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University of Leicester news

The latest study and research news from the University of Leicester

September 2012
August 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
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December 2011
November 2011
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January 2011

University of Leicester to launch UK’s first virtual autopsy course for pathologists, radiologists, coroners and radiographers

Pathologists, radiologists, coroners and radiographers will receive introductory training in a revolutionary new form of autopsy practice. The forensic pathologists and radiologists at the University of Leicester in collaboration with the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust are international experts in this new field.

The East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit (EMFPU), based at the University, is offering the UK’s first course in post-mortem computed tomography (CT) – a new non-surgical autopsy technique.

The series of one-day courses addressing different aspects of the post-mortem CT techniques will introduce HM Coroners, pathologists, radiologists, radiographers and any other interested parties to the use of CT in the investigation of sudden death.

The course will feature talks from UK post mortem imaging experts Professor Guy Rutty, Chief Forensic Pathologist to the EMFPU, and Professor Bruno Morgan, Forensic Radiologist at the University of Leicester’s College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology. Last year, Professor Rutty became the first person to present evidence derived from post mortem computed tomography in a UK court.

Dr Frances Hollingbury, Speciality Registrar in Forensic Pathology at the EMFPU, said: ‘There is currently no UK training programme in post-mortem imaging. The Leicester Post-Mortem Computed Tomography Imaging Course is the first of its kind in the UK and aims to increase the awareness of post-mortem imaging as well as providing training to those interested in this field.

‘Over the last 10 years, post-mortem computed tomography has been increasingly used as an adjunct to invasive post mortem examinations. The continuing developments in this area, especially with the advances in the use of post-mortem angiographic techniques, mean that post-mortem computed tomography now has the potential to replace some invasive post-mortem procedures.

‘CT enables the body to be viewed in great detail in both two and three dimensional reconstructions prior to invasive examination allowing pathologists to plan their approach to the examination as well as highlighting potential health and safety concerns for example the presence of projectiles or multiple bony injuries. The CT data is stored indefinitely allowing the scans to be reviewed at any time and in any location around the world.’

The first day-long course, Introduction to Post-Mortem Imaging, will be held on October 9 at the EMFPU. Further courses in Practical Introduction to Post-Mortem CT and Reporting and Practical Introduction to Post-Mortem Angiography will be held at later dates. A separate day is also planned for radiographers.

Find out more about the University of Leicester.

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Archaeologists uncover ‘lost garden’ in quest for Richard III

Archaeologists from the University of Leicester who are leading the search for the lost grave of King Richard III have announced that they have made a new advance in their quest.

They have uncovered evidence of the lost garden of Robert Herrick – where, historically, it is recorded there was a memorial to Richard III.

Now the ‘time tomb team’ as they have become to be known has discovered paving stones which they believe belong to the garden.

The University of Leicester is leading the archaeological search for the burial place of King Richard III with Leicester City Council, in association with the Richard III Society.

In 1485 King Richard III was defeated at the battle of Bosworth. His body, stripped and despoiled, was brought to Leicester where he was buried in the church of the Franciscan Friary, known as the Grey Friars. Over time the exact whereabouts of the Grey Friars became lost.

The project which began in August 2012 has involved the digging of three trenches. Early in September, the archaeologists confirmed they had found the church of the Grey Friars and now they have found the garden outside the church.

Philippa Langley, of the Richard III Society, said: ‘This is an astonishing discovery and a huge step forward in the search for King Richard’s grave. Herrick is incredibly important in the story of Richard’s grave, and in potentially helping us get that little bit closer to locating it.’

In the early 1600s, Alderman Robert Herrick, a mayor of Leicester, bought the land of the Grey Friars and built a large mansion house with a garden on the site. In 1612, Christopher Wren, father of the famous architect, was visiting Herrick and recorded seeing a handsome three foot stone pillar in Herrick’s garden. Inscribed on the pillar was: ‘Here lies the body of Richard III sometime King of England’.

This is the last known record of the site of King Richard’s grave. Richard is historically recorded as being buried in the choir of the Church of Grey Friars.

Thereafter, in 1711, Herrick’s descendants sold the mansion house and garden. After passing through various owners the mansion house was eventually pulled down sometime in the 1870s and the municipal buildings were built. However, Herrick’s garden seems to have remained a garden, or wasteland, up until the 1930s–40s when it was tarmacked over to become a car park.

Mrs Langley added: ‘The discovery of Herrick’s garden is a major step forward and I’m incredibly excited. In locating what looks like one of the garden’s pathways and, potentially, its central area which could have once held the three foot stone pillar marking the location of King Richard’s grave, we could be that bit closer to finding the resting place of Britain’s last warrior king.’

Mr Buckley, Co-Director of University of Leicester Archaeological Services, said the area of paving was found at its southern end, composed of re-used medieval tiles laid in a haphazard pattern.

‘The tiles were also extremely worn and of many different sizes. Although the date at which the paving was laid has yet to be confirmed, we suspect that it relates to the period of Herrick’s mansion. Interestingly, the 18th century map of Leicester shows a formal garden with a series of paths leading to a central point.

‘The paving we have found may relate to this garden, but it lies outside the church to the south. Inside the church in this third trench, further investigation has revealed some large fragments of window tracery which could well relate to the east window, behind the high altar. If so, this may show that we are in the extreme east end of the building – near the choir where Richard III is said to have been buried.

‘Having overcome the major hurdle of finding the church, I am now confident that we are within touching distance of finding the choir – a real turning point in the project and a stage which, at the outset, I never really thought we might reach.’

Work at the site will stop for a public open day between 11am and 2pm on Saturday 8 September and will resume the following week.

The dig is being filmed by Darlow Smithson Productions for a forthcoming Channel 4 documentary to be aired later this year.

Find out more about the University of Leicester.

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Addressing the need for microscopic speed

Researchers at the University of Leicester have developed a new form of digital microscope which can create an image 100 times faster than regular equipment – without losing image quality.

The team of scientists have developed a new type of confocal microscope that produces high-resolution images at very fast speeds.

The findings are due to be published on the online journal PLOS ONE on 24 August.

The device, which takes a cue from consumer electronics such as televisions, can be bolted on to a regular microscope and projects light through a system of mirrors on to the microscopic sample.

The device projects patterns of illumination onto the specimen, and only light that is precisely in the plane of focus returns along the same path and is reflected by the mirror onto a camera to form an image.

The ability to be able to program the mirror device allows the illumination pattern to be adjusted easily for different types of specimens and conditions giving ease of use and flexibility.

Unwanted light that comes from regions of the specimen which are out of focus are rejected, improving the image quality.

The resulting images can be scanned on a computer at around 100 frames per second, showing biological processes such as cell activity at much higher speeds than regular microscopes – which tend to be capped at around 1 frame per second.

The Leicester team’s microscope has no moving parts, making it robust, and the use of a programmable, digital micromirror allows the user to alter the size and spacing of mirrors in order to choose the quality of the image and adapt to different imaging conditions. Consequently, it has much greater flexibility than other microscopes capable of similar speeds.

The researchers believe this technology will be a big help to those working in many scientific fields, including biomedical research and neuroscience.

The research was led by Professor Nick Hartell, of the University’s Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology, who plans to use the new device for his own work studying the cell mechanisms involved in the brain’s storage of memories.

The project was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), which has also provided funding for the team to develop the device as a commercial product.

Professor Hartell said: ‘We built the device as there is a “need for speed”. I found out about this technology from its use in projectors and realised that it could be used to develop a microscope.

‘Modern biological research, and modern neuroscience, depends upon the development of new technologies that allow the optical detection of biological events as they occur. Many biological events take place in the millisecond time scale and so there is a great need for new methods of detecting events at high speed and at high resolution.

‘We are very excited because we have been able to go from a concept, to a working prototype that is useful for my research into neuroscience. There is a good chance that we will be able to make a product and see that being used in labs in the UK and worldwide.’

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How to bend it like Beckham: physics students calculate perfect football formula

Now that David Beckham won’t be appearing at the London 2012 Olympics, other members of Team GB wanting to brush up on their free-kicks can rest easy.

University of Leicester physics students have published a paper which sets out the optimum way of kicking a football in order to make it bend into the goal.

The ex-England captain’s curling free-kicks became legendary, and even inspired the title of the 2002 film Bend It Like Beckham.

Now, four master’s students at the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy believe they have discovered a formula to explain how the football curves when a player puts spin on it.

The equation may also prove useful for the teams competing in the Euro 2012 final on Sunday 1 July.

Jasmine Sandhu, Amy Edgington, Matthew Grant and Naomi Rowe-Gurney found a relationship between the amount a football bends in the air, the speed it is travelling and the angular velocity – or ‘spin’ – applied to the ball.

When a football spins in the air, it is subjected to a force called the Magnus force – which causes it to curl sideways from the direction it was originally kicked.

The group found that the distance a ball bends (D) as a result of this force is related to the ball’s radius (R), the density of air (ρ), the ball’s angular velocity (ω), its velocity through the air (v), its mass (m) and the distance travelled by the ball in the direction it was kicked (x).

They found that the various parts can be tied together using this formula:

Football formula

For instance, if a player standing 15 metres away from the byline kicked an average football so that it was travelling at a velocity of 35 metres per second and had an angular velocity of 10 revolutions per second, the ball would bend around 5 metres towards the goal.

As a result, the player would probably need to bring a tape measure – as well as a measure of their own abilities – if they wanted to put the theory into practice during a game!

Jasmine Sandhu, who studies Physics with Space Science and Technology, said: ‘Whilst researching new ideas for a paper I read about how physics influences various aspects of football, from the clothing they wear to the effects of playing at high altitude.

‘The article discussed how a new design of ball, used in the 2010 World Cup, has three dimensional moulding of the panels in order to produce a more rounded ball, thus affecting the spin that can be imparted.

‘This prompted us to examine how footballers use spin on the ball, and the factors which influence how much the path of the ball would bend.

‘These findings made me more aware of how I can use spin to bend the ball in a game of football. In addition, this research is also relevant to other sports, such as tennis, which shows that physics definitely gives you the edge!’

The paper was published in this year’s University of Leicester Journal of Physics Special Topics, which features original short papers written by students in the final year of their four-year Master of Physics degree.

Course leader Dr Mervyn Roy, a lecturer at the University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: ‘A lot of the papers published in the Journal are on subjects that are amusing, topical, or a bit off-the-wall. Our fourth years are nothing if not creative! But, to be a research physicist – in industry or academia – you need to show some imagination, to think outside the box, and this is certainly something that the module allows our students to practice.

‘Most of our masters students hope to go on to careers in research where a lot of their time will be taken up with scientific publishing – writing and submitting papers, and writing and responding to referee reports.

‘This is another area where the module really helps. Because Physics Special Topics is run exactly like a professional journal, the students get the chance to develop all the skills they will need when dealing with high profile journals like Nature or Science later on in life.’

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New £340,000 investment into asthma and allergy research at University of Leicester

A charity operating Britain’s longest-running pollen database is investing over £340,000 into vital asthma and allergy research at the University of Leicester.

The Midlands Asthma and Allergy Research Association (MAARA), a local charity established in 1968 to undertake and fund research into the causes of asthma and allergy, is funding the study in the University’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation.

Steve Watson, Chairman of MAARA, said: ‘We recognise the importance of research in this area and have been impressed with the results that Dr Catherine Pashley and her team have delivered to date. I believe that the techniques they have developed are ground breaking and the results of the longer term research could make a real difference to the lives of Asthma sufferers.’

The funding will directly benefit asthma and hayfever sufferers in the East Midlands, according to Dr Catherine Pashley who runs the Aerobiology and Clinical Mycology Group at the University. She said: ‘I am absolutely delighted to be given this amazing opportunity. This funding means we will be able to continue our research which we hope will enable us to better understand what fungi people are breathing in, and which of these fungi are causing clinical complications. We hope to also begin new strands of research that will help us to better understand the mechanisms behind how the fungi are causing problems.’

In 2005, MAARA provided a five year start-up grant to the University of Leicester, under the leadership of Professor Andy Wardlaw, to establish the new Aerobiology and Clinical Mycology Group.

MAARA also fund the University of Leicester Aerobiology and Clinical Mycology Group as the only site in the East Midlands recording airborne pollen levels, a summary of which is made freely available on the MAARA website in addition to being used by the Met Office in conjunction with other sites throughout the UK to produce pollen forecasts for hayfever sufferers.

The group is also one of only two sites in the UK routinely recording airborne fungal spore levels. With access to the MAARA aerobiology database which goes back to 1970, the group has the longest running pollen and fungal spore database in the UK. The funding also helped initiate a programme of research into the role of fungal allergy in asthma, which has resulted in six research articles published to date in peer reviewed journals, including one in a top respiratory journal.

Fungal allergy affects a significant proportion of hayfever and asthma sufferers, but our understanding of which fungi are involved and how they cause problems is still mostly unknown. With the support of MAARA researchers at the University of Leicester are actively learning more about the fungi in the air we breathe indoors and out. In addition they are taking a closer look at which fungi are actively growing in the lungs of people with asthma, and are currently involved in a clinical trial looking at the effectiveness of an antifungal treatment.

Dr Pashley added: ‘A better understanding will hopefully allow us to advise people with allergies about living conditions and how to manage their allergies. In the long term there is the hope of treatments that will prevent the fungal allergies themselves rather than just treating the symptoms.’

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Stillbirth rate twice as high among least well-off in England

The rate of stillbirths in England is twice as high among the least well off as it is among the most affluent, shows research led by the University of Leicester and published in the online journal BMJ Open.

What is more, this inequality gap is evident across all causes of stillbirth, and has not changed in eight years, the findings show. The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

The authors from the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Leicester assessed the number of singleton stillbirths occurring in England between 2000 to 2007, inclusive. They looked in particular at the specific causes of stillbirth per 10,000 births, in light of deprivation levels and year of birth.

Deprivation was measured at area level, using the UK index of multiple deprivation, and the most deprived 10ths were compared with the least deprived, to assess the extent of any inequality gap.

For every 10,000 births during the eight year period, 44 were stillborn babies, a rate that remained constant throughout.

Rates were twice as high among the most deprived 10th of England as they were among the least deprived – a disparity that remained constant throughout the study period.

This inequality gap was evident for all specific causes other than mechanical events, such as breech presentation, with the widest gap of all seen for bleeding before birth (antepartum haemorrhage).

Women living in the most deprived 10th of England were three times as likely to give birth to a stillborn baby following a bleed before their due date (antepartum haemorrhage), as those living in the least deprived 10th.

Risk factors for this condition include previous pregnancies, several pregnancies close together, smoking, and being at the extreme ends of the reproductive age spectrum, say the authors.

Similarly, stillbirths attributable to congenital abnormalities were nearly three times more likely among women from the areas of greatest deprivation.

Over half of stillbirths (59%) were deaths in the womb of unknown cause, and these accounted for around half of the gap in stillbirth rates between the least and most deprived areas, the findings showed.

Despite improvements in healthcare in developed nations, stillbirth remains relatively common, and the UK has one of the highest rates, say the authors, who add that their findings confirm previous trends.

‘If the stillbirth rates seen in the least deprived areas were seen throughout the population, there would be a third fewer stillbirths in England, nearly 900 fewer every year,’ they conclude.

The evidence from other high income countries, where the rate has fallen, suggests that there are modifiable factors, which can be addressed, they add.

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Scholarships celebrated: Overseas students toast their time in Leicester

Gifted University of Leicester students from Spain and Latin America have celebrated after receiving scholarships for their postgraduate studies.

A presentation evening was held for a group of master’s students from Spain, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and Mexico, who have been awarded funding from Santander’s Universities UK scheme to study at the University.

The scholarship scheme is part of an extensive co-operation agreement set up between the University and Santander Universities Global Division in 2010, and provides £5,000 in essential funding for academically-talented students from Spain, Portugal and Latin America which enables them to pursue postgraduate study.

The 19 students who each received the £5,000 scholarships for this academic year started their courses in October 2011 and will complete their studies this October.

They were presented with certificates at the celebration evening which featured presentations from Professor Douglas Tallack, Pro-Vice Chancellor (International) and Head of the College of Arts, Humanities and Law, and Lucy Croucher, Senior Student Recruitment Officer.

Caroline Berry, International Officer, said: ‘Studying abroad is a life-changing experience and in most cases the students would not have been able to fund their studies without a Santander Scholarship. Upon completing their studies, these students will be able to return home and make an important and lasting contribution to their countries’ future development.

‘The University of Leicester is keen to continue attracting the brightest and best students from all over the world to our full range of programmes and Santander’s support has been invaluable in enabling us to do so.’

Scholarship recipient Paula Mejias, 29, from Venezuela, who is studying for an MSc in Economics, said: ‘I have no doubts that the help that Santander has generously given us is contributing to the creation of a future generation of Latin American leaders. I really appreciate the honour of being awarded with this scholarship. Now I feel not simply a visionary but a skilled and experienced visionary. Education and the British lifestyle have empowered me and that’s exactly what I will try to replicate in the future.’

Lorena Boquete, 24, who comes from Spain and is taking an MSc in Molecular Genetics, said: ‘I knew I wanted to study a master’s in genetics here in Leicester way before knowing about these scholarships.

‘When they told me I was awarded a Santander Scholarship, a big part of the pressure disappeared. I want to thank Santander for this scholarship, not only for helping me to pay the fees of a master’s, but for helping me to study what I always wanted.’

Steve O’Connor, Director of Development at the University, said: ‘We would like to thank Santander Universities for their support which extends beyond scholarships to travel awards, language training, summer schools and backing for the prestigious Creative Writing Lecture series, which this year will feature leading Mexican author Laura Esquivel.

‘Our partnership continues to grow and will provide over £350,000 in philanthropic funding over the next three years to support high quality postgraduate education and our widening participation initiatives.’

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Psychology lecture examines how to learn from memory

Evidence that your genes may determine how well your brain stores memories, and the implications that this has for teaching and learning, will be examined at the University of Leicester’s annual Sluckin lecture on 17 May 2012.

Professor Andrew Mayes of the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Manchester is to speak for the University’s School of Psychology on ‘Memory, Brain and Genes – and Some Educational Recommendations’.

Recent research on the genetics of memory strongly suggests that individual memory differences depend significantly on people having variants of genes that store memories more or less efficiently. Other recent evidence suggests that repeatedly recalling information that is being learnt greatly slows forgetting and improves long-term retention, relative to repeated study.

Professor Mayes will argue that, when applied to education, ‘recall repetition’ and similar techniques, such as spaced learning, will greatly help students learn and remember better.

Professor Andrew Colman of the University of Leicester’s School of Psychology, commented: ‘This should be a fascinating lecture by an eminent neuroscientist who knew Wladek Sluckin well.’

Professor Mayes’s lecture, ‘Memory, Brain and Genes – and Some Educational Recommendations’ will take place from 4.30–5.30pm on Thursday 17 May in the Frank and Katherine May Lecture Theatre, Henry Wellcome Building.

The lecture is free and will be followed by a drinks reception in the atrium.

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University of Leicester study identifies key cellular mechanisms behind the onset of tinnitus

Researchers in the University of Leicester’s Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology have identified a cellular mechanism that could underlie the development of tinnitus following exposure to loud noises. The discovery could lead to novel tinnitus treatments, and investigations into potential drugs to prevent tinnitus are currently underway. 

Tinnitus is a sensation of phantom sounds, usually ringing or buzzing, heard in the ears when no external noise is present. It commonly develops after exposure to loud noises (acoustic over-exposure), and scientists have speculated that it results from damage to nerve cells connected to the ears.

Although hearing loss and tinnitus affect around ten percent of the population, there are currently no drugs available to treat or prevent tinnitus.

University of Leicester researcher Dr Martine Hamann, who led the study published in the journal Hearing Research, said: ‘We need to know the implications of acoustic over exposure, not only in terms of hearing loss but also what’s happening in the brain and central nervous system. It’s believed that tinnitus results from changes in excitability in cells in the brain – cells become more reactive, in this case more reactive to an unknown sound.’

Dr Hamann and her team, including PhD student Nadia Pilati, looked at cells in an area of the brain called the dorsal cochlear nucleus – the relay carrying signals from nerve cells in the ear to the parts of the brain that decode and make sense of sounds. Following exposure to loud noises, some of the nerve cells (neurons) in the dorsal cochlear nucleus start to fire erratically, and this uncontrolled activity eventually leads to tinnitus.

Dr Hamann said: ‘We showed that exposure to loud sound triggers hearing loss a few days after the exposure to the sound. It also triggers this uncontrolled activity in the neurons of the dorsal cochlear nucleus. This is all happening very quickly, in a matter of days’

In a key breakthrough in collaboration with GSK who sponsored Dr Pilati’s PhD, the team also discovered the specific cellular mechanism that leads to the neurons’ over-activity. Malfunctions in specific potassium channels that help regulate the nerve cell’s electrical activity mean the neurons cannot return to an equilibrium resting state.

Ordinarily, these cells only fire regularly and therefore regularly return to a rest state. However, if the potassium channels are not working properly, the cells cannot return to a rest state and instead fire continuously in random bursts, creating the sensation of constant noise when none exists.

Dr Hamann explained: ‘In normal conditions the channel helps to drag down the cellular electrical activity to its resting state and this allows the cell to function with a regular pattern. After exposure to loud sound, the channel is functioning less and therefore the cell is constantly active, being unable to reach its resting state and displaying those irregular bursts.’

Although many researchers have investigated the mechanisms underlying tinnitus, this is the first time that cellular bursting activity has been characterised and linked to specific potassium channels. Identifying the potassium channels involved in the early stages of tinnitus opens up new possibilities for preventing tinnitus with early drug treatments.

