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!

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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.

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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.

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Postcard from Vienna, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease (ADPD) conference – 2017

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This was a huge display within the conference venue – amazing photography!

Last week three members of IIB, Dr Hannah Davies, James Torpey and Prof. Jerry Turnbull went to Vienna to find out about the latest research and technological advances in the field of neurodegeneration and dementia at ADPD 2017. This five day conference saw over 3000 clinicians, researchers industry specialists from around the globe discuss recent advances in the field, including reports on the latest drug trails, new avenues for treatment and patient perspectives. This busy meeting gave us the opportunity to catch up with colleagues from around the world, and share the exciting research we are doing here at Liverpool with a huge audience.

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The conference venue and an action shot of James presenting his findings at one of the poster sessions

During our stay in Vienna we were treated to welcome reception at Vienna’s beautiful City Hall, we ate traditional Austrian dishes, talked science and enjoyed an impromptu opera performance from one of our colleagues!

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Welcome reception in the impressive Vienna city hall

We came away from the conference, tired but full of new ideas and renewed enthusiasm for our projects.

Science week in Mosspits Lane primary school, 6-7 March 2017

As part of her honours project Mary Roughley visited Mosspits Lane Primary School in Wavertree, Liverpool, during Science week. She has spent an afternoon with each year 6 class and engaged with the pupils on topics such as scales in the universe, the concept and calculation of magnification and the power of using microscopy in biology. As part of her honours project, Mary has planned the session and developed the supporting worksheets and instruction protocols. After a short presentation, the whole class went out onto the playground to collect their own live samples to view under the microscope, the class were then split into three groups to rotate between the three exercises that were organised. The most popular activity was collecting and viewing their samples. The pupils were given magnifying glasses and also had access to the Zeiss stemi labscope to enable them to examine their specimens. They collected insects, worms, leafs, bread crumb, aphids, hairs…They really enjoyed this activity and were fascinated and very excited by what they could see with a microscope: worms digestive tubes, tiny unsuspected hairs on insect legs and “a starry night sky” (salt imaged with transmitted light)!

The pupils also made their own magnifier using water in petri dishes. They learnt how to calculate magnification and used this knowledge to calculate and compare the magnification of a magnifying glass and the magnifier that they made. They realised that their magnifier made with a drop of water was as good as a commercial magnifying glass.

For the third activity, the pupils used the schools computers and an online programme to learn more about scales. The software showed objects of different sizes ranging from galaxies to a proton nucleus. This activity reinforced the idea that microscopes are essentials to biologists, as many things are much too small to be seen with the naked eye. This is what Mary says about her experience: “I received excellent feedback from the pupils. They thoroughly enjoyed the session and some mentioned that they would like to become biologists. They particularly enjoyed using the microscope and collecting their samples and a number of pupils said that the only bad part of the session was packing away! As a proof of the success of the half-day, the teachers had to fight for the children to go out at playtime. They preferred observing their samples under the microscope. I have personally really enjoyed delivering the sessions, I found the experience very rewarding especially when the pupils said they wanted to be biologists! The experience has also made me consider teaching as a career.” This is what the children wrote about the session: “‘I wish the session was longer!!; I liked seeing the intestines in the worm, it was gross but cool!; The bacteria in the pond water was really cool.” It was a very enjoyable experience at all levels: for the children, the teachers, the undergraduate student involved and me, the academic supervisor. Thank you to Mosspits Lane to have worked with us on this project.

Violaine Sée, IIB

Postcard from Khon Kaen, Thailand – Eddy Spofford and Charlotte Price (MBiolSci students from the Institute of Integrative Biology)

Cholangiocarcinoma (CCA) is more prevalent in Southeast Asian countries compared to the western world, where cases of CCA are rare. Opisthorchis viverrini (OV) infection (opisthorchiasis) is the associated cause of this increase of cases in CCA, and rates of high infection with OV correlate with high CCA occurrence. In the Northeastern Isaan region of Thailand, OV-infection is endemic – this region also suffers high levels of CCA. OV may be transmitted by eating raw or undercooked fish in foods such as such as ‘koi pla’. After consumption, the OV parasite resides in the duodenum, the liver and surrounding bile ducts and can live for up to 20 years. Infection is asymptomatic, making CCA difficult to detect until it presents in its terminal stages. For these reasons, OV is classed as a type 1 carcinogen.

