Friday, 31 October 2014

School PhD students shine at local research event

Congratulations! To two of our PhD students who won research prizes at the recent PUPSMD Annual Postgraduate research event held at the St. Mellion Resort in Cornwall.  As part of the postgraduate training programme all registered students within the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, Peninsula College of Medicine & Dentistry (PU registered) and the School of Biomedical and Healthcare Sciences are invited to participate in the Annual Research Event 2014 and to present their work either via poster or a presentation to an audience consisting of peers, academic staff and other interested researchers.

Kelly Sillence (left) won the best oral presentation for her talk entitled:
“Non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) of fetal sex and RHD status from maternal plasma: Digital versus Real-time PCR.”

Martin Helley (left) won the best poster presentation for his poster entitled:

“Toll-Like Receptor and Co-Receptor Expression in Trigeminal Sensory Neurons.”

Beating stiff competition from postgraduates of the other PUPSMD schools - Congratualtions to both of you and your research supervisors, the school is very proud of you!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Longitude Prize 2014

The Longitude Prize 2014, a challenge with a prize fund of £10 million, has been launched to help solve one the greatest issues of our time. The British public will cast the deciding vote to choose the issue that the prize will tackle. The prize has been developed and is being run by Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation. It was launched by the Prime Minister at G8 last year, and is being supported by the Technology Strategy Board, the UK’s innovation agency, as funding partner.

School microbiologist Mat Upton's Spectromics machine, "a smarter way to tackle antibiotic resistance using its rapid 'point-of-prescription' test" is in the running and has been selected as one of their Case Studies (left).

The £10 million would certainly come in handy! Hope you remember your friends, Mat......

Monday, 6 October 2014

Foundation to doctor: Alex shares his experience of student Science

Three years ago I found myself in an unpleasant position. An injury had meant that I had to leave a job, which I had loved and had aimed at for over a decade. I had no qualifications to speak of, or at least that would be relevant to most employers, and I had just turned 34 years old with three children. I was effectively in a last chance saloon to provide myself and my family with a future and the potential of a decent income. Not really knowing what was available to me, I took some Open University courses in Science and Engineering. I thought, Great! I can work part time and gradually work towards my qualifications.

Now, bear in mind that no one in my immediate family has a degree and I had great admiration for others that held a degree. In fact, I put them on a pedestal, way above me (you can imagine the level of respect that I have for those with a PhD, but we will come to that later). The decision to return to undertake a degree was made with great trepidation and a certain amount of "will I really see this through?" Well, I found a local community college, which offered a Foundation Degree in Bioscience. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to speak to them, would they even take me? Well, one phone call later and I was on the course. For those wondering how I would afford it, the amount available from the student loan company was more than that which a good part time job would provide. I am not saying it was easy, but it was possible. Community college: I had many pre-conceived ideas about the people I would find there and, for the majority, I was completely wrong. South Devon College had the most enthusiastic, motivational lecturers I have ever met. The subjects were delivered with such a level of interaction that most lectures felt like a discussion rather than a lesson. We were a small cohort that had been whittled down along the way but my fellow students turned into a closely-knit support network of friends. The two years there flew by and I completed with the highest score, a distinction and an award from the Society of Biology.

My level of success had come as somewhat of a surprise to me but the ante was about to be upped. To complete my BSc I had to undertake a final year at the University of Plymouth. Our little cohort would have to go and see how we fared against “proper” Uni students. Certain things became immediately apparent. You get lost…. a lot. There are a lot more students - this sounds obvious but it means lecturers have more students to deal with and there is less interaction than at a community college. You have to stand on your own two feet, find your way around and make yourself known to the lecturers. Each lecturer has their own style of teaching, some simply deliver the material, whereas some enjoy a more discursive session. What I will say is that they were all approachable and willing to have as much input to your studies as you are willing to make. I was fortunate to have a final year project supervisor, Dr Andrew Foey, who would devote hours to his students in the lab and sit and discuss various aspects of immunology in his office.  Where did this lead? In September this year, I graduated with First Class honours and on the 1st of October I began a PhD with Dr Foey as one of my Supervisors (and yes I still see those with a PhD as on a totally different level to myself).

