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Newcastle University NewsLink - Latest Edition 27 July 2011 Edition.

News Honorary Degrees 2011

The University honoured "outstanding role models" during this year's degree ceremonies. Ian Gregg, the man behind one of the North East’s most iconic businesses has been honoured for his achievements. At a ceremony on Wednesday 13 July, the retired Executive Chairman and Managing Director of Greggs the Bakers received an Honorary Doctor of Civil Law degree from the Chancellor of Newcastle University, Sir Liam Donaldson. Media executive, Dianne Nelmes (pictured), renowned children’s author, David Almond, and the University’s outgoing Chair of Council and ProChancellor, Olivia Grant also received honorary degrees during the University’s summer graduation ceremonies. Newcastle University’s Registrar, Dr John Hogan, said: “For our students, the summer graduation ceremonies are a time to celebrate their achievements and to look forward to future success in their chosen careers.

“In Ian, Dianne, Olivia and David we have four individuals who embody what can be achieved through hard work, dedication and a desire to make a difference. They are outstanding role models and an inspiration to our graduates as they start out on their own careers.� The honorary graduates joined some 4,000 successful students who graduated from one of 34 separate ceremonies held at Newcastle University this summer. For the first time this year, each graduation ceremony included a speech given by one of the new graduates, acting as a Student Orator. Written by the student orators themselves, the speeches were warmly received and added a new, very personal, dimension to the ceremonies, giving graduates a chance to reflect on their time at Newcastle and to look forward to the future. published on: 27th July 2011

Ancient altars serve as 'packing material'

For years experts believed that 17 altars uncovered in pits at a Roman fort had been buried as part of a religious ritual. But now a dig by a team from Newcastle University has revealed that there is a more down-to-earth answer. They have shown that, far from being given reverential treatment, the altars were rammed into the pits as supports for huge posts which were part of an enormous wooden building. The recent dig at the Roman Maryport site in Cumbria, owned by Hexham-based Hadrian’s Wall Heritage Ltd, was led by archaeologists Tony Wilmott, site director, and excavation director Prof Ian Haynes, head of archaeology at Newcastle University. The altars were found in 1870 by Humphrey Senhouse at Camp Farm in Maryport, under whose pasture lay the remains of the Roman fort and a large civilian settlement. Maryport was part of the Roman frontier coastal defences extending from Hadrian’s Wall, and is now part of the 150-mile Hadrian’s Wall world heritage site. The 17 altar stones is the largest group of Roman military altars and inscriptions from any site in Britain. Professor Haynes said: “This is a world-class collection of altars and people wanted to see their burial as part of a ritual deposition. But the Romans weren’t squeamish about using them for later building work after

the altars had served their purpose.” The huge timber building, believed to have had a religious purpose, was constructed on a high point overlooking the site many years after the altars were dedicated, between AD120-160. The same spot is likely to have been the site for the altars, which then became handy construction material for the building project. Professor Haynes said that if the altars had not been used as a packing for the timber posts they may well have been lost forever. “We have to be grateful to the builders of what is a colossal wooden structure that the altars have survived,” he said. “The old story that the Maryport altars were reverently and ritually buried has now been comprehensively overturned,” added Tony Wilmott. “This revolutionises our understanding of the buried Roman altars at Maryport which have been so widely discussed. There was no ritual deposition of these stones – when buried they were simply convenient foundation packing material.” Adapted from an original article with kind permission from The Journal. published on: 27th July 2011

Converting manure to megawatts

A state-of-the-art Anaerobic Digestion plant capable of producing just under 100kW of electricity from organic farm waste has been officially launched at Newcastle University. The £1.2m anaerobic digestion facility is the first in the region to be installed on a working farm and is part of a major drive by the University to explore new ways in which agriculture can become more sustainable. Launched by Recycling Minister Lord Henley, the system is already producing heat from the animal dung produced on Cockle Park Farm. The next step will be to use this heat to keep the pigs warm and to generate electricity to power the milking parlour. Project lead Dr Paul Bilsborrow, based in the School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, said the aim was to work with North East farmers, land managers and other related businesses to find new ways of producing renewable energy from waste. “Anaerobic digestion offers huge potential in terms of utilizing the methane from animal waste and converting it into renewable energy which can be used to heat and power on-farm buildings," he explained. “The plant at Cockle Park provides us with a unique opportunity to demonstrate best practice for integrating this technology within a working mixed farm. It is also an important step towards the creation of a ‘Sustainable Farm’, focused on the production and use of renewable energy.