As part of our integrated masters final year project and internship, Charlotte and I are observing the sustained immune response towards OV – one of several contributors to the development of CCA. As part of a Newton Fund project funded by the British Council, we have been conducting our research in the Tropical Disease Research Laboratory (TDRL),  part of Khon Kaen University. So far, we have enjoyed integrating ourselves into a completely new culture and working in a lab with more independence than we have had before. So far it has been an exciting and rewarding experience. TDRL provides a lot of opportunities for international students, so whilst we are submerged in Thai culture we have also been fortunate to meet people from all across the world. This is in addition to making discoveries along the way in the lab. Knowing that our research will contribute towards efforts to reducing OV-infection and CCA mortalities is very humbling.

TDRL developed the “Lawa Model” several years ago and introduced this to Lawa villages 6 years ago. This model aims to educate people about the dangers of OV and eating potentially contaminated fish. Health volunteers are responsible for screening of patients to detect OV and administering praziquantel, as well as other non-OV health issues. They are also required to examine stool samples and educate locals as part of the free education programme in local schools, or ‘door to door’ educating. The health volunteers are key in maintaining the health and awareness of the local communities, whether it be through interpretive dance, adaptations of popular Thai songs or handing out leaflets.

The Lawa Model education programme in schools is free. Before the model was introduced, an average of 10% of children were OV-positive. Now, most schools around the Lawa Region can boast 0% infection. The Model encourages education about OV as part of the school curriculum by rewarding them with certificates. This is promising for future generations that are much less likely to suffer from CCA.

The Lawa Model adopts the ‘EcoHealth’ approach which means a transdisciplinary approach, where experts from different scientific disciplines such as conchology, ichthyology, parasitology, biochemistry and veterinary medicine that target each stage of OV’s lifecycle.  A major failing in previous attempts has been lack of sustained awareness and implementation of control programmes. The Lawa Model has attempted to solve this by encouraging and educating stake holders including local officials, monks, village leaders, schools and the previously mentioned health volunteers who are also responsible for providing regular health checkups for the villagers and checking for OV-infection.

On our visit to Lawa Lake, we saw for ourselves the success of the model, where it was very clear that the majority of people now had a clear understanding of how OV is transmitted. Before the model was introduced six years ago, OV-infection in the human populations in this area was 60%, but this has now fallen to less than 10%. OV-infection in fish has fallen from 70% to <1% and snails infected with OV have dropped to less than 0.2%. As a result of this success, the TDR team are now planning to introduce the Lawa Model into different provinces within Thailand and other neighbouring countries. Charlotte and I recently visited Kalasin, a province nearby to Khon Kaen, which is in very early stages of Lawa Model implementation. It was very eye-opening to see how unaware some people still are in Thailand despite the threat of this disease. However, due to the Lawa Model’s previous success it is likely villages in Kalasin will have the same promising results.

The TDR team from KKU often travels to local Lawa Villages to hold talks about the dangers of OV and explain how it is transmitted. Ultrasound screening is also performed to determine levels of liver complication in patients. Blood samples are also taken from the field and used as part of research about the pathology of OV infection, which precedes CCA. As part of my and Charlotte’s research, we have analysed these blood samples through various immunological assays. Our research will contribute to the current hypothesis that people with a more aggressive immune response are more susceptible to the development of CCA.

The recent ‘National agenda against liver fluke and cancer’ has made clear its aim to remove OV from Thailand in the next 10 years and reduce the number of CCA mortalities. The Lawa Model is a perfect example of how constant attention and support to communities can reduce the infection rate of OV. For this to happen on a national scale, the government must become involved on a permanent level to guarantee replication of the Lawa Model’s success.

After 3 months here, Charlotte and I are continuing to enjoy both the science and the fun that comes with Thai culture. We are fortunate to be part of such a worthwhile project and hope our time here will be beneficial to both ourselves, and the fight against OV and CCA.

