Monthly Archives: July 2011

New Protein Structure Model to Inhibit Cancer

Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire have developed a new structural model of a protein, which makes it possible to develop more effective drugs to target diseases such as cancer, heart disease and influenza.

In a paper which will be published in the Journal of Structural Biology online later this month, a research team lead by Dr Andreas Kukol at the University’s School of Life Sciences, describes how they have developed a new 3D model of a protein which unleashes the inhibition of the growth of cells which, unless stunted, could lead to the spread of cancer or support infections such as influenza.

“Our bodies are made up of proteins and therefore they are important for the proper functioning of the body,” said Dr Kukol. “Malfunction of the protein can lead to cancer. This happens when it becomes over active, so our task has been to identify inhibitors.”

A research team led by Dr Kukol developed a 3D model of the kinase IKK-β enzyme which is a protein that regulates other proteins.

“This enzyme controls proteins like policeman controls traffic,” said Dr Kukol. “If the policeman or the enzyme gets out of control, then there will be chaos.”

The new 3D model can be used to find new inhibitors, such as organic molecules like aspirin that attach to the active site of the enzyme and make it less active thus stopping the spread of cancer or influenza.

The model is now ready for pharmaceutical companies to adopt so that they can develop more effective drugs to target these conditions.

According to Dr Kukol, the comparative modelling and computer simulation methods they used for this protein may be taken up by other research groups. In that way protein structure modelling could lead to more accurate models in the future.

Artist to Portray Cancer in a New Way

An artist at the University of Hertfordshire is developing a large scale artwork to portray cancer to educate people about the disease.

An interview about this can be seen on You Tube launched this week at:

Simeon Nelson, Professor of Sculpture at the University has received a £30,000 Wellcome Trust grant to create an artwork on cancer as a complex system at the new UCH Macmillan Cancer Centre, London. The work will be exhibited, included in a book and form part of a symposium once the project ends in April 2012.

As an artist who works with ideas from complexity theory, cybernetics and the philosophy of science, Professor Nelson is fascinated with the biology of the human body, how it assembles itself and how we maintain a sense of self within the growing and ageing process.

“I have always been influenced as an artist by process philosophy,” said Professor Nelson. “I think of things in terms of process and my work addresses growth, decay and the metaphysics of being. I see cancer as a complex system – a group of cells that detach themselves and have a life of their own and then they compete with the body for resources. A minority of scientists view cancer as a complex system, but I am pretty sure that I am the first artist to adopt this approach.” The experience of cancer, issues of mortality, healing and being also inform the artist’s approach.

Professor Nelson has distilled his initial thinking into the following operative metaphors and concepts:

- viewing cancer as a form of anarchy;
- looking at the way living systems from cities to cells address and engage with the domains in which they operate (autopoiesis)
- viewing cancer as a complex system nested within the body and societal system.

The thinking behind this and examples of underpinning artwork and approaches can be seen here

A Twisted ring in the Galactic Centre

Astronomers at the University of Hertfordshire are part of an international team which has observed unprecedented views of a ring in the centre of our Milky Way galaxy with the Herschel Space Observatory.

The ribbon of gas and dust is more than 600 light years across and appears to be twisted, for reasons which have yet to be explained. The origin of the ring could provide insight into the history of the Milky Way.

The new results are published in a recent issue of the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“Hints of this feature were seen in previous images of the Galactic Centre made from the ground, but no-one realised what it was,” explained Dr Mark Thompson of the University of Hertfordshire. “It was not until the launch of Herschel, with its unparalleled wavelength coverage, that we could measure the temperature of the dust clouds and determine its true nature.”

The reason for the ring’s twist and offset are unknown, but understanding their origin may help explain the origin of the ring itself. Computer simulations indicate that bars and rings such as those we see in the centre of our Galaxy can be formed by gravitational interactions. It is possible that the structures in the heart of the Milky Way were caused by interactions with our largest neighbour, the Andromeda Galaxy.

Herschel is a European Space Agency cornerstone mission, with science instruments provided by consortia of European institutes and with important participation by NASA. Herschel is a flagship mission of the UK Space Agency, which funds the UK’s involvement in the UK-led SPIRE instrument. The SPIRE instrument was built, assembled and tested in the UK at The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire by an international consortium from Europe, US, Canada and China, with strong support from the Science and Technology Facilities Council. SPIRE was developed by a consortium of institutes led by Cardiff Univ. (UK). The images were obtained as part of the Herschel Key Project Hi-GAL, which is led by Sergio Molinari of the Institute of Space Physics in Rome and who is lead author of the new paper.

Doing Something Different for Fitness

Two women who lost over 50lbs as a result of Do Something Different Research (DSD) carried out by University of Hertfordshire psychologists, will take part in Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life tomorrow (19 July).

