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.

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:

Why I donated my entire genome sequence to the public

After speaking about genomic data at the British Science Festival last week, Colin Smith, Professor of Functional Genomics in our school, appears in The Conversation this week. Continue reading

Keep feeding hedgehogs in the Autumn

Mammalian biologist Dr Dawn Scott is urging people to feed dwindling numbers of hedgehogs during autumn to help them survive winter.
Dr Scott, Assistant Head our school of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, spoke out after media reports suggested people should refrain from feeding hedgehogs before hibernation.
She said: “I feed hedgehogs in the autumn to help them attain body weight before the winter and several animals may need this boost to obtain the body weight sufficient to survive hibernation.
“I would encourage feeding hedgehogs in the autumn and I would also encourage the establishment of wildlife-friendly gardens which promote natural food supplies for the hedgehogs.”
Dr Scott spoke on hedgehogs at last week’s British Science Festival (BSF). She said one media report, suggesting Dr Scott was asking people to should stop feeding hedgehogs during autumn, was misleading.
“I presented data on my findings on the impact of people feeding urban mammals including foxes, badgers and hedgehogs. I mentioned my concerns over the emerging impact of food supplied by householders on animal behaviour and stated more research was needed.
“The point of the BSF is to stimulate discussion and debate hence I raised the point of ‘do we actually know the impacts of people feeding wildlife and it might not always be beneficial’. As hedgehogs are in such decline we really do need to know the consequences of our actions in terms of long term affects and this urgently needs more research.
“I was concerned that hedgehogs were noted as active throughout December and January last year and that, although this is likely to be climate related, abundant food supply throughout winter in gardens could also be affecting hibernation timing.
“One of the ecological consequences of urban environments for animals is the potentially constant supply of food which could affect natural seasonal behaviour. Food reduction as well as temperature is a trigger for hibernating animals and so abundant food could potentially affect this trigger. Anthropogenic feeding and how it can disrupt hibernation patterns has been shown in some other species.
“I said I had no direct data on this, it was a point for discussion and raised as an area that needs to be researched in future. I linked this point with the emerging feeding habits of people towards other urban animals and said we need to look carefully at how, what and when we feed wildlife to maximise its benefit and reduce any potential detrimental effects.”
You can find out more about Dr Scott’s research here.

Open Consent: Genetics and the loss of anonymity

Professor Colin Smith, Professor of Functional Genomics, is the first person to donate his complete genome sequence under ‘open consent’ in the UK – waiving any rights to anonymity.

Join the discussion with Colin at the British Science Festival on the 8 September to understand the reasons for his decision, and why this approach will ultimately benefit the public if more people follow suit.

Location: Brighton City, Old Courtroom theatre

Duration: 17:00 – 18:00

Date: Friday 8 September 2017

Book your place now!

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