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The latest study and research news from the University of Edinburgh

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Benedetti study award is music to ears of Italian student

Virtuoso violinist Nicola Benedetti is backing a scholarship that will help a student further her study of Italian literature.

The Scots-born classical music star, who is proud of her Italian heritage, is a patron of a University of Edinburgh scheme to provide scholarships for postgraduate Italian Studies students.

Susanna Grazzini, from Siena in Italy, is coming to Edinburgh this month to study the work of the acclaimed Italian writer Carlo Emilio Gadda.

Gadda is considered to be Italy’s greatest modernist writer and the University of Edinburgh is the world’s leading centre for the promotion of Gadda studies.

Susanna was one of eight leading literature students invited to submit a piece of work about an aspect of Gadda’s writing. Hers was judged to be the best entry.

The Nicola Benedetti Scholarship Fund supports students who otherwise may not have the chance to take part in Italian Studies at Edinburgh. Susanna is the fourth student to receive a scholarship.

Susanna, who this year graduated from the University of Siena, will collect her scholarship award at a ceremony in the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh on 22 September.

At the same ceremony, the results of the Gadda Prize essay competition – open to Scottish secondary pupils who are studying Italian – will be announced.

The writers of the three best essays will be invited to attend a two-day Gadda conference next summer at Montecassino, south of Rome, where Nicola Benedetti will play.

The Traverse event will also feature the British premiere of an award-winning Italian show, Gadda goes to war. The play, created by celebrated Italian actor Fabrizio Gifuni, is based on Gadda’s First World War diaries.

A further highlight will be the award of a £40,000 grant from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland to help set up a research centre – the first of its kind – for the study of Italian migration to Scotland.

The centre, which will be based at the University of Edinburgh, will explore Italian migration to Scotland through a variety of projects, including a documentary about the last surviving Scottish-Italians to have lived through the Second World War.

Find out more about the University of Edinburgh.

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Beautiful wing patterns reveal butterfly’s colourful past

Scientists have shown how a case of rare breeding between different species of butterfly has helped some acquire the protective wing patterns of others.

DNA studies of butterflies in the Amazon have shown that unrelated species with similar wing patterns share the DNA that controls their striking colouring.

The species share bright wing patterns that act as a warning to predators that the butterflies are bad to eat – protecting them from attack.

Scientists say this is a result of very rare interbreeding between pairs of related species. This has enabled them to exchange genes and so acquire each other’s wing patterns.

Although many species can interbreed in the wild, the resulting hybrids are often infertile.

However, occasionally interbreeding can transfer the genes for useful traits, which is much faster than evolving such traits independently, as is demonstrated by the butterflies.

A global team of researchers, including Edinburgh scientists, unravelled the DNA sequence of the Postman butterfly in South America and used this as a reference to study several butterfly species that live together in the Peruvian Amazon.

The study, published in Nature, was carried out with the Universities of Cambridge and Exeter, University College London, alongside partners in France and the US. It was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Dr Mark Blaxter, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, said: ‘A recent revolution in the way we can look at DNAs allowed us to discover that the butterflies copy each other’s patterns by exchanging DNA – a rather unexpected result. Edinburgh’s expertise in this area enabled scientists here to join this exciting voyage of discovery.

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Parasite infection has sting in the tail, immunity study shows

Infections caused by certain parasites can compromise the immune system, leaving it less well equipped to deal with other diseases, a study shows.

Research into the tropical disease snail fever could help scientists better understand why, in areas where the infection is endemic, vaccines for other conditions may not be fully effective.

It could also impact on development of vaccines for snail fever, which is caused by a parasitic worm contracted from water and affects millions of people, especially children, in developing countries.

In the first study of its kind, scientists from the University of Edinburgh examined the immune systems of people in parts of rural Zimbabwe that are endemic for snail fever. People who had developed natural resistance to snail fever over years of exposure to the disease were compared with participants from the same area who remained infected by the parasites.

They found that in infected people, overall immunity was compromised, with reduced levels of a cell type that helps the body remember infections after first being exposed to them, and prevent repeat episodes of disease.

Lower levels of these cells in the blood could make affected individuals less capable of fighting other infections, such as HIV and malaria. The finding may also help explain why people exposed to repeat infection with snail fever are slow to develop protective immunity against it.

Scientists say cell levels in people affected by snail fever may be reduced because the immune system is suppressed as a way to avoid exacerbating disease. This may be driven by the immune system itself, or by the parasite.

The joint study with partners in France and Zimbabwe, published in Scientific Reports, was backed by the Wellcome Trust, World Health Organisation and Thrasher Research Funds.

Dr Francisca Mutapi, of the School of Biological Sciences, said: ‘This is valuable insight into a disease that affects millions, revealing its impact on long-term immune health.’

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Genes may hold the key to a life of success, study suggests

Genes play a greater role in forming character traits – such as self-control, decision making or sociability – than was previously thought, new research suggests.

A study of more than 800 sets of twins found that genetics were more influential in shaping key traits than a person’s home environment and surroundings.

Psychologists at the University of Edinburgh who carried out the study, say that genetically influenced characteristics could well be the key to how successful a person is in life.

The study of twins in the US – most aged 50 and over – used a series of questions to test how they perceived themselves and others. Questions included ‘Are you influenced by people with strong opinions?’ and ‘Are you disappointed about your achievements in life?’

The results were then measured according to the Ryff Psychological Well-Being Scale which assesses and standardises these characteristics.

By tracking their answers, the research team found that identical twins – whose DNA is exactly the same – were twice as likely to share traits compared with non-identical twins.

Psychologists say the findings are significant because the stronger the genetic link, the more likely it is that these character traits are carried through a family.

Professor Timothy Bates, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, said that the genetic influence was strongest on a person’s sense of self-control.

Researchers found that genes affected a person’s sense of purpose, how well they get on with people and their ability to continue learning and developing.

Professor Bates added: ‘Ever since the ancient Greeks, people have debated the nature of a good life and the nature of a virtuous life. Why do some people seem to manage their lives, have good relationships and cooperate to achieve their goals while others do not? Previously, the role of family and the environment around the home often dominated people’s ideas about what affected psychological well-being. However, this work highlights a much more powerful influence from genetics.’

The study, which builds on previous research that found that happiness is underpinned by genes, is published online in the Journal of Personality.

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Treatment to benefit African infants at risk of endemic fever

Thousands of pre-school children in Africa could benefit from access to treatment for an endemic disease, after tests showed infants to be at high risk of infection.

Researchers tested hundreds of children aged between one and five in countries in sub-Saharan Africa where snail fever – also known as bilharzia or schistosomiasis – is endemic. Currently, infants are not regularly tested for infection as they are perceived to be at low risk of exposure to the water-borne disease and not to suffer severely from its ill-effects.

Scientists showed that in fact, infection rates are high among pre-school children. This may be because they often accompany their mothers to rivers and wells. Symptoms of the disease – which can include impaired memory and thought as well as damage to internal organs and stunted growth – are not always obvious.

The study found that a common snail fever drug, known as praziquantel, which is regularly given to older children and adults, can safely cure the infection in infants. The treatment is cheap and effective, curing infection and stopping progress of disease in a single dose.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh carried out studies in Zimbabwe and their results were combined with work by other teams in Mali, Sudan, Egypt, Niger and Uganda. In a recent World Health Organisation report, the teams recommended that infants be included in treatment programmes, and their work is informing public health policy.

According to the WHO, snail fever affects 230 million people each year, most of whom are African. Some 33.5 million people were treated for the disease in 2010. Children are especially vulnerable because they make frequent contact with infected water.

Dr Francisca Mutapi, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who took part in the study, said: ‘Snail fever is a widespread disease of major health consequence in young children. Our study shows that infants are especially vulnerable to infection and should be included in public health treatment programmes.’

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Edinburgh strengthens ties with leading Chinese university

The University of Edinburgh has signed a research agreement with Peking University, building on the already strong links that exist between the two institutions.

Edinburgh Principal Sir Timothy O’Shea and Vice President Li Yansong of Peking signed the Memorandum of Intent at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The agreement was signed in the presence of State Councillor Mme Liu Yandong, Yuan Guiren, Chinese Minister of Education, Wang Zhigang, Chinese Vice Minister of Science and Technology and David Willets MP, UK Minister for Universities.

The agreement will establish a National China Research Centre at Edinburgh and a National UK Research Centre at Peking, allowing academic co-operation in a range of subject areas, including economic, political and cultural, as well as offering PhD and Master students the chance to spend time at the partner institution.

Vice-Principal Timothy O’Shea said: ‘This historic agreement with Peking University marks another significant step for the University of Edinburgh, whose links with some of China’s finest academic institutions continue to grow.’

The University of Edinburgh, which established an office in Beijing in 2005, has relationships with more than 50 universities in China.

It already has long-term partnerships with staff and students at Peking University, including joint research projects on history, medicine, politics and religious studies.

In addition, the Confucius Institute for Scotland was established in 2006 at the University of Edinburgh to act as a bridge between Scotland and China, aiding understanding and facilitating engagement.

Find out more about the University of Edinburgh.

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Asteroid craters on Earth give clues in search for life on Mars

Craters made by asteroid impacts may be the best place to look for signs of life on other planets, a study suggests.

Tiny organisms have been discovered thriving deep underneath a site in the US where an asteroid crashed some 35 million years ago.

Scientists believe that the organisms are evidence that such craters provide refuge for microbes, sheltering them from the effects of the changing seasons and events such as global warming or ice ages.

The study suggests that crater sites on Mars may also be hiding life, and that drilling beneath them could lead to evidence of similar life forms.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh drilled almost 2km below one of the largest asteroid impact craters on Earth, in Chesapeake, US.

Samples from below ground showed that microbes are unevenly spread throughout the rock, suggesting that the environment is continuing to settle 35 million years after impact.

Scientists say that heat from the impact of an asteroid collision would kill everything at the surface, but fractures to rocks deep below would enable water and nutrients to flow in and support life. Some organisms grow by absorbing elements such as iron from rock.

Professor Charles Cockell, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said: ‘The deeply fractured areas around impact craters can provide a safe haven in which microbes can flourish for long periods of time. Our findings suggest that the subsurface of craters on Mars might be a promising place to search for evidence of life.’

The research was published in the journal Astrobiology.

Find out more about the University of Edinburgh.

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Tiny electrical sensors could signal faster MRSA diagnosis

A simple test to spot MRSA in wounds could identify the superbug quickly and help prevent infection from spreading.

Scientists have developed the test to show whether wounds or lesions are infected with bacteria and if MRSA is present.

The test, developed at the University of Edinburgh in collaboration with NHS Lothian, works by taking swabs from a wound or sores, which are then analysed using a strip with electrical sensors that can detect MRSA.

Researchers currently process the swab samples in the laboratory to increase the amount of bacteria present before testing them, but hope to avoid the need for this in the future by improving the strip’s sensitivity.

This would enable scientists to develop a test that could be used outside the laboratory, for example in GP practices or people’s homes.

The ability to detect the bacteria more quickly than with conventional tests would enable more effective drugs to be given to the patient straight away.

Currently, laboratory tests to confirm whether MRSA is present in a wound can take a full day using conventional techniques.

The test was developed using swabs from diabetic foot ulcers taken from patients attending NHS Lothian’s Diabetic Foot Clinic at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

Detection of MRSA in these patients is important to prevent the spread of infection, which can lead to the amputation of limbs and increase the risk of mortality.

Dr Till Bachman, from the University of Edinburgh’s Division of Pathway Medicine, will present the research behind the test on 29 March at the Advances in Biodetection and Biosensors conference in Edinburgh.

He said: ‘Antibiotic resistance is becoming a pressing issue in modern healthcare and we are in serious danger of entering a post-antibiotic era. Current tests for MRSA tend to be expensive and not very fast. By developing a rapid and cost-effective test, we would know what kind of infection is present straight away, which will improve the chance of success in treating it.’

Edinburgh scientists are using similar technology to monitor signals that bacteria send to each other to spread infections, and chemicals that patients produce that indicate the wound’s response to the infecting bacteria. Understanding why bacteria release certain molecules as part of this process will help scientists identify the start of an infection and so treat it promptly.

The development of the test, funded with £2.26m from Scottish Enterprise’s Large Scale Research and Development Programme, involved input from the University of Edinburgh’s Division of Pathway Medicine, School of Chemistry, School of Physics and Astronomy and the Scottish Microelectronics Centre working with NHS Lothian’s Diabetic Foot Clinic and Microbiology Department.

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Stem cell study aids quest for motor neurone disease therapies

A breakthrough using cutting-edge stem cell research could speed up the discovery of new treatments for motor neurone disease (MND).

The international research team has created motor neurones using skin cells from a patient with an inherited form of MND.

The study discovered that abnormalities of a protein called TDP-43, implicated in more than 90 per cent of cases of MND, resulted in the death of motor neurone cells.

This is the first time that scientists have been able to see the direct effect of abnormal TDP-43 on human motor neurons.

The study, led by the University of Edinburgh’s Euan MacDonald Centre for Motor Neurone Disease Research, was carried out in partnership with King’s College London, Colombia University, New York and the University of San Francisco.

MND is a devastating, untreatable and ultimately fatal condition that results from progressive loss of the motor nerves – motor neurones – that control movement, speech and breathing.

Professor Siddharthan Chandran, of the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘Using patient stem cells to model MND in a dish offers untold possibilities for how we study the cause of this terrible disease as well as accelerating drug discovery by providing a cost-effective way to test many thousands of potential treatments.’

The study, funded by the MND Association, is published in the journal PNAS

Dr Brian Dickie, Director of Research and Development for the MND Association, said: ‘This advance is a significant milestone on the road to developing a laboratory model of MND that faithfully reflects the cellular events happening in the patient.

‘It is also a testament to the importance of international collaboration, with eminent scientists from leading institutions around the world focused on the common goal of understanding and, ultimately, defeating this devastating disease.’

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Clock gene helps plants prepare for spring flowering, study shows

Scientists have made fresh discoveries about the processes that govern plants’ internal body clocks and help them adjust to changing seasons, triggering the arrival of flowers in spring.

Researchers tested computer models of gene networks in a simple cress plant to determine the role played by a protein, known as TOC1, in governing these daily cycles. The model shows how 12 genes work together to run the plant’s complex clockwork, and reset the clock at dawn and dusk each day.

Researchers found that the TOC1 protein, which was previously associated with helping plants to wake up, is in fact involved in dampening gene activity in the evening, helping them stay dormant at night.

The findings, from the University of Edinburgh, contradict what scientists had previously understood about the gene and its role in early morning activity. Scientists in Barcelona independently reached a similar conclusion to the Edinburgh team. The two studies pave the way for further research to define how the cycles improve plant growth and allow plants to adapt to our changing environment.

These internal 24-hour cycles – known as circadian clocks – also allow people, animals and plants to make tiny adjustments as daylight changes, and adapt to changing seasons. Researchers hope their discovery will bring them a step closer to understanding other seasonal rhythms that affect plants and people – including the flowering of staple crops such as wheat, barley and rice, and the breeding patterns of animals.

The Edinburgh-led study, published in Molecular Systems Biology, was funded by the European Commission, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The Barcelona-led study, published in Science, was funded by the European Commission, the Ramón Areces Foundation, and the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation.

Professor Andrew Millar, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who led the modelling study, said: ‘The 24-hour rhythms of biological clocks affect all living things including plants, animals and people, with wide-ranging effects on sleep, metabolism and immunity. We are now far better placed to understand how this complex process impacts on the plant’s life and what happens when the rhythms are interrupted, for example by climate change.’

Professor Paloma Mas, of the Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics in Spain, who led the experimental study, said: ‘The biological clock controls essential processes in plant growth and development, such as flowering and the control of growth by light. We can now extend the knowledge we have gained of cyclic processes to the major crops and other plants of agronomic interest.’

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Green spaces reduce stress levels of jobless, study shows

Stress levels of unemployed people are linked more to their surroundings than their age, gender, disposable income, and degree of deprivation, a study shows.

The presence of parks and woodland in economically deprived areas may help people cope better with job losses, post traumatic stress disorder, chronic fatigue and anxiety, researchers say.

They found that people’s stress levels are directly related to the amount of green space in their area – the more green space, the less stressed a person is likely to be.

Researchers measured stress by taking saliva samples from a group of 35–55 year olds in Dundee and gauging levels of cortisol – a hormone released in response to stress. They found that if less than 30 per cent of a person’s surrounding area was green space, its population showed unhealthy levels of cortisol.

The study shows that for every one per cent increase in green space there was a corresponding steeper decline in stress levels. Where there is more green space, people tend to respond better to disruptive events, either by not getting as stressed in the first place or by coping better.

Participants were also asked to self-diagnose their stress levels and these results directly related to the percentage of local green space. People with more green space had lower levels of self-reported stress.

The research was led by the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt’s OPENspace research centre, working with the Universities of Glasgow and Westminster. The James Hutton Institute was the project manager. The findings have been published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning.

Catharine Ward Thompson, director of OPENspace research centre said: ‘Given the increasing levels of stress and poor mental health suffered by people in Scotland, this is an exciting breakthrough. For the first time, researchers have worked with unemployed people from deprived areas and used scientific tests to show that, where there is more green space around, people’s stress levels were measurably lower, while less green space was linked with signs of the body’s hormones not working properly.’

Exercise was another factor found to reduce stress, but it may not be related to exercising in park land. People reported feeling less stressed if they lived in areas with more green space, regardless of how much exercise they did.

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Smartphone app aims to help stroke patients get fast treatment

Stroke patients could be helped to get to hospital quickly thanks to a new smartphone app.

The FAST test app – the first of its kind – has been devised by a team of scientists at the University of Edinburgh to provide people with a simple test to spot stroke.

Experts say people are unfamiliar with stroke symptoms, which can cause a delay in sufferers receiving medical care. In many instances this delay can prove fatal or result in significant brain damage.

Stroke is the third-biggest killer after heart disease and cancer in Scotland, according to Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland (CHSS), which funded development of the app.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted. This can cause weakness in the face or arms or slurred and muddled speech. Damage can be permanent or even fatal.

The FAST test app asks users if the person can smile, if they can lift both arms and if their speech is slurred. If all these symptoms are present, the user is told to call 999.

The app provides general information about different types of stroke, including causes and treatments. It also provides an option to speak to specialist nursing staff.

Dr William Whiteley and Graeme Heron, of the University of Edinburgh’s Division of Clinical Neurosciences, devised the app.

Dr Whiteley says: ‘Having a stroke is an emergency just like having a heart attack. There are two ways a stroke can happen – when a blood clot blocks an artery that carries blood to the brain or as a result of bleeding within or around the brain from a burst blood vessel.’

David Clark, chief executive CHSS, adds: ‘Around 12,000 people will have a stroke each year in Scotland. We hope that our app will help people to recognise the symptoms of stroke, and guide them through the process of calling for help. In a typical stroke, you lose two million brain cells a minute so it is vital that you’re treated as quickly as possible.’

The app is available on iPhones and Android smartphones and is part of the FAST campaign run jointly by NHS Scotland and CHSS. It can be downloaded by searching the AppStore for ‘CHSS FAST’.

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Cell discovery strengthens quest for cancer treatments

Fresh insights into how our cells multiply could help scientists develop drugs to treat cancer.

Researchers have gained better understanding of the workings of two key proteins that control cell division. This process must be carried out accurately to keep cells healthy, and when it goes out of control, it can lead to cancer.

The study, led by the University of Edinburgh, could contribute to the development of new drugs that stop cancerous cells multiplying and so prevent the spread of the disease.

Such treatments – known as anti-mitotic drugs – would have the potential to limit the side-effects associated with some chemotherapy drugs, such as damage to healthy nerve cells. The development could also help optimise personalised chemotherapy treatments for individual cancer patients.

Scientists carried out a series of experiments to study how various proteins involved in the control of cell division interact with each other in cells. They used high-resolution microscopy to view the cells in 3D and determine the position of each of the proteins. Crucially, they were able to pinpoint how one key protein binds and triggers the activation of a further two key enzymes, each of which is involved with ensuring that cell division takes place correctly.

Both enzymes studied had previously been identified as targets for development of anti-cancer drugs. The latest discovery adds to scientists’ understanding of how better drugs might be designed that stop the activity of both enzymes. The study, published in the Public Library of Science Biology, was supported by the Wellcome Trust.

Dr Mar Carmena of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who took part in the study, said: ‘Cell division is a complex and tightly regulated process, and when it goes out of control this can lead to cancer. The greater our understanding of the proteins that control cell division, the better equipped scientists will be to design more effective treatments against cancer.’

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Protein study gives fresh impetus in fight against superbugs

Scientists have shed new light on the way superbugs such as MRSA are able to become resistant to treatment with antibiotics.

Researchers have mapped the complex molecular structure of an enzyme found in many bacteria. These molecules – known as restriction enzymes – control the speed at which bacteria can acquire resistance to drugs and eventually become superbugs.

The study, carried out by an international team including scientists from the University of Edinburgh, focused on E coli, but the results would apply to many other infectious bacteria.

After prolonged treatment with antibiotics, bacteria may evolve to become resistant to many drugs, as is the case with superbugs such as MRSA.

Bacteria become resistant by absorbing DNA – usually from other bugs or viruses – which contains genetic information enabling the bacteria to block the action of drugs. Restriction enzymes can slow or halt this absorption process. Enzymes that work in this way are believed to have evolved as a defence mechanism for bacteria.

The researchers also studied the enzyme in action by reacting it with DNA from another organism. They were able to model the mechanism by which the enzyme disables the foreign DNA, while safeguarding the bacteria’s own genetic material. Restriction enzymes’ ability to sever genetic material is widely applied by scientists to cut and paste strands of DNA in genetic engineering.

The study was carried out in collaboration with the Universities of Leeds and Portsmouth with partners in Poland and France. It was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Wellcome Trust and published in Genes and Development journal.

Dr David Dryden, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry, who led the study, said: ‘We have known for some time that these enzymes are very effective in protecting bacteria from attack by other species. Now we have painted a picture of how this occurs, which should prove to be a valuable insight in tackling the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.’

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iPad game seeks to help autistic children develop social skills

Children with autism as young as 18 months could be helped to improve their socialising skills thanks to a new iPad app.

FindMe is a simple game that challenges children to find an onscreen character in different scenarios. Using the iPad’s touch screen, players simply tap the character to move onto the next, more complex level.

App developers and Education and Informatics researchers from the University of Edinburgh have collaborated on the game, the first ever attempt to fuse autism research with iPad gaming. The research was funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

As the game progresses, children must contend with more distractions on screen. The game is designed to encourage players to focus on other people and their needs, which people with autism find difficult. Players are rewarded with animations specially designed to appeal to children with autism.

Versions of the game under development will focus on other common difficulties in autism, such as being unable to follow a pointing finger or monitor where another person is looking.

To appeal to children of various nationalities the onscreen character speaks French, German, and English in both British and American accents.

Developers hope that the game will help children with autism practice basic socialising skills before entering the pressurised environment of a nursery or primary school classroom.

Dr Sue Fletcher-Watson, the Nuffield Foundation New Career Development Fellow, said: ‘Children with autism are often adept with computers. Thanks to the iPad’s touchscreen we can now create games for very young children with autism, when it may benefit them most. We hope our app will be helpful to both children with autism and their families.’