“By working together with the agricultural industry we hope to develop new ways of making anaerobic digestion a viable process for uptake by farms across the UK.� The Anaerobic Digestion plant is a key part of the University’s new Living Lab concept which places research into sustainability at the heart of the region, encouraging forward-thinking and innovative approaches to sustainable challenges and providing real solutions both now and in the future. Opening the new facility, Lord Henley said, "Creating and using clean and green energy from waste on working farms saves money for farmers and is good for the environment. Developing these types of innovative and practical solutions is key to moving us along the path to a zero-waste economy." The project was jointly funded by the University and One North East through its Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE). published on: 25th July 2011

Launch of iTunes U channel

Newcastle University has launched its own channel on iTunes U – Apple’s free educational digital store of audio and video content from universities and cultural organisations. The University’s iTunes U channel will highlight the extensive archive of INSIGHTS Public Lectures, taking them to a global audience. Public lectures have been recorded since 2008 and the new channel includes over 120 recordings, adding to the 350,000 files already available to download for free. The talks are given by leading figures, internationally renowned researchers and distinguished authors and are grouped in seven broadthemed categories: Art and Literature, Business and Current Affairs, Health and Medicine, History, Law and Society, Religion and Philosophy and Science and Technology. The iTunes U project was developed jointly by the Marketing and Communications Directorate and Information Systems and Services. Anne Coxhead, Head of Marketing and Publicity said: “iTunes U presents the University with an opportunity to take the INSIGHTS programme to a global platform, showcasing the high quality cultural events on offer at Newcastle, whilst strengthening the University’s online profile and presence.” The INSIGHTS Programme and recordings of Public Lectures will be uploaded to the University’s iTunes U channel from the beginning of next semester.

iTunes U is popular with universities and colleges in the United States, with over three million downloads in three years, and is growing in popularity in the UK. The University joins other UK universities already established on iTunes U including Oxford, Cambridge, Warwick and UCL. Feedback about the University’s Public Lectures iTunes presence is welcomed. Please send any comments to, mentioning ‘iTunes U’ in the subject line. For information: Please note that iTunes software is not automatically installed on University-owned computers, and cannot be installed by a standard user - contact your local IT support for assistance. published on: 21st July 2011

Research Calves clock-in for monitored mealtimes

Electronic ear tags are being used to provide an early warning system that will help farmers identify sick animals within a herd. The new system, being trialled by Newcastle University PhD student Ollie Szyszka, tracks the feeding behaviour of each individual animal, alerting farmers to any change that might indicate the calf is unwell. Using RFID (radio frequency identification) technology - similar to that used in the Transport for London Oyster card - each calf is ‘clocked’ in and out every time they approach the trough, with the time spent feeding being logged by a computer. Ollie, who is leading the project with Professor Ilias Kyriazakis, said the aim was to help farmers spot any illness in the herd much earlier on and treat the animals more effectively. “Just as we know when we are sickening for something because we perhaps lose our appetite or feel more lethargic, animals also demonstrate subtle changes in behaviour when unwell,” she explained. “Like any animal, the earlier you can spot and start treating an infection or disease the better chance there is of it making a full recovery. You also reduce the risk of the infection spreading if you can identify and isolate a sick animal but for a farmer with a herd of maybe 500 cattle it is easy to miss any early signs of disease. “By giving each calf a unique code and tracking its feeding pattern our

system is able to alert farmers to small - but significant - changes in behaviour which might indicate the animal is unwell.” The project is part of Newcastle University's drive to improve animal welfare on farms and research ways in which agriculture can become more sustainable. Published in the Annual Proceedings of the British Society for Animal Science Conference 2011, the work is being trialled at the University's Cockle Park farm, in Northumberland. The tracking system - developed by Newcastle University computing technician Steven Hall - uses RFID chips fitted into the ear tag of each animal and short-range antennae mounted to their feeding troughs. The antennae pick up a signal every time the animal approaches to feed. The signal is blocked when the animal moves away. The results so far have shown that cattle suffering from an underlying health ‘challenge’ or infection do show significant changes in their behaviour. Professor Kyriazakis adds: “Modern farming systems have minimised the contact between the animal and its keeper so we need to constantly look for ways to re-address the balance. “In the light of recent outbreaks of diseases such as Foot and Mouth and TB, finding ways of detecting changes in behaviour before there are any obvious signs of disease, is becoming more important.” published on: 27th July 2011

Drug shown to improve sight for patients with inherited blindness

A condition which robs patients of their sight has for the first time been reversed with a drug, giving some people legally certified as blind, useful vision to improve everyday life. The clinical trial led by Professor Patrick Chinnery at Newcastle University shows that the drug, idebenone, improved the vision and perception of colour in patients with Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON). The inherited condition means patients, who can see normally, lose the sight in one eye then within 3 to 6 months lose the sight in their other eye. Published in Brain, the research describes how in some severely affected patients such as those who were unable to read any letters on the chart, the treatment with idebenone resulted in a marked improvement in their vision. In nine patients out of 36 patients taking idebenone, vision improved to the extent that they were able to read at least one row of letters on the chart. In contrast not a single patient of the 26 who were taking the placebo improved to that extent. Inherited from the mother, and mainly affecting men, LHON is caused by damage to the mitochondria in the eyes – the ‘batteries’ which power their cells. It is one of the most common causes of inherited blindness and is thought to affect around 2,000 people in the UK, around 10,000 in Europe and a further 10,000 in the USA. “This is the first proven treatment for a mitochondrial disorder. We have seen patients who couldn’t even see an eye chart on the wall go on to read the first line down – and some even attempted the second line. For these patients, it can mean a vast improvement in their quality of life,”

