Thursday, 22 October 2015

Medical Institute 50th Anniversary Research Awards

At an evening presentation as part of its 50th Anniversary celebrations, the North Staffordshire Medical Institute announced the results of its competition to support two high quality research proposals to be undertaken in North Staffordshire. The funding totalling almost £0.5million comes from a generous legacy to the Institute.

LtoR - Prof Shaughn O'Brien (Newly elected NSMI Chairman) , Prof Alicia El Haj,
Dr Nicholas Forsyth, Mr Duncan Gough,(past NSMI chairman) & Dr Mohammed Harris
Prof Mamas Mamas, Keele’s newly appointed Professor of Cardiology in ISTM, leads a project submitted by the Cardiovascular Research Group, which was awarded £249,983. Entitled “Major bleeding complications following acute myocardial infarction, site, frequency and impact; insight from a national and primary care perspective”, the work will use national heart attack registry data that captures all heart attack admissions to NHS hospitals in the UK, plus analysis of post admission events in primary care in Stoke-on-Trent and Manchester. The team includes Profs Umesh Kadam and Kelvin Jordan from Keele, Prof Iain Buchan and Drs Evangelos Kontopantelis and Matthew Sperrin from the Farr Institute in Manchester.

Dr Nick Forsyth, ISTM, leads a group comprising Prof Monica Spiteri, Dr Mohammed F Haris from UHNM’s Respiratory Directorate, and Prof Alicia El Haj and Dr Ying Yang at the Guy Hilton Research Centre for “A tissue engineering approach to improve lung function and clinical outcome in patients with emphysema”, awarded £249,659. The restoration of normal lung tissue will be achieved by using novel biologically-compatible materials to fill the emphysematous air sacs, displacing trapped air and allowing restoration of normal breathing cycles.

Dr Shing Kwok (Centre left) & Prof Umesh Kadam (Right) receiving their award from
Prof Shaughn O'Brien (Left) and Mr Duncan Gough (Centre Right)
On the same evening a presentation was made to Dr Susan Sherman, School of Psychology, awarded a grant of £8,511. The award for Keele University medical student best overall performance in year 2 2014/15 went to Sara Day and Keele University medical student best overall performance in year 4 OSCE 2014/15 was given to Michael Eastwood.

The NSMI Research Awards Committee has increased the upper limit for its grants to pump-prime medical research projects to £20,000 per project, the closing date for peer-reviewed applications is 27 November, details at:

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Epilogue: ISTM Women in Engineering

Motivated by National Women in Engineering Day, I started a series of interviews with female engineers in our Research Institute. I have since talked to five inspiring women who have described what they love about their work, what attracted them to it, and their thoughts on encouraging young people and especially girls into engineering. 

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, a celebration of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). It aims to raise the profile of women in STEM by encouraging people to talk about the women whose work they admire. I hope that the ISTM Women in Engineering series illustrates the fulfilling lives and successful careers that women can achieve in STEM. 

"Ada Lovelace portrait" by Alfred Edward Chalon 

Ada Lovelace herself is a great inspiration for me, since she is considered the first computer programmer, a century before modern computers. Ada made the conceptual leap from a calculator to a general computer that could do anything with the right program and inputs. 

I use computers to model the human muscular system, to find out how our bodies move, and design treatments to address movement difficulties. Computers allow me to try things out that would otherwise be impossible (what would happen if I removed this muscle?!) If Ada were alive today, I think that she would have been thrilled to see computers used this way. And she’d probably set about improving my code...

Here are the interviews included in the ISTM Women in Engineering series:


Professor Alicia El Haj

Dr. Caroline Stewart

Dr. Hareklea Markides

Professor Divya Maitreyi Chari

Dr. Yvonne Reinwald

ISTM Women in Engineering: Dr. Yvonne Reinwald

The last post in our series comes on Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
Dr. Yvonne Reinwald is a Research Associate in Regenerative Medicine, and is keen to inspire young people to choose a career in STEM. She is a STEM Ambassador, and is involved with the HEART (Healthcare Engineering and Regenerative Therapies) Outreach group.

You work in Regenerative Medicine. What does that mean?

Regenerative Medicine is an interdisciplinary field combining tissue engineering approaches with biology, molecular biology, materials engineering, bio-and chemical engineering, but also medical imaging and clinical therapies with the aim to develop novel treatments for patients to regenerate tissue function or replace damaged tissues.

