibly humbled by the positive responses to our ongoing efforts in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and associated disorders. See you next year!


More Neuroblastology success!

This year our fruitful collaboration with Liverpool life sciences UTC has continued and we would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Laura Hurst on the success of her Year 13 Project.

Laura has been working on our Neuroblastology programme at UTC and designed and carried out an experiment to investigate the neuroprotective effect of lemongrass on brain cells in Alzheimer’s disease. Laura has cultivated SHSY5Y neuronal cells, exposed them to amyloid beta protein (protein involved in neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease) and explored the protective effect of lemongrass on these affected cells. Laura has now finished the project, written an excellent report and presented her findings to her peers and the teachers at the school.


This is her abstract from her report.

This project’s main purpose is to explore the potential neuroprotective effects of lemongrass (Cymbopogon Citratus) and how these effects can be utilised in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. The rates of this disease have greatly increased over the past few decades and so the development of new pharmaceuticals is increasingly important to society. To test the hypothesis of lemongrass having neuroprotective effects two well plates were set up with neuroblastoma cultures, one of which had beta amyloid protein (one of the key pathological markers of Alzheimer’s disease) added. Three different solutions of lemongrass essential oil were also added (0.1%,0.5%, and 1%) as well as two control groups containing either F-12 Ham’s nutrient media only or 100% ethanol. The results of the experiment suggested that an increase in lemongrass solution reduced the concentration of cells per mm² but increased the viability of the cells in the amyloid beta protein plate. 0.5% lemongrass solution almost doubled the viability of the neuroblastoma from 37.04% in the media only control group to 68.61%. These results support both the Amyloid hypothesis and the hypothesis established for this project, and so it can be concluded that lemongrass has potential as a treatment to Alzheimer’s disease if further research is carried out.

The school are so impressed they are using her work as a model to show students and teachers alike how science project work should be conducted and reported.

We would all like to congratulate Laura on her fantastic success and wish her luck in her dreams to pursue a career in neuroscience!

In more good news, Dr John Dyer at UTC is involved in the process of arranging an exchange programme to enable students from different schools in Europe to work on extended projects at different sites dependant on their interests. UTC (in collaboration with the University of Liverpool) is hoping to make the neuroblastology project their specialty! So hopefully soon we will be welcoming students from across Europe to learn cell culture techniques and do more exciting experiments.