FindMe will be launched at BETT (the British Educational Training and Technology show), Europe’s largest educational technology showcase, on 11 January at London’s Olympia.

It is available for download now for free from Apple’s App Store.

FindMe is published by Interface3, an award-winning Edinburgh-based company specialising in designing and developing collaborative and social learning games using interactive tabletop and mobile platforms. Previously it has produced games for PBS Kids in the US as well as an array of education publishers and design agencies.

The app is the first part in a proposed series of University of Edinburgh research into using new technology to provide support for individuals with autism. Following feedback from parents, the FindMe app will be constantly improved and updated. In April, 60 children in the Lothians will take part in research to assess the game’s impact on their behaviour.

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Landmark discovery has magnetic appeal for scientists

A fundamental problem that has puzzled generations of scientists has finally been solved after more than 70 years.

An international team of scientists has discovered that a subtle electronic effect in magnetite – the most magnetic of all naturally occurring minerals – causes a dramatic change to how this material conducts electricity at very low temperatures.

The discovery gives new insight into the mineral in which mankind discovered magnetism, and it may enable magnetite and similar materials to be exploited in new ways.

The research, published in Nature, was led by the University of Edinburgh in collaboration with the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France, where the experiments were conducted.

The magnetic properties of magnetite have been known for more than 2,000 years and gave rise to the original concepts of magnets and magnetism. The mineral has also formed the basis for decades of research into magnetic recording and information storage materials.

In 1939, Dutch scientist Evert Verwey discovered that the electrical conductivity of magnetite decreases abruptly and dramatically at low temperatures. At about 125 Kelvin, or minus 150 degrees Celsius, the metallic mineral turns into an insulator. Despite many efforts, until now the reason for this transition has been debated and remained controversial.

When the team of scientists fired an intense X-ray beam at a tiny crystal of magnetite at very low temperatures, they were able to understand the subtle rearrangement of the mineral’s chemical structure. Electrons are being trapped within groups of three iron atoms where they can no longer transport an electrical current.

Dr Jon Wright of the ESRF said: ‘Our main challenge was to obtain a perfect crystal, which meant using one that was tiny, just half the diameter of a human hair. Then we needed to observe subtle changes in this microscopic sample as we lowered the temperature. In Europe, this is only possible at the ESRF, thanks to the extremely high energy of its synchrotron X-rays.’

Professor Paul Attfield, of the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘We have solved a fundamental problem in understanding the original magnetic material, upon which everything we know about magnetism is built. This vital insight into how magnetite is constructed and how it behaves will help in the development of future electronic and magnetic technologies.’

The research was funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and the Leverhulme Trust.

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Need for sleep may lie in our genes, scientists say

Margaret Thatcher famously managed on four hours of sleep a night while Albert Einstein needed 11 – now a study suggests why.

For the first time a gene has been found in humans that explains why some people need more sleep than others.

The study reports that one in five Europeans carry a variation of a gene known as ABCC9. People with the gene need almost 30 minutes more sleep each night than those who do not have it.

Experts say the finding opens up a new line of research in sleep studies and it is hoped that future studies will establish precisely how the gene variant regulates sleep duration.

The gene ABCC9 is involved in sensing energy levels of cells in the body. Scientists at the University of Edinburgh working with colleagues at Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich made the discovery by studying human sleep patterns and genes in flies. They found that flies without ABCC9 slept for three hours less than normal.

In humans, presence of the gene variant explained the need for some people to sleep longer than eight hours – the length of time the study classed as average. More than 10,000 people throughout Europe took part in the study providing information on how many hours they sleep each night, along with a blood sample to analyse their DNA. Sleep was measured on ‘free days’ – when people did not need to get up for work the next day, take sleeping pills or work shifts.

Researchers also found that seasonal changes in daylight at different latitudes appears to have an effect on how long people sleep, but more research is needed to fully understand how time of year and geography are involved.

Dr Jim Wilson, at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Population Health Sciences said: ‘Humans sleep for approximately one-third of their lifetime.

‘A tendency to sleep for longer or shorter periods often runs in families despite the fact that the amount of sleep people need can be influenced by age, latitude, season and circadian rhythms. These insights into the biology of sleep will be important in unravelling the health effects of sleep behaviour.’

The paper published online in Molecular Psychiatry looked at data from the Orkney Isles, Croatia, the Netherlands, Italy, Estonia and Germany.

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Protein sheds insight into spread of vCJD to the brain

A protein linked to the immune system could play a key role in helping scientists understand how vCJD spreads throughout the body.

The disease occurs when corrupted proteins – known as prions – accumulate in the spleen, lymph nodes and tonsils – before spreading to the brain where the disease destroys nerve cells.

Researchers found that they could thwart the spread of prions by preventing production of a protein in just one type of immune cell.

Stopping these cells from expressing this protein did not affect the regular function of the immune system.

The study by The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, which receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), could lead to treatments to stop vCJD spreading to the brain and causing disease. However, any treatments would be viable only if scientists are able to find a way to diagnose the condition in its early stages.

Neil Mabbott, of The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, who led the study, said: ‘If we can find a way of stopping this protein from being expressed by specific immune cells then we could potentially block the spread of the disease to the brain. We also want to understand how cells are infected with vCJD in the first place, so that we can look at ways of stopping this from happening and find ways to diagnose the disease at its early stages.’

The study, funded by the BBSRC, looked at production of a protein – called PrPC – in specific immune cells.

These cells – follicular dendritic cells – act like spider’s webs, attracting foreign particles, which can then be disposed of by the body’s immune system.

The researchers found that when the cells expressed PrPC, corrupted proteins responsible for vCJD, known as prions, were able to replicate on the surface of these cells and spread throughout the body. However, when only these cells were prevented from producing PrPC, the prions were not able to multiply and were destroyed by other cells.

The study is published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

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Virtual meetings are green and lean, study shows

Companies could cut emissions and save millions of pounds by replacing business travel with virtual meetings – but the allure of time out of the office stops people using such technology, a study suggests.

Researchers studied two virtual conferences and found they had considerably smaller costs and carbon output compared with their real-life equivalents.

One international, three-day online event for 260 delegates, held by a global IT and services company, saved $250,000 and 280 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions compared with such an event in real life.

Another virtual conference, held by a university and involving 62 delegates, saved almost 35 tonnes of CO2 and cost $120,000 less than a real-life equivalent event. Most savings were made by cutting out air travel.

However, researchers from the University of Edinburgh who carried out the study found that, despite potential savings, businesses are slow to adopt virtual meetings because many people prefer to meet face-to-face.

Researchers studied attitudes towards virtual meetings within two further organisations – a university and an oil and gas company. Results showed that virtual meeting spaces such as Second Life can be useful in some instances, for example training staff in practical skills. However, the perception of business travel as a perk of the job remains an important barrier to more widespread use. The results are published in the journal Carbon Management.

Dr Dave Reay, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, who supervised the research, said: ‘While people are becoming very comfortable with communication tools such as smart phones and Skype, technology can only take human contact so far. Virtual meetings will never replace all face-to-face meetings, but with money tight and carbon emissions rising they can certainly play a greater role.’

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Chicken virus study sheds light on how human cancers develop

Fresh discoveries about a disease commonly found in chickens could improve our understanding of some types of cancers in people.

The study into Marek’s disease could also have major implications for the poultry industry, making it possible to breed birds with greater resistance to the disease.

Scientists analysed thousands of genes to pinpoint those that play a role in Marek’s disease – a viral infection that costs the global poultry industry more than £1.4 billion a year.

The research from The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh and the Institute for Animal Health, both of which receive strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), identified a gene – called IRG1 – that makes chickens more susceptible to the disease.

The gene is thought to cause the death of cells, which can in turn lead to diseases including cancer.

Researchers also found how the Marek’s disease virus may also encourage tumour growth.

Chickens and mammals, including humans, have anti-tumour mechanisms, one of which is controlled by a gene called HIC1.

HIC1 switches on lots of other genes which have anti-tumour effects.

Marek’s disease virus switches off the genes controlled by HIC1 – in other words, it turns off key genes that would normally work to block tumours.

These genes are also linked to fighting tumours in humans and the study could help research into preventing some types of cancers in people, which like Marek’s disease, are caused by viruses.

Such viruses include the human papilloma virus, which can lead to cervical cancer, and Kaposi’s sarcoma, which affects patients with HIV.

Professor Pete Kaiser, of The Roslin Institute who led the research, said: ‘Marek’s disease is highly contagious and chickens are becoming increasingly resistant to vaccination. Identifying a gene that increases the risk of Marek’s disease could help us breed chickens that are less susceptible to infection.

‘Also, learning about how chickens affected by Marek’s disease fail to combat the onset of tumours will help us learn more about how certain viruses can trigger cancer in humans.’

The research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, is published in the Journal of Virology.

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DNA study shows link between schizophrenia and memory processes

Genetic mutations that cause schizophrenia could be linked to systems in the brain responsible for learning and memory, a study suggests.

Researchers from the Universities of Cardiff and Edinburgh have identified changes to genes – genetic mutations – in patients with schizophrenia who had not inherited the condition.

The study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, showed that these mutations occurred among a set of proteins that play a key role in memory function.

The scientists took samples of DNA from more than 650 patients with schizophrenia and compared these with DNA from their parents – who did not have the condition – to identify the genetic differences.

Professor Michael Owen of Cardiff University, who led the research with colleague Professor Michael O’Donovan, said: ‘By studying such a large sample we have been able to provide the first clear insights into the sorts of basic biological processes that underlie schizophrenia. We hope that by identifying these mutations our findings will help us understand more clearly how schizophrenia arises and ultimately identify new targets for treatments.’

The task of identifying what causes schizophrenia is difficult because the disorder does not occur as a result of a single genetic mutation, but reflects a large number of different risk genes.

Professor Seth Grant, of the University of Edinburgh, whose laboratory previously discovered dozens of proteins linked to learning and memory, said: ‘Although it has been known for some time that DNA mutations predispose individuals to the development of schizophrenia, it has remained a puzzle as to how these genes cause behavioural problems.

‘The surprising finding was that DNA mutations that cause schizophrenia are interfering with the same proteins in the molecular machinery that controls learning and memory. The findings will help research into new drug therapies and in developing new diagnostic tests.’

The genetic mutations disrupt the production of proteins found at synapses, which are the connections between different brain cells. The proteins are normally assembled together and process information that is passed from the environment to the memory systems in the brain. Disrupting the fundamental information processing systems in synapses results in behavioural disorders.

Professor Michael O’Donovan, of the University of Cardiff, said: ‘The main importance of the finding is that the new mutations were not randomly occurring in genes, instead they were concentrated in a relatively small number of genes which are crucial to the way nerve cells communicate with each other at junctions called synapses.’

The study was funded by the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the European Union.

Professor George Kirov from the University of Cardiff, the study’s first author, said: ‘We already know that genetic factors increase the risk of schizophrenia, as well as non-genetic factors. However, we assumed that because schizophrenia sufferers are less likely than average to have children, genes with quite large effects on risk will be removed from the population by the process of natural selection. If this is true, this loss of disease genes must be compensated for by new mutations or the disease would no longer exist.’

Rare genetic mutations that occurred either prior to or at fertilisation - do novo mutations – were found to occur among patients with schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is a severe disorder affecting approximately one per cent of the population. Signs can be present from childhood, but usually the disorder is diagnosed in early teens and has an impact on adult life.

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Yoko Ono amongst artists exploring the nature of beauty

Works by Yoko Ono, Turner Prize nominees Karla Black and Nathan Coley, and painter LS Lowry feature in a new exhibition that questions the nature of beauty.

‘Beholder’ is a collection of more that 40 pieces of art united not because they belong to the same period or movement, but because they are all considered beautiful.

The Talbot Rice Gallery at the University of Edinburgh asked high profile curators and artists to nominate a work that fits their personal view of beauty.

The result is an exhibition that includes works from a diverse collection of artists and designers such as abstract artist Callum Innes, modernist architect Sir Basil Spence, visual artist George Wylie, and painter Giorgio Morandi.

The selections, donated by private and public collections from as far a field as New York and Berlin, create an unusual and contemporary take on the idea of beauty. Classical forms are side by side with modernist architecture.

Beholder will also invite members of the public to share their views and tastes on what is beautiful via a Facebook page and at a series of events that coincide with the exhibition.

Pat Fisher, Talbot Rice’s principal curator, said: ‘Democratic participation was central to the idea behind this project. If beauty proves to have no fixed or stable form, its integrity may be based upon the fact that it brings people together to openly discuss values and ideas.’

The project is part of the University’s celebration of David Hume’s tercentenary. It was inspired by a quote from the Scottish Enlightenment figurehead. Hume said: ‘Beauty is no quality in things themselves: It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.’

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Antarctic rocks help uncover clues about sea level changes

Ancient rocks embedded in the West Antarctic ice sheet could help scientists improve predictions of rising sea levels.

Researchers will use sensor technology and chemical analysis to determine how long Antarctic rocks at the ice surface have been exposed to cosmic radiation – energy from exploding stars in space – during their lifetime.

Their findings will indicate whether the ice sheet melted at the warmest point between the two most recent global ice ages, some 120,000 years ago, when sea levels rose by up to six metres. Melting ice would have exposed the rocks to more cosmic radiation than if they had remained embedded in the ice sheet, where they are now.

The research, led by the University of Edinburgh, will shed light on whether the ice sheet played a role in rising sea levels between the ice ages.

Understanding how the West Antarctic ice sheet behaved between ice ages will enable scientists to improve their models of past climates. This in turn enables more accurate predictions of how sea levels will change as climates continue to warm.

The three-year study, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, is a collaboration with the Universities of Northumbria and Exeter, Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre, the University of Cologne, and the British Antarctic Survey.

Professor David Sugden of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, who will lead the research, said: ‘Studying these half-a-million-year-old rocks will help us discover whether they have always been where they are now – stuck in the ice sheet – or if the ice sheet melted in warmer climates. This will help us predict whether we are heading for major sea level rises in the next century or so, as we head toward warmer climates.’

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Experts join forces to build a better future for fire safety

House fire fatalities in the UK could be reduced thanks to a project that aims to pool expertise from a range of professions to improve building design.

A five-year scheme aims to lessen the incidence of real fires by changing the nature construction in the UK.

The project, led by the University of Edinburgh, will bring together fire fighters, legislators, architects, and social scientists.

They will seek to explore new ways of embedding fire safety into the early stages of building design, helping promote buildings that are aesthetically pleasing and environmentally friendly without compromising fire safety.

The project plans to find innovative ways to introduce ground breaking technology into the highly regulated environment of fire safety.

Researchers also hope to address how people’s social background influences fire risk. Currently individuals from poorer backgrounds are more likely to be harmed in fires.

The £662,000 scheme, Integrating Technical and Social Aspects of Fire Safety Engineering & Expertise (IT-SAFE), was launched on 7 November.

The venture, in conjunction with the Ove Arup Foundation, the engineering and architecture charity, and the Royal Academy of Engineering, will draw upon a wealth of social scientific research. It will generate important insights that can inform and improve policy and practice.

Professor Robin Williams, director of the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for the Study of Science, Technology and Innovation, said: ‘This project is an exciting opportunity. By breaking down barriers between the different professions that deal with fire safety we hope to create a safer and better built environment for us all to live and work in.’

Fires are costly to human life and the country’s economy. According to the most recent figures from the UK government, in 2008 there were 451 fire-related deaths in the UK, 8 more than in 2007. Firefighter casualties rose to 280 in 2008 from 268 in 2007.

In 2004, the total cost of fires to the economy of England and Wales was estimated at £7.03bn.

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Tying atomic threads in knots may produce material benefits

A new generation of lighter, stronger plastics could be produced using an intricate chemical process devised by scientists.

Chemists working on the nanoscale – 80,000 times smaller than a hair’s breadth – have managed to tie molecules into complex knots that could give materials exceptional versatility.

By weaving threads of atoms into the shape of five-point stars, researchers at the University of Edinburgh have created the building blocks of materials that could be supremely flexible and shock absorbent.

They hope that the new molecules – known as pentafoil knots – will mimic the characteristics of complex knots found in proteins and DNA, which help to make some substances elastic.

In natural rubber, for example, 85 per cent of its elasticity is caused by knot-like entanglements in its molecule chain.

Creating knotted structures in the laboratory should make it easier for scientists to observe and understand exactly how entanglements influence a material’s properties.

And being able to produce materials with a specific number of well-defined knots, rather than the random mixture that occurs in today’s plastics and polymers, scientists could exercise greater control when designing materials.

The research, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, is reported in Nature Chemistry journal.

The Edinburgh team, working with researchers from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, is the first to create a knot with five crossing points.

The pentafoil, also known as a Solomon’s seal knot, has symbolic significance in many cultures and is the central emblem on the flags of Morocco and Ethiopia.

Deliberately tying molecules into knots so that its properties can be studied is extremely difficult. Until now, only the simplest type of knot – the trefoil, with three crossing points – has been created by scientists.

Remarkably, the thread of atoms that the Edinburgh team has tied into a five-star knot is just 160 atoms in length and measures a 16-millionth of a millimetre.

Using a technique known as self-assembly, the researchers produced a chemical reaction in which atoms were chemically programmed to spontaneously wrap themselves up into the desired knot.

Principal researcher David Leigh, Forbes Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘It’s very early to say for sure, but the type of mechanical cross-linking we have just carried out could lead to very light but strong materials – something akin to a molecular chain mail.

‘It could also produce materials with exceptional elastic or shock-absorbing properties because molecular knots and entanglements are intimately associated with those characteristics. By understanding better how those structures work – and being able to create them to order – we should be able to design materials that exploit those architectures with greater effect.’

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Near-death experiences are all in the mind, researchers say

Near-death experiences are not paranormal but triggered by a change in normal brain function, according to researchers.

Psychologists who reviewed a range of phenomena such as out-of-body experiences, visions of tunnels of light or encounters with dead relatives, say they are tricks of the mind rather than a glimpse of the afterlife.

Researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge say that most of the experiences can be explained by a reaction in the brain prompted by a traumatic and sometimes harmless event.

The researchers say that many common near-death experiences could be caused by the brain’s attempt to make sense of unusual sensations and perceptions occurring during a traumatic event.

Out-of-body experiences, for example, may happen when there is a breakdown in the brain’s multi-sensory processes, and visions of tunnels and bright lights could stem from a breakdown in the brain’s visual system caused by oxygen deprivation.

The new study also points to the effects of noradrenaline, a hormone released by the mid-brain which, when triggered, may evoke positive emotions, hallucinations and other features of the near-death experience.

Approximately three per cent of the US population say they have had a near-death experience, according to a Gallup poll. Near-death experiences are reported across cultures and can be found in literature dating back to ancient Greece.

Caroline Watt, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, said: ‘Some of the studies we examined show that many of the people experiencing a near-death experience were not actually in danger of dying, although most thought they were. The scientific evidence suggests that all aspects of the near-death experience have a biological basis.’

The research is published in the Journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

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DNA find sheds light on the human brain

Brain cells alter their genetic make-up during a person’s lifetime, scientists have found in a discovery that could shed light on neurological diseases.

Researchers from The Roslin Institute, at the University of Edinburgh, have identified genes – known as retrotransposons – responsible for thousands of tiny changes in the DNA of brain tissue.

Researchers, whose work is published in the journal Nature, found that the genes were particularly active in areas of the brain linked to cell renewal.

By mapping the locations of these retrotransposons in the human genome, scientists could identify mutations that impact on brain function and that may cause diseases to develop.

Dr Geoff Faulkner, of The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘This research completely overturns the belief that the genetic make-up of brain cells remains static throughout life and provides us with new information about how the brain works. If we can understand better how these subtle genetic changes occur we could shed light on how brain cells regenerate, how processes like memory formation may have a genetic basis and possibly link the activity of these genes to brain diseases.’

The study shows for the first time that brain cells are genetically different to other cells in the body and are also genetically distinct from each other.

Scientists are now researching whether brain tumour formation and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s are associated with a change in retrotransposon activity.

The research was carried out in collaboration with scientists from the Netherlands, Italy, Australia, Japan and the United States.

It was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.

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Cattle parasite vaccine offers hope to world’s poorest farmers

A new approach to vaccinating cattle could help farmers worldwide, research suggests.

Scientists have developed a technique using a harmless parasite – which lives in cows but has no effect on their health – to carry medicines into the animals’ bloodstream.

Researchers created the vaccine by inserting key genetic material from a vaccine into the parasite’s DNA. The manipulated parasite is intended to be injected into cattle, where it would continue to thrive in their bloodstreams, releasing small amounts of vaccine slowly over time.

The treatment could offer long-term protection against common conditions such as foot-and-mouth disease or bovine tuberculosis, as well as a range of other diseases.

Scientists say the method could also be adapted to carry medicines as well as vaccines, to deliver drug treatments against common cattle diseases.

It is hoped the approach will help to control or eradicate major cattle diseases. Also, by controlling certain tropical infections, it could transform the economic outlook of poor farmers in Africa, where such conditions are rife.

The research, carried out in collaboration with the Moredun Research Institute with funding from the Wellcome Trust and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, was published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

Professor Keith Matthews of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who led the research, said: ‘This method has real potential to control a wide range of cattle diseases throughout the world. It is also a fantastic example of how building on many years of basic scientific research can lead to unanticipated economic potential.’

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Multiple malaria vaccine offers protection to people most at risk

A new malaria vaccine could be the first to tackle different forms of the disease and help those most vulnerable to infection, a study suggests.

The new vaccine is designed to trigger production of a range of antibodies to fight the many different types of parasite causing the disease.

Scientists created the vaccine by combining multiple versions of a key protein found in many types of malaria parasite, which is known to trigger production of antibodies upon infection.

Mixing multiple proteins from various parasite types induces antibodies against a wide range of the parasites causing the disease.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh, who developed the vaccine, say that because malaria parasites exist in many forms, the only way to gain natural immunity against all strains is by having multiple bouts of the illness. A vaccine that overcomes this could be especially useful in children and other vulnerable groups of people.

Many previous vaccines against malaria have had limited success because they target only a limited part of the parasite population. The new vaccine has also shown to be effective in animals.

Tests in blood samples from children in endemic areas showed that the antibodies against this key protein offered improved protection against the disease. Scientists now hope to carry out full-scale human trials.

Malaria is spread by mosquito bites and affects people and animals, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the World Health Organisation, in 2009 the disease affected 225 million people and caused an estimated 781,000 deaths, mostly among African children.

The study, published in PLoS One, was supported by the European Commission.

Dr David Cavanagh, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: ‘Our approach is novel because it combines multiple antibody targets from different parasite types, giving broader protection. This could prove to be a useful vaccine.’

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Protecting the brain when energy runs low

Researchers from the Universities of Leeds, Edinburgh and Dundee have shed new light on the way that the brain protects itself from harm when ‘running on empty’.

The findings could lead to new treatments for patients who are at risk of stroke when their energy supply from blood vessels feeding the brain become compromised.

Many regions of the brain constantly consume as much energy as leg muscles during marathon running. Even when we are sleeping, the brain needs regular fuel.

