A-level students at the School of Medicine at West Lancashire College were inspired by talks from three biochemists Dr Jill Madine, Dr Nigel Jones and Professor Sonia Rocha during November and December 2019. Students learnt about the research carried out within our research groups relating to diseases and their underpinning mechanisms and the career paths each of us followed to reach our current positions. The students were some of the most attentive audience members we have ever spoken to asking questions that wouldn’t be out of place at large International Scientific Conferences. We hope to welcome some of the students for summer work experience placements in IIB.
On Wednesday 23rd May, scientists from Team Madine and Team Turnbull went on a mission to educate the public about dementia research as part of dementia awareness week, at the Alzheimer’s Research UK North West public engagement event hosted at the Institute for Dementia (University of Salford). The event was a hive of activity and a cornucopia of fun! Through the media of Lego®, giant KerPlunk!, cells and real brains members of the public were introduced to all things dementia, including how diet can affect your dementia risk, the development of novel inhibitors of dementia-associated proteins and the links between dementia and other diseases.
Kiani Jeacock, James Torpey (Madine group) and Scott Guimond (Turnbull group) showcased the fantastic research happening at the University of Liverpool through informative posters and a ‘Draw for Dementia’ activity. People were invited to draw the first thing that came to mind when they heard the word “dementia”, which resulted in some really interesting and thought-provoking work!
On the day, they also met people who had dementia themselves or who had friends or family with dementia. This was an educational experience for the scientists too, as it highlighted the translational aspect of their work and emphasised the importance of research into these poorly-understood conditions.
Overall it was a well-organised and enlightening day, and events like these are fantastic for both researchers and the general public alike.
Thanks to ARUK and the Institute for Dementia for hosting!
On Saturday 17th March IIB led the Meet the Scientists Event at the World Museum. Activities included stands led by the CCI and Madine group from IIB along with other stands from Life Sciences, ITM and IGH.
The CCI had a large team, and all worked together brilliantly on the Seeing is Believing stand! The team included:
Violaine See (CCI staff): Preparation of samples for imaging, and assistance at the event.
Dave Mason (CCI staff): Preparation of samples, imaging of samples, produced posters for the event, and assistance at the event.
Marco Marcello (CCI staff): Organisation of virtual reality tours of microscopy images, with Virtual Arcade
Daimark Bennett (CCI staff): Preparation of samples for imaging, and assistance at the event.
Raphael Levy (CCI staff): Preparation of samples for imaging, and assistance at the event.
Anne Herrmann (Postdoctoral researcher): Imaging of samples, preparation of printed materials for the drawing microscopy station.
Sophie Cowman (PhD student): Filmed and produced a tour of the CCI facility, which was on display during the event.
Rebecca Kelly (PhD student): Preparation of CCI postcards, set up and take down of stand, and assistance at event especially for the match the picture quiz.
Claire Kelly (PhD student): Set up and take down of stand, and assistance at event especially for the virtual reality microscopy tour.
Hammed Badmos (PhD student): Preparation of samples, and assistance at event especially for the microscope demonstrations.
Jen Francis (PhD student): Assistance at event especially for the microscope demonstrations.
Sumaira Ashraf (Postdoctoral researcher): Set up and take down of stand, and assistance at event especially for the microscope demonstrations.
Jen Adcott (CCI Staff): Organisation of the Seeing is Believing stand and co-ordinator of activities, imaging of samples, designed and produced the match the picture quiz and microscopy stickers, and assistance at the event.
Feedback from the CCI stand, seeing is believing:
Violaine See – “It was great, and the activities were all very popular. What I really liked about our exhibit is that it was real science. Well done Jen A for leading this, the result was absolutely awesome. Well done Jen F, Hammed, and Sumaira for guiding the kids with the microscopes with so much patience and enthusiasm. Dave has been an absolute star with the colouring sheets and at explaining what we do with microscopes. Rebecca and Claire have been fantastic with the quiz and virtual reality. An amazing team effort. I feel very fortunate to have you all around, you are amazing.”
Daimark Bennett – “Fantastic effort by everyone and great activities – it was great to see how busy it was even later on. The VR clearly went down a storm and everything from the stickers to the CCI movie looked really professional and well put together. It really is hard to convey the science when it’s so chaotic but I think the exhibit was pitched at the right level. In any case, my daughter, who is not easy to impress, gave the thumbs up 🙂 Well done everyone!”
Jen Adcott – “It’s great to work with such a fantastic team of people! The day was busy, and the CCI stand seeing is believing was hugely popular with many repeat visitors. I am looking forward to meeting more future scientists at the next events.”
The Madine group ran 2 activities ‘How does the heart work?’ and return of the popular ‘A lego treasure hunt for new medicines!’ with the help of PhD students James Torpey and Nathan Cumberbatch, MRes student Kiani Jeacock and undergraduate volunteers. Visitors enjoyed learning how blood is transported around the body by watching blood cells flow around the giant circulatory system (borrowed from IACD created with a Wellcome Trust Public Engagement award, granted to Dr Valentina Barrera). Children of all ages were keen to take part in the Lego treasure hunt around the museum to find the correct drug that fit the Lego protein molecule, and be rewarded with a Lego Scientist to take home. Thanks to members of the group for their help and enthusiasm when describing the drug development process through the use of Lego.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.