Monday, 7 July 2014

Nullius in Verba

by Freya Derby

On Monday, several sixth form pupils visited the Royal Society Summer Exhibition. This annual event showcases ongoing research from British universities. Most of the stalls I visited were biologically based, however, there was a vast range, from dinosaurs to comets. Here is a brief summary of the three which I found most interesting:

1.      Limits of Perception (University College London)

These researchers were looking at developing new and better methods of biomedical imaging. For example, giving a patient a sugary drink whilst in an MRI machine, detecting the site of the glucose and thus cancerous tumours which use a lot of sugar. They are also experimenting with ‘Light Sheet Microscopy’, a technique based on the transparency and fluorescence of jellyfish (a tank of which were at the stall) removing the pigment from tissues so that light can be passed through, and received from them. They also had a myriad of demonstrations. I used an ultrasound machine, found out what a credit card sounds like, and saw music passed through a laser beam.
Muscle fibres of the heart

2.      Immune Bacterial Interactions (Oxford University)

Rates of IBD, a condition described as a sensitivity of the gut, often causing bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation, are increasing globally. There are two types: Crohn's Disease and Ucerative Colitis. Immune cells (white blood cells) are usually separated from the gastrointestinal tract by a thin layer of epithelial cells. Whilst it is normal for some bacterial to occasionally cross this barrier, in individuals affected by IBD there is an immune response that causes discomfort. In a healthy individual, regulatory T cells are produced (T-Reg) which produce IL-10 to supress the immune cells. It is not know why some people do not have these T-Reg cells, or why this number is increasing. This makes the condition difficult to treat. Patients are normally recommended a healthy diet and lifestyle, and occasionally provided with some medication to treat the symptoms.

This is what Oxford University are currently working on. We were shown how to identify IBD from intestinal slides, which we were not good at. This was especially interesting to me and Jenny, as we will shortly be doing some work experience in Melbourne on how pharge influence IBD.

3.      Brain Networks (Imperial College London)

Imperial are mapping the connections in the brain, in order to measure the long term damage of traumatic brain injury (TBI). This is especially difficult because they obviously rarely receive before and after data. The connections between different parts of the brain cannot be imaged simply, as current scanners are nowhere near accurate enough to detect them. One of the researchers explained to me how they determine these pathways, using probability, by comparing scans when different parts of the brain are stimulated.

One of the most exciting things at the exhibition was a game designed to improve the concentration of those suffering from TBI. With the aid of a headset we were able to play pong with our minds, by simply concentrating on the virtual ball.
I would definitely recommend the summer exhibition to anyone thinking of studying a science in sixth form, at university, or just with an interest. You have the opportunity to speak with enthusiastic scientists, working on projects with real world applications.

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