Dr Hamann’s team is currently investigating potential drugs that could regulate the damaged cells, preventing their erratic firing and returning them to a resting state. If suitable drug compounds are discovered, they could be given to patients who have been exposed to loud noises to protect them against the onset of tinnitus.

These investigations are still in the preliminary stages, and any drug treatment would still be years away.

The research was funded by a Research Councils UK fellowship to Dr Hamann, a grant from the Wellcome Trust and a PhD studentship from GlaxoSmithKline, with follow-up investigations funded by a three-month grant from Deafness Research UK. Further pharmaceutical research will be carried out by the University of Leicester in collaboration with Autifony Therapeutics Ltd via a Medical Research Council Case studentship due to start in October 2012.

Vivienne Michael, Chief Executive of Deafness Research UK, said: ‘We’re pleased to hear about this progress in such a debilitating hearing impairment. The charity continues to fund research into better treatments for tinnitus, with the ultimate aim of a cure. Our free information leaflets offer immediate help to sufferers and our national helpline provides additional support. Regularly tinnitus generates the most requests for help.’

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Unique ‘Global CSI’ course to be launched

The University of Leicester is launching a unique postgraduate course taught through distance learning by world-leading forensic scientists across three continents.

The new Forensic Science and Criminal Justice distance learning MSc will allow students from anywhere on the globe to learn from experts in the University’s Chemistry, Engineering, Geology, Archaeology, Criminology and Law departments as well as from the University of Florida, USA, and the University of Canberra, Australia.

Course leaders hope the course will give students who are already working in the field of forensics the ability to gain senior managerial roles and expertise in the forensics industry.

The course will be led by Professor Robert Hillman, Professor of Physical Chemistry, and Dr John Bond OBE, a former head of Northamptonshire Police’s Forensic Science Unit, whose revolutionary technique for uncovering fingerprints from spent bullet cartridges was cited as one of Time Magazine’s top 50 inventions of the year in 2008.

The two-year course, which will commence for the first time in October 2012, will consist entirely of online learning and assessment – although there will be opportunities for students to come to the campus at key stages during the course to meet tutors and fellow students and to gain first hand experience of the campus facilities and environment.

The course will, in the first year, cover the fundamentals of crime scene examination and interpretation together with an introduction to research methods. In the second year, students may select modules of interest to them from a wide variety of topics offered by all three universities.

Students may, if they choose, specialise in a particular area, such as analytical techniques, human remains and crime management.

The three institutions are part of the Global Forensic Network and are in the process of agreeing to share resources to enable students to have access to a wide range of forensic material.

Professor Hillman said: ‘The course is unique because no other institution offers the international collaborations that we do. By linking with the University of Florida and the University of Canberra, we can cover the full range of topics based on expertise from all areas of forensic science.

‘A key outcome for students will be career advancement. We anticipate that most of our students will already be involved in forensic science, but probably at an entry level position. They will not be familiar with the underlying principles. The course is for people who aspire to managerial or more advanced scientific roles. It will also help to prepare them to give opinion in court and to act as expert witnesses.’

Professor Ian Tebbett, Director of Forensic Science at the University of Florida, said: ‘The University of Leicester is recognised as a pioneer in the field of forensic science and we are excited about this collaboration as part of the Global Forensic Network. Leicester’s expertise will significantly add to our goal of making quality forensic education available to those who need it most no matter where in the world they are located.’

Professor Chris Lennard, Discipline Head of Forensic Studies at the University of Canberra, said: ‘We welcome the University of Leicester to the Global Forensic Education Network and look forward to their contributions that will expand the range of subjects available to students enrolled through the partner institutions.’

Anyone wishing to apply for the course can go to www.le.ac.uk/pgapplyonline. For more information, contact the University of Leicester Forensic Science Team at forensicscidl@le.ac.uk or by telephoning +44 (0)116 252 2612.

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Genetic similarity promotes cooperation – new study

In a dog-eat-dog world of ruthless competition and ‘survival of the fittest’, new research from the University of Leicester reveals that individuals are genetically programmed to work together and cooperate with those who most resemble themselves.

A tendency for similar individuals to cooperate selectively with one another, even if they are not close relatives, can evolve spontaneously in simple organisms. This may help to explain why cooperation is so widespread in nature, the study suggests.

Lead researcher Professor Andrew Colman, of the University’s School of Psychology, said: ‘Cooperation has posed a major problem to evolutionary biologists since Darwin, because although cooperation and altruism abound in nature, Darwin’s theory of natural selection is based on the ‘survival of the fittest’. Our study has found a new mechanism of ‘similarity discrimination’ that helps to solve this puzzle.’

Professor Colman, Dr Lindsay Browning, and Dr Briony Pulford carried out the study, due to appear in the Journal of Theoretical Biology. The research, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, can explain why organisms tend to discriminate in favour of others who resemble themselves.

Using a combination of computer simulation and mathematical analysis, the researchers showed that similarity discrimination evolves quickly and powerfully in many types of social encounters. It evolves spontaneously in populations of organisms who are merely programmed to behave either cooperatively or selfishly, initially at random, and can recognise others who are genetically similar to themselves.

Similarity discrimination is more powerful and efficient than the ‘greenbeard effect’, first suggested by the British biologist Bill Hamilton in 1964 and discovered recently in several species of micro-organisms and insects. The greenbeard effect relies on individuals displaying fixed trait (hence the term ‘green beard’ suggested by Richard Dawkins in 1976) and cooperating selectively with others who also display the trait. The similarity discrimination effect does not depend on any fixed trait: individuals cooperate selectively with others who are genetically similar to themselves, whatever traits they may display.

Research has shown that the greenbeard effect can drive the evolution of cooperation, but only with difficulty and under restrictive conditions, including ‘viscous’ populations of organisms that tend to stay in one place and mate locally with close relatives. The similarity discrimination effect evolves much more quickly and easily, even in freely mixing populations.

Professor Colman said: ‘We have discovered a new mechanism that helps to explain why cooperation is so common in nature, even between non-relatives. It’s tempting to think that it applies to forms of human discrimination such as in-group favouritism, racism, sexism and xenophobia, but it probably doesn’t. The similarity discrimination effect relies on tight genetic linkage between genes encoding for behaviour and traits that others use to judge genetic similarity. Most human traits are encoded by multiple genes, and parents’ genes are shuffled before being passed on to children, so a genetic linkage could not be maintained for long. I think the effect is much more likely to be observed in simple organisms with simpler genes.’

Andrew Colman is a Professor of Psychology, Briony Pulford is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology, and Lindsay Browning is an Honorary Visiting Fellow at the University of Leicester. The research was funded by the Nuffield Foundation Social Sciences Small Grants Scheme.

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Time for chai and a chat

International students will get an insight into British culture – and a chance to improve their English language skills – thanks to a new scheme set up by the University of Leicester’s Student Welfare Service.

The Language Café pilot scheme will bring members of the local community and international students together to talk about all things British, from sport and food to the Queen and the Diamond Jubilee. Each weekly session focuses on a different aspect of life in the UK, and will give international students the chance to practise speaking and conversing in English with native English speakers.

Elizabeth Cornish, the International Student Integration Co-ordinator at the University of Leicester, is running the Language Café scheme, which will start on Wednesday 18 April 2012.

Ms Cornish said: ‘It can be very difficult to integrate into a new culture especially when you aren’t fluent in the language. The Language Café is a great chance for international students to develop their confidence in speaking English outside the classroom, while gaining an insight into British culture from our volunteers.’

Community members and students have volunteered to take part in the sessions, where they will give short presentations on topics such as leisure, pets, and rules of behaviour in the UK. Most of the time will be given over to informal conversation over a cup of tea, giving international students the chance to practise their English language skills in a comfortable, relaxed environment.

The Language Café pilot scheme is open to international students studying the presessional English language courses, where students study English before starting their degree courses. If successful, the Student Welfare Service plans to continue the scheme and open it up to new students.

The Language Café project follows on from the success of the International Buddy Network, which pairs international students with UK student mentors who can offer help and advice on settling into university life. The network helps international students integrate into the UK, whilst also allowing UK students to enhance their CVs with volunteering and mentoring experience.

Home students from the University of Leicester and members of the local community are invited to volunteer for the Language Café, which takes place on Wednesday afternoons.

Ms Cornish said: ‘The positive impact volunteering can have on other people’s lives makes it very rewarding. The skills you can gain from volunteering are also an excellent addition to your CV and very attractive to employers.’

Students and members of the community who wish to volunteer should contact the Welfare service at welfare@le.ac.uk.

The pilot phase of the Language Café will run from 1.30–3pm every Wednesday afternoon for six weeks, from 18 April to 30 May 2012.

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Basement Jaxx to play Leicester gig at O2 Academy in support of Leicester Cardiovascular Research Centre Appeal

Dance giants Basement Jaxx will play an exclusive DJ set on 10 May at Leicester’s O2 Academy to support the University of Leicester’s Cardiovascular Research Centre appeal, with all funds raised from ticket sales going directly towards the new unit at Glenfield Hospital.

Members Simon Ratcliffe and Leicester-born Felix Buxton are currently working on the follow up to their 2009 albums Scars & Zephyr, and fans will be able to catch a preview of new Basement Jaxx material during their headline set.

The London-based duo, who have won Grammy and Brit awards, will be supported by dubstep producer Boy Kid Cloud and Leicester-based rising stars I Am In Love.

All of the artists will be performing for free to help support the appeal, which aims to raise the final £1 million needed to complete and equip a new £12.6m Cardiovascular Research Centre at the Glenfield Hospital, the regional centre for secondary and specialist cardiac care.

The event has been organised by the University’s Development and Alumni Relations Office in collaboration with the Students’ Union and the O2 Academy.

The idea was suggested by Felix’s uncle Hugh Stevenson, a member of the University’s Development Board.

Ave Vinick, Deputy Director of Development at the University, said: ‘We are very grateful to Basement Jaxx for offering to come to Leicester and perform on behalf of the Cardiovascular Research Centre Appeal.

‘Their support and that of their fans will speed the pace of research into heart disease and help to improve the health and life expectation of patients in communities in Leicestershire, across the UK and worldwide.’

Tickets for the event can be purchased at www.o2academyleicester.co.uk.

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Astronomers put forward new theory on size of black holes

Astronomers have put forward a new theory about why black holes become so hugely massive – claiming some of them have no ‘table manners’, and tip their ‘food’ directly into their mouths, eating more than one course simultaneously.

Researchers from the UK and Australia investigated how some black holes grow so fast that they are billions of times heavier than the sun.

The team from the University of Leicester and Monash University in Australia sought to establish how black holes got so big so fast. Their research is due to published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The research was funded by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council.

Professor Andrew King from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, said: ‘Almost every galaxy has an enormously massive black hole in its centre. Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, has one about four million times heavier than the sun. But some galaxies have black holes a thousand times heavier still. We know they grew very quickly after the Big Bang.

‘These hugely massive black holes were already full-grown when the universe was very young, less than a tenth of its present age.’

Black holes grow by sucking in gas. This forms a disc around the hole and spirals in, but usually so slowly that the holes could not have grown to these huge masses in the entire age of the universe. ‘We needed a faster mechanism,’ says Chris Nixon, also at Leicester, ‘so we wondered what would happen if gas came in from different directions.’

Nixon, King and their colleague Daniel Price in Australia made a computer simulation of two gas discs orbiting a black hole at different angles. After a short time the discs spread and collide, and large amounts of gas fall into the hole. According to their calculations black holes can grow 1,000 times faster when this happens.

‘If two guys ride motorbikes on a Wall of Death and they collide, they lose the centrifugal force holding them to the walls and fall,’ says King. The same thing happens to the gas in these discs, and it falls in towards the hole.

This may explain how these black holes got so big so fast. ‘We don’t know exactly how gas flows inside galaxies in the early universe,’ said King, ‘but I think it is very promising that if the flows are chaotic it is very easy for the black hole to feed.’

The two biggest black holes ever discovered are each about ten billion times bigger than the Sun.

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Student sleuths sought for CSI-style summer school

Student sleuths from around the world hoping to enter the field of forensic science are set to take part in the University of Leicester’s CSI-style summer school.

The event which attracts international students to a skills-based course takes place from 30 July to 17 August 2012, at the Department of Chemistry.

The CSI Leicester forensic summer school creates a unique learning environment where students can be part of an investigative team and experience what it is like to work at the cutting edge of forensic science.

For three weeks students will immerse themselves in the role of a forensic scientist to investigate a crime scene and, by examining the evidence, to get to the truth of ‘whodunnit’.

The intensive course combines theory and practice and whilst the crime they investigate is a simulation, the materials and equipment are the same as those used by real forensic scientists, making the experience as authentic as possible.

Under the supervision of an international multi-disciplinary teaching team, led by Professor Rob Hillman and Dr John Bond OBE of the Department of Chemistry and Dr Lisa Smith of the Department of Criminology, the investigative team will also visit a national forensic laboratory and a police crime laboratory.

As well as arranged social activities and sight-seeing, the programme culminates in a final formal evening dinner where awards are presented to students and both students and their tutors enjoy a farewell meal.

Dr Bond said: ‘Over the past few years it has become clear that students have gained a great deal from attending CSI Leicester, not only academically but also in terms of their cultural experience and building friendships with fellow students from across the world.

‘It is a real privilege to be able to particulate in such an event as this and I would urge students looking for some experience of working as a forensic scientist, and also wishing for international experience, to register for this course.’

The programme is open to anyone from all over the world aged 18 or over and no specific scientific expertise or background is necessary. Applications can be made from now until 4 April 2012, via the University of Leicester website.

Anyone interested in applying for the programme can find out more by contacting Alex Goddard.

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Eminent Pakistani scientist to visit University of Leicester

An inspirational scientist and Fellow of the Royal Society, who became the first scientist from the Muslim world to win the prestigious UNESCO Science Prize in its 35 year history, is to visit the University of Leicester.

Professor Atta-ur-Rahman, Emeritus Professor of the University of Karachi, will meet with the Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Robert Burgess, Lady Burgess and members of the University as well as others from the City and County.

He will be joined by Nasser Ali Khan, Director of the Institute of Management Sciences, Peshawar and member (operations & planning) of the Higher Education Commission (HEC), Pakistan for the visit on 14 March.

Since 2006, over 80 Pakistanis have joined the University for PhD research degrees sponsored by the HEC of which Professor Atta was Chair. The University has several links across Pakistan including Bahria, COMSATS, Hazara, University of Peshawar and the University of Sindh, Jamshoro.

Professor Sir Robert said: ‘I am delighted to welcome Professor Atta-ur-Rahman and his colleagues to the University. Their visit will undoubtedly strengthen the University’s considerable links with Pakistan and provide an opportunity for senior colleagues to meet and discuss issues of importance to both nations.’

Professor Atta-ur-Rahman obtained his PhD in organic chemistry from Cambridge University in 1968. He was elected as Fellow of Royal Society in July 2006 thereby becoming the one of only four scientists from the Muslim world to have ever won this honour.

He is President of Network of Academies of Sciences of Islamic Countries (NASIC) and the Vice-President (Central and South Asia) of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS) Council, and Foreign Fellow of Korean Academy of Sciences. Prof Atta-ur-Rahman was the President of the Pakistan Academy of Sciences, 2003–06, and was again elected as the President of the Academy from January 2011. Professor Atta-ur-Rahman was the Federal Minister for Science and Technology, Federal Minister of Education and most importantly Chairman of the Higher Education Commission with the status of a Federal Minister from 2002–08.

Successive Governments of Pakistan have conferred four civil awards, including the highest national civil award, Nishan-i-Imtiaz, on him. Professor Atta-ur-Rahman is presently the Coordinator General of COMSTECH, an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Ministerial Committee comprising the 57 Ministers of Science and Technology from 57 OIC member countries. He is also the Patron of the International Centre of Chemical and Biological Sciences at Karachi University.

Professor Nasser Ali Khan has served as the Director of the Institute of Management Sciences (IMSciences) Peshawar since 8 October, 2003. He is a member of many national Committees including the prestigious Panel of Economist, Planning Commission, Government of Pakistan. He has also been appointed as Chairman of the Committee for the Development of Social Sciences and Humanities in Pakistan by the Higher Education Commission, Islamabad. In January 2012 he was appointed member (operations & planning) in the HEC, a job which entails the management of funds given to Pakistani HEI’s for infrastructural and human resource development of universities.

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Scrutinising Forensic Science in CSI

How realistic is the forensic science shown in TV police shows like CSI?

The University of Leicester’s forensic expert Dr John Bond hopes to answer this question and more at an open seminar on Thursday 15 March.

Members of the public are invited to come and discuss the role and importance of forensic science in the criminal justice system with Dr Bond, a senior lecturer in Forensic Sciences at the University’s Department of Chemistry.

Dr Bond was formerly head of Northamptonshire Police’s Forensic Science Unit, and was awarded an OBE last year for services to forensic science after inventing a revolutionary technique for uncovering fingerprints from spent bullet cartridges.

Dr Bond’s work was cited as one of Time Magazine’s top 50 inventions of the year in 2008, and BBC Focus Magazine’s inventions ‘most likely to change the world’ in 2009 – and was also featured on the hit TV show CSI Miami.

At the seminar, Dr Bond will explain how he got into the field of forensics, how the study of forensic science started, what the major developments have been and what the current major research areas are.

He will also lay out the background any budding forensic scientists would need in order to gain a career in the field.

Dr Bond said: ‘I am looking forward to engaging with the public on this very important and popular subject. I intend to include references to some of the ‘bad press’ forensic science has experienced recently in the courts and to put this into context of the role forensic science plays in detecting crime. I also want to resolve some of the myths surrounding the accuracy of popular TV drama shows such as CSI.

‘Forensic science plays an ever increasing role in assisting the police to detect crime and this is even more true when budgets are being cut and reliance on technology and technological advancement increases.

‘The University of Leicester has a wide range of research skills in many disciplines that are of use to forensic science and it will be nice to be able to share some of these with the audience.’

The seminar will be held at Room E of the Physics and Astronomy building, University of Leicester, on Thursday 15 March from 6pm to 7.30pm.

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Biochemist finds the formula for storytelling success

Science and fiction have proved a winning combination for a University of Leicester biochemist who has received a prestigious award for his latest novel – a tale of the dangers of mind control.

The judging panel, formed of nine 14- to 17 year-olds, even displayed their own powers of prediction as the literary lecturer’s fifth novel has yet to even hit the shelves.

Dr Salvador Macip, a lecturer at the Department of Biochemistry, has won the first Premi Carlemany pel Foment de la Cultura for his upcoming book, Hipnofòbia, which will be published in March in Spain. The newly established prize is given by the government of Andorra to a novel written in Catalan that has ‘a crossover interest for both young and mature readers’. As is common practice in Andorra, the award was given in advance of publication.

Hipnofòbia, a thriller that mixes science-fiction and horror, tells the story of a scientist who discovers how to control the human mind and a military general who tries to prevent him from taking over the world.

Dr Macip said: ‘I was very pleased to receive this award, especially because my book was selected by a panel of young readers.

‘I initially wrote it for adults, as a metaphor for how we are constantly being manipulated without knowing it, but seeing that it can reach a wider audience is really encouraging. I guess that’s in part due to the fact that it’s a fast-paced story with mystery and action, and this can have a cross-generation appeal.’

Since 2005, Salvador Macip has published five novels, a collection of short stories, three books for children and two books about science for general audiences, for which he has been awarded four other prizes in Catalonia.

His last novel, Ullals, co-written with Sebastià Roig, is currently being adapted for the cinema.

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Students get unique opportunity to be involved in publishing industry

Students taking English at the University of Leicester will gain a unique opportunity to acquire hands-on experience of the publishing industry.

A new module will be offered to third year undergraduate students, who will be able to take ‘e-placements’ with twelve independent publishers of transcultural writing as part of their course.

The optional module, Transcultural Writing and the Publishing Industry, aims to prepare students for work in the book and magazine trade.

Dr Lucy Evans and Dr Corinne Fowler, of the University’s School of English, used their own contacts in the publishing industry to plan the semester-long module.

A group of 14 students will be assigned e-placements with individual publishing houses, and will carry out work online for their employers – including editing, publicity and online marketing – as well as having face-to-face meetings and guidance.

The selected publishers include Caribbean, Black British and South Asian publisher Peepal Tree Press, the award-winning not-for-profit Flipped Eye Publishing, literary magazine Sable LitMag and African and Caribbean specialists Ayebia.

In addition, students will look at how recent bestselling novels have been marketed and the ways in which publicity has impacted on how readers have interpreted these books.

Dr Evans, who specialises in postcolonial literature and previously worked for Peepal Tree Press, said: ‘The module is here to enhance the experience our English students get. Exploring the circumstances in which books are produced and circulated adds another dimension to literary studies.’

The new module will be open to students in the second semester of the next academic year.

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Diabetes risk from sitting around

A new study has found that women who stay seated for long periods of time every day are more prone to developing type 2 diabetes, but that a similar link wasn’t found in men.

Researchers from the University of Leicester Departments of Health Sciences and Cardiovascular Sciences revealed that women who are sedentary for most of the day were at a greater risk from exhibiting the early metabolic defects that act as a precursor to developing type 2 diabetes than people who tend to sit less.

The team assessed over 500 men and women of the age of 40 or more about the amount of time spent sitting over the course of a week, helped out by tests on the level of specific chemicals in their bloodstream that are linked to diabetes and metabolic dysfunction.

It was found that the women who spent the longest time sitting had higher levels of insulin, as well as higher amounts of C-reactive protein and chemicals released by fatty tissue in the abdomen, leptin, and interleukin6, and which indicate problematic inflammation.

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, revealed that the link between sitting time and diabetes risk was much stronger in women than men, but could not pinpoint why there was a gender difference, although it was suggested that women might snack more often than men during sedentary behaviour, or because men tend to take part in more robust activity when they do get up and about.

