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Researchers’ Weekly Bulletin: the Blog

News for researchers at the Manchester Metropolitan University

Major funders collaborate to produce first in-depth guide on evaluating healthcare system innovations

Monday, June 13th, 2016

“An e-book [just] published is the first to comprehensively address the challenges faced by healthcare providers in evaluating system-level innovations in healthcare services in an evolving landscape.”

“If innovations can be better evaluated then better, evidence-based decisions can be made by healthcare providers to improve the quality of health services in the UK.”

“Entitled ‘Challenges, solutions and future directions in the evaluation of service innovations in health care and public health’, the book is the result of a partnership between the MRC [Medical Research Council], the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the Health Foundation, together with Universities UK and Academy Health.”

“The e-book, edited by Professor Rosalind Raine at University College London and Professor Raymond Fitzpatrick at the University of Oxford, brings together a global range of expert opinion following a two-day symposium in London last year. The event saw over ninety world-leading applied health researchers and methodologists debate how to address increasing complexity, diversity and pace of change within health systems. The e-book captures and advances those discussions in a series of essays which set out a repertoire of methodologies for evaluation.”

[Source Medical Research Council news: ]

Study finds virtual reality can help treat severe paranoia

Monday, May 16th, 2016

“Virtual reality can help treat severe paranoia by allowing people to face situations that they fear, an MRC[Medical Research Council]-funded study has found. The virtual reality simulations allowed the patients to learn that the situations they feared were actually safe.”

“The study, carried out by researchers at Oxford University, is published [] in the British Journal of Psychiatry. It combines evidence-based psychological treatment techniques with state-of-the-art virtual reality social situations to reduce paranoid fear.”

“About 1-2% of the population has severe paranoia, typically as a central feature of mental health disorders such as schizophrenia. Patients show extreme mistrust of other people, believing that others are deliberately trying to harm them. The condition can be so debilitating that sufferers may be unable to leave the house.”

“Coping mechanisms such as avoiding social situations, reducing eye contact or making any social interaction as short as possible worsen the situation, since they reinforce paranoid fears: patients come to believe that they avoided harm because they used these ‘defence behaviours’.”

“The research team, led by Professor Daniel Freeman from Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry, wanted to test whether patients could ‘re-learn’ that a situation was safe, by experiencing situations they feared without using their defence behaviours.”

To read the article in the British Journal of Psychiatry go to:

[Source MRC news: ]

Research links heart disease with testosterone

Monday, May 9th, 2016

“Testosterone might be involved in explaining why men have a greater risk of heart attacks than women of similar age, according to a study funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, could lead to new therapies to help reduce heart attack risk.”

“Each year in the UK 188,000 people visit hospital whilst suffering from a heart attack, which is one person every three minutes.”

“Scientists at the University of Edinburgh examined the effects of testosterone on blood vessel tissue from mice. They found that the hormone triggers cells from the blood vessels to produce bone-like deposits – a process called calcification. When the mouse cells were modified, by removing the testosterone receptor, so they could no longer respond to testosterone, they produced far less of the calcium deposits. The team also looked at blood vessel and valve tissue from people with heart disease who had undergone surgery for their condition. They found that cells from these tissues contained bone-like deposits and also carried the testosterone receptor on their surface. This suggests that testosterone may trigger calcification in people.”

“Calcification causes blood vessels to harden and thicken, which means the heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body. It is strongly linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Calcification can also affect the heart’s valves, meaning that the valves cannot open and shut properly and may need to be replaced. Little is known about what triggers calcification and there are currently no treatments. The research team now hope to drill down into the exact mechanism behind this process.”

“Although naturally occurring, testosterone is also used to counteract low levels of natural testosterone production in a treatment known as androgen replacement therapy. Synthetic substances similar to testosterone are also sometimes misused by athletes in order to enhance athletic performance.”

Reference: Ablation of the androgen receptor from vascular smooth muscle cells demonstrates a role for testosterone in vascular calcification. Dongxing Zhu et al. Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 24807 DOI: 10.1038/srep24807

[Source BBSRC news: ]

Festivals help to fuel sense of belonging

Monday, May 9th, 2016

“A new report that examines the wide ranging impact of British Music Festivals has been published by AHRC [Arts and Humanities Research Council] fellow Professor George McKay.”

“Launched at the annual Cheltenham Jazz Festival the report ‘From Glyndebourne to Glastonbury: The Impact of British Music Festivals’ takes a detailed look at the wider economic, social and cultural impact of music festivals. The report shows how [] hugely popular and diverse festivals help to create a sense of community and belonging for the people attending and help to generate wider benefits for the local economies and communities.”

“Prof McKay, a professor in media studies in UEA’s School of Art, Media and American Studies, said: “When you think about it, it’s extraordinary that the music festival has become such a dominant feature of the seasonal cultural landscape, especially the outdoors pop festival.”

“‘With the vagaries of the typical British summer there is often mud, toilet facilities are usually not the most pleasant, traffic jams in country lanes, crowds on site everywhere, watching bands playing in the distance. And yet, festivals thrive today. Why? Because, while culture and life may be ever more fragmented, festivals speak to our need for community and belonging, they can offer us an intense, special space-time experience, often in a beautiful landscape, surrounded by the music we like.’”

To read the report go to:

[Source AHRC news: ]

British Academy publishes evidence from Born Global

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

“’Born Global’ is a resource for the languages community to use to help make the case for the importance and value of studying languages.”

“’Born Global’ consists of quantitative and qualitative data on the complex relationship between language learning and employability. Each data set is accompanied by a booklet with background information and a summary of key findings. The data is open and free to use, it is available on the British Academy website.”

