Thursday, 24 February 2011

Can dance help people with Parkinson's Disease?

I have just been awarded a research grant to examine the link between dance and Parkinson's disease. This is very exciting. A flurry of academic papers have been published in the last couple of years which report that when people with Parkinson's disease (PD) engage in certain types of dance they show an improvement in their balance and walking. These papers are really interesting but they leave a whole set of questions unanswered as it relates to dance and PD.

So, I've put together a team which includes a neurobiologist, a physiotherapist, a cognitive psychologist and two dance specialists so that we can further examine the relationship between dance and PD.

We want to know what kind of dance is best for people with PD, how much dance treatment they need, how long do the effects last for, what are the long term benefits of dancing for people with PD and so many more. Our first project team meeting is this week, so I'll keep you posted on what we find.

Read more about Dr Lovatt's research

Rethinking Drug Culture - new recreational drugs on the Internet

During the last decade there has been a sharp change in the social, cultural and political context of drug addiction, which has led to unprecedented new challenges.

It has been documented that increasing numbers of unregulated websites are dedicated to the dissemination of novel recreational drugs such as mephedrone, spice, b-fly, all of which may well have long-term effects on users' health.

Unfortunately, young and problematic individuals are amongst the most at risk of taking advantage of online available information. In this context, the Recreational Drugs European Network (ReDNet), a multi-site and multi-disciplinary research project, will help to inform and promote healthier ways of life while reducing health related risks associated with drug taking.

Further, in exploring the potentials of cutting-edge information communication technologies (such as SMS, social networking sites, multimedia platforms, virtual learning environments) it is likely that the proposed activities will create new synergies among health agencies at the national and transnational level as well as help to reduce health inequalities among those who are marginalized and have no immediate access to public health services.

It would be good to hear your comments about this issue.

Dr Ornella Corazza is manager of the ReDNet project

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Rural Areas Still Too Remote for Access

According to recent news reports, rural areas in Britain could be set for cheaper broadband services after the communications regulator Ofcom proposed significant reductions to prices BT can charge Internet Service Providers.

Seemingly, this is a great initiative, by providing more competition customers are being given more options to choose from. However, a lot of rural areas are still not equipped with the suitable infrastructure to receive the broadband services available. Therefore cheaper pr ices are irrelevant as rural customers are unable to subscribe to these services.

Secondly, citizens in the rural areas may not see the potential for broadband. I am aware that the digital champion is trying very hard with the Race Online 2012 pledge, but there may still be some older people who due to age-related disabilities cannot use the internet and do not see the need for it. Also, some of the lower-income families may not see broadband as an essential monthly utility.

Rural areas also have a meeting place, such as the pub for social interaction and obtaining more news, so in this case, where will the internet fit into their lifestyles?

Headline-grabbing schemes may seem like a great idea initially, but lacking the correct infrastructure to support them and without educating the people who are being targeted, theses ideas are just lost in cyberspace.

Dr Jyoti Choudrie specialises in strategies for diffusing new technologies and stakeholder theory.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

End of Life Care for the Very Old

The standard of end of life care provided by the NHS hit the headlines this week as a result of a barrage of complaints to the Health Service Ombudsman.

It just so happens that Professor Claire Goodman is to give a lecture called Going gently into that good night: end of life care for the very old" this Wednesday (16 February) at the University of Hertfordshire.

Professor Goodman currently works in the Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care at the University.  She leads a programme of research that evaluates how different approaches to health care for older people with complex needs including dementia, affect their experience of health and support at the end of life. Her clinical background is district nursing.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Patient Safety Study

Patient safety and specifically medical errors have received a great deal of attention over the last decade following the publication of key reports, which identified that patients are harmed every year across the NHS as a result. These reports raised the profile of patient safety within the NHS. However, little was done to address issues of patient safety and harm at an organisational level. Therefore, the Health Foundation (a British charity dedicated to improving the quality of healthcare) in 2005 launched the Safer Patient Initiatives (SPI phase I and phase II) to test ways of delivering safer care on an organisation-wide basis.

The first phase of the study involved four NHS hospitals (one in each country in the UK) and 18 control hospitals over an 18-month period. In an innovative study design, the second phase of the study included nine SPI and nine control hospitals. Quality of care and patient safety improved to the same extent in both intervention and control hospitals. No additional effect of the Safer Patients Initiative could be detected. This could be because of general improvement of patient safety across the NHS as whole, which in turn may have attenuated the incremental effect, making it difficult to detect. Alternatively, the full impact of the safer patient initiative may be observable only in the longer term.”

Dr Maisoon Ghaleb, a lecturer in Patient Safety from the School of Pharmacy, was involved in the evaluation of this programme (specifically involved of the assessment of quality of care of patients admitted to these hospitals. It was apparent that quality and safety of NHS care has shown a clear improvement, but this programme had less of an impact on frontline medical staff and clinical outcomes than expected. More information can be obtained in the two large evaluation studies published on on Friday 4th February, and The Health Foundation’s full report can be seen on

Patient safety and adverse events are a key government target optimisation of medicines use across the NHS as highlighted by the Department of Health (equity and excellence: liberating the NHS, 2010).