Dr Thomas Yates who led the study said: ‘This study provides important new evidence that higher levels of sitting time have a deleterious impact on insulin resistance and chronic low-grade inflammation in women but not men and that this effect is seen regardless of how much exercise is undertaken. This suggests that women who meet the national recommendations of 30 minutes of exercise a day may still be compromising their health if they are seated for the rest of the day.

‘It therefore suggests that enabling women to spend less time sitting may be an important factor in preventing chronic disease.’

The paper calls for further experimental research investigating the effect of reduced sitting time on human volunteers.

Dr Yates added: ‘If these results are replicated, they have implications for lifestyle recommendations, public health policy, and health behaviour change interventions, as they suggest that enabling women to spend less time sitting is an important factor in preventing chronic disease.’

The study was supported by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration in Applied Health Research and Care for Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, and Rutland. The researchers are: Thomas Yates, PhD, Kamlesh Khunti, PhD, MD, Emma G Wilmot, MBChB, Emer Brady, PhD, David Webb, MBChB, Bala Srinivasan, MBBS, Joe Henson, MSc, Duncan Talbot, BSc, Melanie J Davies, MD.

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Babies born just two or three weeks early at higher risk of poor health

A research paper which demonstrates that babies born even just a few weeks early have worse health outcomes compared to full term babies has been published on bmj.com.

The authors, from the Universities of Leicester, Liverpool, Oxford, Warwick and the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit studied over 18,000 British babies, born between September 2000 and August 2001. Health outcomes were studied when the infants reached nine months, three years and five years.

Health outcomes assessed included height, weight and BMI, whilst parents also reported on number of hospital visits, long-standing illness, disability or infirmity, wheezing, use of prescribed medication and overall rating of child’s health.

The authors report that both moderate/late preterm (32–36 weeks) and early term (37–38 weeks) babies required re-admission to hospital in the first few months more often than full term babies (39–41 weeks). Those born between 33 and 36 weeks had an increased risk of asthma and wheezing compared to full term babies.

A strong correlation was found between decreasing gestation and increasing risk of poor health outcomes. The greatest contribution to disease at the age of both three and five was being born moderate/late preterm or early term.

Interestingly, the study discovered that mothers of children born at less than 37 weeks were more likely to be single, less likely to have educational qualifications or work in managerial positions. Mothers of very preterm babies were more likely to smoke and less likely to breast feed for four or more months than those delivered at or beyond 37 weeks.

The authors conclude that it is inappropriate simply to group babies as preterm or term as the study demonstrates a ‘continuum of increasing risk of adverse outcome with increasing prematurity, even approaching full term gestation’.

Dr Elaine Boyle, of the University of Leicester, stressed: ‘More work in this area is needed to explain why this effect occurs. It is likely that factors other than simply immaturity are involved.’

The authors hope that this and future work will help to improve the provision of obstetric services and planning and delivery of healthcare services for children in early life.

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University of Leicester to study impact of food and eating on social skills of children

Researchers at the University of Leicester are to carry out a study into how food and eating habits can help to shape children’s social skills.

They will examine the social and behavioural aspects of dining and their potential impact on school attendance and attitudes to learning.

The study will centre on pupils at the Samworth Enterprise Academy, in Leicester, which has a focus on food and was designed by architects to have a restaurant at its heart.

‘Usually, research into food and young people looks at consumption and nutritional values, and the causal effects poor nutrition can have on aspects such as concentration,’ says Professor Hilary Burgess, Director of Studies at the School of Education.

‘This study will focus on the impact of food-based culture on the life of the school and the pupils who attend,’ she said. ‘It will observe the social life of the school, how children and young people interact when they are eating and what skills they pick up in doing so.

‘Some families do not attach a high priority to this and in many homes parents and children no longer sit down every day to eat together and have a conversation. But acquiring important social skills can have an impact on the way children respond and conduct themselves in school and their attitude in lessons.’

Nick Lalli will conduct the research for his PhD by observing the life of the school, interviewing parents, pupils and staff, and carrying out surveys and questionnaires.

‘Food has a huge role to play in personal and social development, including such aspects as promoting personal hygiene,’ he said. ‘The skills pupils pick up in school will impact on their relationships, their interactions within the community and will have a motivating effect on their lives generally.’

Samworth, for children aged 3–16 years, serves an area of social deprivation and high unemployment in Leicester. Every pupil is offered a free breakfast of toast and a drink every day, and parents can accompany their children to school and also take advantage of free food and somewhere warm to spend an hour or two, Pat Dubas, the Principal, says.

‘The whole design of the building is centred on the restaurant and it is the first place anyone visits when they come to the school,’ she says. ‘Many of our pupils grow up not knowing how to use a knife and fork and when you start to look into it, you realise that some families are struggling to feed their children at all.

‘This also raises obvious concerns about health and levels of obesity, which are evident in some sections of the community and can become self-perpetuating if not tackled with messages about healthy eating.

‘So we’re delighted to be involved with the University of Leicester, who will look into the whole impact of food on our pupils’ lifestyles and over the course of the research we hope they will really be able to get under the skin of some of these problems.’

The research is expected to take three and a half years.

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Find out what’s in your genes

Do we age as a consequence of being protected against cancer?

The role of one of our genes which protects us from cancer but could also cause us to age will be explained in a lecture at the University of Leicester.

Dr Salvador Macip, of the Department of Biochemistry, will give his lecture ‘The multiple lives of p53: from guardian of the genome to king of ageing’ on Tuesday 13 March 2012.

Dr Macip will explain how the p53 gene has the power to stop and destroy any cancerous cells – but could also be responsible for the ageing of our bodies later in life.

He will give an overview of current research in the fields of ageing and cancer and will explain how scientists are trying to solve the problem.

Dr Macip said: ‘Evolution made sure that we are protected against cancer, otherwise we would all be dead before having time to procreate. That is why human cells have a very intricate network of genes that work together to ensure that everything will go according to plan. And, at least for the first half of our lives, they are usually successful.

‘Nature has chosen p53 as one of the main guardians of our genome, because it has the power to stop and destroy any cell that does not obey the rules – but what is the price we have to pay? Does this brute force eventually take a toll on the organism? Could it be that the same thing that saves us from cancer when we are young is also responsible for ageing us?’

The event is part of a series of lectures organised by GENIE, the University of Leicester’s Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Genetics.

The evening will also feature a talk from Professor of Genetic Epidemiology and Public Health Martin Tobin, of the Department of Health Sciences and the Department of Genetics, titled ‘How can our understanding of the genetics of lung disease be used to improve health?’.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), encompassing chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is the fifth biggest killer in the UK. The hunt for genetic variants that predict lung health and COPD finally led to major discoveries by University of Leicester researchers led by Professor Tobin in 2009 and in 2011.

In this lecture, Professor Tobin will outline how the discoveries were made and how the information could be used to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

The lectures will be held at The Frank and Katherine May Lecture Theatre, Henry Wellcome Building, University of Leicester on Tuesday 13 March from 6.30pm.

For more information and to book your place, please contact Dr Aneela Majid at GENIE on 0116 223 1588 or at am242@le.ac.uk.

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Quidditch takes off: turning a fictional game into a real sport

University of Leicester students will travel to Keele in March to compete in Muggle Quidditch – the real life version of the fictional sport featured in JK Rowling’s famous Harry Potter novels.

The game, against rivals Keele University, will be the first inter-university game in the UK played to the official International Quidditch Association (IQA) rulebook.

The University of Leicester’s Muggle Quidditch club was formed by Jack Hill, a second year Ancient History and History student, after he read about the sport being played by other UK students.

Muggle Quidditch was invented in the United States, where it is already hugely popular, and the sport is gaining momentum in the UK and Europe. Although casual matches have been played in the UK before, the Leicester vs Keele encounter represents a step towards the more serious rankings and competitive games played by American universities.

Jack Hill said: ‘I formed the Quidditch club because Leicester didn’t have one, and it’s something that’s really taking off in unis around the UK. We’ve seen a massive interest in it – we’ve signed up forty people.

‘Our deputy chair Harry Wells is friends with someone at Keele University and they got together and arranged the match.

‘We decided to play by IQA rules so that we can connect in a way with our American counterparts and truly capture the spirit of Quidditch. One of our long term aims is to compete as the first UK team in the Quidditch World Cup which is held annually. So naturally IQA rules would enable us to achieve this in the long run.’

Magical Quidditch involves flying around on brooms, so to adapt it for Muggle (non-magical) play required some creativity on the part of its American pioneers. Players grasp a broom between their legs and try to score points by shooting volleyballs through hoops.

The snitch – a magical golden ball with wings – is replaced by a person all in yellow with a tennis ball in a sock tucked into their belt. Players chase the snitch around the pitch and surrounding areas to score extra points and end the game.

Leicester students are enthusiastic about the sport’s benefits. Maryna Danny, one of the club’s founding members, said: ‘It’s really good fun, and you meet all sorts of people. There’re lots of girls – we have more girls than boys.’ Muggle Quidditch is a mixed sport, with male and female players taking to the pitch together.

The University of Leicester Muggle Quidditch club sorts members into houses, inspired by the house system at the fictional school Hogwarts

‘At our first big meeting, we got a sorting hat,’ said James Bloomfield, a first year Psychology student who joined the club after seeing it on a social media website. ‘The whole idea of being sorted into houses just adds a nice social element to it. It’s great fun.’

Holly Roberts, student development officer at the University of Leicester Students’ Union, said: ‘It is great that students are setting up different, unique societies. I hope the Muggle Quidditch Society keeps playing matches and expands into a fully fledged society that has longevity here at the University of Leicester Students’ Union.’

The match against Keele University will take place on Saturday 10 March 2012.

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Predisposition to common heart disease ‘passed on from father to son’

A common heart disease which kills thousands each year may be passed genetically from father to son, according to a study led by the University of Leicester.

A paper published in medical journal The Lancet on 9 February shows that the Y chromosome, a part of DNA present only in men, plays a role in the inheritance of coronary artery disease (CAD).

The study, called Inheritance of coronary artery disease in men: an analysis of the role of the Y chromosome, was led by researchers at the University’s Department of Cardiovascular Sciences and Department of Genetics. The research took four years to complete and was primarily funded by the British Heart Foundation.

It was also supported by the National Institute for Health Research, LEW Cart Charitable Fund, National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the European Union, and the Wellcome Trust.

Coronary artery disease is the name given to the narrowing of blood vessels delivering blood to the heart, meaning that not enough oxygen can reach it. This can lead to angina symptoms, such as constriction of the chest, and heart attacks.

The British Heart Foundation found that coronary artery disease, also known as coronary heart disease, caused 88,236 deaths in 2008 in the United Kingdom, with 49,665 deaths among men and 38,571 among women.

The team at the University of Leicester analysed DNA from over 3,000 men from British Heart Foundation Family Heart Study (BHF-FHS) and the West of Scotland Coronary Prevention Study (WOSCOPS).

They found that 90 per cent of British Y chromosomes belong to one of two major groups – named haplogroup I and haplogroup R1b1b2.

The risk of coronary artery disease among men who carry a Y chromosome from haplogroup I is 50 per cent higher than other men, and the risk is independent of traditional risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking.

The researchers believe the increased risk is down to the haplogroup I’s influence on the immune system and inflammation – how our bodies respond to infections.

Principal investigator Dr Maciej Tomaszewski, a clinical senior lecturer at the University’s Department of Cardiovascular Sciences, said: ‘We are very excited about these findings as they put the Y chromosome on the map of genetic susceptibility to coronary artery disease. We wish to further analyse the human Y chromosome to find specific genes and variants that drive this association.

‘The major novelty of these findings is that the human Y chromosome appears to play a role in the cardiovascular system beyond its traditionally perceived determination of male sex.

‘The University of Leicester has been at the forefront of genetic research for many years. The success of this study builds up on excellence of support for genetic studies in the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences and the Leicester Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit.’

The project also included researchers from King’s College, London, the University of Glasgow, the University of Leeds, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, the University of Cambridge, the University of Ballarat and the Garvan Institute for Medical Research in Australia, the University of Lübeck and the University of Regensburg in Germany and the Marie Curie University and Medical School in Paris, France.

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Universities of Leicester and Cambridge spearhead one of UK’s biggest diabetes prevention programmes

A group of University of Leicester researchers has received a £1.9m grant to undertake one of the largest scale diabetes prevention programmes in the UK.

The study, called the Prevention of Diabetes Through Physical Activity Education With Different Levels of Ongoing Support (PROPELS), aims to provide information to the NHS to help reduce the number of people who develop type 2 diabetes in the future.

The University’s Diabetes Research Team will use a grant from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme to assess the benefits of a long-term diabetes prevention method called structured education.

A spokesperson for The NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) programme said: ‘The NIHR HTA programme identifies the most important questions that the NHS needs answers to through wide consultation and have highlighted this area as being of national importance.’

This approach involves encouraging people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes to engage in physical activity – which has been shown to lower blood glucose levels over one to two years.

Professor Kamlesh Khunti, Professor Melanie Davies and Dr Tom Yates, of the Departments of Health Sciences and Cardiovascular Sciences, are collaborating with researchers at the University of Cambridge and the MRC to test whether this approach is effective among participants across Leicester and Cambridge.

After participants have received the education programme, the study will compare the effect of low and high intensity support on long-term behaviour change.

Professor Khunti said: ‘Type 2 diabetes is an increasingly common, chronic condition affecting 6 million people in the UK. Type 2 diabetes costs the NHS over £10 billion annually. Many cases of type 2 diabetes are preventable through changes to lifestyle, such as increasing physical activity.

‘There is very little data on how long-term education programmes can reduce type 2 diabetes. We hope to explore how much ongoing support is needed to sustain behaviour change in people at high risk of developing diabetes.

‘Our application was helped by the fact our team has international expertise in this area and in particular prevention of diabetes in people of south Asian origin who are at high risk of developing diabetes.

‘It was very much good news for us to be given the grant – in particular for Leicester as a community and for the University.’

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Stars, Mars and the Milky Way

The University of Leicester is putting on a series of astronomy lectures to tie in with the BBC’s Stargazing LIVE events happening across the UK.

The lectures take place on 24, 25, 26 January 2012 on the main University campus, starting at 6.30pm in the Rattray Lecture Theatre. Researchers from the Department of Physics and Astronomy will deliver talks on interstellar electromagnetic fields, the exploration of Mars, and the way galaxies form.

All the lectures are free to attend, and Tuesday’s and Thursday’s talks are suitable for all ages. The lectures last approximately one hour.

On Tuesday 24 January, Dr Jonathan Nichols will present ‘Lots in Space’, a talk about the vast spaces between cosmic bodies. Far from being empty, these spaces are filled with electromagnetic fields and plasmas. Their interactions create the spectacular Northern Lights, and such effects have been observed around other distant planets and stars. Dr Nichols will talk about the contents of the interstellar medium and the science of space plasmas.

The lecture starts at 6.30pm and is suitable for all ages.

On Wednesday 25 January, Dr John Bridges presents ‘Exploring Mars’. Dr Bridges will discuss the history of Martian investigation from the earliest telescopic images to the latest robotic probes. Dr Bridges is the head of a team of scientists who will study data from NASA’s new Mars Science Laboratory probe Curiosity, when it touches down on the red planet later this year.

The lecture starts at 6.30pm and is suitable for ages 14+.

On Thursday 26 January, Dr Mark Wilkinson will talk on ‘How to Build a Milky Way’. Astronomers have long pondered the question of how galaxies form: dark matter, gravity, gas and black holes are all implicated in the process. Dr Wilkinson presents some of the latest findings in the field and addresses questions about the nature of dark matter and how gas in primordial galaxies might turn into stars.

The lecture starts at 6.30pm and is suitable for all ages.

All the lectures take place in the Rattray Lecture Theatre.

The BBC 2 Stargazing LIVE programmes are designed to help amateur astronomers make the most of the night sky. Now in their second series, the programmes are accompanied by a host of local activities such as stargazing events and lectures.

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Finding extreme galaxies hidden in the infrared

A scientist involved with the largest telescope ever built will explain the benefits of the project in a lecture at the University of Leicester on 24 January.

Andrew Blain, Professor of Observational Astronomy in the University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, will talk about how the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA), which is currently being completed in Chile, and NASA’s recent Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission, will allow unprecedented observation of the formation of stars and black holes in distant galaxies.

This could give us an idea of what the universe was like in its infancy.

In his inaugural lecture ‘Finding extreme galaxies hiding in the infrared’, Professor Blain, who is a former chair of the ALMA science advisory committee (ASAC), will show how previous telescope technology has not been capable of viewing radiation at wavelengths in enough detail to reveal the movement and processing of gas into new stars and black holes.

Professor Blain said: ‘One of the last frontiers of observational astronomy is to push down the depth and coverage of observations at far-infrared wavelengths to match those possible at optical and radio. This is crucial, as a significant fraction of the energy produced by stars and accreting black holes in galaxies is absorbed by gas and dust before it can escape, and reprocessed to appear at these wavelengths near 100 microns.

‘This radiation can then be sought from instruments that are on the ground and in space; however, from the ground the challenge has been likened to trying to observe stars during the day using a telescope made of fluorescent tubes.

‘I will describe the progress that has been made to address this problem through the longest accessible wavelengths – from the ground using submillimetre-wave telescopes, from the shortest accessible wavelengths - from space using the Spitzer and WISE satellites, and directly at the peak of their emitted power using the Herschel satellite.

‘However, none of these tools have the necessary angular resolution to reveal the internal structure and motion of the gas that fuels the formation of stars and fuelling of supermassive black holes that generates their power output.

‘ALMA will match the Hubble Space Telescope in resolution, and allow the total power output of galaxies to be measured directly for the first time. It will also offer the chance to see the very first objects forming in the Universe, perhaps including the assembly of the material that is destined to form and burn in the very first stars.’

ALMA is the most complicated radio telescope project in the world, and is funded by astronomical organisations in Europe, North America and East Asia.

It currently uses 20 individual 12-metre antenna – though a total of 66 are planned. The telescope is said to be between 10 and 100 times more powerful than other telescopes currently in operation.

Professor Blain’s lecture will be held at 5.30pm on 24 January at Lecture Theatre 1, Ken Edwards Building, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester. It is free and open to the public.

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University of Leicester and NEXT in skills training boost

With the graduate job market becoming increasingly competitive, the University of Leicester has launched a new initiative with NEXT to enhance employability skills of its students.

The initiative is part of the Leicester Award, a skills-based programme that includes a range of employability courses available to University of Leicester students. Now, the University has introduced a new Award for Industry Awareness, through which students can receive specialised training from graduate recruiters at FTSE 100 company, NEXT.

Students will receive on-the-job training at NEXT headquarters in Enderby, Leicester, taking part in business case studies and mock interviews by internal graduate recruiters.

Zara Hooley, Leicester Award Coordinator in the University Careers Service said: ‘This module is a fantastic addition to the programme, NEXT will be giving students the chance to work in teams, and implement some of the core employability skills they have been developing through their degree. We’re delighted to be working with NEXT on this course.’

Over 600 University of Leicester students throughout 2012 will be completing courses and self-development opportunities delivered as part of the Leicester Award. The programme provides a variety of opportunities within the University, giving students a choice of employability skills to develop.

Programmes include the popular Leicester Ambassadors Programme, as well as the Student Communication Team Award; which offers experience in the highly competitive marketing and PR industries, and the Social Enterprise Way which focuses on the business side of social enterprise.

Final-year student Sian Pugh is taking part in the Experience Employability Leicester Award. She said: ‘I saw the Leicester Award as something a bit different that would hopefully put me ahead of some of the many graduates who I will be competing against for jobs. Like most students I volunteer and work outside of university hours, but the Leicester Award teaches me how I can use these things to the best of their potential in an interview.’

Chris Raw, Graduate Recruitment Officer from NEXT said: ‘We are delighted to be working in close partnership with the University of Leicester again this year and very much looking forward to being part of the prestigious University of Leicester Award. It will give the participants a unique insight into what we expect from graduates entering our business whilst giving them the employability tools to succeed after university.’

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The nature of nurture

Our parents have a huge impact on how we grow up, but at his professorial inaugural lecture a University of Leicester psychologist will examine how we separate the influence of genetics from that of the family environment in childhood development.

Professor Gordon Harold will give his talk ‘The Nature of Nurture: Utilizing Genetically Sensitive Research Designs to Inform Family Focused Policies and Practices’ on 6 December. He hopes to illuminate examination of the relative roles of genetic and family relationship influences on children’s emotional and behavioural development.

He will highlight research studies that have accounted for genetic influences in order to compare the role of several recognised family relationship influences (inter-parental conflict, negative parenting practices) with genetically inherited factors on children’s emotional and behavioural development.

Gordon Harold is Professor of Behavioural Genetics and Developmental Psychopathology in the School of Psychology at the University of Leicester. Originally from Dublin, his primary research interests focus on the role of the family as a context for understanding children’s normal and abnormal psychological development, genetic influences on children’s emotional and behavioural development, practice and policy applications of research relating to family influences on children’s development, and the application of statistical modelling techniques to the analysis of longitudinal data.

He is presently involved in several ongoing longitudinal projects including studies examining the interplay between genetic and family environmental factors on children’s mental health, the early origins of childhood aggression and disruptive behaviour disorders, the long-term impact of domestic violence on children’s psychological development and the implementation of effective intervention programs aimed at assisting children in the context of parental separation and divorce.

Professor Harold’s lecture takes place on 6 December 2011, from 5.30pm in Lecture Theatre 1 in the Ken Edwards Building, University of Leicester, and is free and open to the public.

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Breakthrough in the battle against malaria

An international team of scientists has announced a breakthrough in the fight against malaria, paving the way for the development of new drugs to treat the deadly disease.