“The British Academy has used this evidence in a new publication Born Global: Implications for Higher Education. It offers reflections on the current state of play for languages at university, and can be downloaded from the British Academy website.”

To access the ‘Born Global’ website go to:

[Source British Academy news: ]

‘Creating Living Knowledge’ Report released

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

“The ‘Connected Communities’ programme promotes new forms of university-community research collaboration. It is funded by Research Councils UK and the Arts and Humanities Research Council [AHRC]. Since 2010, over 300 projects linking academic and community expertise have been funded.”

“The research provides important lessons about how to fund, conduct and sustain high quality research collaborations between academics and civil society in the arts, humanities and social sciences. These lessons have important implications for the research community – in particular those involved in funding, policy making and universities.”

“The research report, ‘Creating Living Knowledge’ focuses on the lessons to be learned from the programme about how to bring together expert and public knowledges – a trend in both universities and the wider policy and public spheres.”

To read the ‘Creating Living Knowledge’ report go to:

[Source AHRC news: ]

British Academy launches report on state of economics today

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

“Called Reflections on Economics, the report [], written by Timothy Besley FBA London School of Economics, Lord Gus O’Donnell Hon FBA and Lord Nicholas Stern, President of the British Academy, follows a series of wide-ranging forums in 2014/15 for careful examination of, and reflection on the subject of economics. These forums brought together academic and professional economists, economic historians, politicians, policy makers and business people and discussed questions such as:

  • What are the weaknesses in knowledge and understanding that should be examined?
  • What is the relationship between different areas of economics and the policy questions being asked and decisions being made? Does government ignore or misuse the advice of economists?
  • Do economists have valuable advice to give?”

To download a copy of the report go to:

[Source British Academy news as above]

British Academy report highlights best international examples of teaching quantitative skills in social science degrees

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

“A new report published by the British Academy [] asks UK universities to consider examples of excellent quantitative skills teaching in social science departments in other parts of the world, if they are to reach the standards achieved by leading universities elsewhere.”

Measuring Up cites 16 case studies of social science teaching in universities in Europe, North America and Australasia which reach higher levels of achievement in quantitative skills than their UK counterparts. It argues that UK universities set their expectations far too low, and warns that UK social science education may fail to give students the skills they need. The report is part of ongoing work by the British Academy to address the UK’s numeracy skills deficit.”

“Written by John MacInnes, Maddie Breeze, Maite de Haro, Mor Kandlik and Martina Karels (University of Edinburgh), the report found that elsewhere in the world, university degree programmes devote a much larger share of curriculum time to the study of methods, both quantitative and qualitative, and that their curricula give more attention to the collection, evaluation and analysis of empirical evidence.”

Measuring Up concludes that there is no ‘one best way’ to teach quantitative skills to undergraduates, but that these case studies show that small group work, working with real data, peer learning and frequent assessments are all common features of courses that allow students to obtain high levels of achievement.”

[Source British Academy news: ]

A well-connected brain is the key to healthy mental ageing

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

“Cambridge scientists have shown that healthy mental ageing is dependent on how well different regions of the brain continue to ‘talk’ to each other, in the first large scale study of its kind.”

“It has puzzled researchers why some people maintain good memory and intelligence as they age and others suffer increasing difficulties, without having dementia.”

“As we age connections within the brain decrease. The new study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, shows that the better critical brain regions continue to be able to communicate with each other, known as brain connectivity, the better people can cope with ageing.”

“The study was conducted by Dr Kamen Tsvetanov and colleagues at the Cambridge Centre for Ageing and Neuroscience (Cam-CAN), funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.”

“The researchers examined the brains of more than 600 healthy people using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to detect brain activity. They then tested whether differences in brain connectivity predicted performance in a wide variety of cognitive tests, showing an increased reliance on brain connectivity in order to maintain cognitive wellbeing, as we age.”

“This is the first study to look at the importance of connectivity in such a large group of people, selected specifically to represent the normal healthy adult population – aged right through from 18 to 88-years-old.”

Reference: Extrinsic and Intrinsic Brain Network Connectivity Maintains Cognition across the Lifespan Despite Accelerated Decay of Regional Brain Activation by Tsvetanov et al is published in The Journal of Neuroscience. Available at: (DOI:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2733-15.2016)

[Source Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council news: ]

Mirror mirror: Snail shells offer clues to origins of body asymmetry

Wednesday, March 9th, 2016

“An international team of researchers has discovered a gene in snails that determines whether their shells twist clockwise or anti-clockwise – and could offer clues to how the same gene affects body asymmetry in other animals including humans.”

“The research, published in the journal Current Biology and led by a scientist at The University of Nottingham, UK, is an important step in understanding how our organs are placed asymmetrically within the body and why this process can sometimes go wrong when some or all of the major internal organs are reversed or mirrored from their normal placement in the body.”

“Dr Angus Davison, an expert in evolutionary genetics at The University of Nottingham in the UK, led the international research project with involvement from scientists at The University of Edinburgh, UK, University of Göttingen, Germany and Tufts University, USA. Using snails that naturally differ in how their shells twist, Davison and his colleagues were able to identify a gene that controls whether snail shells twist clockwise or anticlockwise. The gene makes a protein called formin, which is involved in making the cell scaffold. A defect in formin means that the whole snail is ‘reversed’, a mirror image of others in the same species.”

The article in Current Biology, ‘Formin Is Associated with Left-Right Asymmetry in the Pond Snail and the Frog’ can be accessed here (Open Access):

[Source Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council news: ]