said Professor Patrick Chinnery, a Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow in Clinical Science at Newcastle University. At the end of the six months, some patients who were taking idebenone had improved vision and this is the first time a successful treatment has been found. The greatest improvement was seen in patients who had deteriorated in one eye more than the other. Professor Chinnery explained: “We saw most progress in people who had better vision in one eye than the other - this tends to indicate that they are at an earlier stage of the condition. While we know that their vision is not what it once was, we also know that this treatment can dramatically improve their lives – some were able to move around more easily or even see family photos again.� Click here for the full press release including the story of Mike Scholes who took part in the trial and says:"After just a month and a half I noticed that the area affected in the centre of my vision was smaller. The improvement continued and I began to appreciate colours again seeing yellow and most reds." Picture courtesy of Mike Scholes who has LHON, shows him trekking to the North Pole. published on: 27th July 2011

Newcastle scientists uncover free radical clue to dementia

A computer model programmed by scientists at Newcastle University suggests that preventing damage from free radicals could be key to fighting dementia. Free radicals are molecules known to cause cell damage and this study sheds new light on the processes that cause cells to die in Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders, which might help treatment development. Dr Carole Proctor, at Newcastle University, is investigating how toxic proteins build and cause damage in the brain. In Alzheimer’s disease, two culprit proteins called amyloid and tau build and stop nerve cells from working properly, while different proteins are involved in other forms of dementia. The new computer model is able to mimic how these proteins accumulate. In a study, funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, Dr Proctor and her team investigated the ‘chaperone’ system, which helps to stop the build-up of proteins and prevents cell death. Using the computer simulations, they tested how the system responded to stress caused by free radicals. Their simulations predicted that although the chaperone system can cope with short periods of stress, over long periods of high stress, the system becomes overloaded and the mechanisms that lead to cell death are activated. The researchers now want to expand and develop the computer model to better understand the processes involved in Alzheimer’s disease. It’s hoped the method will help find new ways to prevent protein build-up and to stop brain cells dying.

The researchers also believe their findings, which are published in the latest edition of PLoS ONE, suggest that lifestyle changes to prevent damage from free radicals may help fight dementia and other brain disorders. Such changes could include eating a healthy diet, with plenty of fruit and vegetables, and taking moderate exercise to boost the body’s antioxidant defences. Dr Proctor said: “The predictions made by our computer model now need to be tested in the lab, but we hope our findings will give researchers some important new leads to follow. Being able to simulate the processes involved in dementia allows us to better focus our research, giving us a better chance of finding ways of intervening to prevent dementia. “Our findings suggest that damage from free radicals plays a key role in the build-up of toxic proteins in the brain. We now need to see more research to examine whether reducing this damage – for example, by taking moderate exercise and eating a healthy diet – could help protect against dementia. Research is the only way we will defeat dementia, and I hope these findings will take us further towards that goal.” Click here for full press release. published on: 23rd July 2011

Pioneering support for residents in the last years of their lives

The University's SIDE project takes part in a ground-breaking pilot scheme to help older people maintain their independence in the last years of life - right up to a dignified natural death in their own home. Working in partnership with specialist charities including Marie Curie, the SiDE project - which is the UK’s largest research project on using digital technology to address social exclusion of the elderly - is part of an innovative scheme which will explore the potential role of new technologies in supporting end-of-life experience. SiDE Director, Professor Paul Watson said: "SiDE is delighted to be a partner in this important project. Developing technologies to assist the elderly is a key part of our work. It is very important that in doing so we work closely with care organisations and their clients in order to understand the real needs of individuals." The project was set up by Home Group - England's largest provider of care and support– after finding that many of its clients were unaware or unable to access the support they required to manage a positive end of life experience in their own home environment. Newcastle Science City awarded funding to the scheme as part of its Community Engagement Commissioning Framework, an innovative programme aimed at bringing together the third sector with scientific organisations to make a significant and positive impact on communities. The funding will help create bespoke, life-changing IT solutions to help the elderly to continue to play an active role in society despite often being housebound and restricted from accessing their local support and

community network. Nick Powell, community engagement officer at Newcastle Science City, said: “This is a prime example of how we are bringing together Newcastle’s world-leading scientific research with service deliverers in the third sector to target scientific advances at specific issues in our communities. “By creating collaboration between researchers in the area of ageing and health with a housing association delivering services on the ground we have found an exciting and innovative way to explore how we can best use the city’s scientific strengths to benefit those who stand to gain the most from the expertise.” Further details published on: 21st July 2011

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