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ISSUE #002 Edited by Bhagat Manku

Inside this issue: Committee News


Dr Hine‟s research career


Recent scientific breakthroughs by Dr Marshall


Dr Hanson‟s reflections on fundamental research

IMAGE: Courtesy of Bekki McLean



Careers: Teaching special


Charity & Volunteering


Committee News & Events


Hello guys! We have had a jam packed month. Thank you to all members of the Bio Soc committee and the Pharmacy committee, who helped organise the Aston Pharmacy & Bio Soc Ball — it turned out as a great event! We also had Meet The Scientist back in October, which was also successful! Hopefully by now everybody should have their hoodies, if not please contact me on: . We have a bowling social on 8th of December at The Leisure Box Birmingham. A game is just £3, it's a brilliant way to get to know everyone on the course and it'll be a fun get together before Christmas holidays :)

“Meet the Scientist!”



Dr Hine’s Research Career

I started as an undergraduate under very similar circumstances to those in which you find yourselves now. It was 1986, there had been a recession, jobs were in short supply and prospects were not easy. I had wanted to learn about DNA for a long time (more of that later) and I decided to study at UMIST (the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology), because they were getting serious funding for research at a time when everyone else seemed to be facing cuts. I figured that if they could do the cutting edge things well, then they could probably teach well too!

morning and labs all afternoon except Wednesdays) and we played hard too. My undergraduate years were fantastic and I remember, as I finished my last term thinking – “I‟m really going to miss this”. However, Dr Anna V. Hine , Senior that wasn‟t really Lecturer in Molecular true – I would be Biology back. In the 2nd term of the final year, a group of us had decided that we like being students, we liked research and we wanted to stay on to do PhDs. My motivation wasn‟t quite so pure as it sounds – I remember thinking around that time that if I filled in another standard application form, I‟d go mad! (+ I wouldn‟t have time to do my study properly). Equally, it wasn‟t the time to leave one job without having the next one lined up – jobs were too scarce. In fact I have NEVER got a job by replying to an advert. I got my PhD position by talking to potential supervisors and arranging a studentship. I got my postdoc position by writing off to potential supervisors, telling them my experience and asking if they had suitable vacancies and I got my lectureship here at Aston, the same way (albeit that I finally had to fill in an application form before I could be interviewed).

I became interested in biological science as a 12 year-old. I remember watching a TV program about a young boy who had had lost half of his face to cancer. I thought to myself – surely scientists should be able to grow flesh (tissue) to help someone like that? I kept hold of that interest and as I got older, went to my university interviews (yes, back in those times they used to call in all prospective students for interview) and was eventually convinced by various lecturers that it would never be possible to grow tissue. (It just goes to show – you shouldn‟t believe everything you‟re told!) However, by this time, I had developed a strong interest in Genetics and more importantly in how Genetics works – the science of Molecular Biology. So in 1986 I packed up my things, said a fond (and somewhat nervous) farewell to my Mum and Dad and started life in Manchester.

And so to that postdoc..... When you have done a PhD, most people do something called a postdoc. It‟s a research position in

What a city! We worked hard (lectures all


someone else‟s lab, where they supply the funding and the problem and your job is to go and solve it! It‟s the most enjoyable thing I‟ve done, but it‟s also transient – essentially it‟s the last part of your training – to solve problems on your own, but without having to worry about finance, lab space etc. etc. By about the end of my second year of PhD, I had a long term boyfriend, who said that he wanted to go off to the USA for his postdoc. I hadn‟t thought about it before, but then I thought, well, if you‟re going to do something, you may as well enjoy it – so I wrote a series of letters to investigators at Harvard Medical School. It‟s one of the best places in the world and I really didn‟t expect to get anything, but to my astonishment, I received a job offer from a fantastic scientist – the one who discovered ligase and PNK! Well this was too good to miss, so in January 1993, with a new PhD under my belt, I set off to Boston and after a fantastic 2 years there, I landed a lectureship at Aston and well, here I am!

seeing how chemists approach their work – quite differently from us biologists. I‟ve loved interdisciplinary work ever since – we have worked with engineers to make new plasmid purification technologies, with physicists to allow lasers to detect protein-DNA interactions and with chemists to put proteins into cells. Most recently, we have started looking at new protein purification technologies and I have also started working with mathematicians to predict protein-DNA interactions (I‟ve always had a soft spot for finding out how proteins recognise specific DNA sequences). Research can be hard, but it is never boring! What options for students? I‟ll probably get into trouble for saying this, but my advice is never to plan your career too solidly. Sure, you can keep an eye on where you want to end up, but never in a blinkered fashion. If a good opportunity arises, grab it! I never planned to be a lecturer – it just sort of happened – I wrote a few letters and this one came good. I don‟t regret it for a moment.

Research is the real reason I do this job. That doesn‟t mean that I don‟t like teaching – I do and I love it when students find Mol Biol exiting too, but my first love is research. Not knowing how things work and then working out how to fathom them out is a kick. The fact that you can never predict what tomorrow will bring is just plain exciting. Of course, I don‟t do the lab work anymore – my PhD students and sometimes postdocs do that – but I still get to think of the research ideas. Unfortunately as a PI (principal investigator), I now have to write the grant applications and compete nationally for funds (and that really isn‟t fun), but I still get to see the ideas come into reality and that is great.

