Biochips could help treat diabetes

Research at the University of Brighton has demonstrated how specially-designed biochips can be used to replace whole pancreas transplantation and support the tests of new drugs for diabetes – bringing hope to millions of people with diabetes around the world.

Diabetes is caused by insufficient or lack of insulin and the experiments have shown that engineered ‘biochips’ – made of pancreatic cells and vascular cells held together by biomimetic biomaterials – can produce insulin in response to high levels of glucose.

Professor Matteo Santin, the University’s Professor of Tissue Regeneration and Director of the Centre for Regenerative Medicine and Devices (CRMD), said it was hoped the research will lead to new and more effective treatments for people with diabetes and will help solve the problem of organ donors’ shortage.

The biochips, he said, have the ability to encourage commercially-available, poor insulin-producing cell lines of the pancreas to produce more insulin when needed:  “This happens when the cells are integrated in the developed biochip and not in other conventional culturing conditions.” Continue reading

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2018

To mark International Women’s Day in 2018 we are celebrating the achievements of just some of the academics working here at Brighton.

Our Women of Impact web feature demonstrates how our academic staff are achieving great things, working on the complex challenges facing society, educating and inspiring the next generation and making an impact in communities. The varied and diverse career journeys illustrate the huge range of talent that we welcome at the University of Brighton.

From biosciences read these profiles

Dr Anja RottDr Anja Rott – Ecology and entomology
“I am fascinated by the diverse interactions we observe between insects, plants and the world they live in. My aim is to understand better what dynamics drive species interactions within a complex ecosystem.”


Dr Dawn ScottDr Dawn Scott – Supporting the Underdog
“I want to help people understand wildlife more so they can appreciate them and the benefits of living alongside them. I want my research to help find solutions to allow people and wildlife to coexist and through teaching and education I want to inspire people to strive for a future where we appreciate and protect wildlife.”

Dr Melanie FlintDr Melanie Flint – Cancer and Stress
Dr Flint is passionate about mentoring future breast cancer researchers leading a multidisciplinary team of post-doctoral scientists, PhD students and MSc students – all with the same goal – to establish a proven mechanistic link between psychological stress and cancer to improve patient outcome.

Dr Susan SandemanDr Susan Sandeman – Advancing Biomedical Technology
Dr Susan Sandeman is a biomaterials scientist whose research focuses on ways to better understand and optimise the interaction of materials with the cells and tissues of the body in order to provide corrective treatments.

Badger Research with the BBC

Dr Dawn Scott has been working with the BBC, Natural Trust and RSPB on a research project investigating how predators (badgers and foxes) use different rural landscapes and how landscape management, such as habitats, fencing and landscape features and composition can affect their movement and habitat use.

One of the study sites is the National Trust Sherborne Estate in Gloucestershire where ‘watchers’ have been based this year. During winter Scott has trapped and collared three badgers as part of the study and she hopes to follow their movements into the Spring to see how their use of habitats change between seasons.

Scott says: “The aim of the study is to understand what affects predator habitat use in rural landscapes and use this to help inform conservation planning and to provide alternative methods of predator management.

“For example, if we need to keep predators away from a key bird-breeding area in the Spring, we need to know what landscape management approaches are likely to be most effective. Knowing this would reduce predation risk but also reduce the conflict that can occur when predators and conservation goals don’t align.”

The project will feature in Winterwatch tonight (29 January) at 9pm on BBC2.

Brighton genome expert speaking at London festival

The first person to donate his genome sequence under ‘open consent’ to the Personal Genome Project UK (PGP-UK), Professor Colin Smith, is speaking at the forthcoming Festival of Genomics in London.

Professor Smith, the University’s Professor of Functional Genomics, has recently established Brighton Genomics to investigate future potential for highlighting disease risk and revealing the genetic basis for human diseases.

A ‘genome’ comprises the complete set of DNA molecules within each cell of an organism and in 2013 Professor Smith had his whole genome sequenced and then made the donation to PGP-UK which is creating public UK genome, health, and trait data.

Genomics technologies have been at the heart of Professor Smith’s research for the past 16 years and he has been engaged in a range of interdisciplinary national and international collaborations, investigating antibiotic production by bacteria, human sleep and human nutrition.

