Friday, 27 November 2015

Trip to Public Health England: Porton Down

On November 19th 2015, myself and another 3rd year Healthcare Science (Life Sciences) student spent a day visiting Porton Down, Wiltshire, as part of our Public Health Infections module. We visited the public health laboratory, but Porton Down is also home to MOD facilities. I wasn’t sure what to expect!

We discussed what Public Health England does, particularly its role in fighting the Ebola outbreak. Porton Down trained all of the lab staff who went to Sierra Leone to work with Ebola, and we were later given the opportunity to see the training lab and try out the containment level 4 lab equipment. I could just about use a pipette through the 3 layers of gloves! It was fascinating to hear about the outbreaks from the point-of-view of people who actually went to Sierra Leone, and have the opportunity to discuss it with them. 

We were also shown around the Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory (RIPL) where diagnoses of rare viral and bacterial infections such as Ebola, Anthrax and Lyme disease are made. Having recently spent 3 months on placement in an NHS Microbiology lab, I was intrigued to see where samples for non-routine infections were sent for diagnosis. We spoke to other teams of staff who worked with mathematical modelling, geographical information systems, epidemiology and health psychology to predict patterns in disease and public responses. This is a large part of public health which I knew little about, and it was really interesting!

I enjoyed the visit very much - everyone was friendly and keen to show us the laboratories and equipment we had never seen before. It also opened my eyes to other potential career opportunities outside of the NHS. It was a fantastic opportunity and I’m very grateful to Professor Simon Jackson (Plymouth) and Professor Nigel Silman (PHE) for organising the trip! 

Isabelle Drummond

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Nuffield Research Placement Celebration Evening

On the 11th of November, The Nuffield Foundation held a Celebration Evening at Penryn Campus in Cornwall, where project students and placement providers were presented with certificates. The School of Biomedical and Healthcare Sciences had four research placement students over the summer in various labs, and the following staff had provided supervision: Prof Simon Jackson, Dr Charles Affourtit, Dr Tracy Madgett and Dr Feisal Subhan. Students are typically in the middle of their ‘A’ levels and conduct their projects for 4 to 6 weeks. All the students were full of enthusiasm and were wonderful to work with. In spite of the wet weather, the function attracted a good number of people, and there was a chance to see all the interesting posters students worked on and also socialise over dinner. Rachel Delourme from Cornwall Learning organised the event, and she is responsible for placing students in appropriate research organisations. The Nuffield Foundation encourages students who don't have a family history of going to university, or who attend schools in less well-off areas, to take part in these placements.

Below we see a student with a strong interest in Biology (Ameila) with Feisal, and being awarded her certificate by Rachel.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

M.Sc. student wins prize for talk at scientific conference

Megan Sharp a Plymouth University postgraduate was last month awarded the prize of Best Research Project Presentation in the Immunology discipline whilst representing the University of Plymouth at the IBMS Congress 2015. Megan presented to a team of immunologists that attended the congress earlier this year and judged her as well as the other delegates. Along with the award Megan received a prize of £150.00 and gained CPD credits.

To present at the IBMS Congress 2015, students from the University of Plymouth’s MSc Biomedical science programme were invited to submit a research abstract from their MSc research projects, ahead of completing their masters. Megan took it upon herself to submit an abstract and was asked to present an oral presentation by the judges. The research abstract was accepted and will be published in the near future. Megan is pictured below receiving the award from the judge Mrs Maureen Moody (to Megan’s right).

Megan carried out her research at the University of Plymouth with supervisor Dr Kris Jeremy, as well as other staff and lecturers such as Dr Andrew Foey and Dr Paul Waines. The research project was entitled: Increased Phagocytosis of CML Cells Following CD47 Knockdown. Megan tailored her research project to her own interests and collaborated with several staff to gain the most from her research, learning several skills including flow cytometry and transfection.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at The University of Plymouth and the MSc Biomedical science programme has been the highlight of a brilliant four years. What attracted me to the master’s programme was the longer research project module which involved a several month period of laboratory experience. In this time I was entrusted to carryout laboratory work and learn several new techniques as well as supervise undergraduate students. I was very much in charge of my research and controlled the direction it would take, something that will help me in my future research. Dr Craig Donaldson, Acting Head of School of Biomedical & Healthcare Sciences, told us of an opportunity to present at the IBMS Congress 2015, something which would broaden our research profile. The opportunity was fantastic and something I would highly recommend to future students, wanting to share their research with fellow scientists.”