According to the World Health Organisation malaria currently infects more then 225 million people worldwide and accounts for nearly 800,000 deaths per year. Most deaths occur among children living in Africa where a child dies every 45 seconds of malaria and the disease accounts for approximately 20% of all childhood deaths. The disease is caused by the malaria parasite, Plasmodium, that is injected into the human host through the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito.

Now researchers have discovered new ways in which the malarial parasite survives in the bloodstream of its victims.

The advance is the result of a collaboration between medical scientists at the University of Leicester in the UK and a team from the French Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (Inserm) working at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Molecular Parasitology in Glasgow and the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL, Switzerland), now relocating to Monash University in Melbourne (Australia).

The breakthrough was made by the teams led by Professor Andrew Tobin at the University of Leicester and Professor Christian Doerig, now at Monash University, and is published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications and was funded by The Wellcome Trust, the European Commission, Inserm and EPFL.

Professor Tobin, of the Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology, said: ‘I am proud to be involved in a collaboration that has made such an impact on malaria research. Our study opens new avenues for researchers to look for new drugs that treat malaria.’

Professor Doerig explained: ‘We have shown that a crucial element that is required by malaria parasites to survive in the human blood stream is a group of enzymes called protein kinases. If we stop these proteins kinases from working then we kill the malaria parasites. We are now looking for drugs that do exactly that – stop the protein kinases from working. If we find these drugs then we will have a new way of killing the malaria parasite.’

Professor Tobin added: ‘It seems perfectly realistic to us that we can now develop novel anti-malaria drugs based on the findings that we have made – it certainly is a big moment in our fight against this terrible disease that mainly affects the world’s poorest people.’

Tobin and Doerig also warn: ‘The parasite is very clever at adapting to drug treatments and in so doing becoming resistant to drugs. In fact, there is already evidence that the parasite is developing resistance to the most recent front line treatment for malaria.

‘To avoid the catastrophic affects of widespread resistance to anti-malarial treatments we need a continued pipeline of new anti-malaria drugs. Our discovery provides one avenue towards populating such a pipeline.’

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Leicester involved in discovery of new solar system

The University of Leicester has been involved in an international study that has announced the discovery of a new solar system.

The Qatar Exoplanet Survey team led the discovery of the solar system which consists of at least two planets named Qatar-2 b and 2c. They will be included on the growing list of alien planets orbiting distant stars.

The discovery was announced by Qatar astronomer Dr Khalid Al Subai, leader of the research team and a research director at Qatar Foundation. The international team members were from Harvard University, St Andrews University, and the University of Leicester.

Dr Richard West from the University of Leicester Department of Physics and Astronomy, said: ‘This discovery demonstrates that small nations, such as Qatar, which to-date has not had a strong heritage in astronomy, can make rapid advances through international collaborations to the point of making a contribution to a high-profile scientific area.

‘At Leicester our contribution has been licensing (through an analytical services contract) of intellectual property developed over the past decade of our involvement in world-leading exoplanet surveys such as WASP. Our role is to provide the data centre for the QES, we perform the high-level analysis of the data that furnishes the initial detection of candidate transiting planets.’

Earlier last year, the same survey team made its first discovery of an alien world, the planet Qatar -1b. ‘We are proud as scientists from different nations to lead the search for planets around other stars. The discovery of Qatar-2b and 2c is a great achievement – one that further demonstrates Qatar’s commitment to becoming a leader in innovative science and research’ Dr Al Subai commented.

To find the new world, QES’s wide-angle cameras (located in New Mexico) took images of the sky every clear night beginning in early 2009. The photographs then were transmitted to Qatar for initial analysis. Further analysis at Leicester then narrowed the field to a few hundred candidate stars.

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Gene discovered as cause of fatal condition

Medical scientists have for the first time identified a gene responsible for a fatal abdominal condition that afflicts tens of thousands of people across the world.

An international team led by Matt Bown, a vascular surgeon from the University of Leicester, identified a single gene that is linked to the development of abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAAs).

What is more, the team discovered that the gene, LRP1, was not linked to other cardiovascular diseases, suggesting that it is specific to AAA.

The research, funded by The Wellcome Trust, was published on 3 November in The American Journal of Human Genetics. The University of Leicester led the study which also involved institutions from New Zealand, Australia, Denmark, Iceland, The Netherlands, Sweden, the USA and the UK.

An AAA is a swelling of the main blood vessel in the back of the abdomen which can burst, causing dangerous internal bleeding. The only treatment to prevent this happening is surgery. This is performed when the AAA grows over a certain size as the risk of the AAA bursting is low when it is small. Unfortunately there is no treatment to prevent small AAAs from growing and despite detecting AAAs by screening, and surgery, many thousands of people still die from burst AAA each year.

Mr Bown, senior lecturer in surgery in the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences at the University, said: ‘The study involved over 2000 people from Leicestershire as well as many more from around the globe.

‘Since AAAs often run in families, the research team compared the genes of people with AAAs to those without and discovered that one gene, LRP1, was associated with AAA.

‘Abdominal aortic aneurysm is an important disease since it commonly affects the older population and can only be treated by surgery. Through this research we have identified a gene that is associated with AAA and the further investigation of the function of this gene in relation to AAA may help us understand more about the disease and how to treat it without resorting to operations.

‘This is a tremendously exciting discovery that is the culmination of over a decade of research work across 6 countries and is a testament to the research excellence of the people involved.

‘I would also like to extend my thanks to the volunteers who have participated in this research project over the last 10 years – without them this work would not have been possible.’

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World authorities on English slang to converge on Leicester

An impressive list of the greatest authorities on English slang worldwide will be gathering at the University of Leicester in September 2012 for a workshop examining the research and influences of slang.

Participants include Aaron Peckham, founder of Urban Dictionary; Britain’s foremost lexicographer of slang Jonathon Green, whose publications include the three-volume Green’s Dictionary of Slang and, more recently, Crooked Talk: Five Hundred Years of the Language of Crime; Tom Dalzell, who edited the ninth edition of Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English; and Michael Adams, author of Slang: The People’s Poetry and Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon.

As well as bringing together such a wealth of scholars from around the world, the workshop will examine the influence of English slang on other languages and the ways in which slang research is disseminated both through conventional dictionaries and online.

The event is organised by Professor Julie Coleman, Leicester’s own internationally acclaimed expert on slang and author of a number of highly praised publications on the subject, including the four-volume Oxford University Press A History of Cant and Slang Dictionaries and her forthcoming Life of Slang.

She commented: ‘Slang arouses strong feelings, both for and against, which is why it’s often in the news. For some, it’s a demonstration of creativity and independence; for others it’s a symbol of moral decline.

‘Slang is the melting pot of language: it’s where we can observe changes taking place most rapidly.

‘Instead of looking at national slangs separately, which is how slang is usually studied, this workshop brings together experts from around the world to consider the internationalisation of slang in the age of mass media and the internet.

‘But will our increased exposure to global Englishes stop us using and creating local slang terms such as skobie “a scumbag” (Irish), numpty “an idiot” (Scottish), hata “a critic motivated by jealousy” (originally African-American), and a slab of beer “a case or box containing 24 cans or bottles” (Australian)?’

A module on word studies, including cant and slang forms part of the new University of Leicester Masters Degree in English Language and Linguistics which will run for the first time in 2012 and will be available for distance learning in 2013.

Details of the MA in English Language and Linguistics are available on the University of Leicester website.

Anyone with an interest in the study of slang who happens to be in Leicester on Saturday 12 November at 6pm can get a foretaste of the debate to come at a discussion between Professor Coleman and Jonathon Green, entitled ‘The Future of the History of Slang’.

The discussion is part of the fourth annual Literary Leicester festival and, like all Literary Leicester events, is free of charge but by prior ticket only. Tickets can be obtained from Embrace Arts, online at www.embracearts.co.uk, email litleic@le.ac.uk, tel 0116 252 2455 10am–4pm Mondays–Fridays.

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Planets smashed into dust near supermassive black holes

Fat doughnut-shaped dust shrouds that obscure about half of supermassive black holes could be the result of high speed crashes between planets and asteroids, according to a new theory from an international team of astronomers.

The scientists, led by Dr Sergei Nayakshin of the University of Leicester, publish their results in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Supermassive black holes reside in the central parts of most galaxies. Observations indicate that about 50% of them are hidden from view by mysterious clouds of dust, the origin of which is not completely understood. The new theory is inspired by our own Solar System, where the so-called zodiacal dust is known to originate from collisions between solid bodies such as asteroids and comets. The scientists propose that the central regions of galaxies contain not only black holes and stars but also planets and asteroids.

Collisions between these rocky objects would occur at colossal speeds as large as 1000 km per second, continuously shattering and fragmenting the objects, until eventually they end up as microscopic dust. Dr Nayakshin points out that this harsh environment – radiation and frequent collisions – would make the planets orbiting supermassive black holes sterile, even before they are destroyed. ‘Too bad for life on these planets’, he says, ‘but on the other hand the dust created in this way blocks much of the harmful radiation from reaching the rest of the host galaxy. This in turn may make it easier for life to prosper elsewhere in the rest of the central region of the galaxy.’

He also believes that understanding the origin of the dust near black holes is important in our models of how these monsters grow and how exactly they affect their host galaxies. ‘We suspect that the supermassive black hole in our own Galaxy, the Milky Way, expelled most of the gas that would otherwise turn into more stars and planets’, he continues, ‘Understanding the origin of the dust in the inner regions of galaxies would take us one step closer to solving the mystery of the supermassive black holes.’

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Novel research seeks to locate Scotland’s next gold mine

There really is gold in those hills – enough for a king’s ransom. Scotgold Resources Ltd has just been given planning permission to open Scotland’s first gold mine since gold was mined 500 years ago at Leadhills to make the Scottish crown jewels. Now the University of Leicester is involved in the search for the next natural treasure trove.

Over the next decade or so, the Cononish deposit near Tyndrum in the Scottish Highlands, will produce 20,000 oz gold and 80,000 oz silver each year. That’s worth an estimated £180m at today’s prices. After that, though, this buried treasure will largely be worked out.

Therefore research being undertaken at the University of Leicester, in conjunction with Scotgold Resources and in collaboration with researchers at Aberdeen & Glasgow Universities and the British Geological Survey, will be key to finding the next gold mine. If successful, employment and the local economy – and income for the UK – can be sustained beyond the lifetime of Cononish.

University of Leicester PhD student, Nyree Hill, explained: ‘The problem is that gold is found scattered throughout the Scottish Highlands, but so far none has been found as concentrated as at Cononish. This is despite the Highlands being one of the first areas in the world to be studied by geologists. One explanation for this is the challenging climate and mountainous terrain, and also much of the rock is buried by glacial deposits.’

The gold at Cononish has ancient roots. Before the Atlantic Ocean opened, the Highlands formed part of a mountain belt that extended from Canada through Ireland and Scotland into Scandinavia. This mountain-belt formed as the Iapetus Ocean, a fore-runner of the Atlantic Ocean, was destroyed by the collision of tectonic plates half a billion years ago. This joined Scotland and England together as we know it today.

The gold was concentrated, deep underground, as rising granite magma heated water, which circulated through large faults. That hot water, at hundred’s degrees Celsius, carried gold, silver and other metals, and deposited them, with quartz, into veins. The process, repeated time and again, brought the gold to economic levels.

Nyree is examining rocks from a series of new targets close to Cononish in order to identify key ‘fingerprints’ for gold mineralisation. She said: ‘Traditional exploration strategies look at how gold is related to other metals and minerals. However, my study is using detailed chemistry of the gold and associated minerals to map the pathways through the rock along which the gold-bearing fluid flowed.’

‘Applying this approach will help identify future targets and maximise our chances of finding the next Cononish.’

Dr Gawen Jenkin, Senior Lecturer in Applied Geology at the University of Leicester, said: ‘The go-ahead for mining at Cononish will galvanise exploration activity across the Scottish Highlands – a mini gold-rush perhaps – meaning that Nyree’s work will be of wide application. I was involved in the early work to understand how Cononish formed and was therefore very keen when asked by Scotgold to be involved with their current exploration programme.’

With luck – and some science, the future of the Scottish hills will stay golden.

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Science and art combine to explode a myth

‘Red Sprites’, once dismissed by airline pilots as UFOs, will feature in a talk by Canadian-born multimedia artist and film-maker Peter McLeish at the next meeting of the Leicester Physics Centre on Monday 31 October at 6.30pm in Lecture Theatre 1, Ken Edwards Building on the main University of Leicester campus.

For over a century, there had been reports of strange lights in the night sky during thunderstorms. Now, Red Sprites are known to be upper atmospheric optical phenomenon associated with thunderstorms.

The blink of an eye lasts 250 milliseconds, sprites often last only ten milliseconds. Despite nearly a century of anecdotal reports, most scientists did not believe in sprites until the first images were captured in 1989 on a low-light camera videotape. Then, from 1990 to 1994 the space shuttle obtained 20 more images.

One researcher is recorded as saying it was as if biology had suddenly ‘discovered a new human body part’. Since the original discovery many other sightings have been recorded in the thin air around thunderstorms.

Since 2001, the artist Peter McLeish, who is affiliated with FMA Research Inc, USA, has been involved in a collaboration based on Red Sprites with American scientist Walter A Lyons, who subsequently received a United States National Science Foundation grant for this work.

Peter McLeish created the artwork for Lyons’ film The Hundred Year Hunt for Red Sprites as well as the companion six-minute film, Lightning’s Angels.

Since 2002, both films have been presented at major international science conferences and festivals all over the world.

Peter McLeish’s continued research subsequently led him to an additional collaboration with Dr Colin Price from the Department of Geophysics and Planetary Science, Tel Aviv University, who was working on sprite research from a ground station with the ill-fated crew of the Columbia in 2003.

Since 2007, Peter has been working on a new project titled Polaris Terrarum about the Polar Regions.

The Leicester Physics Centre is sponsored by the Institute of Physics and hosted by the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leicester.

It presents a series of physics-based evening lectures with the aim of promoting the wonder of science to the public. People of all ages are welcome to attend and schools are encouraged to participate. Lectures focus on interdisciplinary activities between the different sciences, as well as science and the arts.

Peter McLeish’s talk, ‘A New Phenomenon called Red Sprites’ will take place in Lecture Theatre 1, Ken Edwards Building on the main University of Leicester campus on Monday 31 October at 6.30pm. The talk is open to the public free of charge, but by prior booking only through the University of Leicester website.

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University of Leicester announces groundbreaking English language training initiative in Kurdistan – Iraq

A British university is breaking new ground in international collaboration by working with a Kurdistan University to set up an English Language centre for students. It will be located in Erbil (Hewler), the capital city of the Federal Region of Kurdistan – Iraq.

This capacity-building project between the University of Leicester and the University of Kurdistan-Hewler (UKH), in northern Iraq, will provide new opportunities for students to take English language qualifications in their home country, and in the region. The UKH-University of Leicester International English Language Centre will equip students for courses in English at home or abroad and will be an important focus for strengthening English language speaking in the region.

The focus will be on capacity-building, with a programme of development visits by staff from Leicester’s highly rated English Language Teaching Unit to work with and train up lecturers in Kurdistan to build a centre that will administer qualifications and assist in improving the English language skills of the population – an aim that the Kurdistan government sees as a key part of its modernisation programme. As opportunities arise, staff could be seconded to Kurdistan.

The announcement comes as the government of Kurdistan pursues the growth of higher education as one of its top priorities. In recent years the country has invested in its existing universities and built new ones, including UKH (established in 2006), where courses are taught in English.

Over a succession of visits between Leicester and Kurdistan universities, including Dohuk, Nawroz, Salahaddin, Soran, and UKH, important academic partnerships across a range of subjects, from English and Translation Studies to Geology, Computer Science and Engineering, have created the framework for the new Centre.

Roger Smith, the Director of the English Language Teaching Unit in Leicester, says the new venture will ‘make an important contribution to the professional development of English language provision in Kurdistan.’

He added: ‘We have plans to work with our partner to increase access to internationally recognised English language tests and qualifications.’

‘We’ve been delighted with the performance of the students from Kurdistan who are currently studying in Leicester and we hope this relationship will encourage more to follow.’

The current English language provision in Kurdistan and neighbouring countries has not kept pace with rising demand which has made it difficult for talented scholarship candidates to meet the UK Border Agency’s visa requirements.

Professor Douglas Tallack, Leicester’s Pro-Vice Chancellor (International), said collaboration was planned on curriculum development, assessment, drawing up materials and tutor training.

‘Universities which simply visit Kurdistan to recruit students make little contribution to capacity building in Kurdistan and the wider region’ he said.

David Hall, the University’s Registrar, added: ‘We are not going into this collaboration to make a profit but as a two-way relationship of academic collaboration that will benefit both sides and help to raise our profile in a dynamic country that is energetically engaged in democratic modernisation post Saddam.’

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Metal shortages alert from leading geologists

Geologists are warning of shortages and bottlenecks of some metals due to an insatiable demand for consumer products.

A meeting of leading geologists, reported in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience, highlights the dangers in the inexorable surge in demand for metals.

Dr Gawen Jenkin, of the Department of Geology, University of Leicester, is the lead convenor of the Fermor Meeting of the Geological Society of London which met to discuss this issue.

Dr Jenkin said: ‘Mobile phones contain copper, nickel, silver and zinc, aluminium, gold, lead, manganese, palladium, platinum and tin. More than a billion people will buy a mobile in a year – so that’s quite a lot of metal. And then there’s the neodymium in your laptop, the iron in your car, the aluminium in that soft drinks can – the list goes on...

‘With ever-greater use of these metals, are we running out? That was one of the questions we addressed at our meeting. It is reassuring that there’s no immediate danger of ‘peak metal’ as there’s quite a lot in the ground, still – but there will be shortages and bottlenecks of some metals like indium due to increased demand.

‘That means that exploration for metal commodities is now a key skill. It’s never been a better time to become an economic geologist, working with a mining company. It’s one of the better-kept secrets of employment in a recession-hit world.’

So, our appetite for technological goodies will be satisfied for some time to come still – as long as sufficient people with the skills to seek out the metals emerge into the marketplace.

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Breakthrough brain study reveals stress code

Neuroscientists investigating the ‘brain code’ claim to have made a significant step forwards in understanding how the brain deals with stress – and mitigates its impact.

Examining what they term ‘thin’ and ‘mushroom-like’ parts of nerve cells in the brain, which are responsible for learning and remembering, they discovered that it is possible to alter what is remembered – thereby mitigating the stress of painful memories.

A team from the University of Leicester has identified a particular protein that the brain produces in response to stress. Tests on mice revealed that those without this protein were less ‘outgoing’ and preferred to ‘hide in the dark’.

The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), are potentially important for understanding stress-related psychiatric diseases in humans. The work was supported by a Marie Curie Excellence Grant from the European Commission.

Dr Robert Pawlak, lecturer in Neuroscience at the University of Leicester, said the breakthrough study had determined that production of the protein by the brain may help to protect individuals from ‘too much anxiety’ and help organisms to cope with various adverse life events.

Dr Pawlak, from the University Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology, said: ‘Every day stress “reshapes” the brain – nerve cells change their morphology, the number of connections with other cells and the way they communicate with other neurons. In most cases these responses are adaptive and beneficial – they help the brain to cope with stress and shape adequate behavioural reaction. However, upon severe stress things can get out of control, the brain “buffering” capacity is exhausted and the nerve cells in the hippocampus – an area of the brain responsible for learning and memory – start to withdraw their processes, don’t effectively communicate with other cells and show signs of disease.

‘One strategy that brain cells particularly like to use to cope with stress is changing the shape of tiny processes they normally employ to exchange information with other neurons, called dendritic spines. Spines can be as small as 1/1000 of a millimeter and have various shapes. Long spines (called “thin” spines) are like children – very mobile and inquisitive, constantly change shape and “conversation” partners – they help us learn new things. Once spines learn, they change into mature “couch potatoes” – they are mushroom-shaped, have stable connections, do not change partners and do not like to move.

‘Mushroom spines help us remember things we once learned – but it is not always good. Some very stressful events would better be forgotten quickly or they may result in anxiety disorders. There is a constant battle of forces in our brain to help maintain the right balance of thin and mushroom spines – or how much to remember and what better to forget.

‘We have identified a protein that the brain produces in response to stress in order to reduce the number of mushroom spines and therefore reduce future anxiety associated with stressful events. This protein, lipocalin-2, is normally not produced, but its fabrication dramatically increases in response to stress in the hippocampus. When we added lipocalin-2 to neurons in culture the way it occurs on stress, neurons started losing their “memory spines” – the mature, mushroom-shaped ones.

‘We therefore asked – what if we remove lipocalin-2 from the brain and subject mice to stress? Would that affect the way they react? To this end we used mice in which the lipocalin-2 gene was disrupted and found that, on stress, they were more anxious than normal mice. For example, they were less “outgoing” and preferred hiding in dark, enclosed spaces instead of exploring the neighborhood normally. We found that in these mice mushroom spines were more readily formed in the brain after stress and therefore they had stronger memories of the stressful event.

‘Thus, the brain produces lipocalin-2 in order to protect us from “too much anxiety” and help us cope with various adverse life events.

‘Identification of lipocalin-2 as a new player the brain uses to help us cope with stress is an important step forward. We are getting closer to deciphering molecular mechanisms of stress that, if not functioning properly, may lead to stress-related psychiatric diseases.

‘Stress-related psychological and mental disturbances are extremely common and affect more than 30% of the population. We are keen to investigate whether the mechanisms discovered by us apply to humans and could help inform clinical strategies to deal with anxiety disorders and depression.’

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Public ignorant about key messages concerning diet and cancer

New research on public perceptions about cancer reveals that 50-year-old ideas still hold sway while many current lifestyle messages are not getting through.

On the positive side, however, the vast majority of people now believe cancer is curable.

