Health

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It’s World Parkinson’s Day. To mark it, we look at Reading research on wearable sensors that help people with Parkinson’s avoid falls.

Image credit: David, Bergin, Emmett and Elliott, CC-BY-2.0. Original image cropped.

Parkinson’s disease affects 1% of people over 60. It’s a degenerative brain disease which causes problems with movement including tremor and difficulty with walking. Elderly people with Parkinson’s disease are prone to falling which can lead to injuries and a downward spiral of deteriorating health. What’s more, falls are estimated to cost the NHS over £2 billion a year.

Here at Reading’s School of Biological Sciences, Professor Simon Sherratt is leading research into wearable sensors which detect movement and monitor ‘near-fall events’ in Parkinson’s patients.

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Colonialism has a lingering influence in modern scientific research – and scientists and historians must work together to  ‘decolonise’ science, says Dr Rohan Deb Roy in a new post for The Conversation.

Sir Ronald Ross at his lab in Calcutta, 1898. Image credit: Wellcome Collection, CC-BY-4.0

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We’re Open – but should we be more open?

By Dr Phil Newton, Research Dean 

The University wants to open up all elements of research at Reading.

But open research is controversial, and there are many different views on it. To some, open research is the future and leads to better studies, more collaboration, and greater impact. To others, it risks giving away your best ideas without clear benefits.

That’s why we need your views now on Reading’s draft Vision for Open Research. You can have your say by completing a short online survey.

Find out more about our consultation or complete the survey now.

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The effect of clouds on global warming, a ‘light switch molecule’ to diagnose disease and the entanglement of malaria with colonialism were among the research topics that have won University of Reading academics prizes.

Left to right: Dr Ariane Kehlbacher (Food theme winner), Lord William Waldegrave of North Hill (Chancellor), Dr James Hall (Health theme winner), Dr Tim Vlandas (Prosperity and Resilience theme winner), Sir David Bell (Vice-Chancellor), Dr Paulo Ceppi (Environment theme winner), Professor Steve Mithen (Deputy Vice-Chancellor), and Dr Rohan Deb Roy (Heritage and Creativity theme winner).

The five academics, one from each research theme, were honoured with a Research Output Prize for Early Career Researchers at University Court, the showcase annual event for the University community, on 19 March.

Professor Steve Mithen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, said: “This year’s winners were drawn from a very strong field. All have made significant academic achievements at an early stage in their careers and I warmly congratulate them. Their achievements are testament not only to their talent and hard work, but also to the University of Reading as a place where research excellence is nurtured and supported.”

The winners from each theme were:

Food theme

Dr Ariane Kehlbacher, from Agri-Food Economics and Social Science, whose research showed that taxing foods based on the greenhouse gas emissions they produce would hit poorest households the hardest. That is because lower income households spend a larger share of their food budget on emission-intensive foods – such as meat – than their wealthier counterparts. Less well-off households also tend to buy cheaper products which means they would see a greater price hike on their weekly shop if emissions-based food taxes were to be introduced.

The judges described the paper as “a rigorous and methodologically novel analysis on a very topical subject relating to ‘polluter pays’ taxation policy” and “a very policy-relevant output”.

Full paper: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-016-1673-6

 

Prosperity & Resilience theme

Dr Tim Vlandas, from Politics and International Relations, for an article exploring the idea that ageing leads to lower inflation. When societies age, the political power of ‘grey voters’ increases which puts pressure on political parties to pursue policies that lead to lower inflation. Countries with a larger share of elderly people therefore end to have lower inflation than those with younger populations, his paper argues. Judges were impressed by the “originality and significance” of the research question and praised the “impressive scope of the empirical research.”

Full paper:  http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0010414017710261

 

Environment theme

Dr Paulo Ceppi, from Meteorology, for a paper which explains why global warming is accelerating as time passes. Paulo’s research has shown that as rising CO2 levels warm the atmosphere, changes to the surface temperature of the sea are having a knock-on effect on the cloud cover over a large area of the Pacific Ocean, allowing more sunlight to be absorbed. The relationship between sea surface temperature and cloudiness is similar in both real-life observations and in models of climate change. This lends further confidence to models whose projections are used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Global Warming. Judges described the findings as “world leading” and “of international significance in climate science.”