Megan graduated from the University of Plymouth with a distinction in MSc Biomedical Sciences specialising in Immunology and was also a previous student of the BSc (Hons) Human Biosciences

Advance in prenatal testing at Plymouth

Research into a simple, accurate and low risk blood test that can detect foetal blood group, sex, and genetic conditions in unborn babies has been published in the international scientific journal, Clinical Chemistry.

Kelly Silence, a PhD student in the School and lead author, writes "We have developed a highly sensitive and cost-effective test that enables rapid determination of fetal sex and RHD genotype from a maternal blood sample, which can be collected in the first trimester of pregnancy during the initial consultation. Developing non-invasive tests eradicates the need for invasive testing, such as CVS and amniocentesis, which are associated with a small but significant risk of miscarriage (1%).

Determining fetal sex is important for families at risk of X-linked genetic disorders and congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), in which diagnosis can enable treatment to be targeted to female fetuses.
In addition, determining whether the fetus is positive or negative (for RHD) in mothers with a negative blood type, can enable treatment to be target to fetuses which are RHD positive, and thus at risk of developing haemolytic disease of the fetus and newborn (HDFN).

Currently, routine testing of fetal RHD status has been implemented in the Netherlands and Denmark using real-time PCR (qPCR). However, this approach can be associated with false negative results, especially if the level of cell-free fetal DNA (cffDNA) within the maternal circulation is low (<3%). False negative results can be detrimental, since treatment is not given, and thus fetus is at risk of developing HDFN.

By using droplet digital PCR (ddPCR) technology, we have identified an approach that enables accurate determination of fetal sex and RHD status, even when the cffDNA is present at <1%. This novel platform separates each sample into thousands of droplets (up to 20,000), which enables accurate detection of molecules present in low copy numbers.

Fetal aneuploidy is one of the most predominant reasons why women choose to undergo invasive testing, and although next generation sequencing techniques can determine fetal aneuploidy non-invasively with high sensitivity (>99%), these tests are too expensive for routine clinical testing (£400- £900). Our group has shown, using spike samples, that ddPCR can be used an alternative non-invasive test for a fraction of the cost (<£10). However, further analysis of clinical samples is required to determine the feasibility of this approach.

For more information see Clinical Chemistry publication entitled; ‘Fetal sex and RHD genotyping using droplet digital PCR demonstrates greater sensitivity compared to real-time PCR’ (". Links to press coverage are below.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Plymouth in World Antibiotic Awareness Week

PU activities for World Antibiotic Awareness Week (WAAW - 16-20th November) are being coordinated by Mat Upton, with help from staff in External Relations and Communications and Marketing. There is a social media campaign planned (Mat needing particular help because he is such a Twitter novice!) and student ambassadors will be out around campus at various times to help students carry out a short online survey and give more background. Details about WAAW are on the PU events webpage, but Mat is happy to talk to anyone who wants to know more (or wants to get involved!).

Mat has a particular interest in this subject, which is very relevant to some of his research, but he really feels that this is something we should all be interested in - rising levels of antibiotic resistance will have an impact on everyone. So…..learn about antibiotic resistance and how to protect these precious medicines by following the links on the webpage and think about pledging to be an Antibiotic Guardian!

Bonfire Night Health & Safety?

(left) Plymouth Healthcare Science student Nathalie Dinar puts on the Ebola Treatment Centre's PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) helped by Dr. Christopher Logue from the Novel and Dangerous Pathogens Training Group at Public Health England (PHE) at Porton Down. Christopher called in between his work for PHE in Sierra Leone to lecture on our third year Public Health Infection Science module. Students on this module will visit PHE at Porton Down soon to see at first hand how infectious disease threats are managed.

Students also learnt to correctly remove surgical gloves after handling a simulated contagious substance (below).