Experts at the University of Leicester and Leicester’s Hospitals carried out the research to assess patients’ beliefs about the causes of cancer, which was funded by the Leicestershire-based charity Hope Against Cancer.

The study, published online in the journal Clinical Oncology, aimed to compare knowledge about the outcome of cancer treatment and beliefs about the causes of cancer among British South Asian cancer patients and beliefs held by British White cancer patients and the impact of these beliefs upon the patients’ mental health.

Between September 2007 and January 2010, 279 patients, who were aware they had cancer, entered the study, funded by Leicestershire-based charity Hope Against Cancer, at the Leicestershire Cancer Centre. Researchers found that:

  • across both groups there was an over emphasis on pollution, stress and injury as causes of cancer
  • almost one quarter of the group believed cancer was caused by injury, reflecting research carried out over half a century ago
  • 20% believed that surgery could cause cancer to spread
  • both cohorts believed religion/fate played a part in cancer
  • 30% of the group gave credence to alternative medicine being as effective as current clinical procedures
  • it was generally accepted that smoking can cause cancer
  • there was widespread lack of awareness about the roles diet, obesity and lack of exercise play in the development of the disease.

The vast majority believed cancer to be curable, with only 10.6% of the British South Asian group and 2.7% of the British White group thinking it was incurable. Out of the total sample, 93% understood the advantages of early screening.

Many of the two groups’ assumptions about cancer were held in common. There was widespread over-emphasis on environmental pollution, stress and injury as triggers for cancer. Environmental pollution is a relatively minor cause of cancer, while there is no evidence that stress or injury can cause cancer.

Twenty per cent of the sample believed wrongly that treatment, in particular surgery, caused the cancer to spread and this was a cause of significant depression among British South Asians and anxiety across both groups.

The perceived role of religion in the cause of and recovery from cancer was more prevalent among the British South Asians, though a small cohort of the British White patients had some belief in fate.

Nearly 30% of the total sample thought alternative treatments could be as effective as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. This view was held by almost twice as many British South Asian patients as British White patients.

The way patients understand cancer can have a major impact on how they cope with it psychologically. This study is part of a wider investigation with the long-term aim of improving psychological support of cancer patients.

Professor Paul Symonds, of the Department for Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine at the University of Leicester, commented: ‘It is clear that there is a continual need for education into the causes of cancer. The good news is that the majority of the sample believed that cancer was curable and screening effective, while 84% appreciated that smoking could cause cancer.

‘This shows that some messages are getting through, but we clearly have more work to do in educating the public on the effect of diet and obesity.’

Karen Lord, PhD research student working on the project, said: ‘It is vital that those diagnosed with cancer have accurate information about treatment options so that they can make informed decisions about their care.

‘Myths such as the belief that surgery causes cancer to spread and that alternative treatment is as effective as conventional treatments should be challenged.’

Wendi Stevens, Hope Against Cancer Co-ordinator, added: ‘This research has highlighted some interesting views relating to cancer. Hope Against Cancer funds a wide range of research looking into treatment, but we believe it is also important to look at cause and education as well in the hope that this knowledge can be used to cut the incidence of cancer in the future.’

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Ben Okri to speak at the University of Leicester

The prize-winning Nigerian poet, short story writer and novelist, Ben Okri, OBE, FRSL, is to give the first Annual Creative Writing Lecture at the University of Leicester on Wednesday 19 October at 6pm.

Ben Okri – copyright © www.darrenfilkins.comBen Okri is acclaimed as one of the finest African writers in the postcolonialist tradition. He is the author of such acclaimed novels as the Booker-winning The Famished Road (1991), In Arcadia (2007), and Incidents at the Shrine (1986), celebrated collections of short fiction, including Stars of the New Curfew (1988), and collections of essays such as his latest, A Time For New Dreams (2011). He has won many of the world’s most prestigious literary awards, including the Man Booker Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Aga Khan Prize.

Ben Okri is a member of the Urhobo people. His family moved to England when he was a baby, so that his father could study law. They returned to Nigeria when Ben was aged seven, and much of his early writing reflects the violence he witnessed during the Nigerian civil war.

He returned to England in 1978 to study for a degree in Comparative Literature at Essex University, though lack of funds meant he never completed his studies.

Despite this early setback, he went on eventually to become a Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College Cambridge, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. In 2001, he was awarded an OBE. He now lives in London.

Whilst Okri’s work shows a direct engagement with classic Western literature, he has also experimented with a variety of new literary forms, as well as drawing on the myths and beliefs from his West African heritage. Often compared with the magic realists, he has rejected this, describing himself as working with ‘dream logic narrative’.

Dr Harry Whitehead, Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University commented: ‘We are so honoured to have such a towering figure in contemporary literature as Ben Okri deliver our first Annual Creative Writing Lecture. His brilliant and multi-award winning novels, short fiction, poetry and non-fiction have played a significant role in proving literature’s continuing importance in articulating global culture and society. The School of English is very proud to be able to offer this unique opportunity for students, staff and the wider local community to hear the great man in person and to learn from what he will say.’

The School of English at the University of Leicester offers Creative Writing in poetry, prose and screen-writing at undergraduate and postgraduate levels and the School includes a number of Honorary Visiting Writing Fellows.

The School awards prizes in fiction and poetry and engages in an ever-expanding number of creative writing projects, including the Grassroutes: Contemporary Leicestershire Writing project and the Trans-Scriptions series, exploring issues of writing, culture and location.

Ben Okri’s lecture will take place on Wednesday 19 October, 6–7pm in the Attenborough Building Theatre. The lecture is open to the public and free of charge.

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New discoveries in genetics of lung health

Scientists have for the first time discovered sixteen new sections of the genetic code that relate to lung health – opening up the possibility for better prevention as well as treatment for lung diseases.

An international consortium of 175 scientists from 126 centres in Europe, the USA and Australia identified genetic variants associated with the health of the human lung. Their discovery sheds new light on the molecular basis of lung diseases like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

It is the first time that these 16 common genetic variants have been definitely linked with lung function. Researchers say the new pathways discovered could be targeted by drugs.

The study was led by Professor Martin Tobin from the University of Leicester, and Professor Ian Hall from The University of Nottingham and Dr Stephanie London from the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The pioneering research involved a genetic study of 2.5 million genetic variants in each of 48,201 people across the world. A smaller number of the most promising variants were then studied in a further 46,411 individuals. The research, published on 25 September 2011 in Nature Genetics, was part funded by the East Midlands Healthcare and Bioscience iNet (which is part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund), the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Wellcome Trust.

The recent discoveries build on research published by the same authors last year, bringing the total number of genetic variants associated with lung function to 26. The same authors also showed, in research published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine in June 2011, that variants which predict lung function also predict the disease, COPD.

Professor Martin Tobin, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology and Public Health & MRC Senior Clinical Fellow at the University of Leicester, said: ‘COPD – a progressive disease that makes it hard for people to breathe – affects around 1 in 10 adults above the age of 40 and is fourth most common cause of death worldwide.

‘Smoking is the most important risk for developing COPD. Smokers are not all equally likely to develop COPD and differences in susceptibility occur due to the genetic variants people carry. For the first time we understand what so many of these genetic variants are, including the underlying mechanisms that they point to. We now need to prioritise research to better understand these disease mechanisms and inform improved patient care.

‘These discoveries could provide the key to new therapies for lung diseases such as COPD. It is too early to say whether this information would be of use as a screening test to predict the development of COPD. Stopping smoking is the best way to prevent COPD.’

Professor Ian Hall said: ‘This work is important because until recently we have not understood the factors which underlie inherited variability in lung function. The very large genetic studies required to identify key genes would not have been possible without the support of many groups around the world and the input of thousands of subjects. We now need to take the knowledge gained from this study to do two things: firstly to learn more about the function of genes which contribute to the risk of developing lung diseases such as COPD, and secondly to try and develop strategies to use genetic information to improve the clinical care provided to individual patients.’

Research into respiratory diseases in Leicester received a timely boost with the recent announcement of a £4.5 million new NIHR Biomedical Research Unit (BRU) based at Glenfield Hospital in partnership with the University of Leicester. Professor Andrew Wardlaw, Professor of Allergy and Respiratory Medicine, said: ‘Our remit is to undertake research of this kind, which advances our understanding of lung diseases, and to translate these findings into clinical care.’

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Universities spearhead business internship initiative

Leicester’s two universities have spearheaded an internship scheme that will provide up to 34 graduate internships for local SMEs.

Businesses contribute £1,500 for taking on a graduate intern for three months with the universities contributing matching funds.

Each intern will be paid £3,000 for 12 weeks’ work, with the grant offsetting the costs to the employer.

The funded internship scheme is funded by emda in partnership with Leicester City Council and will provide grants to businesses offering internships to graduates from both De Montfort University (DMU) and the University of Leicester.

The initiative is being project-managed by the University of Leicester. Richard Mendez, Work-related Learning Manager at the University of Leicester said: ‘At Leicester, we have a history of delivering regional graduate internships and the level of demand and the feedback from employers suggests that graduate internships are a low-cost, low-risk method by which regional businesses can remain competitive – and thus help the regional economy.

‘To qualify for the scheme, businesses must be based in Leicestershire and employ fewer than 250 people.’

DMU’s employer liaison officer, Lisa Naik said: ‘The graduates could tackle a specific project in three months – or the internship could be seen as a probation period for a permanent job.

‘For the employer, it could be a case of ‘try before you employ’ – and for the graduate, the experience could help them decide on a future career path.’

Companies interested in finding out more about the scheme should email:

At University of Leicester: workrelatedlearning@le.ac.uk

At DMU: internship@dmu.ac.uk

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The glue that holds the brain together

A free public lecture at the University of Leicester is to discuss how the white matter of the brain could be the key to understanding and treating brain disorders – not grey matter as previously thought.

Professor Robert Fern of the Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology will demonstrate how recent research into axons and glial cells, which make up over 50% of the human brain, has provided scientists with new insights into the importance of these previously overlooked cells.

Professor Fern said: ‘Traditionally the discipline of Neuroscience has focused upon neurons, the “little grey cells” which we have been taught fulfil all the functions of the brain.

‘Glial cells were originally described as the glue which holds the brain together, but in recent years we have discovered that glial cells can do almost anything that neurons can do, including integrate synaptic information. The fact that half the brain is “white matter” containing axons and that glial cells are the predominant brain cell has important consequences for our understanding of brain disease.’

The lecture on Tuesday 11 October will focus on Professor Fern’s work on the cellular mechanisms of injury in axon and glial cells. Loss of blood supply to the brain can damage both these elements and is the cause of two important disorders.

Professor Fern explained: ‘Stroke, where a section of the brain (both grey and white matter) is destroyed leading to largely irreversible loss of function, is the third biggest killer in the Western world. Cerebral palsy, where white matter of the developing brain is injured, is the most common of all human birth defects.

‘Neither of these disorders can be effectively treated and there is reason to believe that this is because earlier attempts to design drugs failed to appreciate the significance of white matter and glial cell damage.’

The lecture ‘Your brain is made from cables and glue’, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 5.30pm in Lecture Theatre 1 in the Ken Edwards Building, University of Leicester.

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Volcanic ash and aircraft safety

Research at the University of Leicester is using pioneering technology to study volcanic ash so that better advice will be available to the aircraft industry as to whether it is safe to fly following an explosive volcanic eruption.

The study, led jointly by Dr Hongbiao Dong, Reader in Engineering Materials and expert in solidification (Department of Engineering), and Dr Mike Branney, an expert in explosive volcanoes in the Department of Geology, is about what happens when volcanic ash particles are heated in jet engines. It uses Thermal Analysis and X-ray Computed Tomography to analyse the temperature at which volcanic ash solidifies and melts.

The blades of aircraft engines operate at temperatures above their melting point and need a constant flow of cooling air blowing through tiny holes in the blades. The air floats onto the surface of the blades and forms a protective film that stops them reaching the same temperature as the combustion process of the engine.

Volcanic ash can reach a temperature of 2,000˚C in the engine, and will melt. If it is sucked into the tiny holes in engine blades the melted ash solidifies to a layer of glass and blocks the ventilation holes, and the engine will fail because the blades then melt.

Drs Dong and Branney are working with two contrasting types of volcanic ash, measuring their melting temperature in a Differential Scanning Calorimeter. They then study its morphology (structure) using X-ray Computed Tomography. The work is a new initiative that combines engineering and volcanology.

Volcanoes erupt frequently in Iceland and at other locations around the world, and the impact of ash on aviation can be considerable, depending on whether winds carry the ash across flight paths and airports.

The instrumentation used in this research is part of a new £1million hi-tech engineering centre, MaTIC, that works with industry to drive innovation in materials technology. The centre includes a range of advanced equipment for the understanding of materials behaviour.

Professor Sarah Hainsworth, who heads MaTIC, said: ‘MaTiC was initiated to bring together advanced techniques and equipment for studying a range of materials and materials problems, be they manufactured materials in components such as turbine blades or naturally occurring materials such as rocks, fossils, or in this case volcanic ash.

‘It is investment in these types of equipment that have allowed the research into volcanic ash and flight safety to happen. It’s the type of scientific techniques and application of expertise across the different academic disciplines that have allowed this research to go ahead. Research of this type allows us to develop greater insight into problems affecting industry.’

An important concept of MaTIC is its interdisciplinary nature. Dr Hongbiao Dong said: ‘The establishment of this centre has encouraged us to collaborate across different areas of science and engineering and I hope exciting findings will emerge as a result of this interdisciplinary approach.’

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University of Leicester shortlisted for three national awards

The University of Leicester has been shortlisted for three Times Higher Education Awards for 2011, which celebrate the excellence within UK higher education institutions.

In announcing the shortlist, the Times Higher Education said: ‘The unflagging quality and innovation evident in universities across the UK shows the sector’s resolute commitment to excellence in the face of a difficult and unpredictable climate. Our shortlist for the 2011 Times Higher Education Awards showcases the sector’s standouts.’

Leicester’s nominations are:

Outstanding Contribution to Innovation and Technology
This award recognises and promotes technological breakthroughs at institutions in either products or services that have the potential to significantly enhance the operations of the commercial or the public sector.

In a development that can truly change the way blood pressure is monitored across the world, researchers from the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences, the NHS and HealthSTATS International developed a mathematical algorithm that allows for accurate measurement of the blood pressure close to the heart – and, working with industry, invented a specialised watch that captures the pulse waves at the wrist.

The new technology will lead to better identification of those who will most likely benefit from treatment, particularly in younger patients.

Research Project of the Year
This will be awarded to the individual or team for innovative research that has a far-reaching impact on its field and has caught, or has the potential to catch, the imagination of the public.

The researchers in the Department of Geology were nominated for devising a new method for extracting information from 500 million-year-old fossils. They studied the way fish decompose to gain a clearer picture of how our ancient fish-like ancestors would have looked.

Their results indicate that some of the earliest fossils from our part of the tree of life may have been more complex than has previously been thought.

Most Innovative Teacher of the Year
This award seeks to reward the academic whose imagination and passion have transformed a course and inspired students.

Professor Nisha Dogra of the Greenwood Institute of Child Health has demonstrated both innovation and leadership in the field of psychiatry education at international, national and local levels. Through her teaching and strategic contribution to curriculum development, Professor Dogra has successfully tackled an acknowledged national problem; the apparent lack of appeal of psychiatry to student doctors.

The University of Leicester has won Times Higher Education awards for every year since 2007 and is former winner of the Times Higher University of the Year award.

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University of Leicester scientists deploy space-age technologies to detect illness at science-fiction style ‘sick bay’

A new hi-tech £1million-plus non-invasive disease detection facility, developed by the University of Leicester, was unveiled on 1 Sept 2011 for use in Leicester Royal Infirmary’s A&E department.

It is designed to detect the ‘sight, smell and feel’ of disease without the use of invasive probes, blood tests, or other time-consuming and uncomfortable procedures.

Scientists use three different types of cutting-edge technology in combination under a range of situations. All the methods are non-invasive, and could speed up diagnosis.

Scientists have surrounded a normal hospital bed with an unprecedented array of technology to examine patients:

  • One group of instruments (developed in the University’s Chemistry Department) analyses gases present in a patient’s breath.
  • A second uses imaging systems and technologies – developed to explore the universe – to hunt for signs of disease via the surface of the human body.
  • The third uses a suite of monitors to look inside the body and measure blood-flow and oxygenation in real-time.

The technologies employed in the new Leicester Diagnostics Development Unit have never previously all been used in an integrated manner and with such a large pool of patients.

University of Leicester researchers from space research, emergency medicine and chemistry, worked with colleagues in cardiovascular sciences, infection, immunity and inflammation, physics and astronomy, engineering, IT services and the Leicester Royal Infirmary to create the Unit.

Some of the technology in the new Unit has been originally developed for use in planetary research – in the year 2019, an international space probe is scheduled to arrive on Mars to look for life and will employ similar technologies. Some of the advanced technology and science behind the Unit was developed at the University of Leicester.

Appropriately for something that comes from outer space, the technology might also be a first step towards ultimately developing devices akin to the ‘tricorders’ from Star Trek – used by medics in the sci-fi series to diagnose illness simply by waving it near a patient, according to Professor Mark Sims, the University of Leicester space scientist who led the project alongside Tim Coats, Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University and head of accident and emergency at the Royal Infirmary.

Professor Sims said: ‘We are replacing doctors’ eyes with state-of-the-art imaging systems, replacing the nose with breath analysis, and the “feel of the pulse” with monitoring of blood flow using ultra sound technology and measurement of blood oxygen levels.

‘In the old days, it used to be said that a consultant could walk down a hospital ward and smell various diseases as well as telling a patient’s health by looking at them and feeling their pulse. What we are doing is a high tech version of that in order to help doctors to diagnose disease.’

Many diseases have visible effects that can be measured outside the body, whether it is a change in colour, temperature, or what organic compounds we breath out or a combination of them alongside changes in the cardio-vascular system eg pulse rate, blood oxygenation level. The equipment, it is hoped, can be used in diagnosis of a wide range of diseases from things like sepsis through to bacterial infections such as C. Difficile and some cancers. The Diagnostics Development Unit has identified over 40 possible applications to date.

Explaining how the project came about, Professor Sims said: ‘We are developing a device called the Life Marker Chip for the ExoMars space mission. It will look for organic molecules in samples from below the surface of Mars, helping to answer a question that has been fascinating mankind for many years, is there life today or was there life in the past on that planet? Developing it has involved both space technology and biology. The project therefore brought us into contact with health organisations and associated technology and helped lead to this initiative.’

The researchers are using a £500,000 infrastructure grant from the Higher Education Funding Council along with a contribution from the University to equip the Unit.

Professor Sims explains that human breath contains a range of by-products (so-called volatile organic compounds) from bodily processes. Identified by an novel instrument called a real-time mass spectrometer, they can provide clues to a wide range of diseases. He says: ‘An obvious example is ketones, which we detect in the breath of diabetics during hypoglycaemia. But there are also chemicals that can or could be used to indicate conditions such as asthma, sepsis, liver disease, heart disease, and several types of cancer.’ While gases in the breath are the main focus, the same technology can be used to analyse urine and faeces.

Sepsis is especially interesting as a target because it is hard to detect at an early stage and is a considerable burden on the NHS and is expected to exhibit a number of different effects on the body that can be detected by the combined instrumentation.

Space technology is behind the imaging equipment used to gather information from patients, using visible light wavelengths as well as invisible infra-red light.

It includes a thermal imager to see patients’ surface and core temperatures by imaging appropriate targets on the body. Comparing the two temperatures can reveal disease because one response to illness is to withdraw blood from peripheral parts of the body.

Other devices (multi-spectral and hyper-spectral imagers) can detect subtle changes in skin colour. Liver disease is associated with yellowing of the skin and it is possible that this equipment could detect it before it is readily visible to the human eye. Imaging technology can also see veins close to the surface of the skin inside the body and detect whether the blood contains enough oxygen is or oxygen-poor and whether circulation in the extremities is shutting down due to medical shock etc. Also early stage bruising and skin cancers should be detectable.

Some of the monitoring equipment, for example the cardio-vascular monitors surrounding the bed, are already in use but, Professor Sims says, they are rarely combined in such a comprehensive way – normally only one such type of monitor is used at a time. Even though nearly all the technologies employed in the Unit have been used in one way or another, they have never all been used in an integrated manner and with a large pool of patients.

‘Ultimately in the longer term we would aim to work towards something like the “tricorder” device seen in futuristic science series like Star Trek. What we are developing so far is more like a first attempt at the medical bed in the sci-fi series,’ he said.

According to Professor Coats, early disease detection often leads to better outcomes. This technology could make for quicker and more patient-specific diagnoses.

He says: ‘I am a specialist in emergency medicine and we are starting the project in this area. But it could also be valuable elsewhere in hospitals and in GP surgeries and perhaps even in a future generation of ambulances. We are talking to industrial partners who might get involved in commercialising this work as the project matures.’

Professor Sims added: ‘It is hard to predict how this work will develop. But ten years from now it could be routine for diagnostic technology to be combined in this way.’

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Massive black hole caught in the act of swallowing a star for the first time

Scientists from the University of Leicester are part of an international team who have reported observing a supermassive black hole as it pulls apart and swallows a star that got too close.

They report in Nature that the event provided astronomers with a rare opportunity to study the birth of a ‘relativistic jet’ – a high-speed outflow of ionized matter, initiated by the accretion of material from the star into the black hole.

Drs Kim Page, Julian Osborne, Andy Beardmore and Phil Evans from the University of Leicester Department of Physics and Astronomy are co-authors of the paper, which is led by Prof David Burrows of Penn State University.

Dr Osborne said: ‘A massive black hole is thought to lie at the centre of every decent-sized galaxy throughout the Universe. These naturally exert a strong influence on the central region of their galaxy, and we expect that stars near to the centre will be slowly drawn into the black hole.