I suggest that you apply the same principles to your projects. You know what areas interest you most, but be open to what‟s available. Some of you will particularly want to work with one person and not mind much what you do. Others love a particular discipline, but don‟t mind who they work with. All I can say, is be calm. In many years of organising projects, I have never seen someone get to the end of their project and say “I hated that”. Your project gives you an experience of research – and that matters far more than the particular techniques you use on a day-to-day basis. Good luck!

The centre of my group‟s work is a focus on saturation mutagenesis. We have invented (and the University has patented) new technologies that have recently been licensed out to industry and I have two students working in this area today. This work all sprung originally, from talking to chemists. What we do is quite different, but the inspiration came from



Recent breakthroughs in science by Dr Marshall Lecturer in Immunology, Dr Linsday J Marshall provides some unusual, and exciting insights into recent breakthroughs into science! Read on to find out more!

Inkjet bone? Scientists in the USA have developed a method of producing artificial bone using an inkjet printer! The printer is adapted so that the inkjet sprays 20 micron layers of a plastic binding material (rather than ink) in order to create small cylinders. The researchers have showed that these cylinders can support the growth of human bone cells in the laboratory- providing a useful structural scaffold for the cells. This research may be useful for dental implants, bone replacement and also in treating conditions such as osteoporosis. IMAGE: Courtesy of Modern Medicine Image gallery

Effects of silica and zinc oxide doping on mechanical and biological properties of 3D printed tricalcium phosphate tissue engineering scaffolds Fielding et al. Dental Materials, In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 1 November 2011.

Lower your cholesterol with a daily injection. A monoclonal antibody that specifically binds to, and prevents activation of, the cholesterol regulator PCSK9 may be a useful strategy to remove “bad” cholesterol (low density lipoprotein or LDL) from the blood. PCKS9 is a proprotein convertase subtilisin- a serine protease that is highly expressed in the liver and plays a unique and important role in LDL metabolism. Mutations in the PCKS9 gene are associated with hypercholesterolemia in people-a disease where LDL and cholesterol levels are IMAGE: Courtesy of BBC Health increased in serum and cellular LDL receptor expression is reduced. The antibody has been tested in a small clinical trial of 56 healthy volunteers and appeared to be well tolerated, with no side effects and the treatment resulted in specific reduction of LDL with no change in HDL (high density lipoprotein-the “good” cholesterol). The researchers now intend to compare their monoclonal antibody therapy with statins- the usual drug treatment for high LDL, to see whether this immunotherapy offers an alternative way to lower cholesterol. Dias et al. Research presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2011. 6

Spraying chilli up your nose can stop the sniffles! Researchers at University of Cincinnati have discovered that a nasal spray containing capsaicin, the active ingredient that makes chillies hot hot hot can reduce the symptoms of non-allergic rhinitis. Non-allergic rhinitis is a persistent chronic condition where inflammation of the nasal passages can lead to runny nose, sneezing and congestion. The condition affects around 25% of the population and current therapies range from corticosteroids to reduce symptoms to surgery to remove nasal tissue, with limited success. This new research shows that the capsaicin nasal spray produces rapid relief and is safe and well tolerated over a two week trial period. Capsaicin is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it is the active ingredient in some topical pain medications and it appears it may also prove to be a useful intervention for people suffering with non-allergic rhinitis. IMAGE:

A randomized, double-blind, parallel trial comparing capsaicin nasal spray with placebo in subjects with a significant component of nonallergic rhinitis. Bernstein et al. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2011, 107(2):171-8.

Spider silk for gene delivery. Many diseases could be cured by the insertion of a healthy gene, but the delivery of genes to cells has proved problematic and we still have no reliable gene therapy treatments despite 1,500 clinical trials over the last 20 years. Now, scientists have turned to spiders to find an answer to this problem. Spider silk proteins have been genetically modified to express tumour homing peptides (THP) that allow specific recognition and therefore targeting of cancer cells. The researchers showed that this silk delivery system was tumour-specific and could deliver DNA without damaging the cells. The complexes of modified spider silk protein and the gene of interest are globular in structure (see image) and measure around 250nm in diameter. The authors conclude that this system may prove to be a new platform for non-viral gene delivery. Step aside, Spiderman!

The image is taken from Numata et al. (2011) and shows how the modification of the spider silk by addition of lysine and THP allows the incorporation of plasmid DNA into a globular structure suitable for cellular delivery. Spider Silk-Based Gene Carriers for Tumor Cell-Specific Delivery. Numata et al., Bioconjugate Chem., 2011, 22 (8), 1605–1610.


Dr Hanson’s reflections on fundamental research

Why should you undertake fundamental research? I think the best reason is because you like finding out something that is new and that no-one else knows. If you are very lucky you might find out something so fundamental that it gets into the textbooks read by undergraduates. Alternatively, but again if you are both lucky and able, you might find out something of major economic, societal or medical importance. In some environments you can direct the course of your own research and „be your own boss‟.

