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Women with polycystic ovary syndrome more likely to have a child with autism

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 08/01/2018 - 13:00

PCOS affects about one in ten women and is caused by elevated levels of the hormone testosterone. It is associated with fluid-filled sacs (called follicles) in the ovaries, and with symptoms such as delayed onset of puberty, irregular menstrual cycles, and excess bodily hair.

Autism is a condition characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication alongside unusually narrow interests, a strong preference for predictability, and difficulties adjusting to unexpected change. Some autistic people also have learning difficulties and delayed language, and many have sensory hyper-sensitivity. The signs of autism are evident in childhood even if the diagnosis is not made until later, and occurs in about 1% of the population.

The research team previously published work in 2015 which showed that before they are born, autistic children have elevated levels of ‘sex steroid’ hormones (including testosterone) which ‘masculinise’ the baby’s body and brain. The discovery that prenatal sex steroid hormones are involved in the development of autism is one possible explanation for why autism is diagnosed more often in boys.

The scientists wondered where these elevated sex steroid hormones were coming from, one possible source being the mother. If she had higher levels of testosterone than usual, as is the case in women with PCOS, then some of the hormone might cross the placenta during pregnancy, exposing her unborn baby to more of this hormone, and changing the baby’s brain development.

Using anonymous data from a large database of GP health records, the study looked at 8,588 women with PCOS and their first-born children, compared to a group of 41,127 women without PCOS. The team found that, even after taking into account other factors (like maternal mental health problems or complications during pregnancy), women with PCOS had a 2.3% chance of having an autistic child, compared with the 1.7% chance for mothers without PCOS. 

The team stressed that the likelihood of having an autistic child is still very low, even among women with PCOS – but finding this link provides an important clue in understanding one of the multiple causal factors in autism.

The team presented their findings at the International Meeting for Autism Research in 2016, and their findings were replicated in a Swedish study in the same year, adding to the reliability of the result.

The team also conducted two other studies using the same data and found that autistic women were more likely to have PCOS, and women with PCOS were more likely to have autism themselves. This strongly suggests that these two conditions are linked, probably because they both share elevated sex steroid hormone levels.

Adriana Cherskov, the Master’s student who analysed the data, and who is now studying medicine in the US, said: “This is an important piece of new evidence for the theory that autism is not only caused by genes but also by prenatal sex steroid hormones such as testosterone.”

Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre, who supervised the research, said: “This new research is helping us understand the effects of testosterone on the developing fetal brain, and on the child’s later behaviour and mind. These hormonal effects are not necessarily independent of genetic factors, as a mother or her baby may have higher levels of the hormone for genetic reasons, and testosterone can affect how genes function.”

Dr Carrie Allison who co-supervised the research, said: “We need to think about the practical steps we can put in place to support women with PCOS as they go through their pregnancies. The likelihood is statistically significant but nevertheless still small, in that most women with PCOS won’t have a child with autism, but we want to be transparent with this new information.”

Dr Rupert Payne from the University of Bristol Centre for Academic Primary Care, a GP and the expert on the team in using GP health record data for this type of research, said: “Autism can have a significant impact on a person’s wellbeing, and on their parents, and many autistic people have significant health, social care and educational special needs. This is an important step in trying to understand what causes autism. It is also an excellent example of the value of using anonymous routine healthcare data to answer vital medical research questions.”

The study was supported by the Autism Research Trust, the Medical Research Council, Wellcome, a Gates Cambridge Trust Scholarship and Rouse Ball/Eddington Research Fund Award at Trinity College.

Reference
Cherskov, A., Pohl, A Allison, C, Zhang, H, Payne, R, and Baron-Cohen, S. Polycystic ovary syndrome and autism: A test of the prenatal sex steroid theory. Translational Psychiatry; 1 Aug 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41398-018-0186-7 

Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are more likely than other women to have an autistic child, according to an analysis of NHS data carried out by a team at Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre. The research is published today in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

This is an important piece of new evidence for the theory that autism is not only caused by genes but also by prenatal sex steroid hormones such as testosteroneAdriana Cherskovjeff_goldenIn His Own World


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Maggots and rotting food waste: a new recipe for sustainable fish and animal feed

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 07/31/2018 - 08:00

The company behind this idea is Entomics Biosystems. It was set up in 2015 by a group of students from the University of Cambridge, with support from the Cambridge Judge Entrepreneurship Centre’s ‘Accelerate Cambridge’ programme.