Much of this energy is needed to fire up ‘action potentials’, tiny electrical impulses that travel along nerve cells in the brain. These electrical impulses trigger the release of chemical messages at nerve endings, allowing the brain to process information and control bodily functions.

Normally, the bloodstream supplies enough glucose and oxygen to the brain to generate the large amount of energy required for these action potentials to be fired up. But things can go wrong if the blood vessels feeding the brain become narrowed or blocked, restricting the supply of vital nutrients.

A team, funded by the Wellcome Trust and led jointly by Professors Chris Peers (Leeds), Mark Evans (Edinburgh) and Grahame Hardie (Dundee), has now identified a way for the brain to protect itself when its energy supply is running low. This protective strategy, which is triggered by a protein known as AMPK, reduces the firing frequency of electrical impulses, conserving energy.

It was Professor Hardie who first discovered AMPK. He said: “When we first defined the AMPK system by studying fat metabolism in the liver back in the 1980s, we had no idea that it might regulate completely different functions in other organs, like nervous conduction in the brain.

‘There are drugs currently on the market that stimulate AMPK, which are used to treat other conditions. In future these and other drugs could be given to at-risk patients to give them a better chance of surviving a stroke.’

Professor Chris Peers of the University of Leeds’ School of Medicine, added: ‘Our new findings suggest that if brain cells run short of energy, they start to work more slowly. However, it is better to work slowly than not at all. It is possible that this discovery could, in the long term, lead to new treatments for patients who have problems with circulation to the brain, placing them at higher risk of conditions such as stroke.’

‘This research is a good example of what can happen if you pool the expertise of research groups who work in different areas,’ he added.

Full details of the work are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The research was funded by a grant from the Wellcome Trust awarded jointly to the three investigators.

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Sentient Medical progresses towards hearing loss relief

A University of Dundee spin-out company has received commercial development funding and further business investment to help develop technology for the relief of hearing loss.

Sentient Medical is developing a miniature Middle Ear Implant (MEI) for the relief of moderate-to-severe sensorineural hearing loss – a type of deafness affecting about 90 per cent of all hearing-impaired persons.

MedEl, a leading international hearing device company, is funding the next development phase of the project, which will take two years to complete. Their six-figure investment in Sentient’s technology will take it a step further towards a future clinical trial. Archangel Informal Investment, together with the Scottish Co-Investment Fund, has also recently provided equity funding of £100,000 for the company.

Up to 10 per cent of the population of the western world suffer from deafness of this type, and the Sentient team believes that its MEI will overcome the technical inadequacies of previous systems. The market for the developed MEI is estimated at being between $1.8 and $2.7 billion per year, and it is hoped the final product will be affordable to most members of the general public.

Sentient’s management team consists of Eric Abel, Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University, and investor Chairman David Campbell.

Professor Abel said: ‘Sentient Medical is very pleased to be working with MedEl, who are world leaders in hearing implants. This development, together with the continued support from our lead investor Archangel, is an important next step for taking forward Sentient’s new hearing implant technology. Middle ear implants will in the future become a viable alternative to hearing aids for the treatment of hearing loss.’

Hearing aids are limited in the amplitude they can generate and therefore the hearing loss they can compensate for. The Sentient MEI is designed to operate by direct vibration of the bones of the middle ear in response to sound, or the round window of the middle ear, and so can pass much more energy (with high fidelity) to the inner ear than a hearing aid, which must transmit sound through the air of the ear canal.

Sentient will continue to develop the MEI in Dundee, and aims to develop the products through regulatory clearance and readiness for clinical trials with its industry partner.

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Dundee ‘multi’ project wins European acclaim

An interactive study of life in a Dundee tower block scheduled for demolition has won a major film prize in Poland.

DJCAD student Pawel GrzybPawel Grzyb, a third-year Time Based Art & Digital Film student at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, won the top prize at the Filmteractive Festival in Lodz for his exploration of life for the few remaining residents in Bucklemaker Court – a 23-storey tower block in Dundee’s Hilltown area.

26-year-old Pawel is originally from Krakow, but has lived in Scotland for more than six years. He found out about the competition when he visited Poland during the summer and submitted the project he had worked on as part of his studies during the previous year.

After being shortlisted for the top award, Pawel presented the work to a panel of academics, filmmakers and industry representatives from Poland, and won 10,000PLN (£2,000) and a scholarship for postgraduate studies at the State Higher School of Film, Television and Theatre in Lodz. He was also awarded the Audience Prize for the most interesting idea.

Pawel says that he created ‘Fading Community’ in an attempt to preserve the unique atmosphere of the tower block and create a living memory before Bucklemaker and the neighbouring Butterburn Court are demolished next year. The giant tower blocks were built 40 years ago, and once housed hundreds of families. Only a handful of residents remain in the ‘multi’s’ as they await re-housing.

‘Coming from the part of Krakow that I do, it was quite common for me to see high-rise housing like this,’ he said. ‘What interested me was hearing that the multi was due to be demolished and that there was an opportunity to create something that would preserve the memory of this place for future generations.

‘It provides a snapshot of late-20th century architecture and life, and it was very interesting for me to get to know about Dundee’s history in this way. Bucklemaker Court is where many people lived and played a huge role in their lives so it is important that something exists to keep help their memory alive.

‘The scholarship is to one of the best universities for film studies in Europe, and it was great to win these prizes but the most important thing for me was just seeing my work recognised in this way.’

Pawel used photography, film and sound recordings to create a memoir of the council block and to document the changing nature of Dundee. He created a documentary website with interactive features which allow the viewer to hear interviews with residents and concierges, undertake a virtual tour of the building, and gain new insights into life in Bucklemaker Court, past and present.

Filmteractive is an annual festival where film talent meet to exchange experiences, ideas and establish business contacts. Young artists can see the latest trends in digital media and interactive business representatives can obtain partners for their film projects. Visitors can observe how film and the internet combine to provide a new kind of communication.

Over the two-day duration of Filmteractive, visitors can speak to people who are at the forefront of multimedia development, and take part in inspiring discussions, workshops and informal talks.

Pawel will complete his Time Based Art & Digital Film degree before taking up his scholarship at the Higher State School, or other postgraduate study.

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‘Tom Foolery’ to raise money for serious cause

A night of fun, festivities and fundraising will take place at the University of Dundee’s Bonar Hall on Friday 14 October.

‘Tom Foolery’ is a comedy revue featuring the music and lyrics of the renowned American singer-songwriter, satirist and polymath Tom Lehrer. Presented by University of Dundee Music, the event will raise money for the ‘Million For A Morgue’ campaign.

Tom Foolery was devised and produced for the stage by the British musical theatre producer Cameron Mackintosh, and the revue went on to enjoy successful runs in the West End and on Broadway. It includes many of the pithy and humorous songs that made Tom Lehrer a huge star in the 1950s and 60s.

‘This is a rare chance to hear a live performance of the songs of Tom Lehrer,’ said Graeme Stevenson, of University of Dundee Music.

‘Tom was very popular in the 50s and 60s and wrote songs for That Was The Week That Was as well as an educational offshoot of Sesame Street. Tom Foolery was one of Cameron Mackintosh’s first musicals and features such Lehrer classics as The Masochism Tango and Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.

‘The cast comprises students and graduates from Dundee and St Andrews, and they have put together a fantastic production to raise money for this very worthy cause.’

The Million For A Morgue campaign is being spearheaded by Professor Sue Black, Director of the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) at the University. The fundraising aims to enable the University to build a new morgue, which will allow researchers to adopt the Thiel method of embalming.

This gives surgeons, dentists, students and medical researchers a more realistic method of testing techniques, practising procedures and developing new equipment and approaches.

Tom Foolery takes place at the Bonar Hall at 7.30pm on Friday 14 October. Tickets, costing £10, £8 (concessions) and £5 (students), are available from www.buyat.dundee.ac.uk or at the door.

More information about the Million For A Morgue can be found at www.millionforamorgue.com.

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Dundee scientist awarded £80,000 Rank Prize for research into human nutrition

Professor John Cummings, Emeritus Professor of Experimental Gastroenterology at the University of Dundee, will receive £80,000 after winning one of the most prestigious prizes in the field of nutrition research.

He has been named as the winner the 2012 Rank Prize for his research, which identified the role of the colon in human health and nutrition.

The Rank Prize was established in 1972 following a bequest from the late industrialist and film producer Lord Rank. It was his wish to promote the sciences of nutrition and optoelectronics.

These two areas were of special interest to Lord Rank because of his family’s milling and baking business, and the Rank film organisation. Two prizes are awarded annually – one for nutrition and one for optoeletronics – and are only given to those considered to be eminent leaders in their respective fields.

‘This is a tremendous honour, and it is really great, not just for myself, but for all the people who I work with in Dundee and who I have worked with in the past,’ he said. ‘This Prize is recognition for nutrition as a whole. Previous winners have come from all over the world – from the US, India and the Far East – so it is good that it should come to Scotland and this University.

‘As far as nutrition prizes go, there aren’t many that can top this in terms of both prestige and money so I’m very pleased to have won.’

Although the large bowel was known to play a major role in regulating the digestive health of animals such as horses and elephants, it was not conventionally regarded as being of major significance for human health.

Whilst researching the role of dietary fibre, Professor Cummings and his team showed that the large bowel, or hind-gut, was indeed vital to human digestion. They identified that fermentation in the colon contributes to energy metabolism and protection against large bowel cancer.

In recognition of his pioneering research, Professor Cummings was appointed OBE in 2008. He also received the British Nutrition Foundation Annual Award for 2008 for making an outstanding contribution to nutrition.

He will add the Rank Prize to that collection when he is formally presented with the award on Monday, 6th February 2012 during a ceremony at the Royal College of Physicians, London.

The Rank Prize Funds is a charitable organisation which seeks to recognise excellence in specific fields of research and reward innovators for their dedication and outstanding contribution.

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Dundee announces RUK fees, more three-year degrees

The University of Dundee is to develop a range of specially designed three-year honours degree programmes which will be offered to Rest-of-UK (RUK) and Scottish students.

The move is part of the University’s approach to setting fee levels for RUK students, which will be £9,000 per year, capped at £27,000 for a four-year course.

The first tranche of three-year honours programmes will be launched for entry in September 2012, with the intention being to expand their range to include all appropriate degree programmes in future years. Programmes likely to be available for 2012 include those in art & design and life sciences.

Appropriately qualified RUK students will continue to remain eligible for advanced entry to the second year of all existing programmes where such entry is currently permissible.

Where RUK students wish to take advantage of the benefits of a traditional four-year Scottish honours degree, or where a three-year option is not available, the total fee payable for the programme as a whole will be capped at £27,000.

The new three year programmes will also be available to Scottish students who gain the required entry qualifications (either through Advanced Highers or via articulation from Colleges of Further Education) consistent with the principles of the Scottish Credit & Qualifications Framework and emergent thinking in relation to the ‘learner journey’ in Scotland.

These new programmes will allow students to gain an honours degree in the same length of time as in the rest of the UK. This significantly reduces the total cost of a degree once living costs such as accommodation are factored in.

Dundee has consistently rated as one of the most cost-efficient cities in which to live as a student in the UK. The University of Dundee has in the past month been shortlisted as University of the Year by Times Higher Education and ranked as one of the world’s top 200 universities in the QS World Rankings.

‘We fully appreciate the views of students and their families looking at the costs of attending University. By offering competitively priced three-year programmes, which of course mean a year’s less extra costs in living expenses such as accommodation, and combining this with very high academic standards we think we have a very attractive offer for students,’ said Professor Pete Downes, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University.

‘Many of our other courses will continue to be offered on a four-year basis, where we will cap total fee costs at £27,000. However, we are actively working on developing a three-year option for many of these courses.’

A significant proportion of the additional fee income generated from the above changes will be used by the University to fund a generous package of bursaries and scholarships. These will be used primarily to attract students with high potential who might be deterred from undertaking a degree programme because of the cost and will primarily take the form of bursaries towards living costs rather than fee waivers.

The £27,000 cap will not apply to courses which are the same length as elsewhere in the UK, such as medicine, dentistry and architecture. The total fee applicable will therefore be comparable with the rest of the UK.

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Public invited to cut, scratch and score with artists

Three acclaimed figures from the UK art scene are to collaborate with ordinary Dundonians on a major new performance and exhibition commissioned by Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (DJCAD).

Up-and-coming star artists David Barnett and Sam Belinfante will team up with Bruce McLean, one of the most renowned figures in British contemporary art, to produce ‘A CUT A SCRATCH A SCORE: a comic opera in three parts’, which will be held across three public spaces in Dundee in October.

The project combines opera, comedy, drawings, sculpture and moving images. The daring work will act as a stage for the city and its people, upon which the comedies of contemporary life will strut, turn and take a bow. The five-day project is open to members of the Dundee public interested in shaping the final performance, which will draw on the history of the city’s famous industries of jute, jam and journalism.

It will be the first time Bruce McLean has held a major performance exhibition in Scotland for several years, and the project represents a rare opportunity to see such a high profile artist working in collaboration with a team of visual artists, performers and musicians.

A series of open rehearsals and salons will be held from Monday 17 October. The Salons will be events where the artists invite the public to join them for a round-table discussion. All events are free and open to anyone to attend.

The culminating performance will take place on Friday 21 October, and an exhibition relating to the project will then be held at the Cooper Gallery, DJCAD.

In dealing with obesity, gluttony, avarice, consumerism, deportment, immigration, anarchy and conformity, the story line will chart the ups and downs of our very modern relationships.

Directly following the final performance, the exhibition will continue to tell the tale of this comic opera by drawing on the ethos of collaboration.

Renowned Mezzo-soprano Lore Lixenberg and performance artist Adeline Bourret will also take part in the performances, as will musicians from Dundee including the Cantiones, Sacrae and St Paul’s Cathedral choirs, and Dundee Drum Academy.

The project is part of the Cooper Gallery-led ‘Legends of Now’, a series of commissions featuring influential British artists who came to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s, and who are still making innovative and challenging new works today in collaboration with other artists. ‘Legends of Now’ is supported by Creative Scotland and The Elephant Trust.

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Is your computer smarter than you? – A guide to artificial intelligence

‘Is your computer smarter than you are?’ That’s the question that will be asked during the next Café Science event on Monday 26 September.

In the 1999 film The Matrix, one of the lead characters tells us that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is ‘a singular consciousness that spawned an entire race of machines.’

This, and other science-fiction representations, has led to many people being terrified of the concept, but Dr Karen Petrie from the University of Dundee’s School of Computing will set the record straight on AI during the Café Science event.

In her talk, Dr Petrie will discuss what AI really is and explain how beneficial it can be for humans. The intriguing discussion on the ability of computers to mimic human intelligence and behaviour will be followed by questions from the audience.

‘We’ve all seen sci-fi films where AI leads to robots taking over the world so it will be something of a relief to have Karen Petrie put our minds at rest,’ said Dr Jon Urch, Public Engagement Co-ordinator at the University of Dundee and event organiser.

‘It’s a fantastic opportunity to find out about the future of computing, which is safer but every bit as exciting as the movies. Half of each Café Science event is set aside to allow the audience to put their questions to the speaker, an expert in this field.’

Café Science was launched in January 2008, and has attracted more than 2,500 people since then.

The monthly events are informal discussions led by leading local researchers that allow members of the public the opportunity to learn more about the ground-breaking science happening at the Universities of Dundee and Abertay and Dundee Science Centre.

‘Is your computer smarter than you? – A guide to artificial intelligence’ takes place from 7pm on Monday 26 September, at Chambers, South Tay Street.

Chambers will be open as normal before the talk. This is a free event and everyone is welcome. There is no need to book in advance but attendees are advised to arrive early to avoid disappointment.

More details of upcoming events can be found on the Cafe Science Dundee website.

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Scottish expertise backs major diabetes programme in Kuwait

Scottish expertise in diabetes care and education is being used to deliver a major new education programme for health services in Kuwait.

The Masters programme in Diabetes Care and Education is the first major educational programme being delivered as a result of agreements signed last year between the University of Dundee, NHS Tayside, Aridhia Informatics, and the Dasman Diabetes Institute and the Ministry of Health in Kuwait.

Diabetes is a significant problem in Kuwait, where it has been estimated that up to 1 in 4 of the adult population suffers from the disease. This equates to almost 700,000 Kuwaitis.

The mission of the Dasman Diabetes Institute – which is based in Kuwait – is to prevent, control and mitigate the impact of diabetes in Kuwait through effective programmes of training and education.

The Scottish partners involved in the collaboration have world-renowned expertise in tackling the disease. Tayside is now internationally recognised as having arguably the best information and knowledge of a diabetes population anywhere in the world and the clinical network model
developed in the region has consistently demonstrated improved outcomes for people with diabetes.

‘The joint development of a programme that combines education, research and enhanced clinical care for patients with diabetes between Kuwait and Dundee is extremely exciting – it offers real prospect for innovation and quality enhancement that will be to the benefit of all partners in the enterprise,’ said Professor John Connell, Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Dundee.

Professor Connell will help launch the new Masters programme at the Dasman Diabetes Institute on Monday 19 September.

The Masters in Diabetes Care and Education is aimed at all healthcare professionals in Kuwait and is designed to help them develop specialised knowledge of diabetes and provide them with educational and management training so they can communicate more effectively with colleagues and patients.

Approximately, 100 healthcare professionals representing the multifunctional medical team required to manage a chronic disease such as diabetes are enrolled in the programme.

The course is designed to be flexible with students choosing modules most relevant to their professional needs. To pass the course students are expected to apply classroom learning in a project designed to improve an aspect of their current job. In this manner the training received can have an immediate impact on healthcare provision to patients.

To support the students through their project the KHN Learning Zone has been launched as part of the Kuwait Health Network (KHN) informatics system. The Learning Zone provides the students with on-line educational support through the use of additional teaching material such as recorded lectures and discussion forums with their teachers.

The Learning Zone includes an Open Zone which is accessible to all healthcare professionals in Kuwait providing links to the latest news in Diabetes and clinical decision making tools. It is hoped the Learning Zone can become a useful and active forum to link health care professionals across Kuwait, sharing knowledge to enhance the speed of change.

Dr Kazem Behbehani, Director of the Dasman Diabetes Institute, announced another landmark for the collaboration – all primary health care clinics and hospitals in the capital region have now been linked to the Kuwait Health Network, bringing the benefits of an electronic health record to a population of 600,000 potential patients.

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Dundee researchers make gene breakthrough

Researchers at the University of Dundee have made a significant breakthrough in understanding how human cells decode genes important for cell growth and multiplication.

Dr Joost Zomerdijk and colleagues in the Wellcome Trust Centre for Gene Regulation and Expression in the College of Life Sciences at Dundee study the process of transcription, in which cells copy the DNA of genes into RNA, ultimately leading to the manufacture of proteins.

Transcription must be tightly controlled because otherwise the cells can die or they can grow and multiply without restraint, as seen in certain human diseases including cancer.

Dr Zomerdijk and his team have discovered a previously hidden link within the components of the transcription machinery, the details of which are published in a research paper in the prestigious journal Science.

‘Three separate transcription machineries exist in human cells. Each is important for transcription of a subset of genes within the cells and each is made up of one specific RNA polymerase enzyme and several other groups of proteins that direct and control transcription activity.’ said Dr Zomerdijk.

‘The transcription machineries of RNA polymerases II and III contain TFIIB or TFIIB-like proteins, which are essential for transcription of their particular subsets of genes. It was surprising that a similar protein had not been identified as a component of the RNA polymerase I transcription machinery, which produces the millions of copies of ribosomal RNAs needed to sustain normal cell growth and multiplication.

‘Now, we have discovered that the protein TAF1B, one of a group of proteins that directs the RNA polymerase I enzyme to the ribosomal RNA genes, is similar to TFIIB and Brf1 in structure and function.

‘This discovery indicates that the three transcription machineries of human cells, which are likely to have evolved from a common ancestor, are even more similar than previously realised.

‘My lab and I are extremely excited to have discovered this important missing link. Furthermore, this research, funded primarily by the Wellcome Trust, advances our understanding of how normal transcription is maintained and controlled in human cells, which will help us to work out how transcription becomes deregulated in certain diseased cells and, potentially, how we can reverse such deregulation.’

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Science writing prize for student Amy

Amy Capes, a PhD student in the Division of Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery at the University of Dundee, has won the Medical Research Council’s 2011 Max Perutz Science Writing Award for her article Putting Sleeping Sickness on the Radar.

University of Dundee student Amy CapesIn the piece, she described how her research could prevent the parasite which causes sleeping sickness from evading the immune system of the people it infects. As part of the prize, Amy’s winning article will be published in the Guardian newspaper later this month.

Amy, who is 30 and from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, said: ‘I am delighted but quite shocked to have won! The other essays on the shortlist were excellent, so after they had announced the commended finalists and the runner-up, I was sure I was going home empty-handed.’

Amy originally studied Computer Arts at the University of Abertay Dundee before going on to do a BSc Hons in Chemistry at Edinburgh University. She is now just finishing a PhD in Medicinal Chemistry at Dundee.

‘I chose to go into science because I felt it offered greater intellectual challenges and more practical applications than art,’ said Amy. ‘Chemistry is particularly beautiful because it relates to everything from tiny organisms to the composition of stars.’

The 2011 Max Perutz competition received over 100 entries from some of the UK’s brightest PhD students, all eager to explain their research to a non-scientific audience. The winner, chosen from a shortlist of 12 essays, was announced at an awards ceremony in London at an event attended by members of the Medical Research Council’s Council, MRC chief executive Sir John Savill, and representatives from across the science community.

The distinguished judging panel of scientists and writers comprised Sir John Savill; the Guardian’s science and environment correspondent, Alok Jha; author and broadcaster, Georgina Ferry; director of the MRC Clinical Trial Unit, Professor Max Parmar; and last year’s Max Perutz Award winner, Nicola Illingworth from Newcastle University.

During the awards ceremony, Sir John said: ‘An integral part of the MRC’s mission is to promote dialogue with the public about medical research. This competition is a fantastic way of achieving this. All of our 12 shortlisted students have done exceptionally well in capturing the excitement and relevance of their research. It was a pleasure to meet them this evening and congratulate them on their considerable achievements.’

Now in its 14th year, the Max Perutz Award encourages MRC-funded PhD students to communicate their research to a wider audience, asking them to describe the importance and excitement of their research in just 800 words. Since the competition started in 1998, hundreds of students have
submitted entries and taken their first steps in science communication.

The award is named in honour of one of the UK’s most outstanding scientists and communicators, Dr Max Perutz. Max, who died in 2002, was awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work using X-ray crystallography to study the structures of globular proteins. He was the founder and first chairman of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge, the lab which unravelled the structure of DNA. Max was also a keen and talented communicator who inspired countless students to use everyday language to share their research with the people whose lives are improved by their work.

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University expert asks: ‘Is this the face of Jack the Ripper?’

A University of Dundee forensic anthropologist will help shed new light on the world’s most famous cold case when she appears on the hit BBC One show National Treasures Live.