The Festival, on 30-31 January at London’s ExCeL, will involve experts from drug companies, healthcare, patients and academic organisations who will define the future of genomics in human health and disease.

Other speakers include Sir John Chisholm, Executive Chair of Genomics England, which is creating a legacy for patients, the NHS and the UK economy, through the sequencing of 100,000 genomes, and Professor Malcolm Grant, Chairman of NHS England.

In addition to his speaking at the festival, Professor Smith is organising a Royal Society meeting for world leaders in the cutting-edge fields of ‘translatomics’ and imaging of gene expression at the single molecule level.

The Theo Murphy international scientific meeting ‘Changing views of translation: from ribosome profiling to high resolution imaging of single molecules in vivo’ will be at The Royal Society, Chicheley Hall, Buckinghamshire, Monday 5 – Tuesday, 6 March:

So what does make Rudolph’s nose glow red?

It’s a debate that has been raging for years.

Scientists previously thought Rudolph’s red nose was due to an excess of blood in the vessels supplying the reindeer’s nasal passages, caused by the exertion of pulling a heavy load – Santa’s sleigh and his sacks of gifts.

But researchers at the University of Brighton have come up with another explanation: Bioluminescence or the production of light as a result of a chemical reaction, similar to that produced by fireflies and some deep sea organisms that use light traps to catch prey.

The study may appear frivolous but it has proved a valuable exercise for the University’s biology students. And the findings have been deemed worthy enough to be published today in DEINSEA, an online journal of the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam.

The research was led by Dr Angelo Pernetta, a conservation ecologist and Deputy Head of the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences. He said: “My colleague Dr Neil Crooks and I wrote the paper with undergraduate students as a consequence of a journal club we run for the Biology degree course at our Hastings campus.

“The paper is a light-hearted response to a previously published paper, which discussed why Rudolph had a red nose. It has already proved a very valuable experience for the students involved – one student recently secured a funded PhD studentship at Warwick University and he mentioned his involvement in the production of this paper definitely played a part.”

The previous paper, published in DEINSEA in 2012, identified the cause of Rudolph’s nose glow as “nasal mucosa induced by the exertion of pulling a heavy load: excessive stresses endured whilst flying with San­ta and the sleigh in tow resulted in cerebral and bodily hyperthermia, overworking the nasal cooling system, causing the nose to glow”.

But the new study says: “Whilst we recognise the central tenet of highly vascularised nasal mucosa in reindeer helping regulate nasal heat exchange, we concluded that this is unlikely to be the causal factor of Rudolph’s particularly iridescent append­age for multiple reasons.”

Their conclusion was: “The fact that Rudolph’s nose glows red has previously been noted as being advantageous in foggy conditions, since it is the most visible colour in fog. A 1939 paper noted that Rudolph’s glowing nose aided Santa Claus in his Christmas Eve prepa­rations when a thick fog descended.

“This would suggest that Rudolph was specifically chosen because of this adaptive trait and would suggest that, far from being caused by excessive strain from pulling Santa Claus and the sleigh, his red nose was in fact caused by bioluminescence to aid in navigation.

“We believe we have found a scientific answer to this age-old question. Now all we need is to do is discover how Rudolph and his fellow reindeer manage to fly.”

To read the journal go to:

Anti-depressants could combat infections

Researchers here at the University of Brighton have found drugs used to treat mood disorders are also potentially active against bacteria which cause catheter infections.

The discovery could lead to new methods of treating infections and could contribute to overcoming problems with antibiotic resistance.

The research, led by Dr Brian Jones, Reader in Molecular and Medical Microbiology and Deputy Head of the our School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Dr Jones and collaborators Dr Mark Sutton from Public Health England and Dr Khondaker Miraz Rhaman from King’s College London have been studying infections associated with the use of urinary catheters which are used in their millions across the world every year. The bacterium Proteus mirabilis often causes catheter infections and forms crystalline biofilms on catheter surfaces that block urine flow and lead to potentially life-threatening complications.

Catheters are widely used for long-term bladder management in both the community and nursing homes but the care of individuals undergoing long-term catheterisation is frequently undermined by infections.

Dr Jones said: “The majority of patients undergoing long-term catheterisation are cared for outside the hospital environment where catheter blockage is often not noticed until more serious complications arise.