“It’s one of those stories where we came together in a pub over a pint, talking about weird ideas,” explains its CEO and co-founder Matt McLaren. “The team has members from the Department of Biochemistry, from Engineering, from the [Judge] Business School, so it really is a diverse skill set.”

According to the company, each year over 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted globally – equating to around US$1 trillion of lost value. With an increasing population and modern lifestyles, the burden of food waste on society and the environment is set to increase in the future.

Entomics focuses on ‘insect biomass conversion’. Larvae of the black soldier fly chew their way through several tonnes of food waste collected from local supermarkets and food processing plants. The insects are fed different ‘recipes’ under controlled conditions to see how these affect growth rates and nutritional profiles. They metabolise the food waste into fats and proteins, growing to around 5,000 times their body weight within just a couple of weeks.

As McLaren, explains, these fats and proteins “are great sources of nutrition for salmon and poultry – in fact, insects are part of their natural diet”. Entomics is currently working with partners including the University of Stirling, who are world-leading salmon aquaculture experts, to validate and test their products in the field.

“Farmed salmon in Scotland are currently fed on fishmeal which comes from wild-caught anchovies from as far away as Chile and Peru, which are then shipped across the world to Scotland,” he explains. “Insects provide a nice, sustainable solution.”

With support including from Innovate UK and the European Institute of Technology (via EIT FoodKIC), Entomics is using a novel bioprocessing technique to boost the nutritional and functional benefits of these insect-derived feeds, using a microbial fermentation technology they have termed ‘Metamorphosis’. Essentially, these specialised feeds represent a sustainable, holistic approach to improving overall fish health and welfare.

“There are several benefits to this process,” explains Miha Pipan, Chief Scientific Officer and fellow co-founder, “from affecting the gut’s microbiome and trying to preserve a healthier bacterial community there, to training immune systems to make livestock more resistant to disease challenges and at the same time reduce the need for veterinary medicines, antibiotics and vaccines.” 

“The world’s looking for more sustainable sources of feed and I think increasingly there’s a recognition that it’s not just about basic nutrition, but it’s about overall health,” says McLaren. “We’re trying to take a promising, sustainable ingredient of the future – these insect-derived feeds – and trying to add a bit of biotechnology or science focus to it, to really enhance what the effect is in the end application and reduce reliance on traditional antibiotics and veterinary medicines.”

There is endless potential for innovation in the emerging insect industry in general, and the Entomics team is also working on an engineering project to build a smart, modular system for insect production in the future. This includes developing computer vision algorithms to understand and monitor insect behaviour during the production process – for example, the insects’ growth and health.

McLaren is grateful of the support that the company received from the Cambridge Judge Business School to get itself off the ground. “The mentorship and coaching provided by the Accelerate Cambridge programme in particular has been vital to getting our business to its current stage, and the credibility of the Cambridge brand has allowed us to engage with some great academic and commercial partners.”

In a warehouse to the northeast of Cambridge are shelves upon shelves of trays teeming with maggots, munching their way through a meal of rotting fruit and vegetables. This may sound stomach-churning, but these insects could become the sustainable food of the future – at least for fish and animals – helping reduce the reliance on resource intensive proteins such as fishmeal and soy, while also mitigating the use of antibiotics in the food chain, one of the causes of the increase in drug-resistant bacteria.

Farmed salmon in Scotland are currently fed on fishmeal which comes from wild-caught anchovies from as far away as Chile and Peru, which are then shipped across the world to Scotland. Insects provide a nice, sustainable solutionMatt McLaren University of CambridgeBlack soldier fly larvae


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Don't miss this summer's first Big Wednesday - part of the free PlayDaze summer of fun

Cambridge Council Feed - Mon, 07/30/2018 - 10:26

INFLATABLES, junk modelling, face painting, arts, sport and a host of entertainment will be on offer to children and their families in the first Big Wednesday of the summer which takes place this week.

