Researchers’ Weekly Bulletin: the Blog

News for researchers at the Manchester Metropolitan University


Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

“FutureFest is a weekend festival of ideas, talks, and interactive performances to inspire people to change the future. We use FutureFest to gather some of the planet’s most radical thinkers, makers and performers together to create an immersive experience of what the world might be like in decades to come.”

“Our weekend festival is held every 18 months and the next FutureFest will take place 17-18 September 2016 at Tobacco Dock, London.”

[Source Nesta website: ]

Universities and councils join forces to help communities

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

“Leaders from universities and councils will be working together on a pilot project designed to help areas drive growth, re-design public services and strengthen the relationship between communities and academic institutions.”

“Pilots for the Leading Places Project will be rolled out in Gloucestershire, Manchester, Newcastle and Gateshead, Brighton and Sussex, Bristol, and Coventry/Warwickshire this month.”

“The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents over 370 councils in England and Wales, Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), which funds and regulates the higher education sector, and Universities UK (UUK), will work with the pilots and evaluate performance.”

“Pilots will involve university Vice-Chancellors and council Chief Executives and Leaders meeting to agree a local priority under the guidance of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. This could boost jobs as a result of university researchers identifying skill gaps and training being organised for new workers to fill them.”

[Source Local Government website: ]

Innovations are needed if Big Data is to boost jobs, says new research

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

“Phenomenal quantities of valuable data are now being collected and created by UK businesses but much of its commercial potential remains untapped.”

“Fears of data leaks and of losing control are the key reasons why companies are hoarding data rather than sharing or trading it openly and transparently or turning it into profitable information-based products and services.”

“These are the key findings from an investigation carried out by Imperial College Business School with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The team has worked closely with organisations such as the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Ofcom, IBM and the BBC.”

“On average, data-based capital contributed just 0.015 per cent to UK GDP each year over the period studied by the team, even though investment in data-based assets in the UK reached US$7 billion in 2013 – which equates to around 40 per cent of the amount invested in R&D.”

“Turning data into a widely traded, growth-boosting commodity similar to oil, for example, would require (i) a clearer regulatory framework and (ii) low-cost trading mechanisms enabling data to be exchanged in vibrant digital market-places without sensitive information about its originators being revealed.”

[Source EPSRC news: ]

Lithium may be better than newer drugs at reducing self-harm in bipolar disorder

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

“A large Medical Research Council (MRC)-funded study of 6,671 patients with bipolar disorder has found that using lithium reduces levels self-harm and unintended injury when compared to three other common and newer medications prescribed for the condition. It is thought this is because lithium reduces aggressiveness and impulsive behaviour.”

“Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that mostly affects mood. People with the condition experience severe mood swings from extreme highs to lows with episodes lasting up to weeks. People can experience several highs before a low and vice versa. It can affect up to one in 100 people during their lifetime.”

“Self-harm is one of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, and those who self-harm have a substantial increased risk of suicide. People with bipolar disorder are 15 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population and six times more likely to die because of accidental injury, for example falls, or to be involved in a car accident. The effects of medication on these outcomes has been hard to measure as people with a history of self-harm are often excluded from clinical trials.”

[Source MRC news: ]


STEM and computer sciences reviews show that improving employment outcomes is a shared responsibility

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

“Two reviews published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, looking at employment outcomes among science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates, find that responsibility for improving these outcomes needs to be shared between higher education providers, employers and students.”

“The Government’s 2014 Science and Innovation Strategy commissioned two independent reviews to look into the employment outcomes of graduates from STEM and, specifically, computer sciences. This followed concerns about the number of STEM graduates who appeared to be unemployed six months after graduation, the employment figures for computer sciences being the lowest of all STEM subjects. The reviews also considered systems of degree accreditation and looked at what employers say they want from graduates.”

[Source HEFCE news:,107977,en.html ]

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: ]

‘Winter Is Coming!’ New sensors could cut millions from gritting costs

Monday, May 16th, 2016

“’Winter is Coming’, the motto of the House of Stark, from the hit TV series Game of Thrones®, warns of the inevitable onset of bad weather and bad times, and implies the need to prepare.”

“Researchers, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) at the University of Birmingham have clearly taken note. They have been developing sensors that could cut millions from road-gritting costs and help local authorities be ready for the darker days ahead.”

“Unnecessary gritting of roads and car parks could be avoided and road safety in cold weather boosted, thanks to these new internet-connected, temperature sensors that have already been successfully trialled in Birmingham, London and elsewhere across the country.”

“Fitted to lampposts, for example, the low-cost devices collect and transmit a non-stop stream of data on road-surface temperatures that local authorities, highways agencies and other organisations can use to target precisely where gritting is needed – and where it isn’t.”

[Source EPSRC 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: ]

Historic £100 million charity backing for UK Dementia Research Institute

Monday, May 9th, 2016

“Two major UK charities have announced £100m of new partnership funding for the UK’s first Dementia Research Institute – one of the single biggest financial commitments to dementia research in the history of both charities. Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK have pledged £50m each towards the work of the Institute, led by the Medical Research Council [MRC], making the total commitment over a quarter of a billion pounds.”

“Announced by the Prime Minister last year, the Institute will bring together scientists and experts from across the globe to transform the landscape of dementia research and firmly secure the UK’s reputation as a world leader in research and development against these devastating diseases.”

“Set to be fully up and running by 2020, the Institute will have a central UK hub with a network of regional centres and is expected to engage hundreds of researchers. Its focus will include the innovative, discovery science needed to unlock our understanding of the mechanisms underlying the development and progression of the dementias as well as research to improve care and public health strategies to reduce risk of dementia for future generations.”

[Source MRC news: ]

Using cellular components to treat drug overdose

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

“It may be possible to treat paracetamol overdose in the future using microRNAs to silence transcription of genes that lead to the production of toxic metabolites. This is according to a proof-of-concept study carried out using stem cell models by researchers at the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh.”

“The study published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine also found that liver cells grown from stem cells acted as a good model for analysing drug toxicity in the human liver.”

“An overdose of paracetamol can cause acute liver failure, which can be life-threatening or require a liver transplant. In 2014, there were 200 deaths from paracetamol overdose in the UK, and in a lot of cases overdose can occur accidentally.”

[Source MRC news: ]