Determining the sex of human remains – using tooth enamel

Scientists at the University of Brighton have discovered a new method of determining the sex of human remains – by testing tooth enamel. DNA sequencing is currently the most common method but this can be expensive, time-consuming, and often depends on finding a good quality sample. The new method is quicker, cheaper, and uses tooth enamel, the most durable human body tissue and the hardest tissue in the human body. It survives burial well, even when the rest of the skeleton or DNA has decayed.

The breakthrough has the potential to improve studies of archaeological finds and medical and forensic science. Researchers have tested the method on the remains of seven adults from the late 19th Century as well as male and female pairs from three archaeological sites ranging from 5,700 years ago to the 16th Century in the UK. In each case, the method successfully determined the sex, as confirmed by comparison with coffin plates or standard bone analyses.

The research has been carried out by Dr Nicolas Stewart, senior lecturer in the University’s School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, with colleagues at Durham University and the University of São Paulo in Brazil.

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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: regueifas.org

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.

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.

Why treating stress could help beat cancer

The stress of being told you have breast cancer may be reducing the potency of drugs used to treat the disease, according to new research by the University of Brighton.

Early trials show stress-relieving medications may increase the efficacy of chemotherapy and by doing so, improve recovery. Managing stress and anxiety at an early stage, researchers say, could become routine.

Dr Melanie Flint

Dr Melanie Flint, Reader in Cancer Biology at the University of Brighton’s School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, has been studying the impact stress hormones have on patients, and the effect chronic psychological stress has on disease progression, as well as response to drug treatment. Dr Flint said: “Stress hormones are highly potent and can interact with almost every cell in the body including normal, cancer and immune cells.”

Her research has shown that DNA can be damaged as a result of the interaction between our cells and stress hormones, leading to cell transformation: “A diagnosis of breast cancer is a cause of a great deal of stress, which in itself, is a significant reason for stress management to be considered early on.”

Melanie is part of a team of scientists at the University of Brighton researching breast cancer. Dr Flint collaborates with Professor Dame Lesley Fallowfield, Professor of Psycho-Oncology, who will be speaking at the British Science Festival on the 5 September, in an event titled, ‘Risk and uncertainty in breast cancer treatment’.

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The wild furry urbanites

Dr Dawn Scott, Principal Lecturer in the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences will be sharing her research findings on urban mammals, as well as some unexpected stories about what they (and their researchers) get up to in the city at night, at this year’s British Science Festival on Wednesday 6 September.

The British Science Festival 2017 begins on September 5 and runs through till September 9.

Book your free tickets here: https://www.britishsciencefestival.or…

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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