Big Wednesdays are a part of Cambridge City Council’s PlayDaze programme, which offers free outdoor activities for families across Cambridge parks and open spaces.

The Big Wednesday event will take place at Lammas Land on Wednesday 1 August from 1 to 4pm and will be led by the council’s Children and Young People’s Participation Service (ChYpPS).

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Opinion: GM crop ruling shows why the EU’s laws are wholly inadequate

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Mon, 07/30/2018 - 09:05

The European Court of Justice has made an important ruling on genetically modified crops. Since 2003, new crop varieties produced by genetic modification have had to be assessed for their risks to the environment and human and animal health before they can be farmed in the European Union.

The court has now decided that genetic modification includes any technique that induces genetic changes “in a way that does not occur naturally”. This includes new genome editing techniques such as CRISPR/Cas9, but also approaches that have been used in plant breeding since the 1960s.

Some scientists have criticised the court for “shutting the door” on new technologies that could benefit human health and the environment. This is certainly a concern. The ruling will discourage the use of genome editing that could bring significant environmental benefits by making it more expensive for such such crops to clear the necessary regulatory processes.

But the main problem illustrated by this ruling is the deep logical flaw in the whole regulatory approach. Plants that have been bred in more traditional ways, which could have just as serious health or environmental impacts, will continue to be exempt from regulation. Focusing on how a new crop is produced – rather than the new characteristics or agricultural practices it brings – will inevitably result in wholly inadequate protection for the environment and consumers.

Every new crop variety is genetically different from its predecessors. A lot of genetic variation can arise naturally from errors in DNA copying, mutations caused by environmental factors, cross breeding with wild relatives, viruses and many other sources. All this variation is excluded from the EU definition of GM.

To increase genetic diversity and generally speed things up, scientists can induce mutations deliberately. Random mutagenesis – purposefully encouraging genetic mutations, for example with radiation – has been used on crops since the 1960s. It has since become possible to add specific new genes, sourced from the same or different species. And, even more recently, genome editing techniques have been developed that allow scientists to alter selected existing genes. These more recent approaches are becoming ever more useful as we build up our understanding of which genes do what.

All these techniques can be used to introduce new traits into a crop variety, for example to make a plant resistant to herbicides. The new court ruling came about because a group of farming organisations who were worried about the impact of herbicide resistant crops argued they should be regulated regardless of how they were developed.

This seems to me entirely reasonable. There are of plenty of arguments and counterarguments about the risks and benefits of this approach to weed control – and it is important to assess these before introducing a new herbicide resistant crop. None of these arguments have anything to do with how the crop was produced.

Yet the court ruling means that herbicide resistant crops produced through conventional breeding can be used freely, while crops produced using newer approaches must be subjected to intense scrutiny. So the farming groups might be happy that a new generation of herbicide resistant crops will have to be extensively assessed for their environmental and health impacts. But herbicide resistant crops produced by traditional methods, which raise identical concerns, will remain exempt from these regulations.

Natural’s not in it

This highlights the central problem with the EU regulations on new crop varieties. Anything that could occur naturally is exempt from scrutiny. Yet drawing a line between the natural and artificial is difficult to say the least. After thousands of years of careful human intervention, most “natural” crops look nothing like their wild ancestor. They have many characteristics that mean they would not last more than a few generations if they had to compete in the wild.

One of the reasons we have spent so long breeding them is that many natural plants carry serious risks. Very few people would say to their children: “Go into the woods and eat anything you can find. It’s all natural so it must be good for you.” The distinction between natural and artificial is both contrived and not relevant when it comes to environmental and health impact assessment.

We should assess new crop varieties on the traits they are supposed to deliver, not on how those traits were introduced. The system needs to be proportional and risk-based. This should of course include consideration of the unintended effects of whatever genetic improvement process was used. Instead we spend years debating whether or not a new technique counts as genetic modification or not. That this is even a relevant question lays bare the flaws in our current approach.

This article has been republished from The Conversation.

