Campus round-up

July 4, 2013

Fat is a timely issue

Scientists studying an exotic fish have made a key discovery about the protective coating for nerve fibres that, in humans, is vital for everyday activities such as walking and speaking. A University of Edinburgh team hope their findings about the fatty, insulating myelin sheath will help in developing treatments for conditions such as multiple sclerosis, where sufferers fail to produce enough of the substance. By studying zebrafish, the researchers found that cells in the brain and central nervous system have only a matter of hours to produce myelin. The team will now use drugs and gene manipulation to see if they can promote formation of the substance in the fish.

Glasgow/Newcastle/Birmingham

Joint effort

A consortium of universities and a charity is launching a £2.5 million centre for the investigation of the causes of rheumatoid arthritis, a joint condition that affects about 400,000 people in the UK. The universities of Glasgow, Newcastle and Birmingham and the charity Arthritis Research UK are collaborating to set up the Arthritis Research UK Rheumatoid Arthritis Pathogenesis Centre of Excellence. It is hoped that research undertaken via the collaboration will lead to new therapies for the condition, and to treatment that will avoid the need to try an array of different drugs.

Swansea University

Support for grievers

Academics have contributed to a guide for people who have lost a loved one through suicide. Ann John, clinical associate professor in public mental health at Swansea University, helped to develop the resource. She said: “There are about 300 suicide deaths a year in Wales and for each one, it has been suggested, on average six people are deeply affected. People bereaved by suicide often need considerable support but may find it difficult to seek or obtain help.” Help Is at Hand Cymru is available free on the Public Health Wales website.

University of St Mark and St John

Conversation starters

A project in the South West is helping people with the acquired language disorder aphasia to rebuild confidence in communicating. In partnership with Plymouth Community Healthcare, the speech and language therapy department at the University of St Mark and St John is running a conversation group for those with the condition, for whom verbal, and sometimes written, communication has become difficult, often because of a stroke, head injury or brain tumour. The weekly meetings also provide placement opportunities for speech and language therapy students.

University of Cumbria

Lakeside setting for lofty ambitions

Mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington cut the first turf to start a university’s campus redevelopment. The work, which will enable the University of Cumbria’s Ambleside campus to double its capacity, was kick-started by Sir Chris, an honorary fellow of the university, last month. Courses due to move from the Penrith campus to Ambleside, in the heart of the Lake District National Park, have seen a rise of more than 20 per cent in first-choice student applications. Peter Strike, Cumbria’s vice-chancellor, said: “Our span across the region will be greatly enhanced by having a revitalised campus in the heart of Cumbria, actively using the environment as an additional teaching space.”

Institute of Education

Book of life chances

Tackling literacy problems early could reduce bad behaviour in schools, teenage pregnancy rates and juvenile offending rates, a new monograph contends. Research by the European Centre for Reading Recovery at the Institute of Education, University of London indicates that illiteracy is linked to a person’s behaviour and life choices. Spending money on improving reading skills in early life could save millions of pounds in social welfare payments and support for public services, it claims. Every £1 spent on early-years literacy saves £11 to £17 of public money in other areas, according to the study, whose results have been published by IOE Press as Reading Recovery and Every Child a Reader: History, Policy and Practice.

University of Oxford

Dark side to Tudor child’s play

Research has pointed to the systematic exploitation and abuse of child actors in the time of Shakespeare. Studies of Elizabethan documents by Bart van Es, a lecturer in English at the University of Oxford, show that young boys were snatched on their way to school and made to perform, sometimes in seedy backstreet theatres for all-male audiences. Dr van Es, who carried out the research for a monograph, Shakespeare in Company, published earlier this year, said some plays written for children’s companies, such as Christopher Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage, now make for disturbing reading. He adds that Shakespeare opposed theatre companies that used captive children and “actually comes out of this rather well”.

Cranfield University

Hold that thought

Behavioural science research indicates that, contrary to long-held beliefs, sharks are quick learners with good memories. Academics at Cranfield University, working with the Marine Biological Association of the UK, demonstrated that small-spotted catsharks, which are common around the entire British and northwest European coasts, possess an impressively swift learning ability. Scientists were able to determine that the sharks have a memory of between a day and a few weeks – rather than the seven seconds popularly associated with fish memories.

University of Hertfordshire

New neighbours?

A nearby star has three planets within its solar system that could, in theory, be inhabited. New observations, led by astronomers at the University of Hertfordshire and the University of Göttingen in Germany, have been combined with existing data to reveal a six-planet system around the star, known as Gliese 667C, which has three “super-Earths” in its habitable zone. The planets, which are bigger than Earth, are located in a thin zone around the star where water may be present in liquid form, making them candidates to support life. It is the first time that three such planets have been spotted orbiting in this zone in the same system.

University of Birmingham

Building of note

A university’s music building has been honoured in the Royal Institute of British Architects’ National Awards 2013 and shortlisted for the Stirling Prize. The University of Birmingham’s Bramall Music Building was among 52 buildings across the UK and the rest of Europe to receive RIBA Awards, which were announced on 13 June. The building, designed by Glenn Howells Architects, completes the iconic red-brick Aston Webb semicircle at the heart of the university and is home to the Elgar Concert Hall.

Plymouth University

Lighting a path to help and hope

A UK student designed the torch used on an epic relay across the US in aid of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. Plymouth University student Jon Parlby presented the torch – a baton designed to look like a lily – to organisers of the Boston Marathon on its arrival in the city on 30 June. The relay, One Run for Boston, which began in Los Angeles on 7 June, was the brainchild of Kate Treleaven, Danny Bent and Jamie Hay, all from southwest England. It has raised thousands of dollars for the One Fund Boston, set up by the city’s mayor to assist victims and families affected by the 15 April attacks.

Keele University

Self examination

Following on from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the 2012 London Olympics, international scholars have met to debate the meaning of Britishness. The conference, Britishness in the Twenty-First Century, hosted by Keele University on 19 June, offered a chance to “critically explore notions of Britishness and evaluate the key issues involved in formulating shared understandings of British national identity”. It also considered “the contradictions of British liberalism and imperialism and their legacies for national identity today”.

University of East Anglia

We’ve got a situation here

People with social anxiety could benefit from seeing themselves interacting in social situations via video capture, research has suggested. An experiment at the University of East Anglia gave participants the chance to experience social interaction in the safety of a virtual environment by seeing their own life-size image projected into specially scripted real-time video scenes. Researchers, led by Lina Gega of UEA’s Norwich Medical School, worked with Xenodu Virtual Environments to create more than 100 social scenarios – such as using public transport or buying a drink at a bar. They then tested whether this sort of experience could be useful as part of cognitive behavioural therapy.

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