It still hasn’t really sunk in that I have a degree or that I am studying towards a PhD but, looking back, I can pick out moments that have enabled it to happen that now enable me to give a few words of advice. South Devon College was an excellent place to start.  As a mature student, I doubt there is any better introduction back to education than a Foundation degree. Do not be afraid of it, the course starts from the basics and builds up from there. Everyone is equal at the beginning, no matter what your level of knowledge. At either Community College or University, ingratiate and make yourself available to the lecturers, they have a difficult job and you are not their only student! Work, hard from the very beginning, set your standard from the off and keep it there. Take opportunities, show yourself to be interested in expanding your knowledge and your horizons. Additional skills will raise you above others to potential employers and you never know, they could be one of your lecturers. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, there are many support mechanisms at Plymouth University that I have personally seen help fellow students. Value the input of your peers, our little cohort graduated with an exemplary aggregate grade and they are good friends to this day. If you want to do it, have no hesitation. Yes, it is not all plain sailing but it can be extremely rewarding and fulfilling but the bottom line is that you have to want to do it.

Hey if I can do it, anyone can!

Alex Strachan
BSc Hons
PhD Student at the University of Plymouth

Toddlers' Teeth Ticking Time Bomb

You may have caught one of our lectures, Gail Rees, on Radio Devon last Tuesday talking about a new report into the poor state of children's teeth in the UK (or read about it in the Western Morning News). Here is a useful link.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

School research to benefit cancer patients: skeletal repair after treatment for cancer

Unfortunately skeletal damage is a common occurrence following radiotherapy for breast or prostate cancer and hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) is increasingly being used to repair this damage. How HBO improves bone tissue was unclear until work published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Research by a group led by Dr Simon Fox (Associate Professor in Molecular Pathology & Programme Lead for BSc Biomedical Sciences) in collaboration with the Diving Disease Research Centre established a mechanism of action.  Using a novel cell culture system developed at the university, simon and Dr Hadil Al-Hadi showed that HBO reduced the amount of bone resorbed by skeletal cells. This would help preserve skeletal structural integrity at affected sites and potentially enable a better outcome for patients.  This work highlights the beneficial effect of HBO in the clinic and paves the way for future studies by the group examining the impact of HBO on bone formation using this system and also directly in patients undergoing HBO.  Please follow the links for further information on HBO and the work of the bone Bone Group at UoP.

A human osteoclast the primary                                   Trabecular bone showing areas of                        Hyperbaric chamber 
cell responsible for bone resorption                              formation and resorption used to expose cells to
in the skeleton  HBO Therapy

Simon is an enthusiastic researcher who welcomes interest in his research field.  Simon has provided a wealth of research opportunities for school pupils, undergraduate & postgraduate MSc and PhD students as well as post-doctoral positions. Are you interested in undertaking a research project in Simon’s Bone group?

Lecturer developing machine to help guide antibiotic therapy

Mat Upton was in Birmingham this week at the Conservative Party Conference - not as a delegate! He was there to help showcase the technology being developed by Spectromics (; Mat is a Director at Spectromics, a company developing a revolutionary way to help doctors select the best antibiotic to treat infections. The event was organised by the StartUp Hub (@StartUpHubUK) and was a chance to raise the profile of the company to national press and speak to other new startups from the UK. Some interesting meetings, but no chance for a selfie with Boris!

Spectromics are developing a 10 minute test to select the best antibiotic for treating urinary tract infections - the biggest cause of bacterial infection in humans. These infections are currently treated with a 'best guess' therapy without testing to see which antibiotic will kill the infecting bacteria - it takes too long and costs too much to test every urine sample. With the Spectromics test, a GP will be able to chose the best antibiotic for each case by running a test whenever a patient visits the surgery. This will help significantly in our efforts to reduce inappropriate prescriptions and slow the spread of antibiotic resistance.