Life Sciences in Six 2017

The University of Birmingham hosted its second Life Sciences in Six event at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre on Monday 27 November, in which six speakers spoke for six minutes each about the vital research they undertake at the University.

Compered by Michele Paduano, BBC Midlands Today’s Health Correspondent, the event attracted around 175 attendees and an abundance of positive feedback.

Our speakers included:

Dr Sam Lucas, Senior Lecturer, Exercise and Environmental Physiology (College of Life and Environmental Sciences)
 UOBmed_271117_nrp-18

Sam delivered a presentation asking the question: how can we optimise exercise to improve brain health?

Exercise is most often associated with physical health, but with diseases like dementia on the rise, it’s imperative that we consider how physical activity can help improve brain health.

Sam and his team are investigating whether there are certain types of exercise which have a greater effect on the brain than others. An example provided in his presentation showed that walking in water on a submerged treadmill induces the same increase in blood flow in the brain as running on land.

Sam and his team believe that Birmingham can be at the forefront of providing answers to the challenges ahead.


Dr Joanna Parish, Senior Lecturer, College of Medical and Dental Sciences

Joanna’s presentation was entitled: what can viruses teach us about cancer development?

The NHS has been advising people to make lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, eating more healthily and exercising regularly as a way to prevent cancer. This is all good advice and can certainly prevent some cancers from occurring, but 1 in 5 cancers are caused by infectious agents. As scientists delve deeper into researching the links between viruses and cancer, and make new discoveries, this number is likely to be higher.

Joanna’s research explores the link between viruses such as Human PapillomaVirus (or HPV) and cancer. She points out that if a cancer causing virus is identified, it can be vaccinated against – like the HPV vaccine many school aged girls are receiving, which will have a significant positive effect on the number of cervical cancer cases – the second biggest killer of women worldwide.

UOBmed_271117_nrp-23 

Professor Liam Grover, Professor in Biomaterials Science, College of Engineering and Physical Sciences
 UOBmed_271117_nrp-28 Liam asked: how can sugar be used to treat burns?

We often think of sugar as evil – it rots our teeth and causes obesity. But what if we could use it as a treatment for burns?

Liam’s presentation detailed all the very effective ways that have been found to use sugar to treat burns. Mixed with water, larger joined up sugar molecules can create a solid dressing that is cooling and perfect for dressing burns.

Sugar has many uses in Liam’s research. They have found it to be useful in the treatment of diabetes as the materials made from sugar are very effective at entrapping and protecting harvested pancreatic islets, which are used to restore function in diabetics.

The team have also created an eye drop out of a sugar solution that has been proven to effectively treat scarring, returning the scarred eyeball almost to normal levels after it is applied.

This eye drop has gone on to win prizes and is now packaged with hopes to move to clinic late next year. This could revolutionise how corneal burns are treated.


Professor Nick Loman, Professor of Microbial Genomics and Bioinformatics, College of Life and Environmental Sciences
Nick posed the question: how can genome sequencing help us tackle Ebola and Zika?

The Ebola and Zika viruses were epidemics that were declared global health emergencies by the World Health Organisation. The viruses gripped parts of Africa and Brazil in recent years. Nick and his team have developed a ‘lab in a suitcase’ which can be used in the field to perform genome sequencing, helping researchers to understand these viruses very quickly.

Nick’s team travelled to West Africa during the outbreak of the Ebola virus with a portable genome sequencer in 2015, and showed the results to the World Health Organisation, who then built them a genome centre in West Africa. They have since added to the number of genome centres in the area, staffed by volunteers from Europe and local scientists.

Due to being able to genome sequence in the field (in ‘real time’), Nick’s team were able to accomplish these sequences very quickly. This makes the information very useful to help guide infection control measures.

 UOBmed_271117_nrp-31

David Hodson, Professor of Metabolism and Professional Fellow, College of Medical and Dental Sciences
 UOBmed_271117_nrp-34

 David’s presentation was entitled: how can light-activated technology be used to treat diabetes and other diseases?

Type 2 diabetes affects 10% of the adult population. Treatment works but needs to be improved. Rates of type 2 diabetes is increasing in line with obesity, and can cause blindness, heart disease, problems with the nervous system and problems with blood vessels – which can lead to a higher risk of amputations.

Many cases of diabetes are treated with oral medication which boosts production of insulin – but this means that insulin is secreted all the time, rather than when the body really needs it (following a meal).

David’s research into light sensitive drugs shows that photopharmacology allows the drug to reach the part of the body that needs to be treated when it needs to be treated, and then be activated externally by an LED light, meaning that the drug should only target the disease rather than healthy tissues.


Professor Paul Burstow, Professor of Mental Health Policy, College of Social Sciences

Paul’s presentation explored the question: what are we doing to close the treatment gap on youth mental health?

Mental illnesses are the number one health issue for young people, with half of life long mental illnesses manifesting themselves by age 15, and three quarters occurring by the time the patient is 18. And yet, while £10 of every £100 in the NHS is spent on adult mental health, only 7 pence is spent on children and young people’s mental health.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (or ACEs) can be causes for many mental health issues. In fact, men with 2 or more ACEs in early life are at a 57% higher risk of death before 50. In women this rises to 80%.

Paul Burstow and his team would like to shift the focus on mental health from treating and containing ill health to one that is focussed on preventing and dealing with the causes of that ill health in the first place – during childhood and youth predominantly.

 UOBmed_271117_nrp-40

The Life Science in Six event is a great forum to hear about lots of important research from around the University in one place – as pointed out by Michele Paduano, research ‘that is important to you locally, us nationally and everyone internationally’.

If you'd like to sign up to our mailing list to hear about other Life Sciences events, please email the Communications Mailbox.