Dr Xanthe Mallett from the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification will interview Trevor Marriott, an ex-murder squad detective and one of the world’s foremost Jack the Ripper experts, about the man he believes most likely to have carried out the brutal killing of five women in the Whitechapel area of London in 1888.

Marriott believes Carl Feigenbaum, a German merchant who was shown to be visiting London at the time of each murder, is the top suspect. No photographs of Feigenbaum exist, but Dr Mallett will be examining an e-fit produced by Trevor Marriott based on the description of him when he was sent to prison in the US. She will also be exploring the evidence that either supports and rebuffs the theory.

‘As a forensic anthropologist, it was a privilege to trawl through the treasure trove of surviving documents from the original police investigation,’ she said. ‘It was fascinating to explore these and review this case, although it did leave me wondering why, after more than 120 years, we still crave to know who Jack was.

‘The crimes may have taken place more than 120 years ago, and the review may have shed new light on them, but this case is certainly not solved. I look forward to learning about the new twists and turns as this dark tale has many more secrets to give up before we know, for sure, the name of the man we call Jack the Ripper and whether this new e-fit is the closest thing we have to a definitive image of him.’

Dr Mallett and her colleagues in CAHID are no strangers to the small screen, having starred in the BBC Two series History Cold Case, which saw them use sophisticated forensic techniques and historical evidence to analyse skeletons from across the ages in staggering detail, opening new windows on the history of our forebears.

The e-fit of Carl Feigenbaum will be revealed on National Treasures Live, which will be shown on BBC One at 7.30pm on Wednesday 31 August.

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Police drawings, tumour visualisation, and festival tents – Dundee Masters Show 2011

A project to improve the accuracy of police drawings, a 3D method of visualising the development of cancer cells, and an innovative approach to cutting down on the number of tents thrown away after music festivals – just three of the exhibits at the Dundee Masters Show 2011.

The show will feature a wide range of conceptual, thought-provoking and vibrant work from around 50 postgraduate students from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design.

The exhibition of work from some of the UK’s most exciting and innovative arts programmes will take place at DJCAD, part of the University of Dundee, from 27 August to 3 September.

The students exhibiting include:

  • Claire Priddle, a composite artist with the Canadian Mounted Police. Claire’s employers paid for her to study in Dundee and research how the drawings composed with witnesses vary according to the interview technique employed.
  • Dylan Gauld, who has been working with mathematicians from the University to visualise the growth of cancer cells. Tumour growth is visualised using a combination of custom-built 3D visualisation tools and cutting-edge computer graphics and animations techniques with the long term goal of helping clinicians to develop more accurate patient-specific treatment.
  • Linsey McIntosh, a keen festival-goer who has become increasingly uncomfortable about the environmental footprint of such gatherings. As a result, she has embarked upon ‘Re-Tent’, her Master of Design project which aims to prevent thousands of tents being simply thrown in landfill.

Students from six Masters programmes – Animation & Visualisation, Design, Fine Art, Forensic Art, Media Art, and Medical Art – will be exhibiting. Jeanette Paul, Head of Learning & Teaching at DJCAD, said the exhibition featured highly stimulating and thought-provoking work which demonstrated intelligent research applications, creativity, imagination and innovation.

‘Students on our Masters programmes only have one year in which to develop their work to a new level or in a different direction. Therefore they work extremely hard throughout the year and their dedication is demonstrated in the work displayed in this year’s Show.

‘Examples include the design of a Forensic Jewellery Classification System to help identify victims of international disasters; an audio quilt comprising stories gathered from people met by the artist while walking along the coast of Fife; and the recreation of a fragment of a famous architectural landmark.

‘I would encourage everyone to come along and find out more about what the students have been doing – you will be inspired.’

The Master Show 2011 celebrations will begin on Saturday 27 August when an Open Doors event takes place at DJCAD between 11am and 4pm. A range of events showcasing the work of Masters students from all programmes, including guided tours, workshops and students talks, will take place throughout the day.

The Show will conclude on Saturday 3 September. A special evening event to recognise the students’ achievements will be held the evening before.

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Universities launch new Policing Studies course

A new postgraduate course aimed at people involved in policing has been launched by a consortium of Scottish universities.

The Scottish Institute for Policing Research (SIPR) Postgraduate Diploma in Policing Studies has been developed in close co-operation with the Scottish Police College.

The course has been developed for police officers and staff, people involved with policing from other backgrounds (such as those in the public, community and voluntary sectors who work in criminal justice and community safety fields) and those interested in a career in policing from across the UK and internationally.

The launch of the course has been welcomed by Chief Constable Patrick Shearer, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland.

‘Policing is performed in an increasingly diverse, complex and rapidly changing world where the need for advanced skill levels and knowledge has become ever more important,’ said Mr Shearer. ‘I therefore warmly welcome the establishment of this diploma.’

Among the subject modules being offered in the diploma are:

  • Theories, concepts and models of policing, led by the University of the West of Scotland.
  • Education and Social Research, led by the University of Dundee.
  • Managing and controlling crime, led by the University of Glasgow.
  • Management and leadership in policing organisations, led by Robert Gordon University.
  • Social identity and the makings of community: anxiety, threat and security, led by St Andrews University.

‘This Diploma draws on the world-class expertise of Scotland’s universities and will provide an innovative, relevant and interdisciplinary programme for all those involved in policing,’ said Lynn Kelly, programme director based at the University of Dundee.

The diploma has arisen out of the activities of the Scottish Institute for Policing Research. SIPR is a strategic collaboration between 12 of Scotland’s universities and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, funded by the Scottish Funding Council, offering a range of opportunities for conducting relevant, applicable research to help the police meet the challenges of the 21st century and for achieving international excellence for policing research in Scotland.

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Dundee boosting computing education in Iraq

A British Council-backed partnership between the University of Dundee and the University of Kufa in Iraq is helping boost the development of higher education in the Middle Eastern country.

The link has been formed between the Schools of Computing in Dundee and Kufa. Members of staff from Kufa’s Computing department have been shadowing research and teaching teams in Dundee, to learn how to develop their curriculum and research activities. As a result, it is expected that the Iraq university will:

  • develop new internationally relevant IT subjects and programs in computing
  • improve the quality of teaching and learning skills of staff,
    including use of advanced e-Learning techniques
  • introduce more opportunities for female academics
  • advance the English language capabilities of staff.

Dr Janet Hughes, Dean of the School of Computing at Dundee, said: ‘This is a project that will have a significant impact in developing the capability of Kufa to deliver high-level programs in computing, which in turn helps to re-establish higher education in Iraq.

‘It has also been immensely rewarding for our staff and students. There has been a real exchange of ideas and knowledge and I think it will ultimately be of real benefit to everyone involved.’

The British Council is supporting the two-year project, which has seen groups of staff from Iraq coming to Dundee for two-week stints to be given research and academic management training and to develop their e-learning activities. As each visit happens at a different part of the academic cycle, Iraqi staff are exposed to a very wide range of activities at all levels within the staff and student body.

Staff from both institutions also attended a joint Learning and Teaching Conference in Istanbul this summer.

Dr Yahya Hadi, past Chair of the Computer Science department at Kufa, said: ‘This link with Dundee and the expertise they have across a wide range of computing and e-learning has been extremely valuable to us. This is work that will contribute to our own teaching programmes and enhance the progress of higher education in Kufa University.’

The visits to Dundee have involved Kufa staff in a wide range of activities across all aspects of university life, including meetings with research groups, teaching and administration staff and students. Kufa staff have attended student presentations at all levels from Level 1 to PhD and have had the opportunity to discuss the students’ work with the students and the teaching staff.

There are two further visits of 6 Kufa staff planned for October 2011 and January 2012.

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Medical student recognised for ovarian cancer research

The 2011 Elma Reid Bursary has been awarded to third-year University of Dundee medical student Abdulla Ibrahim, who will receive a certificate marking his achievements during a symposium in Dundee this week.

The bursary was made possible by Elma Reid from Inverarity, who raised over £20,000 to increase awareness of inherited cancers through education or research before she died in September 2009. Elma was passionate that we should learn as much as possible about this, and other cancers, so that everyone can benefit.

Part of that funding has been used to create the bursary, which allows one medical student from the University with an interest in research to spend the summer studying the causes of familial cancer each year.

23-year-old Abdulla who is originally from Cardiff, is investigating new ways of identifying which genes have been involved in causing a cancer, and whether these have implications for other family members.

He will present the findings of his summer research work at a symposium held at the Department of Clinical Genetics, Clinical Research Centre, on 17 August. Afterwards, he will meet with Eliane (CORRECT) Reid, Elma’s daughter and one of the trustees of the fund, who will present the award and congratulate Abdulla on his achievement.

Abdulla said: ‘I am delighted to have been afforded this unique opportunity to contribute towards the advancement of medicine at an institution internationally renowned for its excellence in medical research. I have been exposed to an interdisciplinary environment where healthcare professionals and scientists work together with the common goal of tackling problems in human health.

‘The study we conducted focused on novel methods in identifying women with genetic changes that would increase their risk in developing ovarian cancer. Evidence suggests that certain types of ovarian cancers are more likely to respond to new therapies, offering new found hope for the treatment of such women.’

Elma’s fund-raising efforts began after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2006 and she met with representatives of the Biomedical Research Institute, Ninewells Cancer Campaign and the clinical genetics and oncology departments at Ninewells. The group are keen to advance understanding of inherited cancers – of particular importance to Elma, as both her mother and grandmother had also died of cancer.

Eliane said: ‘I am so grateful that we are able to provide support for another year of funding which will advance our awareness and understanding of inherited cancers and especially ovarian.

‘Woman are diagnosed with this cancer every day and any small part we can play to helping people living with cancer, or on prevention of cancer, is vital. My Mum could not have achieved so much fund raising on her own, and I know that she would want me to continue to thank and remember those who were equally determined to help her raise awareness and fundraise in her lifetime and since.

‘Ovarian cancer is a disease which is not easily diagnosed and therefore often detected at an advanced stage, where treatment options are limited. It was therefore particularly important to mum, a teacher by profession, to advance our understanding of the many complex factors which influence both the development and treatment of this disease.

‘We are really grateful for all the clinical and research work, which has given us the time and opportunity to use these resources wisely.’

Abdulla was chosen from amongst his peers to conduct a study on the proteins that cause ovarian cancer. As part of his research he looked at how to identify those women most likely to experience the genetic changes that result in them developing cancer though their family history, and how changing treatment might improve the outcome for them.

He was selected, not only as a high-achieving student, but because he had also displayed a keen interest in undertaking academic research and developing medicines. Abdulla will be one of four students presenting at the symposium. All are medical students who won bursaries to carry out research work with leading cancer specialists at Ninewells over the summer.

The symposium will also feature presentations of work in the area of breast cancer risk by Christopher Merrick (a former winner of the Elma Reid Bursary), Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity disorder by Kirsty Hogg, and the use of stem cells to investigate brain development by Christopher Respinger.

These presentations will highlight some of the opportunities available to Dundee students to allow them to develop the academic and research skills essential for the future progress of medicine.

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Global ID experts study Scheuer Collection at Dundee

Students from the UK, Finland, Sweden and the United States and practitioners from the FBI and the Netherlands Forensic Institute are at the University of Dundee this month to take part in a unique course in the study of juvenile skeletal remains.

The Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID) at the University of Dundee holds the Scheuer Collection, the only active repository in the world for juvenile skeletal remains.

‘Following recent curation of the collection, kindly funded by the Mathew Trust, the Scheuer Collection is recognised as a first class resource for those forensic practitioners who are involved in identification of the child,’ said Professor Sue Black, Director of CAHID.

‘This is a very important area of education and research but one where there are very few opportunities due largely to the paucity of available material.’

The two-week-long instructional course taking place this month is led by Dr Craig Cunningham and supported by Lucina Hackman and Professor Black, who together wrote the award-winning text Developmental Juvenile Osteology.

The course was run for the first time last year and was praised for offering the opportunity to study with expert instructors and work with the collections.

‘Access to the Scheuer Collection is a unique experience that can only be offered at Dundee and it is a tremendously rewarding experience to see practitioners from around the work who recognise the importance of the resources that we have at Dundee,’ said Professor Black.

The Scheuer Collection is believed to be the only active repository for juvenile skeletal remains held anywhere in the world. It consists of the remains of over 100 sub-adult individuals, collected from archaeological and historical anatomical sources.

The collection is composed of a combination of complete skeletons, partial skeletons and isolated skeletal elements.

The material offers significant opportunities to address areas of education and research into skeletal development that have largely been ignored in the past due to a paucity of material.

Currently there are a number of on-going research projects investigating previously neglected areas of skeletal development. ‘These research projects are beginning to produce some very exciting and unexpected results which challenge some established theories on skeletal growth and development,’ said Professor Black.

‘As this is an active repository, the collection continues to grow with the addition of new skeletal elements which are primarily obtained from other anatomy departments who wish to curate their juvenile skeletal material in a recognised and dedicated collection.’

The Scheuer Collection has formed the basis of three seminal textbooks on developmental osteology which are regarded as the primary reference resources for the identification of juvenile skeletal remains.

The Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee is an internationally leading centre in the fields of human identification, forensic anthropology, cranio-facial reconstruction and the study of the human body.

Professor Black is currently spearheading a major fundraising campaign ‘Million For A Morgue’ to build a new morgue at the University to allow researchers to adopt the Thiel method of embalming. This gives surgeons, dentists, students and medical researchers a more realistic method of testing techniques, practising procedures and developing new
equipment and approaches.

For more information see www.millionforamorgue.com.

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Hollywood star lends support to homeless film project

A Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design graduate has teamed up with Hollywood star Brian Cox to make a series of films raising awareness of the plight of homeless people across the globe.

Scott Davidson came to the attention of Brian, the current Rector of Dundee University, with Pressure, a short film that he made with the city’s homeless community as part of his studies at DJCAD last year.

The X-Men and Bourne Identity star was so impressed by the film, which saw the cast of 16 homeless people from Dundee recite the lyrics of the famous Queen-David Bowie song Under Pressure, that he asked to become part of the project and help extend its reach.

Since then, Scott and Brian have been in regular contact and held meetings to discuss how they can take the project global and make a series of similar films in cities all over the world.

They have chosen London to be the location for the next film, which is to be entitled Think and which will feature the Phil Collins track Another Day in Paradise. Scott says that, like Pressure, the intention is to create a film that can help people understand the situations that the cast have found themselves in.

‘I work with charities and support groups to produce films that are strictly not for profit to be used in their campaigns,’ he said. ‘The aim is to create films that can help the charity by inspiring people to donate money or give their time. At the very least it will hopefully help people understand more.

‘I hope to give insight into understanding a social issue. I have gained so much in the way of opportunity in my life and career, so I try to give back where I can as much as possible. It’s fantastic, and slightly surreal, that Brian has become involved as he is a Hollywood legend.

‘Brian’s involvement is to oversee the progress of the project. I come up with the concept and send it to him, and we work from there based on his feedback. Once every few months, when Brian finds himself in Dundee, we meet up and discuss possible strategies.

‘My creative development will benefit through gaining the opportunity to do something I love and hopefully my work with the charity can help inspire people to donate, give their time or at very least understand the issue involved. The message of Pressure was that this is why people may end up living on the streets – the pressure of work, family or life in general.

‘The lyrics of Another Day in Paradise are very relevant to the struggles that homeless people face, and there is the line that says “think twice”, which is what we’ll be encouraging people to do with this film.’

Scott has joined forces with the charity Open Cinema and 11 women who are in support services will recite the lyrics of the song in spoken word. He says he hopes that Amsterdam will be the next city where he takes the project, and that he is keen to link up with charities across the globe to help them in their efforts.

Filming will take place in London later this year.

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Dundee student hopes to strike gold on Amazonian adventure

A psychology student from the University of Dundee is to embark on an expedition to try to locate a legendary Incan city of gold later this month.

It was adventure-hungry Ken Gawne, originally from Northern Ireland, who came up with the plan to undertake the journey to the Amazon jungle along with four other explorers. There, they will hunt for Paititi, the city where – according to legend – the Incas hid their treasures from Spanish conquistadors.

Twenty-eight-year-old Ken, who is about to begin the third year of his psychology degree, has embarked on several expeditions already, including one to China as well as crossing the Sahara desert in Western Africa. Ken is also a keen filmmaker, and made the feature film ‘Treasure of the Templars’, a tribute to Indiana Jones during these exhibitions.

Now he hopes to make a documentary of the adventure in South America as he and his team mates hope to succeed where other expedition parties have failed. They will head to Peru and spend three weeks hunting for the lost city amongst the country’s jungles.

Ken said the plan started to form during a discussion with his Norfolk-based team mate Ian Gardiner, who will act as expedition leader.

‘Basically Ian said one of the things he would like to do before he was 30 was to go to the jungle to find the lost city,’ he said. ‘I asked him if he was serious about it and took it from there.

‘I became really interested really quickly because it is a very exciting idea and a once-in-a-lifetime chance.’

Also on the expedition are writer Ken Halfpenny and cameraman Lewis Knight, both of whom are based in Dundee. The team also hopes to be joined by German archaeologist Jens Notroff.

They will take a satellite phone with them on their expedition, and plan to update their website and facebook and twitter pages live from the jungle.

‘We have spoken to a previous explorer Gregory Deyermenjian, who has been looking for the city for 20 years and he has been fantastic,’ continued Ken.

‘He has found about 15 different settlements so we will be looking in an area where previous things have been discovered. When you are in the jungle it is very dense and as far as you can see is what has been explored so I think we have as much chance of finding something as anybody.’

More information about the project can be found at www.TheSecretOfTheIncas.com.

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Blood pressure drugs may offer benefits in valvular heart disease

Drugs used to treat blood pressure could offer significant benefits to patients with one of the most common forms of valvular heart disease, new research at the University of Dundee and NHS Tayside has revealed.

Aortic stenosis – when the main valve between the heart and the rest of the body becomes narrowed – is one of the most common forms of valvular heart disease in the developed world, affecting around 5% of the population and growing.

Patients with aortic stenosis are often asymptomatic. However, when the valve becomes too tight they often experience chest pain and breathlessness when they are physically active.

The mainstay of treatment is surgery to replace the valve. For patients who have no symptoms it had not been known whether offering other treatments such as drugs called ACE Inhibitors or angiotensin blockers, commonly used to treat blood pressure, may offer benefit, or indeed may delay the need for an operation.

Chim Lang, Professor of Cardiology at the University of Dundee, and his team studied the records of Tayside patients with aortic stenosis who have undergone heart scans over the last 20 years in Tayside.

‘From looking at these records, we have shown that patients taking drugs that block the renin angiotensin system like ACE Inhibitors and angiotensin blockers had significantly lower rates of all-cause death and cardiovascular events,’ said Professor Lang.

‘Aortic stenosis is a growing problem. Physicians have previously not known whether to continue these ACE Inhibitor medications or not. On the one hand, a fall in blood pressure may not be helpful but on the other hand these drugs offer many protective benefits.

‘We observed that patients with aortic stenosis who were taking these medications had a better outcome. This observation, however, needs to be confirmed by prospective clinical trials.’

Details of the research are published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The research team utilised the unique resources of the Health
Informatics Centre at the University of Dundee to link anonymous data on patients having heart scans to prescription records, hospital admission and test data as well as data from the general registry office.

The study was kindly funded by the charity TENOVUS.

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University students DRIVE to success

The University of Dundee’s student motor racing team, DRIVE, have just returned from the Silverstone Motor Racing Circuit having recorded their best ever result in the Formula Student event, which attracts competitors from all over Europe.

Dundee Uni students with their car at SilverstoneThe Dundee team not only beat their local rivals from every other Scottish university in the Formula Student but they were seventh in the Sprint event and 20th UK team overall. The Formula Student event attracts competing teams from all over Europe.

Dr Alan Slade, of the University’s Mechanical Engineering department and DRIVE’s Academic Co-ordinator, said this was an important result for the team and a massive boost to morale.

‘In our Business Plan when the team was formed we said that we would be the top team in Scotland within three years and one of the top ten teams in the UK within seven. The team have achieved their first goal and I see no reason why we cannot achieve the second,’ said Dr Slade.

Team Member Graeme Allison said this year’s event had allowed the students to see where improvements can be made to realise their goals.

‘We didn’t do so well in the static events in comparison to
previous years but we know what we need to concentrate on for next year while just making some minor development changes to the car,’ said Graeme. ‘Our main aim for 2012 is a top 20 finish overall.’

Formula Student promotes careers and excellence in engineering by providing the students with a real-life exercise in design and manufacture and the business elements of automotive engineering.

Dr Robert Keatch, Head of Department for Mechanical Engineering at Dundee University emphasised the importance of the programme as an educational resource as it gives practical experience of working as a team, under pressure and to tight timescales.

‘There are lots of late nights and many frustrations and challenges along the way, but the ultimate result is the development of highly talented young engineers who not only understand the theory of engineering but can also work within a practical and commercial environment dealing with suppliers, sponsors, potential customers and competitors. This skill base has lead to the top Formula 1 teams, amongst others, to visit the Dundee University pit garage at Silverstone to recruit their future engineering talent,’ said Dr Keatch.

DRIVE has been set up to further the reputation of the University, and to provide its students with a unique opportunity to experience a ‘real world’ challenge and develop the skills learnt in the lecture theatre.

The project is run by students who dedicate time outside their courses to design, build and race the Formula-style car. The ultimate aim of DRIVE is to prepare students for the challenges and problems that the real world may throw at them and to produce better educated and well-rounded engineering graduates. This approach and commitment has lead to Dundee University’s Mechanical Engineering Department producing the top Scottish Team in 2011.

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Record show for sports scholar Eilish

Dundee University sports scholar Eilish McColgan made the most of an invitation to the prestigious Diamond League athletics meeting in Birmingham on 10 July, smashing the Scottish record for the 3000m steeplechase.

Eilish’s time of 9 mins 47.03 secs also meets the qualifying standard for this year’s World Athletics Championships. She finished 9th in the race, which featured some of the world’s best in the event.

‘While we have had some outstanding athletes at Dundee University over the years, we have never had anyone deliver such a high quality performance, setting a new national record in the process,’ said Paul McPate, Assistant Director of the Institute of Sport and Exercise at the University.

‘Eilish has also set a British Universities and Colleges Championship best in the steeplechase earlier this year, so it is a great season for her.’

The televised Diamond League meeting in Birmingham featured some of the best athletes in the world. Eilish was given a wild card place as the event was being hosted in Britain.

The Sport Scholarship programme at the University has been running for over 10 years. It aims to assist high performing athletes to achieve their full potential in the sporting and academic arenas, raise the profile and reputation of the University and the athletes themselves in the sporting arena, and improve Dundee’s performance in the BUCS (British Universities and Colleges Sport) rankings.

The Sports Scholarship programme is run by ise (the University’s Institute for Sport and Exercise) in association with the student Sports Union.

Teams and individuals on the programme receive a range of help and services including finance, strength and conditioning training, and sports science support.

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Chinese design is the focus of new module at Dundee Uni

The role of design in the growth of China’s consumer culture will be examined in a new interdisciplinary module offered by Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (DJCAD).