‘Although the slowly-decaying remnants of such an event have been seen on a few occasions, it is only now that we have seen the initial flash that marks this stellar destruction.

‘What would happen when a star got too close to a black hole? The strong gravitational force would both compress and stretch the star, heating it to very high temperatures and blowing it apart. Some part of the gas from the star would quickly spiral down into the black hole, likely forming a spinning disk as it did so (much like water going down a plug-hole), while the rest would join this disk a bit later. This is the standard theory, and is consistent with the few sparse late-time observations so far.

‘On 28 March 2011, the Swift satellite discovered a new bright hard X-ray source (Swift J1644+57). Unlike the gamma-ray bursts that it was designed to study, this source did not fade away fast, but flared up and down, and only faded very slowly. Observations with other facilities showed that the source was exactly in the centre of a small galaxy, some four billion light-years away. This new source was so bright that it could only come from a new ultra-fast jet directed towards us from a newly-formed disk around the previously unseen massive black hole at the centre of the galaxy. The sudden onset of this new source was due to the rapid formation of a disk immediately following the initial destruction of a star by the black hole. The subsequent rapid variability of the source tells us that the black hole mass, at around 10 million times that of the Sun, is consistent with what is expected for a galaxy of this size.

‘Jets directed at us from black holes have been seen before, in systems called “blazars”, but these are all very long-lived and are due to a much more massive disk around the black hole. The onset of a new jet has never been seen before.’

The flaring and decay of the new source, as well as its initial precise position, was measured by the Swift X-ray Telescope. The camera of this telescope was provided by the University of Leicester (with funding from STFC), who continue to support its operation and who provide the UK Swift Science Data Centre (funded by the UK Space Agency). Swift is a US/UK/Italian satellite managed by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and operated by Penn State University.

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Radical change in blood pressure diagnosis and treatment

The way blood pressure is diagnosed and treated is set to be revolutionised following new guidelines for the medical profession issued by NICE and developed in conjunction with the British Hypertension Society (BHS).

Bryan Williams meeting with Health Minister Andrew Lansley at the opening of the University of Leicester’s Cardiovascular Biomedical Research UnitIt will mark the first time in over a century that the way blood pressure is routinely monitored by GPs has been changed.

A major feature of the new guideline is the recommendation that high blood pressure should be diagnosed using ambulatory blood pressure monitoring, a technique in which the patient wears a monitor for 24 hours to gauge how high their blood pressure is.

University of Leicester Professor Bryan Williams Chaired the NICE hypertension guideline. He believes this new approach will mean that as many as 25% of people diagnosed as having high blood pressure using the current method of diagnosis, ie repeated measurement of blood pressure in the doctor’s clinic, may not be hypertensive and may not need treatment.

‘This new guideline is going to change the way blood pressure is diagnosed and treated for millions of people in the UK and around the world. The new approach will be more accurate in diagnosing high blood pressure and will ensure that the right people get treated.

‘We are using new technologies to improve the way we diagnose high blood pressure. It means that we will be more accurate in treating those who need treatment and in avoiding treating those who don’t.’

In accompanying research published simultaneously in the Lancet, the guideline group demonstrated that this new approach is highly cost-effective and even after taking account of the cost of the new technology, is likely to be cost saving for the NHS.

‘Even though these new devices cost between £1,000–£2,000, our analyses suggest that by improving the speed and accuracy of diagnosis, we will actually save money by only targeting treatment at those who need and will benefit from treatment – this is good news for patients. I am under no illusions about the challenges to implement this but I believe this guideline will be well received by both doctors and patients not just in England and Wales, but worldwide,’ said Professor Williams, Professor of Medicine at the University and an honorary consultant physician at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust.

The new guideline also simplifies the treatment strategy for high blood pressure, focussing on the most effective treatments and also contains specific advice on the treatment of blood pressure in young adults and the very elderly.

Professor Williams added: ‘We have spent more than a year looking at masses of new evidence from studies in great detail before coming to our conclusions. I think the UK is leading the world in developing bold and progressive treatment strategies for high blood pressure. The importance of this cannot be overstated for two reasons, first because high blood pressure is very common and affects about a quarter of all adults and more than half of adults over the age of 60yrs, and second, because treating high blood pressure is one of the most effective ways of reducing the risks of heart disease and stroke.’

Leicester is one of the leading high blood pressure centres in Europe and a designated European centre of Excellence.

Professor Bryan Williams was Chairman of the NICE hypertension guideline development group and led the development of this new guidance. He is Professor of Medicine at the University of Leicester and internationally recognised as a world authority of high blood pressure. He is a NIHR senior Investigator and leads the hypertension research programme within the Leicester NIHR Biomedical Research Unit in Cardiovascular Disease.

The guideline, The clinical management of primary hypertension in adults, is available from Wednesday 24 August on the NICE website.

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Black hole kills star and blasts 3.8 billion light year beam at Earth

Observations led by astronomers at the Universities of Warwick and Leicester have shown that the flash from one of the biggest and brightest bangs yet recorded by astronomers comes from a massive black hole at the centre of a distant galaxy.

The black hole, thought to be about a million times more massive than our Sun, appears to have ripped apart a star that wandered too close, sending a powerful beam of energy out into the Universe. The light emitted by the beam crossed 3.8 billion light years of space and was eventually detected by the Swift satellite, triggering a flurry of activity by astronomers around the world who rushed to make detailed observations of this remarkable event. Their research is published today in the Journal Science in a paper entitled An Extremely Luminous Panchromatic Outburst from the Nucleus of a Distant Galaxy.

The high energy X-rays and gamma-rays detected by Swift persisted at an extremely bright level for weeks after the event, with bright flares arising when further chunks of the star apparently fell into the black hole, while at optical and infrared wavelengths it is as bright as a hundred billion suns. The extreme brightness of this particular event is thought to be due to the bulk of the energy being focused into a beam, which happened to be aligned so we would see it from Earth 3.8 billion years later.

Dr Andrew Levan of the University of Warwick, lead researcher of the international team observing this event said: ‘Despite the power of this cataclysmic event we still only happen to see this event because our solar system happened to be looking right down the barrel of this jet of energy.’

The new research paper clearly establishes that the source of this event – (known now as Swift 1644+57) is right at the heart of far away galaxy, 3.8 billion light years away, at a spot that would be in the constellation Draco.

This conclusion comes from a combination of the most powerful telescopes on the ground, and in space, working in concert to pinpoint and study this unprecedented event. These include the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, Swift satellite, the Gemini, UKIRT and Keck Telescopes in Hawaii, and the GranTeCan, William Herschel and NOT telescopes on La Palma.

‘The best explanation that so far fits the size, intensity, time scale, and level of fluctuation of the observed event, is that a massive black at the very centre of that galaxy has pulled in a star and ripped it apart by tidal disruption. The spinning black hole then created the two jets one of which pointed straight to earth.’ explained Levan.

Professor Nial Tanvir, second author of the paper, based at the University of Leicester added: ‘It is rare for stars to get very close to the black holes in the centres of galaxies, but when they do, they will always come off second best.’

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UK first use of 3D imaging derived from post-mortem computed tomography imaging in UK trial

The East Midlands Forensic Pathology unit, based at the University of Leicester, has used 3D images derived from post-mortem computed tomography (PMCT) scans as an aid to demonstrate injuries to a jury for the first time in evidence at a UK trial.

Professor Guy Rutty, Chief Forensic Pathologist to the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit, which is part of the Department of Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine, University of Leicester, gave expert testimony at a trial at Nottingham Crown Court on 3 June 2011.

Professor Rutty showed the jury a black-and-white 3D computer image of the victim’s skeleton derived from the post-mortem computed tomography scans to illustrate the injuries he had suffered. Professor Rutty told the court: ‘This is the first time we have ever used this in a UK court.’

Professor Rutty said he believed it was the UK’s first use of the technique in a courtroom trial, and explained that the achievement had meant having to secure the acceptance of these images by both the prosecution and the defence, and record the evidence provided to the jury. As a result of this outstanding success, it is planned to use the new technique in another case shortly.

Professor Rutty announced earlier this year his team had developed a new non-surgical post-mortem technique that has the potential to revolutionise the way autopsies are conducted around the world. His Unit in collaboration with the Imaging Department of the University of Leicester are leaders in research and case application for PMCT in the UK.

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Trans-atlantic team announce Huntington’s Disease breakthrough

Medical researchers may have uncovered a novel approach to treat an incurable and ultimately fatal neurodegenerative disease that affects hundreds of thousands of people.

Two international studies, one led by the University of Leicester, and the other a collaboration with Leicester led by scientists in the USA, hold out promise for slowing down the development of Huntington’s disease – and potentially, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. The research, which is in its early stages, represents an important milestone in understanding these debilitating conditions.

Huntington’s disease is a devastating inherited neurodegenerative disorder that is always fatal. The disorder of the central nervous system causes progressive degeneration of cells in the brain, slowly impairing a person’s ability to walk, think, talk and reason. Approximately 1 in 10,000 individuals are affected worldwide.

In the world-famous Department of Genetics at Leicester, the groups of Dr Flaviano Giorgini and Prof Charalambos Kyriacou found that by genetically targeting a particular enzyme in fruit-flies, kynurenine 3-monooxygenase or KMO, they arrested the development of the neurodegeneration associated with Huntington’s disease. Furthermore by directly manipulating metabolites in the KMO cellular pathway with drugs, they could manipulate the symptoms that the flies displayed.

The fruit-fly study, to be published in Current Biology on 7 June, was also aided by the groups of Prof Robert Schwarcz (Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore), who pioneered work in this area, and Dr Paul Muchowski (Gladstone Institutes, University of California, San Francisco). The two latter workers and Dr Giorgini have simultaneously published a paper in Cell, announcing a similar breakthrough in understanding the therapeutic relevance of KMO in transgenic mouse models of Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

The fruit-fly research at Leicester took place over three years and was funded by the Huntington’s Disease Association and the CHDI Foundation, Inc. Dr Giorgini, who led the UK study, states: ‘This work provides the first genetic and pharmacological evidence that inhibition of a particular enzyme – KMO – is protective in an animal model of this disease, and we have also found that targeting other points in this cellular pathway can improve Huntington’s disease symptoms in fruit flies.

‘This breakthrough is important as no drugs currently exist that halt progression or delay onset of Huntington’s disease. We are tremendously excited about these studies, as we hope that they will have direct ramifications for Huntington’s disease patients.

‘Our work combined with the study in our companion publication in Cell, provides important confirmation of KMO inhibition as a potential therapeutic strategy for these individuals. As many KMO inhibitors are available, and more are being developed, it is hoped that such compounds can ultimately be tested in clinical trials for this as well as other neurodegenerative disorders.’

In Leicester the experiments were carried out by Drs Susanna Campesan, Edward Green, and Carlo Breda and in Baltimore, by Dr Korrapati Sathyasaikumar. The collaborating teams will continue their studies aimed at enhancing the development of medical intervention in Huntington’s and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Cath Stanley, Chief Executive of the Huntington’s Disease Association, said: ‘This is an exciting piece of research that will offer hope to the many people affected by Huntington’s disease.’

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Leicester students to experience weightlessness in gravity-defying experiment

Four students from the University of Leicester who were the only ones in Britain, and among a small number from across Europe, to be selected for a gravity-defying experiment in the framework of the ESA Education Office ‘Fly your Thesis!’ programme are taking part in the flights in May.

Charly Feldman, David Gray, Laura Brandt (nee Evans), Fergus WilsonThe four, from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University, won a place in a European Space Agency’s (ESA) parabolic flight campaign in 2011.

They will experience weightless conditions aboard the Novespace Airbus A300 Zero-G plane, whilst performing an experiment of their own design.

The team travelled to Bordeaux and spent a week testing and installing an experiment onboard the aircraft, before taking off for the parabolic flights. At cruising altitude the plane will pull up and the students and accompanying ESA and Novespace staff will experience close to 2g, twice their weight on Earth.

The aircraft will then enter into a parabolic flight path and the occupants will experience 0g for about twenty seconds, before pulling out of the dive and experiencing 2g again. The experience is attributed to the fact that free falling objects, which follow parabolic trajectories, are weightless.

The four students from the University of Leicester, UK will investigate a ‘condensation mechanism for non-ideal kinetic gases of varying temperature’, and its relevance to the formation of planets and ‘rubble pile’ asteroids in the early Solar System.

The Leicester participants are:

  • Laura Brandt
  • Charly Feldman
  • David Gray
  • Fergus Wilson

The Leicester project – one of four from across Europe – was supervised by Graham Wynn, Senior Lecturer in Theoretical Astrophysics, and Dr Daniel Brandt of the Space Research Centre who was a previous Leicester participant of a parabolic flight.

Dr Wynn said that the Leicester experiment was about planet formation in a box!: ‘Planets like the Earth form in dust clouds around young stars. We aim to use the weightlessness experienced during the parabolic flight to recreate the conditions in these dust clouds inside a 10cm box. The box will be filled with sand, much like the silicate grains in the dust clouds, and shaken vigorously. We will look at how the sand grains cluster into larger structures which, under the right conditions, may be the seeds of planet formation.’

Dr Charly Feldman has already taken part in the flight and said: ‘Being weightless is the most amazing and bizarre feeling! You have no control over where you are floating to or at what speed! It feels like you are at the top of a roller coaster and never coming down again!’

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Leicester research offers hope for developing new medicines

Free public lecture at University of Leicester on 24 May.

Understanding how cells communicate has a real-world application in drug development for treating a wide range of diseases.

In his free lecture on Tuesday 24 May Professor Nick Brindle, from the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Leicester, will discuss some of his work into how cells function and how this knowledge benefits the health care industry.

A specialist in cell signalling, Professor Brindle will explain how understanding the complex intercommunications between cells helps with treating cardiovascular and other diseases, repairing damaged tissue and has potential for growing replacement body parts.

Professor Brindle explained: ‘I will focus particularly on the communication pathways that maintain the cardiovascular system, how problems with these pathways can lead to disease and how we can target parts of these communication systems to develop new medicines.

‘In addition I will discuss how we can rewire cell communication pathways and even create completely synthetic communication systems to control cells and non-biological nanoscale devices.

‘I hope the lecture will help people to recognise the importance of some of these signalling pathways for development of new medicines and the potential for harnessing the principles of biological communication systems in nanotechnology.’

The lecture ‘Cell signalling, from molecular mechanisms to medicines and beyond’, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 5.30pm in Lecture Theatre 1 in the Ken Edwards Building, University of Leicester.

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BMJ Group launches new Diabetes Diploma

The BMJ Group has launched a new Postgraduate Diploma in Diabetes for doctors, nurses and other health care professionals both in the UK and across the world.

The Diploma is provided through a partnership with the University of Leicester, one of the top 2% of the world’s universities, and delivered by BMJ Learning, the leading online provider of continuous professional development for healthcare professionals.

The two-year part-time distance learning modular course focuses on diabetes in its global context and explores the common challenges of this chronic disease.

Recent estimates suggest that by 2025 over 4 million people in the UK will be diagnosed with diabetes and 73.5 million people in India. By 2030 diabetes in the Middle East is expected to rise to 53.2 million. Today China has the largest number of adults with diabetes in the world at 92.4 million.

The Diabetes Diploma will provide students with a range of learning opportunities which will challenge them to evaluate the scientific evidence in diabetes and apply it in practice to improve patient outcomes. Students will gain the knowledge and skills necessary to tackle the challenges of prevention and management of diabetes that many health systems currently face.

The course is led by Professor Melanie Davies, Professor of Diabetes Medicine and Professor Kamlesh Khunti, Professor of Primary Care Diabetes and Vascular Medicine. The Diabetes department is part of the Department of Health Sciences and is based within the School of Medicine at the University of Leicester.

Professor Davies is a leading authority on diabetes and much of her research work is around the cause of Type 2 diabetes, screening and prevention of Type 2 diabetes, self management and structured education. Professor Khunti currently leads a research group undertaking research into the early identification and interventions in people with diabetes and at increased risk of diabetes.

The modular course content has been developed by an experienced team from BMJ Learning and supported by Dr Dean Jenkins, Consultant Physician and educational advisor to BMJ Learning.

Dr Jenkins said: ‘This new diploma is a modular course in diabetes that enables health professionals around the world to study in their own time. The flexible online study reduces the need for learners to take time out from their work place to develop their clinical role in diabetes and it complements Leicester’s established programmes in diabetes. It is an ideal opportunity for those wishing to extend their clinical work to include the care of people with diabetes.’

Two days of lectures introduce the course for students and then six modules are available over two years leading to the postgraduate certificate. Individual modules can be purchased at a cost of £895 (including VAT); Year one of the diploma costs £2,445 (incuding VAT) or £4,980 (including VAT) for the full two-year postgraduate diploma. Closing date for the new course which begins in September is 19 August.

Further information is available at www.diabetesdiploma.com.

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Reading Arabic ‘different’ for the brain – new study

New research by University of Leicester psychologist sheds light on reading differences.

Arabic readers recognise words in a different way from readers of other languages a new study has discovered.

This doctoral research at the University of Leicester is analysing the reading differences of individuals as well as across languages – and has shown dissimilarities in how Arabic readers recognise words.

Conducted by Abubaker Almabruk from the School of Psychology, the study has shown there are clear differences in how the right and left sides of the brain recognise Arabic words.

Almabruk’s study is one of the first to examine the cognitive and physiological processes underlying word recognition and reading in Arabic, providing important insight into the effects of direction of reading, the form of the script and the construction of the language.

His research reveals the intricacies of an everyday behaviour that most people find relatively easy and will help explain why some people find it difficult to read and provide insights into how these difficulties might be remedied.

Almabruk commented: ‘Differences in left and right brain function influence the recognition of words each side of where a reader is looking on a page but only when these words are outside of central vision – this reveals both left/right brain specialisation for reading and evidence that the two halves of the brain collaborate when making sense of words in central vision. Native Arabic readers recognise Arabic words most efficiently when they fixate these words at their very centre.’

‘This shows that where we look in a word is very important for reading and the findings for Arabic are different from findings for English and other western languages, which are read most efficiently by looking at a location between the beginning and middle of the word.’

On the possible causes for the reading differences, he said that ‘this might have happened because Arabic is read from right to left and words are formed from cursive text (ie the letters in Arabic naturally join together, even in printed formats, much like hand-written text in English).’

Dr Kevin Paterson from the School of Psychology added: ‘Arabic is one of the oldest and most beautiful languages, and the second-most widely used language in the world, yet how it is read and understood has received surprisingly little attention. The experimental approach that Abubaker has taken in his research promises to reveal a huge amount about how this language and other languages are read and understood.’

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Patients who see ‘preferred GP’ in doctor’s surgery less likely to go for emergency hospital admission

A new study led by the University of Leicester has concluded that being able to see the GP of your choice in a doctor’s surgery helps to reduce emergency hospital admissions.

The findings by researchers in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of Leicester revealed a correlation between patients being able to see a preferred GP and emergency hospital admissions.

The research, published in Emergency Medical Journal, was led by Dr John Bankart, a research fellow in medical statistics at the University. The research was funded by the NHS.

Dr Bankart said: ‘We undertook a study to identify characteristics of general practices associated with emergency hospital admission rates. The study was undertaken in two primary care trusts (Leicester City and Leicestershire County and Rutland) and included 145 general practices.

‘Hospital admission data were used to calculate the rate of emergency admissions for two consecutive years (2006/07 and 2007/08), and we studied the impact of practice characteristics and patient characteristics on admission rates.

‘We found that practice characteristics – like being a shorter distance from hospital and smaller list sizes and patient characteristics such as a higher proportion of older people, white ethnicity, increasing deprivation, and female gender were associated with higher admission rates. There was no association with measures of clinical or organisational performance, but there was an association between patients reporting being able to see a particular GP and admission rates.

‘As the proportion of patients able to consult a particular GP increased, emergency admission rates declined. We concluded that the patient characteristics of deprivation, age, ethnicity and gender are important predictors of admission rates. Larger practices and greater distance from a hospital have lower admission rates. Being able to consult a particular GP, an aspect of continuity, is associated with lower emergency admission rates.’

Dr Bankart said the results demonstrated the fact that GP practices will struggle to impact on hospital admission rates given that many of the factors that influence hospital admissions were outside the GP’s control eg higher proportion of elderly, white ethnicity, increasing deprivation and distance from hospital.

‘This finding is important because small changes in admission rates have substantial economic consequences, and it points to potential interventions to reduce emergency admission rates.’

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University of Leicester launches ‘competition’ to find ten future world class research leaders

The University of Leicester plans to establish up to ten new professorial research chairs in a multi-million pound investment by the University in its research future.

Successful applicants for the posts, starting from January next year, will each be supported to establish world-class research centres in their specialist fields.

It is part of an overarching strategy to further develop research innovation and capacity and to help put Leicester, currently ranked among the top 12 universities in the UK, in a strong position to contend for a place in the top ten by 2015.

Despite the difficult economic climate, the University, which prides itself on being both high quality and inclusive – ‘elite without being elitist’ – has decided to send a clear message that it remains committed to investing in top research, as well as strong teaching.

Chairs will be expected to provide a ‘business plan’ for their proposed research activity, explaining how their work will benefit the institution, attract grants and develop a world class reputation for excellence.

Applications are being invited from leading scholars across all disciplines under eight broad themes that build upon the University’s existing research strengths: evolving landscapes; connected communities; emerging technologies; healthcare, sustainable and translational medicine; digital economy; science and society; biodiversity, sustainability and food security; energy and resources for sustainable societies.

The aim is to develop world class, multi-disciplinary expertise in areas in which Leicester already has specialist knowledge. It hopes to attract high profile research fellows and postgraduate students as well as promote collaborations within the University and with partners from industry, commerce and overseas.

