Dr Anna Philips – Birmingham Heroes transcript

Dr Anna Phillips is interested in how stress and aging affect our immune systems.

Title: Dr Anna Phillips – Birmingham Heroes
Duration: 3.42 mins
Speaker Names (if given):    S1   Dr Anna Phillips – Birmingham Heroes

S1 My current research is mainly looking at factors like stress and how it affects our immune system.  So two of the current projects that I’m quite excited about are looking at older people and factors that are important to them – so in one we’re looking at bereavement and how that affects the immune system: often after older people have had a bereavement they go quite quickly downhill themselves, often from pneumonia.  So we’re trying to understand: how does bereavement affect a particular cell that is good at fighting off pneumonia?  Another thing that we’re doing is we’re looking at hip fracture in older people, which is again another common event and we’re trying to understand the impact of depression.  Often people in hospital with a hip fracture develop depression and these are the people that then go on to become frail a lot more quickly than others.  They get infections; often these infections lead to death.  So we’re trying to slow down that progression to frailty.  So if we can understand how these factors interact more, then we actually start doing something about it.

The impact that my research will have in Birmingham first of all is obviously for older people because these are the people that are having bereavements; that are having hip fractures and developing depression and we’re trying to improve their health and their quality of life.  But this isn’t just a problem in Birmingham or even in the UK; this is a problem globally.  People are ageing: there’s a lot more people in the older generation who are living for longer, but not necessarily staying healthy for a large part of their lives; so the last part of their life can often be full of ill health and we’re trying to understand factors that can contribute to the quality of life later on.

Undergraduates often – who like my course, which I teach to second years – try and get involved with this type of work when they’re doing their third year dissertation, because then they’re the ones that are going out, getting participants, they’re leading projects – with help from me obviously.  So they’re getting involved in this type of work, so they can go out and measure stress in different people, they can look at different factors in the new system.  So they can get very heavily involved.

I think the thing that excites me most about my research is that it feels really real and relevant.  Lots of academics are probably very excited about the research but it might not be that relevant to those around them.  Whereas I feel that the work I do is relevant to everyone because everyone is aging; health is an issue for everyone regardless of their age and what I’m trying to do is understand the factors that affect health and how we can improve quality of life in people.  So I think that's one of the things that really excites me about it.

One of the other things is rather than just taking one perspective – so rather than looking at aging and health just from the perspective of the psychologist, which is what I am – we’re now bringing together a lot of different techniques and a lot of different view points to actually look at sort of the sort of different factors affecting health; so I’m based in the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences so we can look at the importance of exercise.  I’m a psychologist, so we can look at the importance of factors like stress and we can also link up with biologists and medics to understand what that's actually physically doing to the body.

I think ten years from now students will obviously be using the latest techniques in their studies, but one of the great things that they’ll hopefully be doing is not just looking at specific subjects within a specific discipline, but rather trying to address global problems like the environment or health or obesity and looking at it from a variety of different backgrounds.  So bringing things – factors like sport and exercise and psychology and medicine all together to try and understand key issues in a world rather than just looking from the point of view of one discipline.