‘Made in China’ is a 30-credit module available to full-time undergraduates at DJCAD, part of the University of Dundee, from January 2012. Undergraduates studying a range of craft, design and communications disciplines will have the option of taking the module, which it is hoped will also be offered to students of other subjects, and to part-time and distance learning students, in the future.

The module will focus on the country’s rise as both a producer and consumer of design, both historically and contemporarily. As China is now the world’s second largest economy, an understanding of the complex and ever-changing status of design in the country is essential to companies across the globe.

Module author Jonathan Baldwin believes Made in China offers a unique opportunity to examine modern Chinese culture and to get away from stereotypes.

‘When you talk about Chinese design people either think of ancient pottery and fireworks, or of modern day sweatshops churning out the goods demanded by western consumers,’ he said.

‘But the truth is far more complex and while it’s right to examine the implications of the west’s demand for consumer goods, China itself is rapidly becoming a massive consumer culture.

‘This has enormous implications for us – China is becoming an important market for things we design here, but is also a competitor. The days when things were designed in the west and manufactured in the east are fast disappearing.’

Students taking the module will examine China’s long and fascinating past but, Jonathan says the main focus is on China today, its role as an economic power, its importance as a manufacturing base, and its future as a source of design.

After completing the module students will have the option of continuing with a personal research project.

It is also hoped that a scheme will be developed to allow Dundee students to partner with Chinese students, who are in their own country but thinking of coming to study in Scotland. Using email and video chat, the partners will be encouraged to learn from each other about their respective countries and cultures.

Jonathan, who has developed links in the country, continued, ‘We’re hoping that some students will want to examine the process of doing business in China, or explore traditional Chinese techniques in areas such as textiles or jewellery.

‘I think any graduate who has some understanding of another culture, another market, will find it immensely useful, as will any employer who gives them a job. So the employability potential is huge.

‘But my main hope is that students doing this module will develop a deeper personal understanding of a country that is still a little bit mysterious. This is something that those in industry – not just the design industry – would undoubtedly benefit from understanding more.

‘Hopefully we can offer the module to designers and managers from a range of sectors. It’s not about taking advantage of a growing market, but about understanding the people within it. We need to change the nature of the relationship between the west and China – and hopefully this is one small step towards that aim.’

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Stronger ties between Dundee and Indian powerhouses

A University of Dundee academic taking part in a British Council Scotland mission to two of India’s powerhouse cities will help build new links with one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

A delegation from the British Council Education UK Scotland programme will embark on a trade mission to Bangalore and Ahmedabad. This initiative is designed to raise awareness of Scottish education’s unique offering and build partnerships that could improve Scotland’s future business prospects.

Dr Carlo Morelli, Senior Lecturer in Economic Studies in Dundee’s School of Business, is one of a number of academics from leading Scottish universities taking part in the delegation, which will showcase Scotland’s expertise in finance and business education to Indian counterparts.

Desired outcomes include more students flowing between Scotland and India, research collaborations and academic exchanges. And in the longer term, these partnerships could act as a springboard for commercial links in high growth sectors, particularly financial services.

Dr Morelli said: ‘We will be seeking to develop academic and research connections with Indian counterparts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad.’

‘In particular, the trip will build on the collaborative aspects of my research on Dundee’s and India’s jute industry. Jute played an important part of Dundee’s industrial history and Ahmedabad continues to be one of India’s main textile producing areas.

‘I will outline my research to academics and students during the visit and I hope to develop reciprocal exchanges with academic staff and students.’

India is now the world’s tenth largest economy and growth of 8.5% is predicted for 2011. Scottish exports to India currently total around £200m but the Scottish Government has ambitious plans to increase this.

India also has more than 100 million English speakers, the second largest number in the world after the USA. This legacy, together with other cultural ties, makes India a prime candidate for collaboration.

Julia Amour, Director of British Council Scotland, said: ‘This week’s mission to India is part of our activity to promote Scotland and its unique educational offering in the world’s fastest growing economies.

‘With our specialisms in key areas including finance, education, energy and life sciences, Scotland is well placed to reap the benefits of being part of a better connected, globalised world.

‘By helping to build closer ties with major emerging markets like India, which are in many ways untapped, the British Council can act as Scotland’s gateway to the world.’

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Exercise class puts Breast Foot Forward

An innovative exercise class at the University of Dundee which supports women who have, or have had, breast cancer has been boosted by an award of £15,000 in funding from the charity Breast Foot Forward.

The Active ABC programme at the University’s Institute of Sport and Exercise is for women during and after their treatment for breast cancer.

‘Research has shown that being active during and after treatment helps to counteract the physical and psychological side effects of breast cancer and its treatments,’ said Dr Anna Campbell, Lecturer in Sports Biomedicine at the University.

‘Issues such as muscle deconditioning and weakness, general tiredness, depression, all of these can be helped by being active and doing exercise.

‘We are working closely with the breast cancer teams in NHS Tayside to established physical activity consultations and classes as one element of the wider treatment programme given to patients.

‘This funding from Breast Foot Forward is a major boost for the programme.’

The Active ABC class already has around 15 participants and the numbers are increasing on a montly basis.

Dr Sally Beattie from Breast Foot Forward will present the £15,000 cheque to the ISE team on Monday 20 June.

Dr Beattie said: ‘We raise money through sponsored walks specifically to support projects in Scotland which provide support and care for people who have or have had breast cancer. This programme is one which has clear benefits for patients and we are delighted to give our support.’

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Applications invited for 2011 publishing bursaries

Postgraduate students at the University of Dundee with ambitions of working in the publishing industry are invited to apply for this year’s coveted publishing bursaries, worth £5,000 each.

Two successful applicants will be given the opportunity to work within Dundee University Press, a vibrant publishing company that has published 55 books since being established in 2007, and has 50 more in the pipeline. The bursaries are funded by the University’s College of Arts and Social Sciences.

The students will have to commit to spending 800 hours in the DUP office engaging in a range of activities related to publishing over the course of the year. There will be opportunities for development in editorial, production, marketing, promotion and other aspects of the industry. Applications from those with a background in the humanities or law are particularly welcome.

DUP Publishing Manager Anna Day said she expected a high standard of applications.

‘This is now the fourth year we have been offering the bursaries and, each time, the standard and volume of applications has been very impressive,’ she said.

‘This is a fantastic opportunity for students who wish to work in publishing to get hands-on experience and get paid at the same time. I’m sure this year will be no different from the past three, and the field for applicants will be competitive.

‘In addition to gaining experience of the world of publishing – they are involved at every level and gain a full working knowledge of how a book is made, from commission to typesetting and sub-editing – they will also have the opportunity to become involved in other literary-related activities, such as the Dundee Literary Festival.’

Each bursary will be paid in monthly instalments, and the hours the students work are flexible, arranged around their studies. The work that successful applicants will carry out is tailored to the area of their interest (ie law postgrads working on law texts).

To apply, please send your CV and a letter of no more than 500 words to: Anna Day, Publishing Manager, DUP Ltd, Tower Building, University of Dundee – a.c.day@dundee.ac.uk. The deadline for applications is 1st September.

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Dundee dental experts leading cleft research

The University of Dundee Dental School is set to spearhead a cutting-edge European initiative on research into craniofacial abnormalities – such as cleft palate – and associated health inequalities in Europe.

Professor Peter Mossey, Associate Dean for Research in the Dental School, has recently received a European Science Foundation (ESF) grant of approximately €450,000 (Euro) for the ESF Network for Orofacial Clefts Research, Prevention and Treatment.

Orofacial clefts are birth defects such as cleft lip or cleft palate where the top lip or roof of the mouth does not form properly. ‘This research programme builds on a previous multi-million Euro and multi-centre collaborative research initiative, EUROCRAN (European collaboration on craniofacial anomalies) which has yielded new insights into genetic and environmental factors that contribute to the cause of orofacial clefts,’ said Professor Mossey.

‘This work means that for the first time a major effort will be made towards the ultimate scientific and humanitarian objective – primary prevention of orofacial clefts.’

The effects of a cleft of lip and/or palate on an individual’s
speech, hearing, appearance and psychology can lead to adverse outcomes for health and social integration. Care requires a multidisciplinary approach from birth to adulthood, involving a range of disciplines, for example plastic surgery, speech and language therapy, counselling and dentistry.

Approximately one in 700 live births is affected, with prevalence varying according to geography and ethnicity. In Scotland the birth prevalence of cleft palate is amongst the highest recorded, along with Finland, and Canada; and lowest in Africa and parts of Latin America.

The highest recorded rates of cleft lip are in Asia and parts of Latin America; the lowest in Africa and Southern Europe.

There is a very high infant mortality rate among children born with orofacial clefts in parts of the developing world such as India and sub-Saharan Africa.

The grant awarded will facilitate a research network which has received support from research member organisations in Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland as well as the Medical Research Council in the UK.

The network will be launched at an event in Strasbourg on Thursday 9 June.

The ongoing research work, the facilities and the expertise at the Dental School in Dundee, which is a designated World Health Organisation collaborating centre for craniofacial anomalies, will be an integral part of the European research network.

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Dundee student receives top rugby award

University of Dundee student Kirstin Daly has been awarded one of the top prizes in Scottish rugby just three years after picking up the oval ball for the first time.

Kirstin, 21, originally from Ayrshire, received the Women’s Premier 1 Player of the Season trophy, beating off competition from the country’s top players to land the prestigious award.

The 4th-year Dental student only took up rugby in 2008 but proved a natural Inside Centre and quickly became a fixture in the Dundee University Women’s Rugby Football Club (DUWRFC) side.

She has received many Player of the Match nominations, represented the Scottish Universities sevens team at last year’s Home Nations tournament, and was invited to train with the full Scotland side as part of a select development group.

Former Scotland scrum-half Andy Nicol presented the award to Kirstin during a ceremony held at Murrayfield Stadium’s President’s Suite. Kirstin said she felt honoured to receive the award, especially as she had been nominated for it by opposition players in the league.

‘I was quite surprised to receive the award as I expected that it would go to a player in one of the other much more established teams we play against, not a University side,’ she said. ‘I’m very pleased for the whole side as the fact the other teams nominated someone from DUWRFC for the award shows our growing stature at this level.

‘I only took up the game in my second year at university, having never played before, so I think this shows the great commitment of the whole team and coaches. Those training sessions on cold Dundee nights have paid off and I hope this shows that the University offers great opportunities not only to learn new sports but also to excel at them.’

Kirstin is a key member of the University women’s rugby team that plays in Premier 1 – the top division in Scotland – and that has produced a remarkable four Scottish international players in the past five years.

The club have consistently finished in the top two places of the Scottish Universities Tier 1 in the past four years, and won the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) Trophy two years ago.

Congratulating all award winners, Scottish Rugby President Ian McLauchlan, said: ‘Tonight was a mark of the achievements of our clubs, their successes and to recognise the individuals who have excelled throughout the season in both the men’s and the women’s game.’

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Researchers reveal violent deaths of medieval dead at Stirling Castle

Scientific research has revealed that at least five of the medieval people whose skeletons were discovered at Stirling Castle suffered brutally violent deaths.

The discovery offers an extraordinarily rare insight into medieval warfare.

One man, aged 26–35, endured some 44 skull fractures from repeated blows with a blunt object, and up to 60 more across the rest of his body.

The skeletons were buried beneath a lost 12th-century royal chapel which was excavated as part of Historic Scotland’s project to refurbish the Castle’s 16th century palace, which stands nearby.

Historic Scotland has created 3D facial reconstructions of two of the people – visitors to the grand opening of the palace will be able to see them for the first time on 4 and 5 June.

They will be on display as part of a new exhibition of the Castle’s history in the Queen Anne Casemates overlooked by the palace block.

Radio carbon dates indicate that the people probably died in a series of incidents between the 13th century and around 1450.

Some, or all, may have been killed in sieges, skirmishes or battles round Stirling during the Wars of Independence. Richard Strachan, Historic Scotland’s Senior Archaeologist, said: ‘The skeletons were a remarkable find and provided an incredibly rare opportunity to learn more about life and death in medieval Scotland.

‘The new research has brought some quite incredible results.

‘It was unusual for people to be buried under the floor of a royal chapel and we suspected that they must have been pretty important people who died during periods of emergency – perhaps during the many sieges which took place.

‘The fact that five of the skeletons suffered broken bones, consistent with beatings or battle trauma, suggests this could be what happened.’

The research builds on the findings of earlier investigations into two of the skeletons, the results of which were featured last year on BBC2’s History Cold Case series.

These attracted worldwide headlines, with one of the skeletons being identified as a knight – perhaps Sir John de Stricheley who died in 1341 – and the other probably belonging to a high-born lady, whose skull had twice been pierced by a weapon.

Both of these skeletons were among the nine sent to the University of Bradford for further investigations. The 3D models are of the knight and the lady’s faces. The model of the lady was created by the Bradford University team and the one of the knight was made at the University of Dundee.

Bradford used a traditional clay modelling approach, while the one from Dundee was created using the latest digital scanning and replication techniques and painted by a medical artist.

Professor Caroline Wilkinson, at the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification, University of Dundee, said: ‘This 3D facial model depicts a strong muscular man with a healed wound across his forehead and rugged features.

‘This reconstruction was produced using anatomical standards and the latest digital 3D technology, and allows us to come face to face with this medieval knight.’

The Bradford experts say the lady had 10 fractures to the right side of her skull, resulting from two heavy blows. Neat, square holes through the top of her skull suggest she may then have fallen and been killed with a weapon such as a war hammer.

Dr Jo Buckberry, biological anthropology lecturer and experimental officer at the University of Bradford’s Biological Anthropology Research Centre, said: ‘What we discovered from this research is enormously exciting and has far-reaching implications for our understanding of medieval warfare.

‘At least five of these people had their bones broken with blunt and heavy objects, such as clubs, which is very different from soldiers that have been studied who died in open battle and were killed with swords or halberds.’

One set of remains, known as Skeleton 190, were from a young man of 16–20, showed signs of a stab wound in the chest.

Yet the major damage came when he was struck on the base of his skull, on the jaw, the collarbone and ribs. The stabbing points to death by violence, rather than an accidental fall from the castle walls.

Stirling Castle changed hands several times in the Wars of Independence, sometimes being held by the Scots, sometimes by the English and their Scots allies.

It is not certain where the deceased were from, or who they were fighting for, though tests so far are consistent with at least some of them being from the Stirling or Edinburgh area. To be buried beneath the floor of a royal chapel was very unusual and suggests that these were people of considerable importance.

Bodies would normally be buried in a kirkyard, which suggests that the people were killed at times when it was too dangerous to venture beyond the castle walls.

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Kids say the funniest things – or is it adults?

Five-year-olds talking about hangovers and online dating – thankfully not a discussion between dangerously precocious children but a study of everyday conversation carried out by a Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design student.

Ailidh MacGregor has developed an interest in sound art and, in particular, playing with people’s perceptions of conversations, during her time studying on the Time Based Art & Digital Film programme at DJCAD – part of the University of Dundee – and uses a variety of techniques to experiment with speech and language.

For her honours project, which is one of the near-300 exhibits at this year’s Dundee Degree Show, Ailidh recorded a number of children relaying the words of adults. She recorded largely mundane conversations that she had with other adults over a period of many months before asking the youngsters, who range in age from five- to ten-years-old and are all children of Ailidh’s friends, to repeat them.

The topics being discussed also include energy efficient lightbulbs and cleaning products. Rather than asking the children to read a script back to her, Ailidh would say a line and ask the children to repeat it so that the conversation was more natural.

When asking children to relay very adult conversations, Ailidh was very conscientious about breaking the conversation up and splicing it back together so that the children didn’t understand what they were speaking about and each of the six children who feature in the project were recorded separately to further distance the conversation from its original context.

‘Hearing your own words spoken by children really makes you think about what you say,’ said Ailidh. ‘Especially when you hear them talking about things like drinking and hangovers you start to think about how inane the conversations that seem perfectly normal at the time really sound.

‘I wanted to capture the everyday and mundane and they sound even more so when relayed through the mouths of children. When you hear kids speaking like this then the conversation takes on new meanings and sound completely different.

‘When you hear what seems to be very young kids talking about drinking and dating it sounds somewhere between funny and shocking depending on your viewpoint, but I was careful to ensure that the children never fully understood what they were talking about. Also, it shows how recorded words can be put together, taken apart and re-assembled to mean something completely different.

‘My idea came from the fact I’m a very chatty person and conversation is something I find very interesting. I love different rhythms of speech and the different language and jargon that people use. From there, I like to play with it and bend it to alter perspective. Hearing a grown up conversation spoken by children definitely makes you think about what you say, to who, and why.

‘All the conversations were based on recordings of me and my friends speaking to each other. To start with I always asked people if they would mind me recording the conversation but eventually people were just accustomed to the fact I was to have my equipment with me and had come to expect that whatever they said would be recorded.’

For her degree show exhibit, Ailidh will have six speakers playing the conversations, with one speaker for each child. Her work looks at how mundane conversations can be seen in new perspectives and the set up of her show emphasises this by having each speaker positioned in a different part of a darkened room.

The visitor will get a different perspective of the conversation depending on where they sit, which speaker they are next to and whether they move around the exhibition to experience another side of the conversation.

Ultimately Ailidh would like visitors to think about the use of sound and the fact that changing one element of sound can create an entirely new conversation that can be interpreted in a different way.

After graduating Ailidh hopes to carry on working on her project and is interested in working in community arts.

Almost 300 students from 11 disciplines are exhibiting at this year’s Dundee Degree Show.

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Hollywood star lends his voice to student’s animation

Not many student film-makers can attract top Hollywood talent, but a Dundee animator pulled off that very coup when she persuaded Brian Cox to star in her Degree Show piece.

Image shows Brian Cox’s character The DukeFreya Hotson, a final year animation student at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, tells the story of a daring train heist with a twist in her two-minute animated short The Flying Duchess. University of Dundee rector Brian Cox provided the voice of ‘The Duke’, the villain of the piece.

The film will be exhibited, alongside other examples of Freya’s work, at this year’s Dundee Degree Show, which takes place at DJCAD, part of the University, from 21 to 29 May.

Twenty-two-year-old Freya, originally from Forres, made The Flying Duchess as part of a group project with fellow animation students John Harkins and Kieran Baxter.

She explained that the trio decided to ask the Dundee-born star of The Bourne Identity and Troy to take part more out of hope than expectation.

‘It came about as a result of us being opportunistic,’ she said. ‘We just thought, “well he definitely won’t take part unless we ask” and got in touch with Brian through the Students Union and were absolutely thrilled when he replied to say he was happy to help because he was so perfect for the part.

‘He’s obviously very busy when he comes back to Dundee but we got half an hour with Brian and he was just brilliant. He got it down perfectly, as you’d expect, and we’re so grateful that he agreed to help us out. He hasn’t seen the final version yet but he did see the pre-production artwork so has a good idea what it will look like.’

When Brian Cox does see the final piece he is likely to be impressed with the high standard of the film. Freya, Keiran and John collaborated with a composer and sound effect technician to ensure that the audio matched the professional quality of the visuals.

Freya worked on the character animation, using traditional hand-drawn techniques, and the group experimented with new approaches for using these drawings within a computer-generated, 3D environment, discovering innovative ways to achieve their aspirations as they did so.

The environmental design and live action effects were devised by Kieran, while John was responsible for scripting and directing the film as well as for 3D animation.

Freya continued: ‘We used a trace technique employed by larger animation studios to retain accuracy in the hand-drawn animation when implementing difficult 3D camera movements upon a 2D character. It’s a very labour intensive process involving the literal tracing of every 25 frames to the second, but vastly improves the overall look of the animation.

‘Hopefully this work showcases the breadth of our work in both 2D and 3D, and in specific areas of design. Our final pieces for the Degree Show have taken over our lives but there is a really great culture of collaboration here which helps.

‘All students help their classmates by lending their specific skills within animation and this helps us all to further develop. Keiran and John were my main collaborators, but the list of credits show there were loads of other people who contributed and a whole host of second and third years also lent their time and abilities.’

More information about Freya and her work can be found at www.theflyingduchess.co.uk.

Almost 300 students from 11 disciplines are exhibiting at this year’s Dundee Degree Show.

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Students get help to beat exam stress

Dozens of students from the University of Dundee have been getting help to de-stress and focus on their exams over the past few weeks.

Scholars from across the University are currently sitting exams, with many taking papers which will impact on their degree classification and, as such, their future career prospects.

Recognising how stressful a time this can be, and how this can adversely affect academic performance, Dundee ’s Student Activities team have put together a programme of events to help reduce stress levels over the exam period.

The ‘chill out days’ feature a range of activities to help combat tension. Shiatsu massages from an experienced masseuse are on offer, while staff from the University’s Institute of Sports and Exercise have arranged Equilibrium classes bringing together yoga, tai chi, pilates and other forms of power stretching.

Bicycles have been made available free of charge to allow students to undertake trips from the main campus to the Botanic Garden, one of the most relaxing spots in the city. An outing to Tentsmuir Beach to allow students to unwind and recharge in scenic surroundings proved so popular that an extra excursion has been arranged to accommodate all interested parties.

‘We know just how stressful exam time is for students, and so we felt it was important to do something that will help them to relax and not get so worked up that they end up not performing to the best of their potential,’ said Sheena Stewart from Student Activities.

‘As well as revising, it is vital that students spend some time away from the books to make sure exam tension doesn’t overwhelm them – they will perform better as a result. We hope that we have helped in some way to keep exam tension as low as possible and wish the students the very best of luck.’

Stress-busting sessions have also been organised by Peer Connections, the University’s award-winning mentoring initiative. Students are invited to work on stress management using relaxation, breathing and visualisation techniques. This helps them to focus on calming anxiety and to deal with panicky feelings so they can remain calm and focussed in exams.

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Wellcome Trust grants more than £6m to Dundee researchers

Two researchers at the University of Dundee have been awarded a total of more than £6m in grants from the Wellcome Trust.

Professor Jason Swedlow and Professor Tom Owen-Hughes, both based in the Wellcome Trust Centre for Gene Regulation and Expression at the College of Life Sciences, have received grants of £4.2m and £2m respectively.

Professor Swedlow, recently named ‘Innovator of the Year’ at the BBRSC’s Excellence with Impact Awards, has received the £4.2m grant for his research project, ‘The Open Microscopy Environment: image informatics for biological sciences’.

‘It is not only a recognition of the quality of work done by the Open Microscopy Environment team based in our Wellcome Trust Centre – it is confirmation that Dundee is a significant hub in biosciences research and continues to thrive and grow.’ said Professor Swedlow. ‘In the current economic climate it is great to have our research grant application funded in full by the Wellcome Trust.’

Explaining the nature of his work Professor Swedlow went on to say: ‘The rise of quantitative biology has driven the generation of ever increasing stores of experimental data.

‘Our team at the Open Microscopy Environment (OME) has built open software tools that enable access, analysis, viewing and sharing of large data sets. Initially built for light microscopy, we have successfully extended these tools to many other domains of biological imaging.’

The OME data-sharing software recently won them the accolade of ‘Innovator of the Year’ and ‘Social Innovator of the Year’ at the BBRSC’s Excellence with Impact Awards, recognising the team and Dundee’s significant contribution to knowledge-sharing, world-wide.