What are the drawbacks?

Dr Peter J. Hanson Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry

Doing a PhD can be a great experience but you need to be very careful on what steps you take after that. If you continue as a Postdoctoral Student you will be on fixed-term contracts. Are you really good enough to get a fellowship and ultimately a lectureship? You cannot be a PostDoctoral student for ever! If you are successful in gaining a lectureship in a research-led university you will have to apply for funds to support your research and you will be expected to publish in journals with a high impact factor1.

How to assess a PhD position. Is the area „cutting edge‟? Is the group funded by the EU, a Research Council, the Wellcome Trust or a major industrial sponsor? How big is the group? Do they publish in journals with a high impact factor? If you get a laboratory tour and talk to post-graduate students does it have a „good feel‟?

Personal comment. I started out working on metabolism in the small intestine went upwards to the stomach to work on signal transduction and have ended up working on colon. A lot depends on track record and it is difficult once established to move into totally new areas. I have been privileged to have had some excellent collaborators and support from the Medical Research Council. 1

The impact factor is a measure of the ratio of the number of citations made to articles published in a journal in a particular year.



It’s a sad almost unbelievable fact that one in six people leave school unable to read, write and add up properly (Leitch Review on Skills, 2008, UKCES).

strategies and behaviours to be



leaders in any environment, in



any sector, including education.

two years Ambassador, studied

On the Leadership Develop-




The link between low family income and poor educational attainment is greater in the UK than in almost any other developed country. It‟s not right, it‟s not fair and it can‟t continue. But it doesn‟t have to be this way. Addressing this injustice drives the work of Independent charity Teach First.

and experienced professionals


spend two years working in


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also have the opportunity to

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The charity was founded by its current CEO Brett Wigdortz to create, equip and mobilise a movement of leaders with a life -long commitment to raising the achievement, aspiration and access to opportunity of children from low socio-economic backgrounds.

another organisation (previous

(those who have completed

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this been

Mark Costello ‘06

Human Physiology. Taught Science and now returned to teaching after Deloitte.

TEACH FIRST EVENT! To find out more details, attend our : Milkround Presentation Date: Wednesday 7th December Time: 18:00 Venue: MB554 Aston University No need to sign up! Free refreshments! 10


Project Uganda 2011 Charity & Volunteering: Final year Biomedical Science student Zahrah Nawaz, shares her life changing experience in Uganda!

In the summer of 2011,18 students from a diverse range of courses from Aston University joined to embark upon an adventure that was truly life changing. Project Uganda is a development programme run by Soft Power Education, a UK based charity dedicated to improving education and community life of local people in deprived parts of Uganda. When arriving in Jinja Uganda it became immediately apparent exactly how well established the charity really was out there, it is indeed a charity where you can see your contributions come to fruition, where the difference cannot go a miss. The challenge and fun began right from the word go before even arriving in Africa. Each student was expected to raise ÂŁ600 to fund the trip (excluding flights) this would go towards paying for building and painting materials, the cook and food for the weekdays. This was a challenge that many of the students not only overcame but hugely exceeded with cake sales, night outs and sponsoring events. Aston University Volunteers were split into two groups during the weekdays and sent to different deprived and neglected school sites. There we helped to refurbish the schools, with the chance to teach subjects of our choice e.g. English and Science. Being on the site was no chore, we were placed with an experienced forman and a cook leaving us students to focus on design and project management. The working hours were flexible (meaning plenty of tea breaks!) it allowed us time to integrate with the locals, helping with regular activities such as collecting water etc. We also were able to mix with the locals and the school children so we got to know many of them at a more personal level.


We conjured up many innovative ways to keep both ourselves and the children entertained e.g. we made a skipping rope and baseball kit using just wood and rope, playing football and netball also proved popular! During our time we also got the opportunity to visit a disabled school run by Soft Power Education and its Volunteers, after spending some time with the children it was enough to make all the hard work worthwhile.

But of course it‟s not all work and no play, to list just some of the amazing, once in a life time activities we all took part in (mainly during the weekends): bunjee jumping, kayaking, white water rafting on The Nile, safari, quad biking, spending a weekend on a recluse island on the Nile with natural Jacuzzi, horse riding and much much more! Being a part of something so crucial was a true privilege! Knowing that you have made a small but important difference to the lives of underprivileged children, whose schools without the help of Soft Power Education and Aston University Students would continue to be neglected by the Uganda government is indeed satisfying and an honour. The people you meet are incredibly diverse and the friends you make are for life! „Project Uganda‟- team 2011, successfully completed both projects and can be proud of their accomplishments. Project Uganda at Aston University has been running consecutively for 4 years with great success, and shall now progress to its 5th!! The most exciting, adventurous and satisfying experience you can ever imagine - Project Uganda!

So what are you waiting for!?! To find out more about next year‟s trip contact: & Also check out :!/ groups/astonprojectuganda/ 13

Biomedical Science and Biology Newsletter Edition 2  
Biomedical Science and Biology Newsletter Edition 2  

The second edition of the newsletter with a "Reseach theme." Featuring articles from lectures, committe news, career information and volunte...