Currently, the School of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmacy Practice is focusing its research in patient safety including prescribing errors in primary care, medicines related problems (a major cause of Hospital related admissions) in management of elderly patients in hospitals, and human factors involved in clinical handover. The research group work with local NHS trusts to ensure the research impacts on the overall patient safety agenda. The school not only focus on medicines safety but the ever growing challenge of drugs misuse, which impacts through adolescents to adulthood.

Depression Detrimental for Patients with End-Stage Kidney Disease

Is there a detrimental effect of depression on patients with end-stage kidney disease? Dr Joseph Chilcot researched into the relationship between illness perceptions and depression symptoms in patients with End-Stage Renal Disease.

Following a study of 160 patients in the Renal Unit at the Lister Hospital, Stevenage, Dr Chilcot found that illness perceptions were strongly related to concurrent depression symptoms. More so than clinical factors including disease severity results, which were supported in a cross-sectional study of 215 dialysis patients. The research measured their perceptions of their illness after they started dialysis, six months later and at twelve months.

Most importantly, it was discovered that both depression symptoms and perception of illness predicted patient survival - in other words, patients with a more negative perception had reduced survival.

Dr Chilcot plans to devise a therapeutic intervention geared towards changing people’s beliefs about their illness.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Study Calls for Robust Science For Environmental Labels for Food

Environmental labelling of food needs to be based on robust, scientific principles if it is to be effective, says Dr Kathy Lewis, a University of Hertfordshire researcher.

Commenting on a report for Department for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which has just come out, Dr Lewis, one of the authors of the report, claims that more work is needed on current practices for environmental labelling to bring it up to an adequate scientific level.

She calls for a "more joined-up approach and an industry standard based on robust scientific principles".

The report, Effective Approaches to Environmental Labeling of Food Products, which explored the effectiveness of environmental labelling, was commissioned by DEFRA and carried out by researchers at the University of Hertfordshire’s Agricultural and Environmental Research Unit, in collaboration with the Policy Studies Institute (PSI) and the Food Ethics Council (FEC),  explored the effectiveness of current environmental labelling of food as a means of encouraging people to work towards reducing the negative environmental impacts of food production and consumption.

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Thursday, 3 February 2011

First Pictures from LOFAR Telescope

First Pictures from LOFAR Telescope

A new UK telescope has taken ‘radio pictures’ deep into space for the first time in the quest to discover more about the birth of stars and galaxies just after the Big Bang.

The images of the 3C196 quasar (a black hole in a distant galaxy) were taken in January 2011 by the International LOFAR Telescope (ILT). LOFAR (Low Frequency Array), which is co-ordinated by ASTRON in the Netherlands, is a network of radio telescopes designed to study the sky at the lowest radio frequencies accessible from the surface of the Earth with unprecedented resolution.

The telescope, which is part of the European LOFAR project will ‘listen’ to the Universe just above and below the FM radio band, allowing astronomers to determine when the first stars in the Universe were formed and to reveal how the Universe evolved from these first objects.

Staff at the University of Hertfordshire’s Centre for Astrophysics Research are involved in both the Surveys and Transients Key Projects. Dr Martin Hardcastle is the UK science coordinator and Dr Matt Jarvis represents the UK on the Surveys Key Science Project Core Team.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011


Dr Mark Russell
There is no replacement for good individual tuition and feedback, however, in circumstances where there is a lack of resource - personalised assessment programmes can provide an educationally effective approach. Work undertaken by Dr Mark Russell, Deputy Director of the University of Hertfordshire’s Blended Learning Unit was trialled on an engineering module - a particularly good growth area at the University. Some students here were struggling with mathematical concepts and needed individual support more than ever.

Dr Russell developed the assessment programme which looked at the students’ performance activities that take place while in class and out of class. By doing this, the in-class activity could be adapted to support the students’ needs that were demonstrated through their performance and identified through e-assessment.

Dr Russell developed an e-assessment toolkit which he used to assess and give feedback to the students which ultimately increased the module pass rate considerably. The key to the success of this is the speed in which it collects responses and provides feedback and aims to make teaching much more focused on student learning.

The toolkit has now been applied to modules across areas in business, life sciences and pharmacy and it has also attracted attention in countries around the World. Dr Mark Russell gives updates on his work via twitter @MarkRussell

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Energy-efficient Intelligent House That Can Monitor Health

Johann Siau and his team at the School of Engineering and Technology have developed the first home in the UK that can learn from its residents and raise alerts if the house is being burgled or its occupants are ill.

The house "learns" the residents' routines and notices if they forget to lock the front door or turn off the lights and will text them to let them know. It can also monitor energy consumption and could save over £300 a year on fuel bills.

Now, the researchers have taken the house a step further and have adapted it so that it can also monitor the health of its residents. They do this through a prototype device which can be strapped to the wrist and is equipped with various sensors which take readings of body temperature and pulse.

So, there we have it, energy efficiency, security and health monitoring all under one roof. Watch this space for the first of these homes taking shape at the Building Research Establishment.

Read more