‘In this newly-funded project, we aim to make OME’s tools widely used by biologists all over the world,’ added Professor Swedlow.

The funding will support a total of 25 posts, 16 of them at Dundee, and the rest at collaborating universities in the UK, USA, France and Italy.

Professor Tom Owen-Hughes has received over £2m from the Wellcome Trust to continue his basic research into the mechanisms for remodelling chromatin structure.

In response to the news Professor Owen-Hughes said: ‘My research team benefit from the long term vision shown by The Wellcome Trust in funding basic research into processes such as gene regulation which lie at the heart of all biological systems. We are also fortunate to have a critical mass of facilities and expertise available in Dundee.’

The grant will support six positions within Professor Owen-Hughes’ team.

Professor Angus Lamond, Director of the Centre for Gene Regulation and Expression said: ‘I am delighted to see the outstanding work of Jason and Tom, and their respective teams, recognised for its importance and creativity. This major funding award demonstrates the exceptionally high
regard for the work being done here in Dundee.’

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Dundee to lead drug discovery network

The Drug Discovery Unit at the University of Dundee, together with other leading not-for profit UK drug discovery and chemistry groups, is to coordinate building a UK-wide network in a developing area of drug discovery.

Professors Ian Gilbert and Paul Wyatt, based in the Drug Discovery Unit at Dundee, have received a £200,000 networking grant from the EPSRC, BBSRC and MRC for the project involving the generation of 3D fragment libraries.

Fragment libraries are collections of small molecules which are increasingly important for use in the discovery of potential new treatments for diseases through the process of drug discovery and design.

‘This award will allow us to build a unique consortium, with
engagement of the major UK not-for-profit drug discovery groups in combination with excellent synthetic and computational chemistry groups in UK universities. This network grant gives us the opportunity to develop this consortium and actively seek further members and interactions,’ said Professor Gilbert.

‘Fragment based drug discovery is an emerging area and one in which the UK as a whole is playing a leading role. This network of research groups will help us maintain our position on a global stage.’

The founding organisations in the network are:

  • Drug Discovery Unit, University of Dundee
  • MRC Technology
  • Cancer Research Technology
  • The Institute of Cancer Research
  • Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge
  • Structural Genomics Consortium, Oxford
  • University College London
  • The Beatson Drug Discovery Program

The project is one of seven new networks being funded by the EPSRC, BBSRC and MRC, aimed at increasing collaborative research and identifying and refining research priorities and challenges.

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Giving blood? There’s an app for that...

A University of Dundee student has developed a mobile phone application to make it easier for existing and potential donors to give blood.

James McLaren, a 4th year Applied Computing student, began looking at how technology could be used for good and decided upon encouraging more people to give blood after speaking with Jamie Shek, himself a Dundee graduate and director of spin-out company iGiveADamn.

The concept of a blood donor app was originally conceived by Jamie and his business partner Kyle Montague but, as they were concentrating on other projects for iGiveADamn, it was not developed beyond the conceptual stage.

They were delighted that James was interested in taking the idea forward for his honours project, and supported him as he developed it into ‘MyBlood’, a prototype app with real potential to increase the number of people giving blood and the frequency with which they do so. It works by providing users who download the app with a host of information relating to blood donation services.

MyBlood works to encourage increased levels of donations by:

  • keeping track of when the user last gave blood
  • counting down to the user’s target for giving blood a certain number of times within a particular time period
  • letting them know where and when the next blood donation service will be held
  • giving them the option to invite friends through Facebook and other social network sites to arrange group visits
  • providing directions to sessions to make it as easy as possible for donors to give blood
  • sending the latest news about blood donation and messages from people who have benefited direct to subscribers’ phones.

‘For my honours project, I have been working in collaboration with Jamie and Kyle and it has been fantastic to learn from them and their experiences,’ said James. ‘The project consists of a mobile application aimed at blood donors to encourage them to give blood and make it easier to do so.

‘The concept and prototype I’ve developed with iGiveADamn has the potential to become a real world application with a meaningful purpose. An app like this would encourage new and more frequent donations but more importantly help blood transfusion services maintain a constant supply of blood, benefiting the patients who need it.’

iGiveADamn is a design consultancy for digital media, and both its founders are keen that it remains true to its original purpose of harnessing technology for the benefit of society.

‘James has done a great job in developing MyBlood and hopefully this is a prototype that is taken further and has a real and positive impact on blood stocks,’ said Jamie.

‘An app that encourages increased levels of blood donation very much ties in with the objectives of iGiveADamn. Although we’re now branching out into other areas of digital design, our roots lie in this area and we still have a focus on using technology for more meaningful purposes.’

More information about iGiveADamn is available at www.igiveadamn.org.uk.

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£1million grant boosts academia-business links

Links between Tayside’s internationally renowned Life Sciences research institutes and businesses across Scotland are being strengthened through a funding package of more than £1million.

The University of Dundee, the University of Abertay Dundee, Dundee City Council (through the BioDundee project) and the James Hutton Institute (formerly the Scottish Crop Research and Macaulay Land Research Institutes), have been awarded £1,015,000 grant funding through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Scottish Government’s SEEKIT programme.

This award will fund the ongoing work of the Innovation Portal, based at the University of Dundee, and BioDundee and is also backing a new project, the BioPortal.

The BioPortal is an innovative new project designed to further enable Tayside research institutes to form stronger links with the Scottish life sciences industry by providing a match-making service of intellectual property and skilled postdoctoral researchers with needs of small-to-medium sized businesses, or SMEs.

The BioPortal project has been designed and developed by Research and Innovation Services at the University of Dundee to address specific barriers that prevent effective transfer of innovation from research institutes to SMEs. Barriers include the element of risk associated with technology development, the financial, human and skills shortages often experienced by SMEs, and the ability to identify and access novel technologies, which is a particular resource constraint for many small companies within the sector.

‘We are delighted with these awards of funding from ERDF and SEEKIT. It allows us to continue the good work of the Innovation Portal and BioDundee whilst also provide further focus on our excellence in Life Sciences at Dundee,’ said Diane Taylor, Director of Research and Innovation Services at the University of Dundee, and Chair of the Portal Steering Group.

‘Developing our Portal Business Model in this way demonstrates our commitment and ability to positively engage with the Scottish SME sector.’

A key facet of the project will be to increase the ease of access by Scottish SMEs to the intellectual property of the Universities and JHI by introducing risk sharing and no- or low-entry costs to reduce the barriers to innovation for the companies. This new project has also created a new opportunity that will allow postdoctoral researchers to more readily move from academia to industry, generating a skilled workforce, and most importantly retaining that workforce in Scotland.

The project is being delivered by the Innovation Portal, based at Dundee University Incubator, and BioDundee through a new partnership agreement. The funding covers three years.

Over the course of the project Dundee and Tayside will benefit from an increase in sector-specific training programmes, workshops and networking events, as well as the revival of Scotland’s leading life science newsletter, the BioDundee Update, which is circulated to over 14,000 international contacts.

The ERDF funding is made through the Lowland and Upland Scotland Objective 2 scheme.

Dr Fabian Seymour has joined the Innovation Portal as BioPortal Manager.


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Dundee dental researchers win top awards

Two dental researchers at the University of Dundee’s College of Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing have won prestigious awards at a major international conference.

Professor Nigel Pitts, Director of the Dental Health Services and Research Unit, and Dr Nicola Innes, clinical lecturer in paediatric dentistry, were recognised at the International Association for Dental Research Awards in California.

Professor Pitts won the IADR Distinguished Scientist Research in Dental Caries Award for his research into the detection, assessment and preventive treatment of caries and the implementation of findings on a truly international basis.

The award is designed to stimulate and recognise outstanding and innovative achievements which have contributed to the basic understanding of caries aetiology and/or to the prevention of dental caries. This success makes Professor Pitts one of the very few researchers in the world to hold two IADR Distinguished Scientist Awards, following an earlier prize in the field of dental epidemiology and public health.

Dr Innes won the IADR/Unilever Hatton Competition Senior Clinical Research Prize for her paper Sealing Caries in Primary Molars: Hall Technique RCT 5-year Results. This was a clinical trial carried out by Dr Innes with Dr Dafydd Evans involving general dental practitioners in Tayside.

This important award follows on from her winning the British Society for Oral and Dental Research Senior Clinical Research Prize in Barcelona in 2010.

Professor Pitts said: ‘It is very gratifying to have this international recognition of the impact, over an extended period, of the caries research undertaken by the team in Dundee.’

Dr Innes added: ‘Being awarded this international prize is a great achievement for all those who were involved in this clinical trial, and a further boost to the University’s reputation as a centre for clinical research.’

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Dundee dozen selected for Royal Scottish Academy exhibition

Twelve art and architecture graduates from the University of Dundee have been chosen to appear at this year’s prestigious RSA New Contemporaries exhibition.

RSA New Contemporaries is one of the premier showcases for emerging artistic talent in Scotland. The annual exhibition, which opens at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh on 19 March, features work including painting, sculpture, film making, photography, printmaking, architecture and installation.

The eleven artists from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (DJCAD) – Joss Allen, Kimberly Bartsch, Sinéad Bracken, Fiona Gordon, Charlene Noble, Lyndsey Redford, Mary Somerville, Kimberley Stewart, Lisa Ure, Jan Williamson and Colin Wilson – were selected after impressing representatives of the RSA who visited the 2010 Dundee Degree Show. Architecture graduate Alan Keane was also chosen after his work caught the eye of judges.

Dundee graduates won prizes totalling almost £4,000 at last year’s exhibition and Professor Tom Inns, Acting Dean at DJCAD, said he was sure this year’s cohort would do the University proud once again.

‘Over the past couple of years, this exhibition has established itself as one of the most important and respected for emerging artists in Scotland,’ he said.

‘It is a fantastic opportunity for recent graduates to take advantage of a wonderful platform and show they deserve to be regarded as among the best in Scotland. It is heartening to see so many artists and architects from Dundee selected to exhibit, and to see that so many were so successful last year.

‘I would encourage anyone to get along and visit RSA New Contemporaries – it highlights the role of the RSA in supporting new talent, and is a unique opportunity to see work from the best of Scotland’s up-and-coming artists and architects under one roof.’

The exhibition forms part of the RSA’s commitment to supporting and presenting the best contemporary work in Scotland. Sixty artists and architects from Scotland’s art colleges and architecture schools were chosen to exhibit in 2011, the third annual showcase event.

The artists were chosen from the 2010 Scottish Degree shows by exhibition conveners Sandy Moffat RSA (art) and Gareth Hoskins RSA (architecture), with assistance from members of the Royal Scottish Academy and representatives from the five main colleges of art and six schools of architecture in Scotland.

The chosen graduates are given the opportunity to launch their career at the prestigious RSA galleries. This exhibition offers a wonderful opportunity to invest in Scotland’s up-and-coming talent at the early stages of their careers.

With over £11,000 worth of monetary awards in addition to residency, studio and purchase prizes, the development of this exhibition is an important initiative for emerging artists in Scotland, enabling a ‘first exhibition’ opportunity for dozens of emergent artists annually.

RSA New Contemporaries will be held at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, between 19 March and 13 April. The exhibition is open from 10am–5pm Monday to Saturday and from 12noon–5pm on Sundays. Admission is £2/£1 concession.

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Dundee Literary Salons 2011

The 2011 programme of the popular Dundee Literary Salons series will be launched at a brand new venue later this week.

Now taking place at Roseangle Café Arts, The Bridge, 120 Perth Road, the Literary Salons bring together members of the local community to meet with publishers, writers and agents to discuss writing, culture and ideas in an environment that is informed but informal.

The inaugural salon of the 2011 series will see Roderick Watson, Emeritus Professor of English Studies at the University of Stirling, discuss how to balance the work-heavy demands of professional life with the contemplations of poetry.

Professor Watson will also read from his most recent collection of poetry, Into the Blue Wavelengths as well as sharing how he manages to find time to dream whilst also carrying out a day job.

The event takes place between 5pm and 7pm on Thursday 3 February, and free refreshments will be provided.

All salons are presented by Professor Kirsty Gunn, Chair of Creative Writing at the University of Dundee. More information about the salons can be found at the Literary Dundee website.

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Dundee to welcome hundreds of language students

The University of Dundee is set to play host to over 1200 teenagers from around Europe this summer, bringing an economic impact worth hundreds of thousands of pounds to the city.

Young people from Turkey, Italy, France and Spain are expected to arrive on campus between June and August, studying English as a foreign language under the auspices of Greenwich Viaggi, a tour operator which facilitates an English language school on campus.

The visitors will stay in the University students residences, take meals in Dundee University Students’ Association and attend classes on the University campus.

‘We are delighted to renew our contracts with Greenwich Viaggi for this summer,’ said Elizabeth Shearer, of the University’s Corporate Services department.

‘We have been welcoming European students to the campus in the summer months for over a decade now and it makes a huge difference to life around the campus. It also brings considerable benefits economically, not just on campus but to the city of Dundee and the surrounding area.’

The association may also have longer term benefits for the city and the University.

‘These are young people who aren’t far away from making decisions about their higher education and this is a chance to show them what we have here at Dundee, both in terms of the University and the wider area,’ said Dr Brendan Barker, Head of International Development at the University.

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Hugs tell us much about shared experiences

In the run-up to Valentine’s Day, couples the world over will be thinking about how they can convey their love to their partner in a meaningful and lasting manner.

One of the most obvious ways a person can share their feelings is through physical gestures such as hugs which, according to new research from the University of Dundee, last an average of three seconds.

The study into the post-competition embraces of Olympic athletes, which was published in the latest edition of the Journal of Ethology, was led by Dr Emese Nagy, from the University’s School of Psychology.

This research confirmed that a hug lasts about as long as many other human actions, and supports a hypothesis that we go through life perceiving the present in a series of about three-second windows.

Cross-cultural studies over the past century have shown that people tend to operate in these bursts. Goodbye waves, musical phrases, and infants’ bouts of babbling and gesturing all last about three seconds.

‘What we have is very broad research showing that we experience the world in these three-second time frames,’ Dr Nagy explained.

‘Many basic physiological events, such as taking a breath and exhaling, last about 2–3 seconds each. When music and dance and other things are broken down we can see that these actually consist of singular movements bound together.

‘This has been referred to as the "feeling of nowness" and we began looking at how long these moments last and whether we can objectively measure their duration.

‘The memories of these moments become our personal stories, but they are our own individual experiences – what we wanted to do with this research was explore whether we ever share these movements which are so unique and subjective.

‘We wanted this study to go a step further and see whether these moments can be experienced by two people at the same time – if we can ever share our internal reality – and whether these moments ascribe to the three-second hypothesis.’

Dr Nagy, a keen gymnastics fan, was struck by how the behaviour of athletes encapsulated strong emotions. She hit upon the idea of analysing the embraces of gymnasts at the Beijing Olympics to see whether their hugs, either celebratory or consoling, fitted with the previously identified pattern.

Most of the existing three-second research had been done on individuals, and she wondered whether the pattern would hold for an experience shared between two people, especially one as intimate and emotionally charged as an embrace.

Dr Nagy then conducted a frame-by-frame analysis of video recordings of the Olympic finals in 21 sports, among them badminton, wrestling, and swimming. She had an independent observer time 188 hugs between athletes from 32 nations and their coaches, teammates, and rivals.

Regardless of the gender or national origin of the athletes and their partners, the hugs lasted about three seconds on average. The results reinforce the idea that intervals of about three seconds are basic temporal units of life that define our perception of the present moment.

Dr Nagy continued, ‘I was watching the Olympics and thought that this was the perfect example illustrating how people experiencing these feelings want to share them with other people. It was a shared moment which we could clearly mark the beginning and end of.

‘The other people may be similarly emotionally charged, such as team mates and coaches, whereas others may be competitors or more dispassionate observers. The interesting thing is that, regardless of culture, nationality or gender, they all shared the moment through a hug whether they were expressing happiness, comforting, or being comforted.

‘Our research illustrated that these feelings can be transmitted to another person to make the movement a shared experience. These moments may increase the likelihood of sharing further experiences, synchronization of further movements, and ultimately, could lead to the feeling of "togetherness" between people.’

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Make-or-break time of season for student sports teams

The next couple of weeks will see no fewer than 16 sports teams from the University of Dundee reach the business end of their season as the knock-out stages of the British Universities and Colleges (BUCS) competitions begin.

Having won through from their domestic league competition, Scottish sides will now meet their counterparts from England and Wales in the BUCS Championship or Trophy competitions.

The ultimate aim of all student teams is to make it to Sheffield for the BUCS Championship Finals on 18–20 March. This event, involving around 6000 student athletes in 19 different sports, is the biggest sporting event to take place in Britain this year.

Dundee sides have done exceptionally well on the competitive front this year, with a record 16 teams making it to the knock out stage. They are men’s and women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s badminton, women’s fencing, women’s rugby, netball, women’s basketball, women’s football, men’s hockey, trampoline, ultimate frisbee, karate, swimming, women’s squash, and men’s tennis.

The success of University sports teams is a reflection of the positive changes that have taken place since the formation of Dundee University Sport. This partnership between the University’s Institute of Sport and Exercise and Dundee University Sports Union enhances the provision of sport for students and staff.

Paul McPate, Assistant Director of ISE, said there were many benefits to the arrangement and the partnership was now beginning to bear fruit.

‘It is a fantastic achievement for so many teams from Dundee to reach this stage of the BUCS Championship, and we hope to see several of them qualify for the finals in Sheffield,’ he said.

‘We are sure they will do us proud, and the more success they have, the more students and staff will be inspired to take up sports and realise the benefits of doing so.

‘I think the success reflects what’s been happening since Dundee University Sport was formed. The partnership has seen more efforts invested in the clubs, including the increased provision of coaching staff; dedicated strength and conditioning sessions and increased allocation of facilities time for team training.’

The University regularly fields around 50 teams in 24 different sports. These teams are supported by over 2000 sports club members at the University.

The high degree of team preparation was highlighted last week with a briefing of all those involved in the BUCS Play Offs. Aspirations and competition targets were discussed with team captains, and those present were given an insight into some key factors for competitive success by Gil Stevenson, former coach to the Scottish Women’s Rugby Team.

Gil’s experience of leading Scotland to a Rugby World Cup provided the student captain’s with some inspirational advice on what factors might make the difference between success and failure on the sports field.

The next fortnight will see Dundee teams play against some of the best student sides from across the UK.

Sports Union President Graeme Spowart said, ‘Our teams have put in a great deal of hard work this season, and these games are their rewards. They deserve this opportunity to test themselves against the best of the rest of the UK.

‘I am sure they will all do the University proud and fly the flag for Dundee. I wish them all the best of luck and am sure they will all benefit from the experience.

‘Hopefully we can have a good few teams in the University red and black down in Sheffield representing us in the biggest sporting event of the year.’

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Nominations for 2011-12 sport scholarships now open

Talented student athletes from the University of Dundee have been invited to apply for national scholarship support.

‘Winning Students’, Scotland’s national sports scholarship programme, supports student athletes with annual funding of up to £5,500 to help them achieve their sporting and academic goals.

Scholarships are provided in a number of sports and, as Dundee is a member of the Winning Students network, its students are entitled to apply for individual assistance.

Athletics star Sarah Kelly is in the first year of a History and International Relations degree at the University of Dundee. The Fife teenager finished seventh in the 800m finals at the 2010 World Junior Championships and was selected for a Winning Students scholarship.

‘When I did well at the World Juniors that gave me a taste of what the future can hold, but I can’t just sit back now and expect it all to come together,’ she said.

‘The Winning Students scholarship is a massive help, enabling me to compete in more events in England and abroad, where the standard of competition will push me to perform even better and hopefully be at the front fighting for the medals.’

Athletes in the Winning Students core sports of badminton, golf, hockey, judo, orienteering, squash, swimming, triathlon and women’s football are nominated directly by their governing body and should not apply individually.

Athletes in non-core sports must have either attained the following level in their sport, or demonstrated the potential to compete at that level:

  • Top 25 at the Olympic Games, Paralympic Games or World Championships.
  • Top 15 at the European Championships or Commonwealth Games.
  • Top 5 at the World University Games or World University Championships.

For 2011–12 applications, consideration will be given to athletes in contention to compete in any discipline, including team sports, at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

To be considered for a 2011–12 individual scholarship, scholars should check the general selection criteria for education and non-sporting requirements. Athletes in the process of applying to study at the University in the 2011/12 academic year are also eligible.

The nomination process closes on 15 April 2011, and forms can be submitted by the athlete, governing body of sport or college or university, but must carry a signature from all three parties to be considered. Anyone not yet at college or university should provide proof of application (college) or a UCAS number (university).

Representatives of the Winning Students Advisory Board will consider the nominated athletes and selection for an individual scholarship will be confirmed in early October 2011.

More information is available by visiting www.winningstudents-scotland.ac.uk

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Prestigious award for cancer expert

The University of Glasgow has awarded the 2011 Tenovus-Scotland Medal to a cancer expert from the University of Dundee.

Dr John Rouse is a Programme Leader at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Protein Phosphorylation Unit in Dundee and has recently made several discoveries in how cells recognise and repair DNA damage to prevent mutations which can lead to cancer.

The award will be presented in June at the Scottish Chromatin Group Meeting during which Dr Rouse will deliver the 2011 Tenovus-Scotland Medal Lecture, entitled Forks and molecular knives at the cutting edge of DNA repair.

Dr Sheila Graham, at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research and Co-Chair of the Tenovus Committee, said: ‘Dr Rouse is a deserving winner of the 2011 Tenovus Medal. His recent research promises to uncover new avenues for developing cancer treatments.’

Dr Rouse added: ‘I am delighted to be awarded the Tenovus Medal, which is a reflection of the talents and efforts of the people who have worked in my lab and the outstanding research environment and facilities that we have here in the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit and College of Life Sciences at Dundee.’

The Tenovus Medal Lecture has been presented annually at the University since 1992 and is awarded each year to a scientist with a Scottish link whose work has had a major impact on molecular medicine.

The Scottish Chromatin Group Meeting will meet at the University on Wednesday 8th June 2011.

Dr Rouse becomes the third researcher from the College of Life Sciences at Dundee to be awarded the Tenovus Medal. Previous recipients were Tom Owen-Hughes and Neil Perkins, who carried out the work for which they received the Tenovus Medal in the Wellcome Trust Centre for Gene Regulation and Expression at Dundee.

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Tackling tuberculosis with new antibody treatments

Researchers from the University of Dundee, King’s College London and St George’s, University of London have identified potential new means to treat tuberculosis (TB).

In a study, published in the most recent edition of Journal of Immunology, researchers led by Professor Juraj Ivanyi at King’s, Dr Jenny Woof at Dundee, and Dr Rajko Reljic from St George’s, have developed a monoclonal antibody which was found to offer protection against tuberculosis infection in experimental models when combined with interferon, a modulator of the immune system.

TB remains a recognised global emergency, claiming around two million lives across the world each year, and 2010 saw the largest number of new cases of TB in the UK for over a decade.

Approximately one-third of the world’s population is infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium responsible for this huge public health problem. Unfortunately, the BCG vaccine used in some countries does not protect against disease in all adults, and drugs need to be delivered for several months.