“A particular hazard of catheter blockage is the accumulation of infected urine in the bladder, which eventually results in upper urinary tract infection and the onset of potentially fatal complications including septicaemia.

“It has been estimated that 50 per cent of individuals undergoing long-term catheterisation will suffer from catheter blockage at some point during their care, with chronic blockage also a common problem.

“It is perhaps then unsurprising that blockage is also the cause of numerous emergency hospital referrals, and not only damages the health of patients but also places significant strain on healthcare resources.” Continue reading

Breakthrough in ageing research

University of Brighton scientists have helped discover a way of regenerating  ageing skin cells – with compounds based on those found in red wine, dark chocolate and red grapes.

Laboratory experiments showed cells not only look physically younger but behave more like young cells and start dividing.

Professor Richard Faragher, Professor of Biogerontology, and Dr Lizzy Ostler, Head of Chemistry, said the breakthrough should generate more research into tackling health issues associated with ageing.

Professor Faragher said: “These findings illustrate the enormous potential of ageing research to improve the quality of later life. Older people no more want to be sickly ‘frequent flyers’ with the NHS than teenagers do.

“A recent Government report recognised historic underinvestment in ageing research in the UK. I say to politicians of all parties: Redress this now and give our older people the healthy futures they deserve.”

Dr Ostler said: “Breakthroughs of this kind really need chemists and biologists working on research and teaching together under the same roof. We prize our multidisciplinary collaborative atmosphere at Brighton. This breakthrough vindicates that approach.”

The scientists, members of the University’s Stress, Ageing and Disease Centre of Research and Enterprise Excellence, worked together to select the best compounds for testing from a library designed and synthesised by Dr Vishal Birar, whilst he was undertaking a University of Brighton-funded PhD studentship under Dr Ostler’s supervision. Continue reading

Should science help us live forever?

One of the UK’s leading experts on ageing is discussing whether science should help us live forever in a debate being streamed live around the world.

Professor Richard Faragher, Professor of Biogerontology here at Brighton, rejects the idea that the objective of ageing research should be the indefinite extension of human life. He argues: “This focus allows a selfish minority to misrepresent the altruistic goals of the scientific community.”

Professor Faragher is joining other eminent experts in Coruña, Spain for the debate on 7 November.

He believes there should be more investment in researching drugs and treatments to improve the quality of life in older age: “At a time when our capacity to translate new knowledge about the mechanisms of ageing into medicines and lifestyle advice is limited only by a chronic shortage of funds, older people are ill-served by self-indulgent science fiction.

“They need practical action to restore their health and they need it yesterday.”

The Professor’s comments come in the wake of recent discoveries he and his collaborator, Professor Lorna Harries of Exeter University, published recently on a new mechanism controlling ageing which they hope may prove amenable to treatment.

The debate will be conducted in Spanish and English, with simultaneous interpretation to and from each language. It has been organised by the University of Santiago de Compostela and is funded by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology of the Spanish Government’s Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness.

To listen to the debate, go to:

Testing time for foxes

A University of Brighton experiment will test just how clever urban foxes really are.

BBC Two’s Autumnwatch, which starts Monday (Oct 23) at 8pm, will be featuring the testing which has been put together by the mammalian biologist , Dr Dawn Scott.

Dr Scott, Assistant Head of our School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, said: “We are interested in how animals have adapted to urban habitats. Urban habitats are structurally complex environments with a wide range of food sources but sometimes those food are in difficult places to get to – so an animal that can solve problems quicker may do better in urban habitats.

“Urban environments also have lots of novel objects – if foxes are fearful they may not do as well in an urban environment as a fox that can quickly habituate to new objects.

“Our question is are foxes in urban areas less fearful and have a greater ability to solve problems than their rural counterparts?

“We can test this by looking at how animals respond to a new object in their garden. How close they come and how quickly they become habituate to it.

“This is a pilot study to see if we can set up an experiment to test, neophobia (fear of new things), intelligence and cognitive ability in foxes.”

The experiment will involve encouraging foxes to pull strings to retrieve food.

Dr Scott said: “If they can choose the right string in the experiment to pull the food out this will demonstrate their ability to solve problems. I expect the foxes will get better with experience.”

For more information on Dr Scott’s research click here.