Professor Kevin Schürer, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Research and Enterprise, said: ‘Because of student fees, an awful lot of attention over the past few months has been on teaching. This has been for all the right reasons, but what we mustn’t forget is that research is a critical part of what universities like Leicester do and that it underpins and informs the teaching that we provide.

He added: ‘You cannot create internationally recognised research centres without the necessary support and investment. With this investment we are taking a proactive approach to stimulate research ideas and collaboration.’

Professor Sir Robert Burgess, the University’s Vice-Chancellor, said: ‘Successful applicants will have a huge opportunity to develop a research programme, to solve problems that they themselves set, to move into unchartered territory, and to make links between different subject areas.

‘We are not only going to be developing new work, we are also going to be developing new workers, and that is always exciting.’ 

Learn more about the Professorial Research Chairs development at Leicester.

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Variety is the spice of life for animal movement

Scientists at Royal Holloway, University of London and the University of Leicester have discovered animals searching for food do not stick to a complicated pattern of movement as previously thought but tend to wander about randomly.

It was previously believed that when searching for food, animals move in a very peculiar way called a Lévy flight where they move small distances most of the time, but occasionally move a very long distance.

This idea was based on studies in which many animals, like albatrosses or sharks, were tracked. However scientists have been analysing video records of aphids, small sap-sucking insects to find out how they move and have discovered that they wander about randomly, much like inanimate molecules move, and some tend to walk much more than others. The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.

Dr Alla Mashanova, from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway, said: ‘It was the large variation between individuals – with some moving very little and some moving a lot – that previously created the impression of the Lévy flight.’

The researchers recorded the length of movement by all the aphids and used this data to build two mathematical models to carry out a more detailed statistical analysis.

Dr Sergei Petrovskii, from the Department of Mathematics at Leicester says: ‘It is amazing how very simple mathematical models can sometimes be used to explain very complicated phenomena.’

The researchers say understanding how animals move is important, for instance, for hunting, to design nature reserves and to predict pest outbreaks and understand the spread of diseases.

Professor Vincent Jansen from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway said: ‘Understanding individual variation is crucial for interpreting the collective movement patterns of animals. This research will open the way to better understand animal search and behaviour and work out how it has evolved.’

This research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and The Leverhulme Trust.

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Technology started from child’s play

From ideas to inventions – the application of university research. Free public lecture at University of Leicester on 17 May.

A study of how infants acquire language skills has informed development of technologies used in critical computing systems for the automotive, maritime and space industries.

In his free inaugural lecture on Tuesday, 17 May, Professor Michael Pont from the University of Leicester’s Department of Engineering will describe how his theoretical University work has resulted in practical ‘real-world’ applications.

Head of the Embedded Systems Research Group, Professor Pont will provide an overview of a 25-year research programme which began by exploring some of the neural mechanisms involved in the early stages of human language acquisition and which now involves the development of ‘embedded’ computing systems, which are used to control safety-critical applications, such as passenger aircraft.

During the talk, he will explore some of the common threads which link these apparently disparate research areas.

Professor Pont explained: ‘I’ve been involved in a very wide range of research projects over the course of the last 25 years. What I hope to do in this talk is to give people a flavour of some of the pleasures and challenges of such projects.

‘I also hope to be able to make it clear that university projects which may – initially – appear to be very abstract or theoretical can sometimes lead to very real practical benefits.

‘For example, my own work began by trying to understand how human infants acquire language abilities and has resulted in the development of an ultra-reliable computing platform which is now being used to improve the safety of automotive, maritime, aircraft and space systems.’

The lecture, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 5.30pm in Lecture Theatre 1 in the Ken Edwards Building, University of Leicester.

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University of Leicester announces £30m medical teaching facility

New doctors being trained in Leicester will learn in the latest state-of-the-art facilities being proposed by the University of Leicester.

Artist’s impression of the building. Image credit: Associated ArchitectsThe £30m Medical Teaching Building will house teaching rooms and computer laboratories in one of the most energy efficient buildings of its kind in the UK.

The development will allow the University to continue to enhance its excellent reputation for medical teaching. It will replace teaching undertaken by the University’s College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology in the current medical sciences building which was constructed in the mid-1970s.

The University of Leicester has entered into an agreement with Regent College in order to develop the site on land currently owned by Regent College at the corner of University Road and Lancaster Road.

Regent College has agreed in principle to the sale of a section of land to the University of Leicester in order to directly fund the development of a high quality college sports hall, changing facilities and new classrooms, as well as to bring into use areas of the college estate that are currently unusable for sport. The plan includes the development of an improved levelled and drained sports pitch. These developments will significantly enhance the range of sports and teaching facilities on offer to young people in Leicester and will enable the college to extend its commitment to sport.

The University of Leicester intends to make a fully detailed planning application to Leicester City Council in May 2011. Subject to approval, the University will agree a purchase of the site from the College with view to developing the site by the 2013/14 academic year.

The proposed project will be funded from a variety of sources including use of loans, reserves and support from the NHS.

The University of Leicester has invested £50m in the last three years alone in providing – amongst other things – a first-class redeveloped Library and Students’ Union. In April it also announced a £12.6m Cardiovascular Research Centre. The University also has plans to invest significantly in the estate in the next five years with an anticipated capital investment programme of over £200m.

Professor Stewart Petersen, Head of Medical and Social Care Education, said: ‘This fantastic new building will ensure that Leicester medical students learn in the best possible facilities, so they may be very well equipped to face the challenges of medicine in the 21st century.’

Grant Charman, Deputy Director of Estates at the University said: ‘The design of the building has been developed in close consultation with the Local Planning Authority and Regent College, to provide a scheme commensurate with their needs and the site parameters.

‘Nearby roads and buildings including Regent College itself are laid out in a ‘grid’ arrangement and the proposed design of the Medical Teaching Building is sympathetic to this.

‘In line with the University’s Sustainability Policy, the Medical Teaching Building will incorporate numerous environmentally friendly features including natural light and ventilation, external solar shades, photovoltaic solar panels, a combined heat and power (CHP) system and a free-cooling labyrinth which uses only a fraction of the energy of conventional air-conditioning. There will also be a planted wall and green roof on the side nearest Regent College. The ambitious plans aim to make this one of the most energy efficient buildings of its kind in the UK.’

Paul Wilson, Principal of Regent College, said: ‘The plans represent an exciting opportunity that will directly benefit learners at both the University and Regent College.

‘Like many Colleges nationally, Regent College was denied the opportunity to progress a previously approved capital project that would have led to a similar major redevelopment of the college site in 2009. This stalled due to the suspension of the former Learning and Skills Council capital programme and restrictions in the public funding available for such schemes. Consequently the college has developed alternative strategies to deliver this important extension and improvement to the college estate.

‘The plans for Regent College to work closely with the University of Leicester in this scheme will further improve the existing close relationship between the College and University, delivering fantastic new facilities for sport and new opportunities for further strengthening our already good academic links to the University Medical School.’

Dr Kevin Harris, medical director at Leicester’s Hospitals, said: ‘This can only be good news for us and our patients. The University of Leicester’s medical school is already one of the biggest and most prestigious in the country attracting a high calibre of medical students, who spend time with us when they train. We know that many students choose to stay in the city where they trained, which means Leicester’s Hospitals has a large pool of trained doctors to recruit from.’

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Santander offers £44,000 in awards to students committed to developing an innovative business proposition

University of Leicester working with Santander, through its Santander Universities Global Division, to give students the chance to develop their business ideas.

Students at the University of Leicester are being offered a unique opportunity to win cash awards to help develop their entrepreneurial ideas.

Santander’s ‘Awards for Entrepreneurship’ scheme, part of the Santander Universities network of supporting the higher education sector, offers a combined total of £44,000 to support the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Applications for the awards take the form of a proposal from the applicant, which would include details such as proposed target market, financial forecasts, idea viability, but also personal motivations and objectives. The awards are separated by two categories, undergraduate and postgraduate with the top prize for each category being £5,000 and £20,000 respectively.

Proposals can be submitted now and the competition will be open until the 5 May 2011. There will be a selection process at the University of Leicester with the strongest applicants being entered into consideration alongside other contestants from participating universities. The top 5 entries from each category, as judged anonymously by a judging panel from partnered universities, will go head to head to pitch to judges in London.

Working alongside Santander Universities the University of Leicester is providing the opportunity for its students to get access to funding which marks a real chance for them to develop their ideas further.

Rajinder Bhuhi, Enterprise Learning Officer at the University said: ‘This is a fantastic chance for students to get access to funding to turn a dream to reality. Getting funding for your business idea is one of the key hurdles any entrepreneur will come across.’

Mrs Bhuhi added: ‘This opportunity complements the work within Student Development and our aim to develop, nurture and support the development of business ideas from our students. We are working hard to provide the tools, skills and knowledge to our entrepreneurial students and to be able to guide them towards opportunities like this is a real bonus.’

Stephen O’Connor, Director of Development in the Development and Alumni Relations Office said: ‘We are delighted that Santander have chosen to support the University of Leicester through its Santander Universities scheme and welcome their valuable funding for Postgraduate Student Scholarships, Travel Awards and our Summer School activity. As one of the UK’s leading universities we are committed to encouraging entrepreneurship amongst our students and the “Awards for Entrepreneurship” scheme is an exciting development in the partnership with Santander Universities and offers an excellent opportunity to recognise and support the many talented entrepreneurs at Leicester.’

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu to be honoured by University of Leicester

One of the world’s best-known and best-loved campaigners for peace and justice is to be honoured by the University of Leicester, UK, in July.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his struggle against South African apartheid, and the author of many works around reconciliation and unity, will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters on Friday 15 July 2011 at 3pm at the University of Leicester degree congregation in De Montfort Hall, Leicester.

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, Professor Sir Robert Burgess said: ‘There can be no greater role model for our graduands from across the world than Archbishop Desmond Tutu. His wisdom, courage and integrity are an inspiration to us all and we are delighted to confer the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters on such a great global figure.’

Archbishop Tutu spoke out against apartheid during the years of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment and was subsequently asked by President Mandela to chair South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and investigate the crimes of all parties committed during apartheid.

After a full and active public life, Archbishop Tutu has only recently retired, in October 2010, at the age of 79.

He was born in 1931 in Klerksdorp, a small gold-mining town in the Transvaal, and became a teacher until the 1953 Bantu Education Act introduced the separation of races at all levels of education.

Desmond Tutu then entered the church, rising through its ranks to become the first black Anglican Dean of Johannesburg in 1975 and Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986.

He continued to campaign against apartheid, risking jail, but in 1989 the recently elected President R W De Klerk brought in liberalising reforms and lifted the ban on the African National Congress, also releasing Nelson Mandela from prison.

As a result of his work at the head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Archbishop Tutu has been called on to help other governments and organisations, including Northern Ireland.

As chairman of The Elders, a group of former world leaders dedicated to the alleviation of world problems, he has visited Cyprus and Kenya. He has continued to speak out against injustice worldwide.

More recently he has encouraged the governments of more prosperous countries to be wary of cutting aid to less well-off societies during the current economic downturn.

A University spokesperson added: ‘Desmond Tutu is an inspirational person who adds much to our understanding of diversity and is a champion of equality. He is an embodiment of the University’s position as being “elite without being elitist”.’

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Neuroscientists discover new ‘chemical pathway’ in the brain for stress

Breakthrough study offers hope for targeted treatment of stress-related disorders

A team of neuroscientists at the University of Leicester, UK, in collaboration with researchers from Poland and Japan, has announced a breakthrough in the understanding of the ‘brain chemistry’ that triggers our response to highly stressful and traumatic events.

The discovery of a critical and previously unknown pathway in the brain that is linked to our response to stress has been announced in the journal Nature. The advance offers new hope for targeted treatment, or even prevention, of stress-related psychiatric disorders.

About 20% of the population experience some form of anxiety disorder at least once in their lives. The cumulative lifetime prevalence of all stress-related disorders is difficult to estimate but is probably higher than 30%.

Dr Robert Pawlak, from the University of Leicester who led the UK team, said: ‘Stress-related disorders affect a large percentage of the population and generate an enormous personal, social and economic impact. It was previously known that certain individuals are more susceptible to detrimental effects of stress than others. Although the majority of us experience traumatic events, only some develop stress-associated psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder. The reasons for this were not clear.’

Dr Pawlak added that a lack of correspondence between the commonness of exposure to psychological trauma and the development of pathological anxiety prompted the researchers to look for factors that may make some individuals more vulnerable to stress than others.

‘We asked: What is the molecular basis of anxiety in response to noxious stimuli? How are stress-related environmental signals translated into proper behavioural responses? To investigate these problems we used a combination of genetic, molecular, electrophysiological and behavioural approaches. This resulted in the discovery of a critical, previously unknown pathway mediating anxiety in response to stress.’

The study found that the emotional centre of the brain – the amygdala – reacts to stress by increasing production of a protein called neuropsin. This triggers a series of chemical events which in turn cause the amygdala to increase its activity. As a consequence, a gene is turned on that determines the stress response at a cellular level.

‘We then examined behavioural consequences of the above series of cellular events caused by stress in the amygdala,’ said Dr Pawlak. ‘Studies in mice revealed that upon feeling stressed, they stayed away from zones in a maze where they felt unsafe. These were open and illuminated spaces they avoid when they are anxious.’

‘However when the proteins produced by the amygdala were blocked – either pharmacologically or by gene therapy – the mice did not exhibit the same traits. The behavioural consequences of stress were no longer present. We conclude that the activity of neuropsin and its partners may determine vulnerability to stress.’

Neuropsin was previously discovered by Professor Sadao Shiosaka, a co-author of the paper. This research, for which the bioinformatics modelling was done by Professor Ryszard Przewlocki and his team, has for the first time characterized its mechanism of action in controlling anxiety in the amygdala.

The study took four years to complete, during which scientists from the Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology collaborated with colleagues from the Medical Research Council Toxicology Unit at the University of Leicester, the Department of Molecular Neuropharmacology, Polish Academy of Sciences in Krakow, Poland and Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan. The work was supported by the European Union, the Medical Research Council and Medisearch – the Leicestershire Medical Research Foundation. The first author, Benjamin Attwood, sponsored by Medisearch, took three years off from his medical studies curriculum to complete the necessary experiments. He commented: ‘It has been a thoroughly absorbing project to uncover how our experiences can change the way we behave. Hopefully this will lead to help for people that have to live with the damaging consequences of traumatic experiences.’

Dr Pawlak added: ‘We are tremendously excited about these findings. We know that all members of the neuropsin pathway are present in the human brain. They may play a similar role in humans and further research will be necessary to examine the potential of intervention therapies for controlling stress-induced behaviours.’

‘Although research is now needed to translate our findings to the clinical situation, our discovery opens new possibilities for prevention and treatment of stress-related psychiatric disorders such as depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.’

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Simple injection could limit damage from heart attacks and stroke

‘Milestone achievement’ also has potential applications in transplant surgery

Medical researchers today held out promise that a simple injection is being developed to limit the devastating consequences of heart attacks and strokes.

Described by the lead researcher as ‘a fascinating new achievement’, work has already begun to translate the research into novel clinical therapies.

The University of Leicester led an international team whose research has been published today in the Early Online Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

Professor Wilhelm SchwaebleProfessor Wilhelm Schwaeble of the Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation at the University of Leicester, initiated and co-ordinated research collaborations with King’s College London, the Medical University of Fukushima, Japan and the State University of New York, to achieve the present breakthrough findings, which were published today in PNAS.

Professor Schwaeble and collaborators identified an enzyme, Mannan Binding Lectin-Associated Serine Protease-2 (MASP-2), that is found in blood and is a key component of the lectin pathway of complement activation, a component of the innate immune system.

The lectin pathway is responsible for the potentially devastating inflammatory tissue response that can occur when any bodily tissue or organ is reconnected to blood supply following ischaemia – a temporary loss of that blood supply and the oxygen that it carries. This excessive inflammatory response is, in part, responsible for the morbidity and mortality associated with myocardial infarction (heart attack) and cerebrovascular accidents (CVAs or strokes). Moreover, the work succeeded in finding a way to neutralise this enzyme by raising a therapeutic antibody against it. A single antibody injection in animals has been shown to be sufficient to disrupt the molecular process that leads to tissue and organ destruction following ischaemic events, resulting in significantly less damage and markedly improved outcomes.

‘This is a fascinating new achievement in the search for novel treatments to significantly reduce the tissue damage and impaired organ function that occur following ischaemia in widespread and serious conditions such as heart attacks and strokes,’ said Professor Schwaeble. ‘This new potential therapy was also shown in animals to significantly improve outcomes of transplant surgery and may be applicable to any surgical procedure where tissue viability is at risk due to temporary interruption of blood flow.

Image depicting a typical result‘The main focus of our work was to identify a key molecular mechanism responsible for the overshooting inflammatory response that can cause substantial destruction to tissues and organs following their temporary loss of blood supply, a pathophysiological phenomenon called ischaemia/reperfusion injury,’ added Professor Schwaeble. ‘Limiting this inflammatory response in oxygen-deprived tissues could dramatically improve outcomes and survival in patients suffering heart attacks or strokes.’

For more than seven years, the University of Leicester team has been working closely with a commercial partner, Omeros Corporation in Seattle (USA), to develop therapeutic antibodies for research and clinical applications. Omeros holds exclusive worldwide intellectual property rights to the MASP-2 protein, all therapeutic antibodies targeting MASP-2 and all methods for treating complement-mediated disorders by inhibiting MASP-2. The company has already begun manufacturing scale-up of an antibody for use in human clinical trials.

Professor Schwaeble’s team and Omeros are also working with Professor Nilesh Samani, the British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiology and Head of the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Leicester. It is anticipated that the first clinical trials evaluating Omeros’ human antibody in myocardial infarction patients will be conducted in the Leicester Biomedical Research Unit, at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester.

The development of this new technology was made possible through substantial and long-term grant support of the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council, as well as through funding provided to Omeros Corporation by the US National Institutes of Health.

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Astronomers can tune in to radio auroras to find exoplanets

Radio telescopes could be used for planet-hunting, according to University of Leicester researchers.

Detecting exoplanets that orbit at large distances from their star remains a challenge for planet hunters. Now, scientists at the University of Leicester have shown that emissions from the radio aurora of planets like Jupiter should be detectable by radio telescopes such as LOFAR, which will be completed later this year. Dr Jonathan Nichols presented results at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno, Wales, on 18th April.

‘This is the first study to predict the radio emissions by exoplanetary systems similar to those we find at Jupiter or Saturn. At both planets, we see radio waves associated with auroras generated by interactions with ionized gas escaping from the volcanic moons, Io and Enceladus. Our study shows that we could detect emissions from radio auroras from Jupiter-like systems orbiting at distances as far out as Pluto,’ said Nichols.

Of the hundreds of exoplanets that have been detected to date, less than 10% orbit at distances where we find the outer planets in our own Solar System. Most exoplanets have been found by the transit method, which detects a dimming in light as a planet moves in front of a star, or by looking for a wobble as a star is tugged by the gravity of an orbiting planet. With both these techniques, it is easiest to detect planets close in to the star and moving very quickly.

‘Jupiter and Saturn take 12 and 30 years respectively to orbit the Sun, so you would have to be incredibly lucky or look for a very long time to spot them by a transit or a wobble,’ said Dr Nichols.

Dr Nichols examined how the radio emissions for Jupiter-like exoplanets would be affected by the rotation rate of the planet, the rate of plasma outflow from a moon, the orbital distance of the planet and the ultraviolet (UV) brightness of the parent star.

He found that, in many scenarios, exoplanets orbiting UV-bright stars between 1 and 50 Astronomical Units (AU) would generate enough radio power to be detectable from Earth. For the brightest stars and fastest spinning planets, the emissions would be detectable from systems 150 light-years away from Earth.

‘In our Solar System, we have a stable system with outer gas giants and inner terrestrial planets, like Earth, where life has been able to evolve. Being able to detect Jupiter-like planets may help us find planetary systems like our own, with other planets that are capable of supporting life,’ said Dr Nichols.

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University of Leicester announces £12.6 million Medical Research Centre

The University of Leicester has unveiled plans for a £12.6m Cardiovascular Research Centre that will double the amount of space available for world-class heart research.

The University has announced that Morgan Sindall has been awarded the contract to construct the University of Leicester’s new Cardiovascular Research Centre (CRC) at Leicester’s Glenfield Hospital.

The four-storey extension is at the hospital’s existing clinical sciences wing which houses the University’s medical research and teaching facilities. The 2,200m² facility will further strengthen and consolidate Leicester’s position as a leading international centre for heart research. The centre has been designed by ADP architects in Birmingham.

Professor Nilesh Samani, British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiology at the University of Leicester, said: ‘The CRC will provide high quality laboratory and academic space that will be essential in realising our bold and novel research vision and will ultimately benefit families and patients whose lives have been affected by cardiovascular disease.’

The Centre will effectively double available research space with new laboratories, a Biobank capable of storing samples from up to 100,000 individuals, a Clinical Research Informatics Unit and a Data to Knowledge Unit which together will capture, code and translate anonymous patient data for research and will accommodate an advanced IT link between the University and the Hospital.

Steve O’Connor, Director of Development at the University, added: ‘The University has committed over £8 million of its scarce capital resources to this major project and has launched an appeal to raise over £4m to complete and equip the CRC building.’

Nick Seddon, operations manager at Morgan Sindall in Nottingham, says: ‘This is the second major project we’ve been awarded from the University of Leicester, following our work on the redevelopment of the Percy Gee Students’ Union building which will officially open this month.

‘The CRC will further advance Leicester’s world-class reputation as a centre of excellence in cardiovascular science and we’re delighted to be involved in the delivery of such a key high quality facility.’

Work is due for completion in February 2012.