Top L-R: Dr Kanin Salao and Eddy processing patient blood samples in the lab; Eddy and Charlotte with Prof Steven Edwards and Dr Helen Wright, who lead the University of Liverpool collaboration with TDRL, and Dr Kanin Salao from TDRL prior to them leaving for Khon Kaen in July; Eddy and Charlotte with other TDRL students paying respects to Prof Banchob Sripa (centre) on “Teachers Day”.

Bottom L-R: Community outreach program in Kalasin; Charlotte carrying out neutrophil isolations in the lab; OV parasite under the microscope.

 

Christmas lectures

Each year we are welcoming students from various secondary schools to our Christmas lectures. This year was once again a success:

Thanks to Jay Hinton (“It’s amazing you’re not dead yet”), Dada Pisconti (“The secret life of stem cells”) and James Hartwell (“Plants to save the world”) for their inspiring talks and thanks to our young visitors for coming.

Earlier version of Jay’s talk:

How we set about mending damaged knees with stem cells

Anthony Hollander, University of Liverpool

A meniscal tear is one of the most common knee injuries, especially in young, active people. Over a million new cases are diagnosed each year in Europe and the US alone, and it also affects professional sportspeople – footballer Luis Suarez, tennis player Roger Federer and Olympic swimmer Sharon Davies are among the many elite athletes to have suffered a meniscal tear. Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for this injury, but my team and I believe we are one step closer to providing one. Our “living bandage” uses stem cells and collagen to regrow the damaged meniscal cartilage, which acts as a special kind of shock-absorber.

Knees are rather wonderful things – first class engineering provided through millennia of evolution. Huge forces are channelled through the knees when we stand up, walk or run, amounting to three to five times our body weight in normal daily use. And they must survive these extreme conditions every day while also giving us the flexibility that we enjoy whenever we move. When they work we don’t really notice them. But if we damage them, we suffer incredible pain and lose the freedom to live a normal, active life.

One of the reasons knees work so well is because of the meniscal cartilage, which sits between the bone-ends like stiff cushions. There are two of these menisci in each knee and they are incredibly important for protecting the bones in the joint. If we damage them we are in trouble. However, they can easily tear if we suffer a trauma to the knee and this is a very common type of sporting injury.

Most tears will not heal because there is no blood supply and so no chance for natural healing mechanisms to kick in. The standard way to treat them is an operation to remove the damaged part of the meniscus. This works quite well at first, but, in the long-term, our knees don’t do well with only a part of the meniscus. So, with time, there is wear-and-tear of the bone ends and this often leads to premature osteoarthritis. Once the arthritis sets in, it’s a one-way track to chronic pain and ultimately a joint replacement. Because meniscal tears often happen to young athletic people, this can mean many years of disability from arthritis and great cost to the health service.

MRI of knee with meniscus injury.
Semnic/Shutterstock.com

The long road to finding a cure

My research team began to focus on this problem about 13 years ago. We wanted to deliver living cells with healing properties into the middle of the tear and drive the repair from within. At that time we were studying the biology of a special kind of cell, the mesenchymal stem cell, that is found in small numbers in the bone marrow and which is important for natural healing mechanisms in the body.

But simple injection of the stem cells into the tear was not enough because they didn’t end up in the right place. We had to find a way to hold them close to the two injured surfaces of the tear so that they could migrate into the damaged tissue and release their molecular signals for repair. We eventually found a way to do this by placing them in a membrane made from collagen and inserting the stem cell-collagen combination into the tear. Over a few weeks the stem cells migrated into the surrounding meniscus and then the collagen degrades away, allowing healing across the tear boundary.

We published our findings, filed a patent to protect our discovery and then set about turning the science into medicine, coming up with a product called the Cell Bandage to test in patients. The first five patients have now been treated and although two of them suffered retear, the other three are all doing fine more than three years later. Although repair of the very outer edge of the meniscus is possible without stem cells because it has a blood supply, most of the meniscus is not repairable and all patients would be expected to re-tear within about a year. So the 60% success rate in this first group of patients to be treated with the Cell Bandage is very encouraging indeed and paves the way for much larger trials in the future.

Knees are indeed wonderful things but so too, it seems, are stem cells.

The Conversation

Anthony Hollander, Head of Institute of Integrative Biology, University of Liverpool

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.