The problem has been compounded by a dramatic rise in TB strains displaying multiple drug resistance. As a result, new ways to prevent and control tuberculosis are urgently required, and the strategy developed by the London/Dundee teams paves the way toward a previously unexplored form of treatment.

The human monoclonal antibody produced by the team is of the IgA type and can specifically recognise Mycobacterium tuberculosis. IgA antibodies are proteins normally used by the immune system to identify and neutralise foreign microbes like bacteria and viruses within the lungs and intestinal tract.

The human monoclonal antibody generated in the research is a homogeneous antibody preparation with the capability to specifically attach to the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium and trigger immune processes that prevent bacterial growth. Although human monoclonal antibodies are widely used to treat various forms of cancer and inflammatory disorders, this is the first demonstration that they might have applicability against tuberculosis.

Dr Woof explained the need to develop new treatments and vaccines for TB, and the potential to develop this research further. ‘The number of cases of TB remains very high, and so this is clearly a major problem,’ she said. ‘Across the world, there are millions of people falling victim to infectious diseases such as TB, so the implications of this research could be considerable.

‘Antibodies exist as five different types in humans, with those of the IgG type already being used in some clinical treatments. Antibodies of the IgA type are slightly different. They possess properties that we believe may be important in governing how this IgA antibody works against TB infection.’

The study, funded in part by the Wellcome Trust and the Dunhill Medical Trust, was the result of a productive collaboration with each team bringing a different sphere of expertise. Professor Juraj Ivanyi at King’s is an international expert in tuberculosis research, while Dr Woof’s team in Dundee brought experience in human IgA antibodies. Dr Reljic at St George’s has expertise and special facilities for experimental models of TB infection.

Several years of previous research by Professor Ivanyi, Dr Reljic and their collaborators at the HPA Salisbury and Palermo, Italy provided general ‘proof of concept’ for this sort of approach, while this study opens the road for translating it toward human application.

Professor Ivanyi is based at the Dental Institute at King’s College London, which has a long history of pioneering research into mucosal immunology and vaccines. He said: ‘This study brings us much closer to finding new ways to treat tuberculosis, although further research is needed before we can begin to trial this approach in patients.

‘I am excited about where this project can lead us in terms of potential new treatments for this devastating disease.’

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Virus discovery helps scientists predict emerging diseases

Fresh insight into how viruses such as SARS and flu can jump from one species to another may help scientists predict the emergence of diseases in future.

Researchers have shown that viruses are better able to infect species that are closely related to their typical target species than species that are distantly related.

Their results suggest that when diseases make the leap to a distant species – such as bird flu infecting humans – they may then spread easily in species closely related to the new victim, regardless of how closely related these are to the original target species.

Scientists from the Universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge looked at how relationships between species might determine the spread of an important group of emerging diseases, known as RNA viruses. This group of diseases includes HIV, SARS and flu.

By infecting more than 50 species of flies with three different viruses, the researchers showed that species closely related to a virus’s usual target species were more susceptible than distantly related flies. They also showed that groups of flies that were closely related were similarly susceptible to the same viruses.

The study, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Natural Environment Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the Royal Society, was published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.

Dr Ben Longdon of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: ‘Emerging diseases such as SARS, HIV and some types of flu have all got into humans from other species. Understanding how diseases jump between different species is essential if we want to predict the appearance of new diseases in the future.’

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Health fears over CO2 storage are unfounded, study shows

Capturing CO2 from power stations and storing it deep underground carries no significant threat to human health, despite recently voiced fears that it might, a study has shown.

Researchers found that the risk of death from poisoning as a result of exposure to CO2 leaks from underground rocks is about one in 100 million – far less than the chances of winning the lottery jackpot.

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh studied historical data on deaths from CO2 poisoning in Italy and Sicily, where the gas seeps naturally from the ground because of volcanic activity.

They found that the number of recorded deaths was very low and say that engineered gas storage underground could be even safer, as it will be planned and monitored.

Recent CCS projects in northern Europe and Canada have been criticised by residents over health concerns arising from potential leakage.

Carbon capture and storage enables collection of CO2 before it can escape into the atmosphere. The technology involves the collection of CO2 at a power station or industrial site. The gas is liquefied and piped to the storage site, where it is injected deep below ground. The gas is stored in microscopic rock pores and eventually dissolves in underground water. Storage sites will have several barriers between the store and the surface.

Storing CO2 gas underground prevents it from contributing to global warming. Such technologies will play an important role over the next 50 years, as a bridge to the development of clean energy.

Jennifer Roberts from the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, who undertook the work, said: ‘These Italian CO2 seeps are natural, are often neither sign-posted nor fenced off, and yet there have been remarkably few accidents.’

Professor Stuart Haszeldine of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, who led the study, said: ‘Our findings show that storing CO2 underground is safe and should allay any concerns that the technology poses a significant threat to health.’

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Cultural initiative strengthening Edinburgh’s India ties

The University of Edinburgh is strengthening its links with India through a new partnership with one of the country’s most influential cultural organisations.

The collaboration with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) will create a Chair of Contemporary Indian Studies at the University, the first of its kind in Scotland.

The agreement – signed by University of Edinburgh Vice Principal International Stephen Hillier and ICCR Director General Shri Suresh K Goel in Edinburgh on 27 August – will see an Indian academic join the University as a professor.

The organisations hope that this marks the first step in establishing a permanent relationship that could lead to the creation of a Centre for Contemporary Indian Studies at Edinburgh.

The agreement with ICCR is the latest link to be forged between the University and India. In February 2011, the University signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi to collaborate together.

At the same time, it also opened a liaison office in Mumbai, which will simplify communication and collaboration between the University and partners in Indian education, business and government.

University Principal Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea said: ‘I am delighted that we are to establish a new Chair thanks to the support of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. Our efforts show that the University of Edinburgh is committed to working with Indian partners and institutions.

‘It is my hope that this appointment will strengthen our excellent relationship with India, potentially creating more joint opportunities in the future and allowing us to further education across the world.’

The ICCR seeks to foster mutual understanding between India and other countries and to promote cultural exchange. It currently funds two chairs at British universities, and also supports the Nehru Centre in London.

The University has a long tradition of teaching and scholarship relating to India. Former Edinburgh scholars with Indian links include William Robertson, who wrote one of the earliest European texts on Indian commerce and culture, and Victor Kiernan, known for his translations of the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Mohammed Iqbal.

The University is also home to the Centre for South Asian Studies, the principal academic unit in Scotland dedicated to the study of the Indian subcontinent. The Centre has links with the Scottish Parliament, non-governmental organisations and major educational and cultural groups in South Asia and Scotland.

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Gene study sheds new light on origins of British men

New genetic evidence reveals that most British men are not descended from immigrant farmers who migrated east 5,000–10,000 years ago – contrary to previous research.

Instead, scientists from the Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh say that most European men can trace their lineage to people – most likely hunter-gatherers – who had settled in Europe long before that time.

The latest study, based on the most common genetic lineage in European males, aims to correct an analysis of genetic data, published last year. It had reported that most British men came from people who migrated west, with the spread of agriculture, from the Near East.

More than 100 million European men have a set of genes called R-M269, including about three-quarters of British men. A key question in understanding the peopling of Europe is when this group spread out across Europe.

Researchers say their work shows that the set of genes chosen to estimate the age of this group of men vary the outcome enormously. They add that the previously reported east-west pattern is not found in their larger and more comprehensive dataset. This, the Oxford–Edinburgh team says, leaves little evidence for a farmer-led dispersal of this major group.

According to Dr Cristian Capelli, the Oxford geneticist who led the research, the study ‘resets’ the debate on the peopling of Europe. He says: ‘Our works overturns the recent claims of European Y chromosomes being brought into the continent by farmers.’

Co-author, Dr Jim Wilson of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Population Health Sciences, adds that the paper shows for the first time that certain properties of the genes studied strongly influence the accuracy of the date estimate.

‘Estimating a date at which an ancestral lineage originated is an interesting application of genetics, but unfortunately it is beset with difficulties and it is very difficult to provide good dates. Many people assume that the more genes the more accurate the dates, but this is not the case: some genetic markers are more suited to dating than others.’

The study also reports multiple subgroups of the R-M269 group that are very common in different parts of Europe, consistent with expansion of these different groups in each place.

The peopling of Europe and the cautionary tale of Y chromosome lineage R-M269 is published online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.

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Stem cell study offers hope for Parkinson’s patients

Scientists have for the first time generated stem cells from one of the most rapidly progressing forms of Parkinson’s disease.

The development will help research into the condition as it will enable scientists to model the disease in the laboratory to shed light on why certain nerve cells die.

Scientists, funded with a £300,000 grant from the charity Parkinson’s UK, took skin samples from a patient diagnosed with one of the most progressive types of Parkinson’s.

The research, led by the University of Edinburgh in collaboration with UCL (University College London), then used these skin cells to generate brain nerve cells affected by the disease.

The ability to generate these nerve cells will make it easier to monitor the effectiveness of potential new drugs that could slow or halt progress of the condition.

The aim would be to find drugs that can prevent the death of these key cells – known as neurons – which break down as a result of Parkinson’s.

Dr Tilo Kunath, of the University of Edinburgh’s Medical Research Council Centre for Regenerative Medicine, said: ‘Current drugs for Parkinson’s alleviate symptoms of the condition. Modelling the disease in a dish with real Parkinson’s neurons enables us to test drugs that may halt or reverse the condition.

‘This study provides an ideal platform to gain fresh insight into the condition, and opens a new area of research to discover disease-modifying drugs.‘

The neuron cells were generated from a patient with a form of Parkinson’s that progresses rapidly and can be diagnosed in people in their early 30s.

People with this form of Parkinson’s have twice as many of the genes that produce a protein – alpha synuclein – compared with the general population.

Although this form of Parkinson’s is rare the protein involved is linked to virtually all types of the disease.

Dr Michael Devine, of UCL’s Institute of Neurology said: ‘Understanding such a progressive form of the disease will give us insight into different types of Parkinson’s. As this type of Parkinson’s progresses rapidly it will also make it easier to pick up the effects of drugs tested to prevent nerve cells targeted by the disease from dying.’

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Dr Kieran Breen, Director of Research and Development at Parkinson’s UK, said: ‘Although the genetic mutation that leads to this progressive form of Parkinson’s is rare this exciting study has the potential to bring about a huge breakthrough in Parkinson’s research.

‘This is just the kind of innovative research that Parkinson’s UK is committed to funding as we move closer to a cure.’

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Fool’s gold gives scientists priceless insight into Earth’s evolution

Fool’s gold is providing scientists with valuable insights into a turning point in the Earth’s evolution, which took place billions of years ago.

Scientists are recreating ancient forms of the mineral pyrite – dubbed ‘fool’s gold’ for its metallic lustre – that reveal details of past geological events.

Detailed analysis of the mineral is giving fresh insight into the Earth before the Great Oxygenation Event, which took place 2.4 billion years ago. This was a time when oxygen released by early forms of bacteria gave rise to new forms of plant and animal life, transforming the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere.

Studying the composition of pyrite enables a geological snapshot of events at the time when it was formed. Studying the composition of different forms of iron in fool’s gold gives scientists clues as to how conditions such as atmospheric oxygen influenced the processes forming the compound.

The latest research shows that bacteria – which would have been an abundant life form at the time – did not influence the early composition of pyrite. This result, which contrasts with previous thinking, gives scientists a much clearer picture of the process.

More extensively, their discovery enables better understanding of geological conditions at the time, which informs how the oceans and atmosphere evolved.

The research, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Edinburgh Collaborative of Subsurface Science and Engineering, was published in Science.

Dr Ian Butler, who led the research, said: ‘Technology allows us to trace scientific processes that we can’t see from examining the mineral composition alone, to understand how compounds were formed. This new information about pyrite gives us a much sharper tool with which to analyse the early evolution of the Earth, telling us more about how our planet was formed.’

Dr Romain Guilbaud, investigator on the study, said: ‘Our discovery enables a better understanding of how information on the Earth’s evolution, recorded in ancient minerals, can be interpreted.’

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Tiny devices offer treatment hope for brain bleed disorder

A new device that treats a potentially fatal blood vessel condition could help to reduce its recurrence, researchers have found.

Scientists have found that treating brain aneurysms with specially coated platinum coils can help to prevent them coming back.

Each year, around 5,000 people in the UK suffer a burst brain aneurysm – a blister on the wall of an artery that can cause life-threatening haemorrhages.

Scientists have now refined the current treatment process, which typically sees a platinum coil inserted into an artery in the leg and passed up to the affected vessel in the brain.

The coil fills the space within the aneurysm and helps to ensure the vessel wall does not weaken further to cause bleeding.

In the latest study, led by the University of Edinburgh, researchers have shown that the effect of coils can be improved by coating them in a sleeve of hydrogel.

This gel expands and swells at a controlled rate and fills the aneurysm more securely than previous methods.

The team studied the effect of coated coils in 500 patients from the UK, Europe, Australia, South America and the USA.

They found that this new form of coils significantly reduced the recurrence of aneurysms after 18 months from 33 per cent to 24 per cent.

Dr Phil White, consultant neuroradiologist and honorary Reader at the University of Edinburgh, who led the study, said: ‘Our study shows that the non-invasive techniques for treating brain aneurysms are getting better. Hydrogel coated coils offer an improved treatment for ruptured aneurysms and coiling has a faster recovery than having to have brain surgery and come with less risk as well, which is great news for the thousands of people affected by this condition each year.’

The study was conducted with support from NHS Lothian and MicroVention Terumo Inc.

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Swine flu spread was much wider than first thought, scientists say

The swine flu outbreak of winter 2009–2010 was much more widespread than was previously realised, research suggests.

Blood samples taken from Scottish adults in March last year at the end of the H1N1 flu season showed that almost half were carrying antibodies to the virus.

Most of the 44 per cent who tested positive had contracted swine flu, although some had acquired immunity from a previous bout of flu, or had been vaccinated.

The research, led by the University of Edinburgh, shows that many cases of swine flu went unreported. Only 100,000 people consulted their GP regarding flu, out of about two million who are believed to have contracted the virus.

People living in the most deprived areas were twice as likely to have contracted the virus. Scientists add that it is possible that many people who were vaccinated against the virus were already immune.

Almost 1,600 adults from the east of Scotland and Glasgow, who are participants in the Generation Scotland Scottish Family Health Study voluntary health scheme, took part.

The research, carried out in collaboration with the University of Strathclyde, Health Protection Scotland and West of Scotland Specialist Virology Centre, was funded by the Chief Scientist Office and published in the journal PLoS One.

Professor Mark Woolhouse of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Infectious Diseases, who led the study, said: ‘This flu spread very quickly. Fortunately most cases were mild but this also means that they weren’t reported. Testing for antibodies to flu could be invaluable in tracking future pandemics and targeting vaccination to those groups who most need it.’

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University of Edinburgh’s rugby team tours Brazil

The University of Edinburgh’s rugby team is facing one of its toughest-ever tests – playing the Brazil national side.

The team is to play four matches in Brazil, including two games against a Brazil team that is ranked 28th in the world.

Edinburgh will also play Brazil under-23s and a regional select side. The tour comes 25 years after the University team last toured Brazil.

The matches have been arranged to help promote rugby in the South American country ahead of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, in which rugby sevens will be included for the first time.

In the first match on 4 June, the University team lost to Brazil 27–11 in Sao Paolo.

Over 1,200 fans attended the game, which was broadcast live on Brazilian television.

The tour marks the end of a successful season for Edinburgh University Rugby Club.

The first eleven won the Scottish Universities title with nine wins from 10 matches. As a result, next season the team will play in the British Universities Premier D League.

The tour is expected to help prepare the team for the challenge of regularly playing against the best university sides in the UK.

Tom Broadhead, an Edinburgh University Rugby Club player, said: ‘The tour is a high-profile sporting event for both Edinburgh University, one of the co-founding members of the Scottish Rugby Union, and Brazilian rugby. We’re very proud to play such an integral role in the promotion of the sport in Brazil.’

The University has a long tradition of producing strong rugby teams, as well as players who represent their national sides.

Famous University rugby players from history include former British Lions David Bedell-Sivright, Angus Black, Dan Drysdale and CG Timms.

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Experts team up with ARM to create faster computers

A new centre of excellence is to tackle one of the greatest computing challenges of the next decade – creating faster, more efficient software for multi-core devices.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh are to work with leading microprocessor designers ARM to improve how computers can maximise their processing capacity.

Computing devices are increasingly using more than one processor – the units that read and execute instructions – to make them function more effectively. Components that use two or more independent processors are called multi-core devices.

But the software running on such devices has not developed as rapidly, which means this extra computing power is often not used efficiently.

As computers become more powerful and use a greater number of processors, the problem becomes much more acute.

Now, University researchers are teaming with ARM to create a new Centre of Excellence, based at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics.

The new centre will use the University’s world-class computer science and artificial intelligence expertise to investigate new ways of improving how computer programs utilise their existing processors.

Mike O’Boyle, Director of the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Computing Systems, said: ‘Designing and programming complex processing systems is the key computing challenge for the next decade and we are very excited to be working with ARM to investigate new ways of delivering highly-optimised large-scale systems that are energy-efficient.’

ARM, based in Cambridge, is the world’s leading semiconductor intellectual property (IP) supplier. It employs more than 1,900 people worldwide.

Peter Hutton, Vice President, Technology & Systems at ARM, said: ‘ARM is delighted to be working closely with such a world-renowned centre of excellence in energy-efficient programming. Multi-core solutions can already be found in many of today’s smart devices. As consumers demand an increasingly connected life, the complexity of the multi-core semiconductor technology will only increase. Research to maximise processing capacity and energy efficiency is an important focus area.’

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Targeted testing offers treatment hope for ovarian cancer patients

Women with ovarian cancer could be helped by a new test that identifies the specific type of tumour they have, a conference will hear.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh hope this improved diagnosis will help doctors to personalise treatment programmes so that patients receive the most effective drugs.

The Edinburgh team worked with scientists from Ireland to identify six subgroups of the disease, each of which had a different genetic signature.

To do this, they analysed tissue samples from more than 350 ovarian cancer patients and compared this information with the patients’ medical records.

The results show how genetic profiling of ovarian cancers might predict a person’s response to drug treatments.

Researchers say the development may be particularly helpful for women with an aggressive form of ovarian cancer, which is typically caught late by current diagnostic tests.

This type of aggressive – or ‘high grade’ – cancer can respond well to a recently-developed drug that targets the blood supply of the cancer cells.

The team hopes that by identifying the women with this type of cancer at the earliest opportunity, they could use the drug more effectively and help to improve survival rates.

The findings will be presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference, being held in Chicago.

Dr Charlie Gourley of the University of Edinburgh, who led the study, said: ‘This research shows that by conducting a detailed analysis of the genes of ovarian cancers we may be able to identify those patients who will respond well to new drug treatments. This could bring valuable improvements in survival rates for the disease and would help us to personalise a patient’s care to ensure the greatest possible success.’

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women, with around 6,800 women being diagnosed every year in the UK.

Of these, nearly two-thirds will not live beyond five years of their diagnosis.

Chemotherapy and surgery can be effective treatments, but women could have a greater chance of surviving the disease if it is identified earlier on.

The findings will be presented at ASCO on Saturday 4th June.

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Hope of screening test for bone disease after more genes discovered

Scientists have discovered that at least seven genes may account for the development of Paget’s disease, a painful bone condition that affects up to one million people in the UK.

The international team of scientists, led by the University of Edinburgh, believes the genes are involved in regulating the rate at which bone is renewed and repaired, providing an explanation of why the disease occurs.

Researchers are also hopeful that the discovery will bring the likelihood of a genetic screening test to identify those at risk of developing Paget’s a step closer.

The results – published in the journal Nature Genetics – confirm that genes play a crucial role in the development of Paget’s disease, which explains why many patients have a family history of the condition.

Professor Stuart Ralston, Arthritis Research UK Professor of Rheumatology, who led the study at the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘We have now identified seven genes that predispose people to Paget’s. The effect of these is large, and together they considerably increase the risk of developing the condition.

‘Our work shows that these genes together very strongly predict the development of Paget’s disease. Their effects are so powerful that they could be of real value in screening for risk of the disease. This is important since we know that if treatment is left too late, then irreversible damage to the bones can occur. If we were able to intervene at an early stage with preventative therapy, guided by genetic profiling, this would be a major advance.’

Paget’s disease disrupts the body’s normal process of breaking down old bone and replacing it.

The condition leads to enlarged and malformed bones and patients can suffer from bone pain, brittle bones susceptible to fractures, and advanced arthritis. It affects more people in the UK than anywhere else in the world.

Researchers – funded by Arthritis Research UK and the Paget’s Association – studied 2,215 patients with Paget’s disease to find the genes that could cause the condition.

The team – which included scientists from the UK, Australia, Spain, Italy, Holland, and Belgium – found four genes that were faulty more frequently in patients with the bone disease than in healthy people.

Last year they used a similar approach to identify three genes that caused the condition.

Professor Ralston is now setting up a new clinical trial aiming to identify people at risk of Paget’s and to offer them preventative treatment.

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New centre will use charcoal to aid climate change fight

Innovative methods that turn agricultural waste into carbon-rich soil in a bid to tackle climate change are to be developed at a ground-breaking new facility.

A new unit at the University of Edinburgh will help researchers to produce biochar – a charcoal-like substance produced through the oxygen-free, slow heating of agricultural waste.

Researchers at the centre say biochar increases the carbon content in the soil, building a long-term store that counters excess carbon dioxide in the air and helps to reduce other greenhouse gas emissions.

The production process also releases energy-rich gases and liquids that can be used to generate green energy, thus offsetting the use of fossil fuels. The biochar material itself can help soil retain nutrients and water – potentially resulting in higher crop yields for farmers.

Biochar can help to improve soil quality and facilitate better waste management and soil improvement – all on a scale achievable by a town, village or farm, researchers say.

Stuart Haszeldine, Scottish Power Professor of Carbon Capture & Storage at the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘Biochar is a process that can take carbon emissions out of the atmosphere. Materials that are currently waste products could be turned into useful substances that not only prevent greenhouse gases from accumulating in our atmosphere, but also help farmers produce more crops and use less fertiliser.’

The new unit, which was unveiled on 24 May at the University of Edinburgh’s UK Biochar Research Centre, is unique. It allows scientists to produce large quantities of biochar from a wide variety of different agricultural and forestry materials.

The biochar will then be used in trials at sites across the UK. By producing different forms of biochar under tightly controlled conditions, researchers hope to discover how best to match the material to different crops and soils.

Dr Ondřej Mašek, lecturer in Engineering Assessment of Biochar at the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘Biochar is potentially an innovative way of combating climate change at a global scale. Through the opening of this new facility, Edinburgh and Scotland are taking the lead in researching how, exactly, biochar might be able to help us reduce our carbon footprint.’

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Warner is latest leading writer to take up residence on campus

Award-winning novelist Alan Warner is the latest in a long line of illustrious names to be appointed as a writer-in-residence at the University of Edinburgh.

Alan Warner © Jerry BauerThe Oban-born author, who has achieved success with six critically acclaimed novels joins the ranks of poet and playwright Liz Lochhead, scottish gaelic poet Sorley Maclean, and American writer Anne Stevenson, who have held writer in residence posts at the University.

