Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Undergraduate researching in Oxford

This is the first in a series of letters from one of our undergraduates, Kati O'Brien, who has found funding to work over the summer at Oxford University.

I am all settled in now, and I have been here for just over a month. I am currently working on a study concerned with the effect of prematurity and hypertensive disorders of pregnancy on offspring and cardiovascular Health. My project is concerned with women who have recently given birth; I am testing the maternal blood samples for various biomarkers associated with preeclampsia, to investigate the post-partum cardiovascular effects on these women. I have some great results so far, and can’t wait to put the data together!

The team all work on separate projects branching from the main study, and everyone is very helpful and supportive, making my time here even more enjoyable. I work with a range of people including post-docs, research nurses, clinical leads and the professor of course. I have also been lucky enough to assist with MRI scanning and exercise testing in adults born preterm, and there are always opportunities to learn about other exciting research going on. 

I contacted Professor Lesson here at Oxford as I was interested in exploring more clinically orientated research. After submitting my university transcript, academic CV and having a couple of Skype interviews with the team here to determine my suitability, I then applied to the welcome trust for the ‘Biomedical Vacation Scholarship’ (The link for the welcome trust is: With support from the professor and Michael Jarvis, I was awarded the scholarship, which covers the cost of living etc up here for the duration.


Collaboration with Japan in exercise physiology

Dr Brynmor Breese recently received a travel grant from the UK Physiological Society to undertake a research project at Kobe University in Japan investigating the effects of nitrate supplementation on muscle deoxygenation responses during exercise. This project is the first of its kind to use innovative time-resolved spectroscopy (TRS) across multiple sites within quadriceps muscle to further explore the promising effects that have been reported during exercise after ingesting nitrate-rich beetroot juice. The research study was delivered under the supervision of Professor Shunsaku Koga and consisted of performing thirty-two exercise trials using human volunteers after consuming four days of either nitrate-rich beetroot or placebo juice (supplied by James White Drinks, Ipswich, UK). The TRS system was developed by Hamamatsu Photonics and is capable of measuring the absorption and scattering of near-infrared light emitted at different wavelengths into skeletal muscle tissue. Using this technology enables the quantification of absolute concentrations of deoxygenated hemoglobin/myoglobin which, in turn, can yield important information on the levels of oxygen being circulated in the bloodstream in relation to the muscles increased energy demand when we exercise. It is hoped this data will enhance our understanding of how dietary factors may play an important role regulating local blood flow which becomes impaired as we age or from cardiovascular disease and therefore contributes to the poorer exercise capacity observed in these states.

Friday, 10 July 2015

School students do well in '3 minute PhD' competition

Kathy Redfern and Sylvia Pregnolato (left and second to left respectively) made it through to the Plymouth final of the Three Minute Thesis competition. This is an international contest in which students have to give a talk that explains their research to the public in just three minutes.

You can read more about the contest here.

Kathy is looking at how diet and physical activity during pregnancy affect the timing and composition of gestational weight gain, and how these maternal lifestyle factors in turn affect infant birth size characteristics. Her project should help future pregnancy intervention strategies aimed at improving maternal and infant pregnancy, birth and postnatal outcomes (supervisor Gail Rees). Silvia is interested in the genetic contribution to postpartum psychoses - some of the most severe episodes seen in psychiatry, with sudden onset and rapid escalation shortly after childbirth. Her research combines both molecular work on a gene of interest and computational analysis to investigate the genetic relationship of these episodes with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and pre-eclampsia. Insights into the role of genetic factors will not only facilitate early recognition, management and drug development, but also improve our understanding and classification of these disorders (supervisor Elaine Green).