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Full scholarships announced in Disaster Management

Commonwealth Scholarships available at University of Leicester.

The University of Leicester has announced a series of international scholarships in the fields of risk and disaster management.

Five Commonwealth Scholarships are being made available to individuals from low and middle income Commonwealth countries, with a career path linked to the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals.

The scholarships are located within the University’s Civil Safety and Security Unit, in the Institute of Lifelong Learning, which offers two Master of Science courses – one in Risk, Crisis and Disaster Management, the other in Emergency Planning Management. They each provide a wide-ranging interdisciplinary analysis of crises and disasters and the use of risk theory.

Miles Lane, from the Institute of Lifelong Learning at the University, said: ‘The Scholarships are available to support study of the University’s Risk, Crisis and Disaster Management MSc. The course provides support for those who currently work in any risk specialism, or who wish to work in such a field – examples include emergency response, disaster management, community resilience and mass pandemics. This is an exceptional opportunity to develop in-depth knowledge and applied understanding of the full spectrum of risk management.

‘The course attracts students from over 50 countries and is now in its 14th year. Students come from a wide range of employment sectors including the blue light services, United Nations agencies, development aid agencies and international charities.

‘These scholarships are a fantastic opportunity for citizens of Commonwealth countries to play a proactive role in their country’s ability to respond to disasters, which in turn will contribute to a stable platform for economic and social development.’

Mike Penrose is a current student and played a major role in the emergency response following the 2010 floods in Pakistan. As a Director for Emergency Programmes for Save the Children Australia, Penrose has to ensure an effective, rapid and measured response to crises when they occur. Commenting on the MSc degree, he said:

‘The techniques and theories of risk and crisis management and crisis communications have already stood me in good stead in the management of a response. Whilst I have been involved in humanitarian response management for a lot of the last 16 years, I have found that the time I have spent analysing theory and approach during the first two modules of the course have helped me refine my approach to crisis management and particularly crisis communication.’

Professor John Benyon, Director of Research for Lifelong Learning at the University of Leicester, said: ‘We live in an age where risks seem to be multiplying and where we need greater knowledge of how to assess risk more effectively and take necessary and proportionate action. Students on our course report that they really benefit from their studies and the practical application of the course to their work.’

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Award seeks to uncover writing talent in Leicestershire

Writing Commission announced on the theme of ‘transcultural Leicester’.

A £1,000 award is being made available to a talented writer who can capture the essence, or an aspect, of Leicestershire’s diverse cultures in the form of poetry or prose.

The University of Leicester is involved in a Contemporary Leicestershire Writing Project, Grassroutes, supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, which aims to promote public knowledge of Leicestershire’s diverse literary cultures. It fosters local, national and international appreciation of quality transcultural writing in the county.

The Grassroutes project is based in the School of English at the University of Leicester and staff are now inviting applications from writers living in Leicestershire for a £1,000 creative writing commission, which will take the form of a short story, long poem, poem sequence or performance piece that is also suited to the page. The work should be a maximum of 5,000 words or should take up no more than five pages in the case of poetry.

The commissioned work will be featured at two Grassroutes exhibitions of creative writing in Leicestershire libraries and in the David Wilson Library at the University of Leicester, to coincide with the University’s annual Literary Leicester festival in October.

Leading the project, lecturer and author Dr Corinne Fowler, said: ‘The panel of judges are seeking fresh approaches to representing Leicestershire in written form. We’re hoping that this competition will really raise the profile of the winning entrant.

‘The commissioned work should take “transcultural Leicester” as its central theme. The successful applicant will receive £1,000 for their work, including all expenses.’

Applicants should submit the following in electronic form:

• A CV detailing your writing experience
• A publications list
• A sample of creative work (3 pages max)
• An outline proposal for the commission

These should be sent to Corinne Fowler at
csf11@le.ac.uk no later than 20th April 2011.

The application will be considered by a panel drawn from the project partners and will be chaired by Professor Graham Mort from the Centre for Transcultural Writing & Research at Lancaster University. All applicants will be informed of the judges’ decision by June 10th 2011.

For information about the project see the University of Leicester website.

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New non-surgical autopsy technique set to revolutionise post-mortem practice

Breakthrough science is cost-effective and easy to use.

A new non-surgical post-mortem technique that has the potential to revolutionise the way autopsies are conducted around the world has been pioneered by forensic pathologists and radiologists at the University of Leicester in collaboration with the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust.

The technique developed by a team in the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit, at the University of Leicester, was published on 1 March in International Journal of Legal Medicine. This paper presents the development of the methodology and protocol for this technique from independent research commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

The study has taken another step towards a minimally invasive autopsy for natural and unnatural deaths, for either single cases or mass fatalities. It could also potentially allay qualms from certain faith groups that object to autopsies.

Professor Guy Rutty, Chief Forensic Pathologist to the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit, which is part of the Department of Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine, University of Leicester, said the pilot study had demonstrated the potential of the technique to change the future of post-mortem procedures.

He said: ‘Autopsies are not popular with the general public and are viewed with great distaste. There are a number of faith groups who voice objections to the autopsy. The development of a minimally invasive autopsy technique would reduce the overall number of invasive autopsies performed in the UK but would still provide a service to the Coroner and determine the cause of a person’s death. Currently, without the use of angiography, cardiac related death cannot be reliably diagnosed using a post mortem CT (Computed Tomography) scan so we needed to develop a system that could do this.

‘In collaboration with the radiology team, lead by Professor Bruno Morgan, we have successfully developed a quick and simple technique of “minimally invasive targeted coronary angiography” where we inject contrast into the body of a deceased person through a small incision in the neck and then perform a full body CT scan. Using this method we are able to determine the cause of death in up to 80% of cases (in the series analysed to date).

‘Basically, the technique is used to highlight and examine the vessels of the heart in people who have died. The technique is inexpensive, easy to use and applicable to natural and unnatural death, both single and mass fatalities.’

Professor Rutty explained the technique was novel because it uses catheterisation, contrast and imaging techniques that have not been reported previously. ‘Developing a new catheterisation system and using two different types of contrast to highlight the coronary vessels (air and standard coronary radio-opaque contrast media) sets us apart from other research groups,’ he said.

Professor Rutty added: ‘We were the first Unit in the world to our knowledge to propose targeted angiography as the way forward, and are now the first to describe the development, methodology and protocols involved for cadaver cardiac CT angiography. Other groups have done whole body angiography which is time consuming and expensive and is unlikely to be implemented in the UK for everyday autopsies.

‘We are incredibly excited about the potential of this new research. This technique could see the beginning of a permanent change in autopsy practice in the UK, with fewer autopsies being performed. This technique could be used in other centres across the world.’

The research paper presents the results from an initial pilot of 24 cases. The University team will now complete a further 200 cases this year to further evaluate the technique and build a bigger evidence base.

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Stargazing LIVE

Have a night with the stars with BBC’s Stargazing LIVE at The University of Leicester Observatory.

Stargazing LIVE – 3–5 January, 8pm, BBC Two

Stargazing LIVE events – 3–16 January, nationwide

Professor Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain - image courtesy of the BBCThe BBC is set to inspire a whole host of astronomers and stargazers in Leicester to look to the skies this New Year in a season of events and programmes headed up by Professor Brian Cox.

In January 2011, the University of Leicester (in association with BBC Learning) will host a Stargazing LIVE event at the University Observatory at Field House, Manor Road, Oadby on 5th and 6th January 2011 during 6.30–7.30pm and 7.30–8.30pm. Total beginners, amateur astronomers and professional stargazers will get a chance to explore the night sky.

To reserve a place send your request to:

LeicesterStarGazingLive@star.le.ac.uk. Only one ticket will be issued per email address received. Please note that the event will only take place if the sky is clear.

The University of Leicester will open the doors of its observatory to the public and the residents in Leicester will be sharing the experience with tens of thousands of fellow stargazers as part of the nationwide extravaganza that is tied into the new BBC Two show Stargazing LIVE. In this three-day series, which airs during the first week of January 2011, Professor Brian Cox will be joined by Dara O’Briain as the pair look to the skies to bring the wonders of the stars into our living rooms. Plus Mark Thompson, the One Show’s resident astronomer, will be on-hand to offer viewers tips on how to navigate their own way across the skies.

‘The night sky is one of nature’s most incredible treasures so it’s fantastic that there are going to be Stargazing LIVE events up and down the country to give the public a chance to try their hand at stargazing,’ says Mark Thompson, astronomer.

‘And although a star filled sky can be daunting to many people taking their first steps around the sky, the Star Guide is an invaluable tool and will soon help newcomers to pick out some of the incredible sights of the Universe.’

As well as the Stargazing LIVE events there will be other ways to get involved. Brian is asking stargazers of all levels to share their photographs of the night sky, with the best showcased during the live shows in January. Whether the pictures are of the moon or the planets, galaxies or nebulae, comets or meteors, the Stargazing LIVE team would love to see them. You can upload your images and download a comprehensive starter guide to the night sky by visiting the BBC website.

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New research shows emotions can trigger inaccurate memories

A University of Leicester psychologist has been involved in new research with Cornell University professors which has shown that emotions, particularly those provoked by negative events, can trigger inaccurate memories – and the effect is worse, not better, when the witness is an adult rather than a young child.

In an international collaboration of researchers, Dr Robyn Holliday, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Leicester, and professors from the United States collected data from 7 and 11 year old children and young adults.

The findings have recently been published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 107, 137-154.

They contradict prevailing legal and psychological thinking and have implications for the criminal justice system, said human development professors at Cornell, Valerie Reyna and Charles Brainerd.

The Cornell researchers, who also co-authored the 2005 book The Science of False Memory, previously demonstrated that adults attach far more meaning to events than children do.

Now, working with Robyn Holliday at the University of Leicester and colleagues at the University of North Florida, the pair conducted experiments at Cornell’s Memory and Neuroscience Laboratory. The works shows that experiences that stimulate negative emotions are very bad for the accuracy of children’s memories, but even worse for the accuracy of adults.

‘We found something different from what leading theories of emotional memory in adults say,’ Charles Brainerd said. ‘By manipulating the emotional content of word lists, we found that materials that had negative emotional content in fact produced the highest levels of false memory.’

Children aged 7 and 11, and young adults aged 18 to 23, were shown lists of closely related emotional words – such as ‘pain’, ‘cut’, ‘ouch’, ‘cry’ and ‘injury’. In each list some related words – such as ‘hurt’ – were left out. When asked to recognize words from the list, respondents would often mistakenly remember ‘hurt’ as one of the words. These mistakes allowed researchers to determine the level of emotion-induced false memory at each age.

The legal implications of the findings are profound.

‘In the great preponderance of legal cases, the only evidence that’s determinative is what people say happened,’ said Brainerd, who directs Cornell’s psychology and law program. ‘That’s it. So the question of the conditions under which your memory of events is distorted is the most fundamental question about the reliability of evidence – because it is most of the evidence.’

Brainerd continued: ‘In the law, you’re dealing with events that are emotional. So the question of whether or not the emotional content of experiences that you’re trying to remember screws up your memory is a really big question.’ 

The National Science Foundation supported this research.

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New hope in fight against Huntington’s disease

University of Leicester-led research uncovers potential new approaches for tackling devastating disorder.

Visualisation of individual baker’s yeast cells (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) by scanning electron microscopyHope for new ways of treating devastating neurodegenerative disorders such as Huntington’s disease has been raised by a trans-Atlantic team of researchers thanks to the use of cutting-edge genetic techniques.

Led by the University of Leicester, scientists from the University of Lisbon (led by Dr Tiago Outeiro) and University of California at San Francisco (led by Dr Paul Muchowski) collaborated to generate novel approaches for tackling the diseases. Their work, funded by the Medical Research Council, is published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry.

At Leicester, working simply with baker’s yeast, a team of biological scientists examined aspects of Huntington’s disease. These yeast are extremely well-characterised and have powerful and facile genetics which allow researchers to rapidly interrogate this system at a genome-wide level. Research in recent years has found that baker’s yeast can be used to study mechanisms underlying disease pathology, and this simple organism has been used to identify several promising candidate drug targets for neurodegenerative disorders, including Huntington’s disease.

Flaviano Giorgini, lead author of the research paper at the University of Leicester, said: ‘My research group is interested in using genetics and genomics approaches to better understand the fatal neurodegenerative disorders of Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

‘By clarifying the genes and cellular pathways involved in these diseases we hope to identify novel strategies for treatment and therapy of these disorders. In our work we use simple, yet powerful genetic organisms such as baker’s yeast and fruit flies to model aspects of these devastating diseases.

‘In the current study we have used a novel functional genomics profiling approach to identify genes which can protect these simple organisms from disease symptoms. We then used computational approaches to uncover a network of interactions amongst these genes, which has shed light on the mechanisms underlying this disorder.’

Using the approach above, the scientists found that many of the protective genes are involved in translation – a cellular process in which messenger RNA (mRNA) is decoded by the ribosome to produce specific proteins. This is particularly intriguing as this process has not been implicated in Huntington’s disease in the past.

This is important because recent work indicates that pharmacological modulation of translation may represent a promising avenue for treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Therefore, this new research strongly dovetails with these observations and suggests that similar drug treatment may be beneficial in Huntington’s disease.

Dr Giorgini, of the Department of Genetics, said: ‘Our research has taken advantage of cutting edge genomics approaches using a simple model organism to identify a novel area for potential therapeutic intervention for Huntington’s disease.

‘If our findings are validated by further studies, it might suggest a novel therapeutic approach for this devastating disorder – which is critical as currently there are no treatments for onset or progression of symptoms.

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New research centre at University of Leicester to boost expertise in translation

University to launch Research Centre for Translation and Interpreting Studies.

The University of Leicester is to launch a new Research Centre for Translation and Interpreting Studies on 9 February 2011, which will strengthen the University’s profile in translation and interpreting studies.

The new Centre will be a focal point for staff research in the academic fields of translation and interpreting, for programme development in these fields, and for interaction with the wider community within and outside the University, nationally and internationally.

The Centre will seek to attract external income to support research projects in its areas of interest and to enable further development and growth.

Located within the School of Modern Languages, which ranks very highly in student satisfaction nationally and has state-of-the-art language laboratories, it will organise regular seminars and conferences, provide supervision of research students, offer expert advice, host academic visitors and engage with colleagues, and with subjects and other centres across the University and beyond.

Leading the initiative is the newly appointed Professor Kirsten Malmkjær, Head of the Research Centre for Translation and Interpreting Studies, who is determined to establish a centre of excellence at Leicester.

Professor Malmkjær commented:

‘I am extremely excited about my new post and looking forward eagerly to establishing translation as an academic discipline at Leicester. The main challenge we face is to establish a distinctive profile within the national and international translation studies community.’

Professor Douglas Tallack, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) and Head of the College of Arts, Humanities and Law, explained:

‘It’s an important development in the College because Translation Studies has an exciting theoretical reach, while also introducing a vocational and out-reach dimension that will be of particular value to the University in the coming years. I have also been struck on recent overseas visits by the great interest shown in this subject by potential applicants to the University of Leicester, and also by academics seeking research collaboration with us.’

Professor of Translation Studies and Director of Translation Studies Programmes, Professor Malmkjær has previously taught at the universities of Birmingham, Cambridge and Middlesex. Her research and teaching interests include translation theory, translation studies, translation and language, translation and philosophy, and Hans Christian Andersen’s language and literary production in Danish and in translations into English.

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Dino-era sex riddle solved by new fossil find

Killed and preserved with her egg, a fossil of a flying reptile shows for the first time how hips and crests can be used to sex pterodactyls.

Features of Darwinopterus. The male (right) has a large head crest, but this is absent in the female (left). Picture credit: Mark WittonThe discovery of an ancient fossil, nicknamed ‘Mrs T’, has allowed scientists for the first time to sex pterodactyls – flying reptiles that lived alongside dinosaurs between 220–65 million years ago.

Pterodactyls featured prominently in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park III and are a classic feature of many dinosaur movies where they are often depicted as giant flying reptiles with a crest.

The discovery of a flying reptile fossilised together with an egg in Jurassic rocks (about 160 million years old) in China provides the first direct evidence for gender in these extinct fliers. This fossil shows that females were crestless, solving the long-standing problem of what some pterosaurs did with their spectacular head crests: showy displays by males.

The find was made by an international team of researchers from the Universities of Leicester, Lincoln and the Geological Institute, Beijing. Details of the unique new find are published on January 21 in the journal Science.

David Unwin, a palaeobiologist in the Department of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester, was part of the research team that studied the fossil. He said:

‘Pterosaurs, flying reptiles, also known as pterodactyls, dominated the skies in the Mesozoic Era, the age of dinosaurs, 220–65 million years ago. Many pterosaurs have head crests. In the most spectacular cases these can reach five times the height of the skull. Scientists have long suspected that these crests were used for some kind of display or signalling and may have been confined to males, while females were crestless. But, in the absence of any direct evidence for gender this idea remained speculative and crested and crestless forms were often separated into completely different species.

‘The fossil we have discovered, an individual of Darwinopterus (a pterosaur first described by the same team of scientists in 2009) is preserved together with an egg showing that it must be female. This type of discovery, in which gender can be determined with certainty, is extremely rare in the fossil record, and the first to be reported for pterosaurs.’

The new discovery, christened ‘Mrs T’ (a contraction of ‘Mrs Pterodactyl’) by the research team, was made in Jurassic rocks of Liaoning Province in northeast China and seems to represent a tragic accident. The well developed shell shows that Mrs T was just about ready to lay her egg when she was killed in an accident that broke her left forearm, possibly the result of a storm, or perhaps even a volcanic eruption, which were common in this part of China around 160 million years ago.

Dr Unwin said: ‘Mrs T shows two features that distinguish her from male individuals of Darwinopterus. She has relatively large hips, to accommodate the passage of eggs, but no head crest. Males, on the other hand, have relatively small hips and a well developed head crest. Presumably they used this crest to intimidate rivals, or to attract mates such as Mrs T.

‘Mrs T is a once in ten lifetime’s discovery. As long as the skull or hips are preserved we can now confidently identify males and females of Darwinopterus and, even more importantly, we can use this technique to sex other pterosaurs because they often show differences in head crests and hips just as in Darwinopterus’.

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Students getting to the truth… CSI style

University of Leicester hosts International Summer School of Forensic Science.

Student sleuths are to put their forensic skills to the test in a CSI-style summer school at the University of Leicester. The event which attracts international students to a skills-based course takes place from 18 July to 6 August at the Department of Chemistry.

The CSI Leicester summer school creates a unique learning environment where students can be part of an investigation team and experience what it is like to work at the cutting edge of forensic science.

For three weeks students will immerse themselves in the role of a forensic scientist to investigate a crime scene and, by examining the evidence, to get to the truth of ‘whodunnit’.

The intensive course combines theory and practice and whilst the crime they investigate is a simulation, the materials and equipment are the same as those used by real police scientists, making the experience as authentic as possible.

Under the supervision of an international multi-disciplinary teaching team, led by Professor Rob Hillman of the Department of Chemistry and Dr John Bond of Northamptonshire Police, the investigative team will also visit a national forensic laboratory and a police crime laboratory.

Professor Hillman commented: ‘Increasingly, the detection and investigation of crimes is reliant upon evidence derived from science and engineering. New technologies continually generate new types of information and increasingly sophisticated variants of existing technologies. In order to select, exploit and interpret these new methods, both specialists and non-specialists must have an appreciation of the scientific principles and the way in which they are used in forensic science. The CSI Leicester Summer School aims to accomplish this in an engaging manner for those who come from a non-science background.’

Not only will the educational experience equip them with specialist knowledge and skills and teach them the differences between the US and the UK approaches to forensic science but they will also earn academic credits for completing the course.

First run in 2009, the summer school has experienced rapid growth and become an annual event with ever-growing popularity. Dr Bond explains: ‘The continued success of CSI Leicester is a measure not only of the popularity of forensic science-related courses but also the esteem with which the University’s research and teaching in this discipline is held. In these harsh economic times, the contribution the University has made, and continues to make, to using forensic science to detect crime is clearly something that students can appreciate and relate to.’

Places are still available. Students interested in applying to the course should contact csi.info@le.ac.uk. More information is available on the University of Leicester website.

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University of Leicester provides insights into Olympics

Free public lecture on 24 February will look at England’s role in Olympic movement.

The University of Leicester is continuing with its series of public events celebrating the Olympic and Paralympic Games during academic year 2010/11.

The University’s Sports and Recreation Service has organised a series of public lectures as part of the University’s engagement with the Olympics.

As recognition for delivering projects inspired by the London 2012 Games, the programme has been awarded the ‘Inspired by’ mark by the organising committee of the London 2012.

The fifth lecture in the series providing insights into the Games will be delivered by Professor Robert Colls on Thursday 24 February on England and the Olympics. The free lecture is open to all and starts at 5.30pm in Ken Edwards Lecture Theatre 3.

Professor Colls will look at England’s influence in the revival of the Olympic Games. The modern Olympic movement was founded by an aristocratic Frenchman who had the highest regard for the English way of doing things – especially the English way of doing sport. This lecture will explain just what that ‘way’ was, and how it came to impress itself upon the world.

Professor Colls commented: ‘It’s great that the next year’s Olympics is to be held in London because more than any other nation, the English invented modern sport and it was their thinking about education that inspired the invention of the modern Olympiad. Very appropriately, this is one of a series of lectures organised by the University’s Sports and Recreation service to underline this little known educational triumph.’

Director of Sport, Colin Hide added: ‘It’s great that Rob is lecturing on the programme – he is a star speaker. The lecture will blend his huge knowledge of sport history with a popularist theme to hopefully produce a sparkling 60 minutes on England and the Olympics.’

Free tickets can be requested via sport@le.ac.uk or on the door on the night.

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