A new EU ruling that attempts to draw a line between natural and artificial when it comes to crop production has a "deep logical flaw" at its heart, writes Professor Ottoline Leyser, Director of the University's Sainsbury Laboratory.  

We should assess new crop varieties on the traits they are supposed to deliver, not on how those traits were introducedOttoline LeyserFernan FedericiRatiometric measurement of gene expression


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Historian uncovers new evidence of 18th century London's 'Child Support Agency'

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Thu, 07/26/2018 - 16:05

Dr Samantha Williams’ Unmarried Motherhood in the Metropolis: 1700-1850 reveals, using London’s few surviving ‘bastardy books’, how the parishes of Lambeth, Southwark and Chelsea chased the fathers of illegitimate babies – and the lengths some errant fathers went to in order to escape not only their moral and financial obligations, but the clutches of parish constables and the feared houses of correction.

Read the full Shorthand story here

How 18th and 19th century London supported its unmarried mothers and illegitimate children – essentially establishing an earlier version of today’s Child Support Agency – is the subject of newly-published research by a Cambridge historian.

Workhouse Women in St. Giles's Church by Charles Holroyd (1880-84). ©Trustees of the British Museum


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Help your bin crews during the heatwave

Cambridge Council Feed - Thu, 07/26/2018 - 14:37

Residents of Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire are being asked to help bin crews deal with the hot weather, as heatwave conditions continue.

With a Level Three – Heatwave Action alert currently in force from the Met Office, and temperatures set to rise further tomorrow, collection crews are facing challenges completing their rounds.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

New class of materials could be used to make batteries that charge faster

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 07/25/2018 - 18:03

Although these materials, known as niobium tungsten oxides, do not result in higher energy densities when used under typical cycling rates, they come into their own for fast charging applications. Additionally, their physical structure and chemical behaviour give researchers a valuable insight into how a safe, super-fast charging battery could be constructed, and suggest that the solution to next-generation batteries may come from unconventional materials. The results are reported in the journal Nature.

Many of the technologies we use every day have been getting smaller, faster and cheaper each year – with the notable exception of batteries. Apart from the possibility of a smartphone which could be fully charged in minutes, the challenges associated with making a better battery are holding back the widespread adoption of two major clean technologies: electric cars and grid-scale storage for solar power.

“We’re always looking for materials with high-rate battery performance, which would result in a much faster charge and could also deliver high power output,” said Dr Kent Griffith, a postdoctoral researcher in Cambridge’s Department of Chemistry and the paper’s first author.

In their simplest form, batteries are made of three components: a positive electrode, a negative electrode and an electrolyte. When a battery is charging, lithium ions are extracted from the positive electrode and move through the crystal structure and electrolyte to the negative electrode, where they are stored. The faster this process occurs, the faster the battery can be charged.

In the search for new electrode materials, researchers normally try to make the particles smaller. “The idea is that if you make the distance the lithium ions have to travel shorter, it should give you higher rate performance,” said Griffith. “But it’s difficult to make a practical battery with nanoparticles: you get a lot more unwanted chemical reactions with the electrolyte, so the battery doesn’t last as long, plus it’s expensive to make.”

“Nanoparticles can be tricky to make, which is why we’re searching for materials that inherently have the properties we’re looking for even when they are used as comparatively large micron-sized particles. This means that you don’t have to go through a complicated process to make them, which keeps costs low,” said Professor Clare Grey, also from the Department of Chemistry and the paper’s senior author. “Nanoparticles are also challenging to work with on a practical level, as they tend to be quite ‘fluffy’, so it’s difficult to pack them tightly together, which is key for a battery’s volumetric energy density.”

The niobium tungsten oxides used in the current work have a rigid, open structure that does not trap the inserted lithium, and have larger particle sizes than many other electrode materials. Griffith speculates that the reason these materials have not received attention previously is related to their complex atomic arrangements. However, he suggests that the structural complexity and mixed-metal composition are the very reasons the materials exhibit unique transport properties.