Full paper: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1714308114

 

Health theme

Pharmacy researcher Dr James Hall has discovered how a light-emitting molecule can bind to DNA in five different ways, each with a different brightness, like a ‘dimmer switch’. This is a critical step towards developing molecules that can detect different DNA structures – such as those linked to different diseases. Deemed to offer “significant applications for future diagnostics” the judging panel also noted that the article had already been cited 10 times, despite only having been published recently, and was therefore already making an impact in the field.

Full paper: https://doi.org/10.1093/nar/gkw753

 

Heritage & Creativity theme

Dr Rohan Deb Roy, from History, for ‘Malarial Subjects’ – a book exploring malaria within the context of British imperial rule of India and the entanglement of colonialism with mosquitoes, quinine and cinchona plants. Judged by the panel as “a work of exceptional originality and significance” the book explores connections between humans and non-humans, and science, medicine and empire.

Further detail: https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/malarial-subjects/00BEE3F5FAD80653C99B6674E2685D4D

 

More details on each of the research projects, including video of each of the winners will be published over the next few weeks on this blog.

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Sarah von Billerbeck, Fiona Ross, Teresa Tavassoli, Kim Watson, Clare Watt

The University of Reading secured nearly £10m of research awards in the second quarter of 2017/18, latest figures show.

Projects worth £9.8 million were given the go-ahead, with funding from UK research councils, government, industry and charities adding to the total.

The following are among those winning awards between November 2017 and January 2018:

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50 million people around the world are living with dementia and that figure is set to reach 152 million by 2050. Ahead of tonight’s public lecture, neuroscientist Dr Mark Dallas tells us how understanding ‘brain glue’ could hold the secret to detecting dementia decades before the first symptoms appear.

Our brains are made up of 170 billion cells – that’s 24 times the population of planet Earth. We now know that there is roughly a 50:50 split of nerve cells to other cells. These other cells are collectively termed glia after the Greek word for glue, because they were once thought of as the glue that helped to hold the nerve cells together.

Dr Mark Dallas will explain the research at his ‘Brain Glue’ public lecture on Wednesday night (28 Feb)

Scientists now know that these cells are in fact key players in brain function, maintaining a healthy environment for the nerves cells to communicate with each other.

Of interest to dementia scientists is that fact that these cells may be first responders to signs of damage. Why does this matter? It matters because it is about this point in time that scientists believe an individual living with Alzheimer’s disease today would start experiencing subtle, almost undetectable changes in their brains.

Therefore, if we know more about these cells and what they do, we may be able to detect dementia some 20 years before current diagnosis.

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Many autistic children perceive the sensory world around us differently. Some autistic children for example are overwhelmed by sounds or touch. This can make everyday situations such as visiting a busy supermarket a challenging task for families, and being overly sensitive has also been linked to anxiety.

A new project being conducted at the University of Reading’s Centre for Autism and funded by the charity MQ  will explore if sensory reactivity, such as being oversensitive to sounds, can predict later anxiety and related mental health symptoms.

The team will follow autistic children for 2 years, starting at age 4, asking caregivers questions about how their child reacts to the sensory world around them, such as sounds and lights. Children’s reactions towards sensory stimuli directly will also be observed, such as different sounds or a touch by a feather. Using questions about anxiety and related symptoms at all time points, the team will look at whether the relationship between sensory reactivity and anxiety and related mental health issues is stable over time. In addition, they will test if early sensory reactivity can predict later mental health symptoms.

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The ‘language of depression’ can be spotted using computer analysis which looks for patterns of words used by those who are suffering from the disorder, explains PhD researcher Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi in a new post for The Conversation.

Kurt Cobain by Maia Valenzuela/Flickr, CC BY-SA

From the way you move and sleep, to how you interact with people around you, depression changes just about everything. It is even noticeable in the way you speak and express yourself in writing. Sometimes this “language of depression” can have a powerful effect on others. Just consider the impact of the poetry and song lyrics of Sylvia Plath and Kurt Cobain, who both killed themselves after suffering from depression.

Scientists have long tried to pin down the exact relationship between depression and language, and technology is helping us get closer to a full picture. Our new study, published in Clinical Psychological Science, has now unveiled a class of words that can help accurately predict whether someone is suffering from depression.

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Reading was fifth in the UK for funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

Researchers at the University of Reading won a record amount of research funding from the UK Research Councils in 2016/17, a new analysis has shown.

Funding for Reading-led research projects from the six main research councils increased to £14.5 million in 2016/17, up by more than 40% from 2015/16.

The success was highlighted by an analysis of Research Council success rates by Times Higher Education (THE).

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