In recent years, researchers have developed numerous cell delivery and biomaterial strategies to treat impaired tissue function. My research interest lies in the translation of these newly developed therapies into the clinic and/or manufacturing site in order to make them accessible to the patient. For the last four years I have been working on research projects funded by the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Regenerative Medicine and our industrial collaborators to develop bioreactor technologies for clinical application. I love working together with researchers from different disciplines as part of a multi-disciplinary team. My research involves mathematicians, physicists, biologists, bioengineers and manufacturing engineers. I also travel a lot to attend national and international conferences and visit collaborators in their laboratories. In addition, I have the opportunity to supervise, train and teach students - something which I really enjoy. Hopefully one day, the therapies that we researchers are developing in the laboratories can actually benefit patients.

What is an exciting project you are working on at the moment? 

At the moment I am working on a project which aims to develop novel strategies to grow mature cartilage for cartilage regeneration, in collaboration with researchers from Manchester University and Edinburgh University. We use bioreactor technologies to help stem cells develop into cartilage-specific cells and form mature cartilage tissue. At the same time we are developing novel imaging techniques to test whether the cells and tissue that we are growing in our laboratories are healthy and mature.

For me this means that on a day-to-day basis I plan and carry out experiments and analyse data I collect. I will then use these data to write reports and scientific articles, but also present the results at conferences. In addition, I also supervise and train students in the laboratory and support them with their research and studies.

How did you become a Post-doctoral Researcher in Regenerative Medicine?

When I was at school I always loved biology and chemistry, a bit of maths and physics and I knew I wanted to do something that gives me the chance to combine all these fields. I then decided to study for a degree in Medical Biotechnology, and while doing various placements to gain experience I had the opportunity to work in the field of tissue engineering. I loved the idea of creating novel therapies for tissue regeneration, being able to help patients with devastating diseases and trying to make a difference to their lives. Therefore, I continued my study and pursued a PhD in Tissue Engineering from the University of Nottingham. In order to combine my love for academic research with clinical and industrial research I joined the Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine at Keele University in 2011 and have since worked in the Regenerative Medicine research group under the supervision of Professor Alicia El Haj.

How can we encourage more women to work in engineering?

I think one of the most important aspects is education. We have to teach students that engineering is really fun and that there is no need to be afraid of maths and physics, or tools and oily overalls. Engineering is so much more. Engineering encompasses so many different disciplines and there is a field of interest for everyone, whether you want to work in mechanical engineering, chemical engineering or bioengineering. As a STEM ambassador and through the organisation of school visits I hope to inspire young people to take up a career in a science or engineering discipline.

I also believe that mentoring through role models is an important aspect if we want to encourage more women to work in engineering. Throughout the years I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with very successful women whom I consider as role models. These women have shown me that it is possible to have a career in engineering and at the same time take part in an active family life.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Novel biomarker approach predicts patient outcome in bladder cancer

In exciting new published work, researchers in the ISTM and in collaborations with groups in the Universities of Birmingham and Nottingham, have for the first time identified specific methylation-biomarkers that reliably predict disease outcome in high-grade bladder cancers.

Dr Mark Kitchen
The particular bladder cancers investigated have unpredictable outcomes with many recurring or becoming more aggressive and where some patients succumbing to disease within one year of initial diagnosis. The Epigenetics Research group within ISTM looked for epigenetic modification to DNA derived from a unique cohort of these tumours that were collected at initial diagnosis. The studies identified several key genes, representing a unique epigenetic- signature that reliably predicted disease outcome.

Mark Kitchen, a urology registrar at the University Hospitals of North Midlands, and first author of the publication, performed these innovative studies in part fulfillment toward his PhD thesis and within ISTM. He said thee findings may help guide patient treatment despite the highly unpredictable nature of this disease and that further investigation, including validation in larger patient cohorts are required to confirm and extend these findings.

The study was funded by a Urology Trust Fund grant, the North Staffordshire Medical Institute and Institution funding. The authors of the publication, from several institutions and geographic locations are, Mark Kitchen, Rik Bryan, Kim Haworth, Richard Emes, Chris Luscombe, Lyndon Gommersall, KK Cheng, Maurice Zeegers, Nick James, Adam Devall, Tony Fryer and William Farrell.