Hal with NHS staff

Brighton scientists think outside the box

University of Brighton scientists have helped to ensure that a hospital’s supply-chain of a vital chemical used in ventilators for COVID 19 and other critically ill patients remained unbroken and secure.

The university received an enquiry from Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, who were wisely looking ahead to ensure a constant supply of the reagent.

The chemical, soda lime, a mixture of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and calcium oxide (CaO), scrubs carbon dioxide (CO2) from a patient’s exhaled air so the air can be recirculated, in a similar way to navy diver’s rebreathing apparatus.

Professor Hal Sosabowski, the university’s Professor of Public Understanding of Science and colleagues responded to the call, before Professor Lizzy Ostler from the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences stepped in.

Professor Sosabowski said: “I made local enquiries in our own chemical inventory but it became clear we couldn’t just use laboratory-grade reagents.

“Professor Ostler, a keen recreational diver, came up with the ingenious idea of contacting dive centres whose members use rebreathing equipment as an alternative to normal SCUBA tanks.

“Rebreathing equipment recirculates exhaled air, scrubbing the CO2 so the air can be rebreathed. This equipment uses the same soda lime as would be used in ventilators.” Enquiries were made with Graeme Pace, owner of Ocean View Diving in Lancing, West Sussex, who redirected Professor Sosabowski to Custom Divers in Redhill, Surrey, which had a supply and was enthusiastic to be of help. Professor Sosabowski said: “I went to Custom Divers’ office and met owner, Alex Vassallo, who provided 100 kg without demur. He also made recommendations concerning particle size and grade thus ensuring closest comparable product reached the hospital.

“We at the university were pleased to help but a big thanks goes to the two dive centres. It’s a lovely example of organisations stepping up.”

Michael Wilson CBE, chief executive of Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “A crucial part of our response to coronavirus has been the detailed planning for the large increase in patients we knew we would see. As part of this, we always want to make sure we have enough supplies to cope.

“We have received so much support from the local community and we are incredibly grateful to the University and local dive centres who helped bolster our supplies in case we ever needed more than we had available.”

Brighton-led research pinpoints importance of ‘wobbly’ proteins

New research could pave the way to further important breakthroughs in the development of cancer treatments.​

The research looked at why a protein that can play a key role in the development of cancer binds with drugs differently, depending on the amount of drug present.

The protein in question, NQO1, is already being investigated as a possible target for new cancer drugs as up to 25 percent of the human population can have too little of it which increases their chances of developing the disease. However, the protein has properties which mean that it binds differently to some anti-cancer drugs and the more of the drug present the less tightly the protein binds to the drug. This is known as ‘negative co-operativity’.

The research showed that this negative co-operativity does not occur if motion within the protein is modulated by altering its sequence. Amazingly, the researchers found that altering just one building block (a glycine amino acid in the middle of the protein) was enough to abolish negative co-operativity. This happens because this tiny change alters the overall ‘wobbliness’ of the protein. The findings could apply to other proteins and potentially lead to improvements in understanding a wide range of diseases.

Speaking about the research, Professor David Timson, Head of the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences at the University of Brighton said: “It is already known that the lack of this protein can increase cancer risk. It is now known that this protein exhibits negative co-operativity with some anti-cancer drugs. Our research has now shed new light on why this is the case and established that by altering the ‘wobbliness’ of the protein we can change its properties and encourage it to bind with anti-cancer drugs more effectively.”

The research, which has been published in ChemBioChem, was carried out in collaboration with scientists from Queens University Belfast, Manchester University and Nottingham Trent University and funded by grants from the Medical Research Council and Association for International Cancer Research.​​

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Royal Society of Chemistry role for Professor Lizzy Ostler

Professor Ostler has been appointed to a leading role in the education branch of the RSC.

She was elected to the Education Division Council of the RSC by the body’s existing members.

The division “promotes the study and dissemination of knowledge of chemical education at all levels”. It organises regional activities and projects based around addressing the needs of teachers.

 Professor Ostler is already a Fellow of the RSC and a Chartered Chemist.

 She said: “I am delighted to be selected by our members to work with the other Council members on shaping the future of Chemical Education.”

Just like wine, humans can be better with age

A Brighton scientist who helped develop anti-ageing compounds based on those found in red wine and chocolate is to explain how close we are to alleviating and preventing old age degenerative diseases.

Professor Lizzy Ostler, the University of Brighton’s Professor of Chemical Biology in our school, and a member of the University of Brighton’s Centre for Stress and Age-Related Disease, is giving her inaugural lecture on 20 March.

In her lecture ‘Not aged by time’ Professor Ostler will explain how she has used her “distinctively cynical approach to research, education and curriculum design both to inspire students and to develop novel potential anti-degenerative drugs”. She will also explain how her research demonstrates that the alleviation and prevention of the consequences of ageing have “finally become realistic and achievable goals”.

She said: “We are on the cusp of a real breakthrough.”

In our latest podcast, Lizzy discusses how close we are to alleviating and preventing old age degenerative diseases, as well as her teaching style.

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Taking a stand against cancer

Two University of Brighton scientists are joining a pop-up stand in Brighton’s Churchill Square shopping centre on Friday (1 Feb) as part of events to mark next Monday’s (4 Feb) World Cancer Day.

Marta Falcinelli, PhD researcher in the University’s School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences (PABS), is passionate about fighting the disease and will be talking to members of the public at the Cancer Research UK (CRUK) event.

Marta joined the University’s Stress & Cancer group in 2016, fulfilling her ambition: “I have always been intrigued by science and at university I started to be very interested in molecular biology and scientific investigation, dreaming to perform experiments and work in a lab.

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