The Oban born author, whose most recent novel The Stars in the Bright Sky was included in the longlist for the Man Booker Prize, will hold writing workshops for students.

The novelist will also provide teaching support for students studying for an MSc in Creative Writing at Edinburgh.

Alan Warner achieved success with his first novel, Movern Callar later adapted into a film staring Samantha Morton.

He has since achieved further accolades, including the Saltire Society’s Scottish Book of the Year Award for his novel, The Sopranos. In 2003 he was nominated by Granta magazine as one of twenty ‘Best of Young British Novelists’.

Alan Warner said: ‘I am delighted to have been appointed writer-in-residence at the University of Edinburgh, in the city I consider home. I hope I can use what experience I have to encourage University of Edinburgh students to achieve their best in all forms of creative writing.’

Alan Warner joins the University as it prepares to celebrate 250 years of English Literature at Edinburgh in 2012.

In recent years, English Literature – recognised as one of the premier departments in the UK – has developed highly respected courses in creative writing, including the appointment of a writer-in-residence.

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Parasite strategy offers insight to help tackle sleeping sickness

Fresh insight into the survival strategy of the parasite that causes sleeping sickness could help inform new treatments for the disease.

Scientists have found that the parasite, which can transform itself into either of two physical forms, has developed a careful balance between these. One of these types ensures infection in the bloodstream of a victim, and the other type is taken up by the tsetse fly and spread to another person or animal.

The parasite maintains a trade-off between maintaining enough parasites to beat off the immune response and cause infection, and ensuring sufficient parasites to enable the spread of the disease.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh, who carried out the study, used a combination of biological and mathematical techniques to show how the parasite balances production of each of the forms as it causes an infection. Their results enable fresh understanding of how the parasite reacts to its surroundings to ensure its survival in the short term as well as the long-term spread of the disease.

Sleeping sickness, which is spread by the bite of the tsetse fly, affects some 30,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa. Many millions more are considered to be at risk. The disease affects people and animals and without treatment is considered fatal.

The research, funded by the Wellcome Trust, was published in the journal Cell Host and Microbe.

Professor Keith Matthews of the University of Edinburgh, who led the study, said: ‘Sleeping sickness parasites alter their form in order to ensure their survival and spread. We hope that, having discovered more about how these parasites behave, we will be able to develop ways of interfering with their survival strategy and interrupt the spread of this disease.’

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Heart drugs could cut blood pressure risks in pregnancy

Pregnant women could benefit from a pioneering trial that will test whether heart disease drugs can be used to treat pre-eclampsia.

Researchers are investigating if a class of drugs – known as statins – can prevent the potentially fatal condition, which affects up to eight per cent of pregnant women in the UK.

The world’s first trial on statins in pregnancy follows on from research showing that statins, which are prescribed to lower heart disease, could also help to decrease amounts of two proteins linked to inducing pre-eclampsia.

Statins act on an enzyme that suppresses the production of these proteins – soluble FLt-1 and soluble endoglin.

The trial, funded by the Medical Research Council and led by the University of Edinburgh, will involve pregnant women in the UK diagnosed with very early-onset pre-eclampsia, which occurs in women who are less than 32 weeks pregnant.

It will also involve researchers from the University of Birmingham, University College London Hospital and Queen Mary, University of London.

The study follows on from previous research that shows the enzyme involved – heme oxygenase 1 – produces carbon monoxide within cells. This could explain why female smokers, who have higher levels of carbon monoxide in their blood, have a lower risk of pre-eclampsia.

The condition, which is responsible for around four million premature births worldwide each year, causes high blood pressure, inflammation of the lining of blood vessels and can also cause kidney and liver damage. In extreme cases, when unmanaged, it can also lead to convulsions and death.

Early onset pre-eclampsia affects one in 100 expectant mothers in Britain. The condition carries greater risk than pre-eclampsia occurring later in the pregnancy because the only treatment for the condition is to deliver babies prematurely.

Professor Asif Ahmed, who is leading the study, stressed that until the results were available, pregnant women who think they may be susceptible to pre-eclampsia should not ask their doctor to prescribe statins.

Professor Asif Ahmed, of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science, said: ‘This is the first stage, but we are confident that taking a scientific approach to find a way to alleviate pre-eclampsia would enable us to prolong affected pregnancies, improving the outcome for both the baby and the expectant mother. If successful this could help provide cheap, widely available therapy against pre-eclampsia which could help reduce maternal and infant deaths across the world.’

The study is known as StAmP – statins to ameliorate early onset pre-eclampsia.

Professor Max Parmar, Director of the Medical Research Council’s Clinical Trials Unit, said: ‘The MRC supports trials which drive the translation of discoveries made in the lab into real benefits for public health. The design of the StAmP study means that it should provide important evidence on whether statins, which are already widely used in other conditions, could be exploited even further. Pre-eclampsia is a major problem area in women’s health, so it would be a key step forward if this trial provides a positive outcome.’

The University of Edinburgh was recently awarded a £1m grant by the Medical Research Council to establish the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health. The centre grant comes in addition to £12m of research grants recently awarded by the MRC to health scientists in Edinburgh. The centre will conduct further research into conditions that affect the reproductive ability and health of both men and women.

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Sleep study could help adults with Down’s syndrome

Adults with Down’s syndrome could be helped towards better health, thanks to research into the quality of their sleep.

Sleep apnoea – pauses in breathing during the night – affects around two to four per cent of adults. It is more common in people with Down’s syndrome, but the exact prevalence among adults with Down’s syndrome is unknown.

Around one in 1,000 babies are born with Down’s syndrome, which occurs when people are born with an extra chromosome that can affect the way they develop.

The reasons why adults with Down’s syndrome are at a higher risk of sleep apnoea include anatomical differences, reduced muscle tone and also an increased likelihood of being overweight.

Disrupted breathing during the night can affect health, with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and high blood pressure. It can also have an impact on quality of life and ability to function during the day.

The study, by the University of Edinburgh and NHS Lothian, is calling for adults aged 16 and over with Down’s syndrome, and their carers, to take part in research into sleep patterns.

The research is funded by the Chief Scientist Office and the Fondation Jérôme Lejeune and supported by Down’s Syndrome Scotland. It aims to recruit as many people with Down’s syndrome as possible from across Scotland to fill out a questionnaire.

Questions on sleep-related issues will include whether participants snore or wake up frequently during the night and whether they are sleepy during the day.

Everyone completing a questionnaire will be offered screening for sleep-disordered breathing using a sleep kit at home to record their breathing overnight.

Following analysis of the home sleep study, 70 adults with Down’s syndrome and sleep-disordered breathing will be invited to take part in a clinical trial. Participants will be treated with the standard treatment, called CPAP, which involves wearing a mask over the nose and mouth during sleep at home, and lifestyle advice. Further tests and questionnaires will look at how treating disrupted sleep impacts on health and mental performance.

Lizzie Hill, a University of Edinburgh research fellow based at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh’s Department of Sleep Medicine, said: ‘By gaining information on sleep, we hope to be better able to improve the health and quality of life of people with Down’s syndrome. We know that sleep apnoea affects up to 60 per cent of children with Down’s syndrome, but the prevalence of sleep-disordered breathing in adults with the syndrome is unknown.’

The clinical trial will involve at least six visits to the Department of Sleep Medicine at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and travel costs will be refunded.

Pandora Summerfield, Chief Executive of Down’s Syndrome Scotland, said: ‘Everyone knows how bad we feel after a poor night’s sleep. This research will help us understand more about how sleep apnoea affects adults with Down’s syndrome, how we can minimise its impact and the effectiveness of treatment. We’re pleased the University of Edinburgh is helping adults with DS to reach their full potential, by helping to ensure sleepiness doesn’t affect their lives.’

Anyone wishing to be involved should contact Lizzie Hill on 0131 242 3879 or lizzie.hill@ed.ac.uk. 

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Smarter memory device holds key to greener gadgets

Fast, low-energy memory for MP3s, smartphones and cameras could become a reality thanks to a development by scientists.

Researchers have created a tiny device that improves on existing forms of memory storage.

Conventional methods use electronic devices to convert data into signals that are stored as binary code. This latest device uses a tiny mechanical arm to translate the data into electrical signals. This allows for much faster operation and uses much less energy compared with conventional memory storage tools.

The device records data by measuring the current passing through a carbon nanotube, and the binary value of the data is determined by an electrode that controls the flow of current.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh, who helped create the device, say it could offer gadget designers a way to create faster devices with reduced power consumption.

Previous attempts to use carbon nanotube transistors for memory storage hit a stumbling block because they had low operational speed and short memory retention times.

By using a mechanical arm to charge the electrode – which operates much faster than conventional memory devices – scientists have been able to overcome these problems.

The research, carried out in collaboration with Konkuk University and Seoul National University, Korea, was published in Nature Communications and supported by EaStCHEM.

Professor Eleanor Campbell of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry, who took part in the study, said: ‘This is a novel approach to designing memory storage devices. Using a mechanical method combined with the benefits of nanotechnology enables a system with superior speed and energy efficiency compared with existing devices.’

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Protein study helps shape understanding of body forms

Scientists have shed light on why some people are apple-shaped and others are pear-shaped.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have pinpointed a protein that plays a part in how fat is stored in the body.

The latest findings give greater understanding of how the protein works, which could help development of medicines to treat obesity.

Levels of the protein – known as 11BetaHSD1 – tend to be higher in the presence of an unhealthy type of body fat which tends to be stored around the torso – typical of ‘apple-shapes’.

Healthier fat, linked to lower levels of the protein, tends to be stored around the hips and is used more safely by the body as a source of energy – typical of people who are ‘pear-shaped’.

The study found that mice with the protein in their bodies were more likely to have unhealthy fat tissue after four weeks on a high fat diet, compared with mice without the protein.

Scientists are already looking at ways to make medicines that inhibit this protein, which is known to raise levels of hormones linked to obesity.

The research, published in the journal Diabetes was funded by the Wellcome Trust and British Heart Foundation.

Dr Nik Morton, of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science, said: ‘This study opens up new avenues for research, and gives us a much better idea of why some fat in the body becomes unhealthy while other fat is safely stored for energy. Inflammation in the unhealthy fat leads to reactions that can cause harm locally to tissues and affect the whole organism, promoting diabetes. Limiting the presence of this protein could help combat this.’

As well as being more likely to be stored around vital organs in the torso, fat with higher levels of 11BetaHSD1 is considered to be unhealthy as it is associated with an over-reaction in the immune system.

Cells normally become inflamed in order to kill off an infection, but as there is no infection in the fat tissue the inflammation instead causes damage to healthy cells.

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Curbing cholesterol could help combat infections, study shows

Lowering cholesterol could help the body’s immune system fight viral infections, researchers have found.

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have shown a direct link between the workings of the immune system and cholesterol levels.

Researchers found that when the body succumbs to a viral infection a hormone in the immune system sends signals to blood cells, causing cholesterol levels to be lowered.

Cholesterol produced by our cells is needed for viruses and certain bacteria to grow. Limiting our body’s production of cholesterol would therefore curb the opportunity for viruses to thrive.

Scientists say that it may be possible to use cholesterol lowering drugs that also boost the immune system.

Professor Peter Ghazal, of the University’s Division of Pathway Medicine, said: ‘What we have discovered is that a key immune hormone stimulated upon infection can lower cholesterol levels and thereby deprive viral infections of the sustenance they need to grow. Drugs currently exist to lower cholesterol levels, but the next step would be to see if such drugs would also work to help bolster our immune systems.’

Currently drugs such as antibiotics are used to fight infections by targeting the bug directly. The researchers hope to find new ways to manipulate the body’s immune system by targeting cholesterol metabolism.

This could involve mimicking immune signals sent to lower the production of cholesterol.

Such treatment would help overcome the problems associated with antibiotic resistance, as it would seek to enhance the way the body responds to an infection, instead of focussing on attacking the bug itself.

The research, published in the journal PLoS Biology, was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the British Heart Foundation.

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Meeting to combat devastating disease in pigs

International experts are to meet to discuss ways of combating a fast mutating virus affecting pig herds.

The meeting in Edinburgh will look at ways of improving and sharing knowledge relating to porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV).

Although the economic impact of PRRSV has not yet been quantified in Europe, the virus is estimated to cost the American swine industry around $600 million a year – almost a third of its losses related to infectious diseases.

The event at The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh is part of an initiative to better understand the impact of the virus and improved ways of controlling it.

The condition, also known as Blue-Ear Pig Disease, leads to reproductive failure in breeding stock and respiratory tract illness in young pigs. It can also prove fatal, as it affects pigs’ immune systems, leaving them vulnerable to other infections.

Since PRRSV was first discovered just over two decades ago, American and European types have been categorised.

However, the virus itself evolves rapidly consequently and there are now many genetic variants. This has caused challenges in vaccine production as an inoculation against one strain does not prevent against another strain of the virus.

More than 30 experts from countries including America, Canada, Spain, Italy, Poland, Germany, Greece and the UK will attend the workshop in Edinburgh on 27–28 January.

The meeting will look at ways that mathematical modelling can help combat the disease, both in terms of movement and breeding control of pigs.

It forms part of the EuroPRRSnet initiative, funded by the European Cooperation in Science and Technology, and coordinated by The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh.

The initiative brings together experts from 18 countries and more than 23 institutions to understand the impact of the virus in Europe. It will develop multidisciplinary collaborative research focussed on epidemiology, immuno-pathology, vaccine development and diagnostics.

Dr Tahar Ait-Ali, of The Roslin Institute who is project co-ordinator of the EuroPRRSnet initiative, said: ‘This virus has had a major impact on pig health and welfare. Although changes in husbandry have helped, outbreaks of this severe disease still occur and it is particularly devastating in developing countries. Working together we will be able to share knowledge from a wide range of expertise to limit the damage caused by this disease.’

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Peanut allergies more common in boys than girls, study shows

Young boys are more likely to suffer from a peanut allergy than young girls, a study has shown.

The study, by the University of Edinburgh, also showed that children from affluent backgrounds have the highest rates of peanut allergy. The team says more research is needed to explain the reasons for this socio-economic difference.

Researchers studied health records from over 400 GP practices in England between 2001 and 2005 to find the number of patients with an official allergy diagnosis.

The results showed that males under the age of 20 are almost 30 per cent more likely to suffer from the allergic condition – which can, in severe cases, be fatal – than females in the same age group.

However, by adulthood, GP records show that peanut allergy rates are slightly higher in women than in men.

Researchers say this may be partly explained by the fact that after the age of 15, women are more likely to visit their doctor than men and are therefore more likely to have an allergic condition detected.

Alternatively, the difference in allergy rates could be explained by a true biological change that is linked to sex hormones around the time of puberty. The team says more research is needed to determine the cause of the change in allergy rates.

It is the first time that GP records have been used to analyse the prevalence of peanut allergies in England.

The results showed that more than 25,000 people in England have been diagnosed with a peanut allergy at some point in their lives, which is lower than previous estimates have suggested.

The highest rates of peanut allergy were found in children between the ages of five and nine years old.

Peanut allergies commonly cause breathing problems. At their most serious, they can lead to a potentially life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

Dr Daniel Kotz, who led the research at the University of Edinburgh said: ‘This research has shown that whilst peanut allergy is less common than previously thought, it affects over 25,000 people in England. Having a serious allergy like this can cause great anxiety and stress to those affected. We now need more research to help explain why the condition occurs relatively more often in boys and affluent people.’

The study was funded by the Department of Health.

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Tiny device delivers new ways to treat cancers

Chemotherapy that has much-reduced side-effects could be a step closer, thanks to a development by scientists.

Researchers have created a tiny device that triggers reactions in cells and could enable cancer drugs to be activated at the site of a tumour.

Targeting drug treatment where it is needed could safeguard the rest of the patient’s body and help curb side-effects associated with chemotherapy such as hair loss, sickness and weakened immunity.

The device, developed by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, delivers tiny quantities of palladium, a metal that is not naturally found in human cells. The metal helps to trigger reactions in the cell without altering everyday cell functions, such as producing proteins and metabolising energy.

Researchers encased tiny particles of palladium in a harmless coating that is able to enter live cells. They found that, in the lab, the metal was able to trigger specific reactions in the cell without having any effect elsewhere.

Although the research is at an early stage, scientists believe the technique will allow the therapeutic use of palladium to manipulate cell activity and to produce substances, such as drugs, without affecting the rest of the body.

The study, published in Nature Chemistry, was carried out in collaboration with the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. It was supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Royal Society, the Government of Malaysia and the Swiss National Science Foundation.

The discovery could pave the way for delivering therapies to where they are needed in the body, scientists say, and could also be used to deliver dyes to organs for diagnostic tests.

Professor Mark Bradley of the University’s School of Chemistry, who led the research, said: ‘This technique potentially gives us the ability to deliver drugs to exactly where they are needed, for example in targeting cancerous tumours.

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Gene discovery offers clues to how infants pick up language

Scientists have made a key genetic discovery that could help explain how people learn language.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have found a gene called ROBO1, linked to the mechanism in the brain that helps infants develop speech.

They say identifying the gene could help us explain how some aspects of language learning in infants are influenced by genetic traits rather than educational factors.

The scientists conducted a five-year study, assessing the language learning techniques of 538 families with upto five offspring.

They found that one version of the ROBO1 gene greatly enhanced a core component of language learning.

The gene directs chemicals in brain cells that help infants store and translate speech sounds they hear into meaningful language.

The researchers found a significant link between the way this gene functions and the brain’s ability to store speech sounds for a brief period of time.

This process is an essential part of the language learning process for the very young when words are at first meaningless until associated with an object or concept.

The team believes the gene discovery may help in the understanding of speech disorders, dyslexia and short-term memory problems affecting as many as one in 10 children in the UK.

Professor Timothy Bates, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, who led the research, said: ‘The infant language acquisition system is quintessentially human and yet is a complex system requiring many brain regions. The discovery of the ROBO1 gene helps to understand how speech sounds can be stored long enough to be integrated with meaning.’

The research was carried out in collaboration with scientists and the University of Queensland. The results are published in the European Journal of Human Genetics.

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Parasite’s competitive streak offers insight into malaria

Scientists have gained fresh insight into malaria with research that shows how the parasite faces a tough struggle for survival.

When malaria parasites enter the bloodstream of their victims, they alter their plan of attack if they face competition from other, competing, strains of the infection, the study by University of Edinburgh scientists shows.

The malaria parasites focus on producing cells that replicate quickly to cause infection, rather than cells capable of being taken up by a feeding mosquito and spreading the disease.

Since malaria infections usually consist of multiple, competing strains of the parasite, this attack strategy is the best way to beat the competition. However, the parasites pay a high price as they have fewer resources left to spread the disease.

Malaria, which is spread by mosquito bites, affects people and animals in sub-Saharan Africa. The disease kills about one million people each year and accounts for one in five of all child deaths in Africa. Half of the world’s population is at risk.

The study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and Natural Environment Research Council, was published in American Naturalist.

Laura Pollitt of the School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: ‘Our results explain a long-standing puzzle of parasite behaviour. We found that when parasites compete with each other, they respond with a sophisticated strategy to safeguard their long-term survival. They opt to fight it out in the bloodstream rather than risk everything on the chance of infecting mosquitoes in the short term.’

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University to boost India links through new Mumbai office

The University of Edinburgh is intensifying its longstanding ties with India by opening a new liaison office in Mumbai.

The office, which officially opens on 14 February, will simplify communication and collaboration between the University and partners in Indian education, business and government.

By working with Indian partners within India, the University’s presence in Mumbai will also impact on wider society, helping to tackle a range of pressing concerns such as environmental challenges, economic development and health issues.

In addition, the University is launching a new course that trains students to aid in India’s development, supported by a new programme of scholarships dedicated to students from India who are studying for an Edinburgh masters degree.

Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, Principal of the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘I am proud to announce the opening of this India office. Our efforts show that the University of Edinburgh is committed to working with Indian partners and institutions.

‘Our partnerships with India will help us not only to further education across the world, but also to jointly pursue solutions to serious problems facing us all – such as climate change, improving global health, and economic development.’

To coincide with the official opening, Roger Jeffery, the University’s Professor of Sociology of South Asia, will deliver a public lecture at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi, at the School of Social Sciences committee room, titled Indian pharmaceuticals in the post-WTO world.

These activities mark the beginning of a series of collaborative events for the University that will take place in India in 2011. These include the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with JNU on future co-operation in areas including social sciences, life sciences, and arts and aesthetics, as well as public lectures on climate change and health in Mumbai and Bangalore.

Meanwhile, students are being recruited for the University of Edinburgh’s Masters programme on South Asia and International Development, which will start in September. Applications for the new course are already being invited.

The course will prepare students to work in development-linked areas in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. It will focus on issues such as the gap between rich and poor in the rapidly developing region and the impact of history on South Asian development.

Professor Roger Jeffery said: ‘South Asia’s development is one of the world’s most important political, economic and social issues, posing important practical challenges to the future lives of millions.

‘This new programme places South Asian development in the proper context and equips people to work in international development and play an active role in understanding and assisting in shaping the region’s future.’

In addition, the University has made 15 scholarships – called the Principal’s Indian Masters Scholarships – available in 2011–2012 to students from India for masters-level study in any subject.

Each scholarship will have a value of £3,000, which will be tenable for one academic year.

The University has a long tradition of teaching and scholarship relating to India. Former Edinburgh figures include William Robertson, who wrote one of the earliest European texts on Indian commerce and culture, and Victor Kiernan, known for his translations of the poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Mohammed Iqbal.

The University is also home to the Centre for South Asian Studies, the principal academic unit in Scotland dedicated to the study of the Indian subcontinent. The Centre has links with the Scottish Parliament, non-governmental organisations and major educational and cultural groups in South Asia and Scotland.

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Benedetti adds string to her bow by backing scholarship fund

Virtuoso violinist Nicola Benedetti is backing a new scheme to support Italian Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

Classical music star Ms Benedetti, who has just released her fifth album, is to become patron of a scheme to provide scholarship opportunities for postgraduate students in Italian Studies.

Scots-born Ms Benedetti, who is proud of her Italian heritage, is launching a Nicola Benedetti Scholarship Fund to generate opportunities for students who otherwise may not have the chance to take part in Italian Studies at Edinburgh.

The fund will seek to provide scholarships for Masters, PhD programmes and Postdoctoral Fellowships in Italian Studies including research in Italian visual arts, music, literature, history and philosophy.

Ms Benedetti said the scholarships will enhance Scotland’s rich, historical ties with Italy.

Ms Benedetti said: ‘I am very proud to support Italian postgraduate studies at the University of Edinburgh and hope this new fund can help ensure that no gifted student misses out on a place at Edinburgh because of a financial obstacle.’

Italian has been taught at the University of Edinburgh since 1919. More students graduate in Italian Studies from Edinburgh than any other Scottish university.

Professor Federica Pedriali, Head of Modern Italian Studies at the University of Edinburgh said: ‘We would like to thank the Benedetti family for their support. The number of students applying for postgraduate Italian Studies is the highest it has ever been. This will go a long way in assisting with the development of our postgraduate programme.’

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