Thursday, 31 January 2013

10 Great Sciency Stories from University of Leicester in 2012

Work ongoing to develop a blood test to detect breast cancer
It has been know for some time that breast cancer in women is accompanied by a change in the DNA in their blood, but what has not been known is whether this can be used as an early warning signal of the disease.

To investigate this, Dr Jacqui Shaw, is working with Cancer Research UK on a programme that will look at blood samples from women who have undergone routine breast screening to see if they can spot any common factors.
It is hoped that this might lead to the development of a simple blood test that can detect cancer at an early stage, and with more reliability than current mammography techniques.(Read more)

Addressing the need for microscopic speed
Watching biological processes as they happen is key to many research programmes, but existing microscope imaging techniques can only image at 1 frame per second, far slower than is required. But a new device developed by a team led by Prof Nick Hartell from the Dept of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology, overcomes this hurdle and can image, with remarkable clarity at around 100frames per second..

With work now looking at commercialising the technology, Prof Hartell comments that “We are very excited because we have been able to go from a concept, to a working prototype that is useful for my research into neuroscience. There is a good chance that we will be able to make a product and see that being used in labs in the UK and worldwide” (Read more)

Images from the new microscope

Discovery of tiny fossil new to science
Professor David Siveter, from the Department of Geology has led a team that has found fossils that have been preserved to a remarkable degree

Fossils do not usually show the details of the animals soft parts, but the fossils of a type of ostracod, just 10mm in length, found by the University of Leicester team (in collaboration with other universities) were buried under volcanic ash and show details of the animals shell, limbs, eyes, gills and alimentary canal.

The team were able to visualise the internal organs by cutting the fossil into 20micron thick slices, imaging them and then converting them to a 3D model.(read more)

Life-saving drug should be given more widely in UK hospitals – new study
The inexpensive drug Tranexamic Acid is used to stop bleeding in battlefields casualties and also to A&E patients to patients with severe trauma.

But a study co-investigated by Professor Tim Coates, from the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences has revealed that giving the drug was one of the investigators in a review of 13,000 injured patients which revealed that giving the drug to patients with less severe bleeding would save an extra 150 lives per year. (read more)

Tranexamic Acid looks like this

Blood sugar diabetes risk for South Asians
Dr Mostafa, a Clinical Research Fellow in Diabetes and Endocrinology has been involved in a study that has revealed that South Asians have higher blood sugar levels, independent of factors such as exercise. This has implications for the diagnosis and treatment of diabetes in this demographic (read more)

Astronomers put forward new theory on size of black holes
Many galaxies, including our own,contain black holes at their centre, but some galaxies have black holes that are so large, and must have grown so fast, that current models cannot explain their development.

Professor Andrew Kind from the Department of Physics and Astronomy has been working with colleages in Australia on a mechanism that might explain the fast growth of some black holes.

The new theory considers what would happen if the clouds of gas surrounding a black hole were circulating at different angles and found that this could cause the clouds to collide and fall into the hole at a rate much faster than usual.

As Prof King explained ““If two guys ride motorbikes on a Wall of Death and they collide, they lose the centrifugal force holding them to the walls and fall,”(read more, and more)

Angled gas clouds interacting around a black hole

[black holes] The potential danger from Acrylamide
A team led by Professor Peter Farmer is investigating the effects of Acrylamide, a potential carcinogen which is found at low levels in fried carbohydrate foods, such as crisps.

Professor Farmer said: “There is great potential worldwide for reducing cancer incidence by making dietary changes. In order to give informed advice to the public it is essential to identify the risk factors in diet and the relative extent of the risk associated with them.”(read more, and more)

Novel Electric Motors
Whilst not strictly a news story, the research page of the Centre for Advanced Electronically Controlled Machines and Drives is fascinating, and describes work being undertaken to develop a new type of electric motor that is energy efficient, electronically controlled and of a low cost to manufacture. And, incidentally, if you want to see what a PhD thesis looks like, check out this example from Saeed Ahmed . (read more)

Example of the novel electric motors being developed at Leicester

The Earths Crust
Another research page of interest is that of the Crustal Processes Research Group who are working on understanding the causes of volcanic eruptions and their effects on the environment. Winningly they comment that the group is “currently studying flood basalts in Siberia, rhyolitic super-eruptions in the Snake River Plain, and pyroclastic systems in Pantelleria”.

NSB does not begrudge them a penny of the research funding the get to visit and work at these sites, and thinks it is certainly better to spend money here than on sending politicians on jollies abroad.(read more)

Quantum Dots
Far from being the title of the next Bond Movie, this title relates to the semiconductor nanostructures being investigated by the Condensed Matter Group in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Quantum dots are a new and potentially revolutionary area of research that have particular applications in optical applications and as “quantum computers” (read more)

Image Sources
All via University of Leicester press releases, except Tranexamic Acid which was via Wikipedia

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