Emma Wedge and Jane Watts got fit using West Norfolk Council’s Do Something Different programme.

Both women joined DSD to lose weight and feel fitter. By making small changes to their habits and being aware of the way in which their own behaviour was holding them back, they were able to break the cycle of weight gain.

Now they both feel ready to take on the challenge of the Race for Life at Houghton Hall and raise money for Cancer Research.

THE DSD health and wellbeing programme, created by psychology professors Ben Fletcher and Karen Pine from the University of Hertfordshire, and based on more than 30 years of research into the field of behaviour change, was adopted by the West Norfolk Partnership in 2009.

The programme uses a variety of easy-to-follow techniques to help people break the habits that are holding them back from making changes to their lifestyles.

Read more about this research

New findings on care home residents’ views on dying

A National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) study which interviewed care home residents over a year to examine how their views and expectations about living and dying and how their views were affected by their experience in the care home has been carried out by Professor Claire Goodman at the University of Hertfordshire.

In a paper entitled An uncertain future: The unchanging views of care home residents about living and dying, which has just been  published online in Palliative Medicine, researchers at the University of Hertfordshire and co-authors from the University of Cambridge, Lancaster University, Surrey , University College London King’s College London, have highlighted the value of ongoing discussions with older care home residents to help staff prioritise and address what is important to the older person.

Contrary to popular belief, older people were no more likely to want to think about advance care plans or advance directives (living wills) just because they were in the last years of their life. Noticing the deaths of other residents did not shape how residents talked about their own mortality and their priorities for end-of-life care. Equally, residents’ views about dying did not change over time and were not dissimilar to the views of the wider population.

The study recruited six care homes and the research aimed to be as inclusive as possible and invited all residents to take part in the study.

One hundred and twenty one residents took part in the study and of these, sixty-three residents were interviewed three times over 2008-2009. The study showed the value of discussions with residents that foster opportunities to talk about dying as part of ongoing conversations. It also suggests that providing opportunities for residents and their families to talk about the future as early as possible, particularly for those with a diagnosis of dementia, may be important.

Read more

Read morePALL MED PAPER

Conference to demonstrate how philosophy can enhance quality of life

Motivated by the impact agenda, this week – on July 11 and 12 – Professor Shaun Gallagher and I will be engaged in a new experiment – i.e. learning more about exactly how and to what extent some of our philosophical proposals have made a difference to those that have been inspired beyond academia.

Although we have a lot to say about our philosophical framework in this two-day conference on Embodied and Narrative Practices the philosophy provides only the backdrop. Centre stage is given to the work of practitioners. A range of invited and submitted papers will examine how the philosophical ideas we promote about social cognition have been taken up in applied and clinical work in a variety of areas, including psychopathology and physiotherapy.

Our hope is to learn more, in detail, about why and how adopting the understanding of social cognition we promote matters when it comes to helping improve the everyday interpersonal relations and social understanding of certain individuals – how it makes a real difference to their quality of lives.

 

Hertfordshire scientists recommend a winning nutrition regime for Ironman World Record

Sports scientists at the University of Hertfordshire provided race nutrition advice to Marino ‘Bink’ Vanhoenacker, who won this year’s Ironman Australia

Testing of Marino’s race nutrition involved him coming to the University and riding for three hours and running for two hours, both at Ironman pace. From the data gathered, the scientists were able to determine the maximum absorption level and therefore recommend a strategy based on Marino’s anticipated volume of drink consumption and the mixing concentration of the drinks.

Read more

Fetofit revolutionises foetal monitoring

For years the healthcare sector has been crying out for a revolution in the way that foetal heart rate is monitored during pregnancy and labour. Today, this revolution has materialised due to the work of Midwifery student Betina Andersen from the University of Hertfordshire.

As a student midwife, Betina noticed the pitfalls of the wrap-round elastic belts that are currently used to hold the monitoring transducers in place. As well as presenting hygiene issues, these reusable belts prevent mobility and are reported to be greatly uncomfortable when used for extended periods of time. Identifying a niche in the market, Betina challenged convention and developed Fetofit, a revolutionary strap design that attaches directly onto the front of the abdomen via adhesive pads.

The strap grants mobility in labouring women and a special adhesive means that it can be repositioned and moved easily to trace the foetal heart rate. Because the strap is stuck to the skin, it is also suitable for women of all sizes – a problem that the wrap-round belt has begun to struggle with due to rising obesity levels. The strap has also been designed with added hygiene benefits; as a single person, disposable item, one person is able to reuse their strap but no two women will ever share the same one therefore eliminating the risk of cross-infection.

For her innovative design, Betina was awarded the University’s Proof of Concept award and was also named ‘flare Business of the Year 2011’ in the annual flare competition, an annual enterprise ideas challenge for students and alumni at UH. The strap is patent pending and is ready to be trialled within the NHS.