“Many battery materials are based on the same two or three crystal structures, but these niobium tungsten oxides are fundamentally different,” said Griffith. The oxides are held open by ‘pillars’ of oxygen, which enables lithium ions to move through them in three dimensions. “The oxygen pillars, or shear planes, make these materials more rigid than other battery compounds, so that, plus their open structures means that more lithium ions can move through them, and far more quickly.”

Using a technique called pulsed field gradient (PFG) nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, which is not readily applied to battery electrode materials, the researchers measured the movement of lithium ions through the oxides, and found that they moved at rates several orders of magnitude higher than typical electrode materials.

Most negative electrodes in current lithium-ion batteries are made of graphite, which has a high energy density, but when charged at high rates, tends to form spindly lithium metal fibres known as dendrites, which can create a short-circuit and cause the batteries to catch fire and possibly explode.

“In high-rate applications, safety is a bigger concern than under any other operating circumstances,” said Grey. “These materials, and potentially others like them, would definitely be worth looking at for fast–charging applications where you need a safer alternative to graphite.”

In addition to their high lithium transport rates, the niobium tungsten oxides are also simple to make. “A lot of the nanoparticle structures take multiple steps to synthesise, and you only end up with a tiny amount of material, so scalability is a real issue,” said Griffith. “But these oxides are so easy to make, and don’t require additional chemicals or solvents.”

Although the oxides have excellent lithium transport rates, they do lead to a lower cell voltage than some electrode materials. However, the operating voltage is beneficial for safety and the high lithium transport rates mean that when cycling fast, the practical (usable) energy density of these materials remains high.

While the oxides may only be suited for certain applications, Grey says that the important thing is to keep looking for new chemistries and new materials. “Fields stagnate if you don’t keep looking for new compounds,” she says. “These interesting materials give us a good insight into how we might design higher rate electrode materials.”

The research was funded in part by the European Union, the Science and Technology Facilities Council, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Reference:
Kent J. Griffith et al. ‘Niobium tungsten oxides for high-rate lithium-ion energy storage.’ Nature (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0347-0

Researchers have identified a group of materials that could be used to make even higher power batteries. The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, used materials with a complex crystalline structure and found that lithium ions move through them at rates that far exceed those of typical electrode materials, which equates to a much faster-charging battery.

Fields stagnate if you don’t keep looking for new compounds.Clare Grey


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Protein discovery may explain why some patients develop resistance to new class of anti-cancer drugs

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 07/25/2018 - 00:13

In a study published in Nature Cell Biology, the team from the Wellcome/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute show that Shieldin – so-called because it shields the ends of broken DNA – regulates DNA repair and could be a useful marker for identifying which patients are likely to respond poorly to PARP inhibitors.

The DNA in our cells is susceptible to damage caused by external factors such as sunlight or smoking, or internal factors including our genetics. One form of damage is when both strands of the DNA double helix break – this can lead to cell death, so cells have various repair mechanisms to fix the damage.

The simplest mechanism for repairing DNA breaks is known as ‘non-homologous end-joining’ (NHEJ). This mechanism essentially ‘sticks together’ the broken DNA strands, but it is imperfect and can result in deletions of segments of DNA.

A more accurate repair mechanism is ‘homologous recombination’ (HR). This mechanism uses a copy of our DNA as a reference text to fill in any missing gaps. However, NHEJ and HR work in competition against each other: if the balance is tipped in favour of HR, then cells will use this mechanism to repair the DNA damage.

Among the proteins involved in HR is BRCA1. However, some people carry a ‘bad’ BRCA1 mutation, which makes them more susceptible to cancer. Normal cells in these people have one ‘bad’ copy of the BRCA1 gene, but still have one ‘good’ copy, meaning that they can still carry out HR – and hence are still able to carry out vital DNA repair; however, their cancer cells have lost the good copy of BRCA1 and are no longer able to carry out homologous recombination.

Professor Steve Jackson and colleagues at the Gurdon Institute previously exploited this weakness to develop PARP-inhibitor drugs, which cause a double-strand DNA break that can only be repaired by homologous recombination: so, BRCA1-negative cancer cells die, while surrounding healthy cells survive.

However, some patients taking PARP inhibitors develop resistance to the drugs – and some patients do not even respond from the outset. To understand why this should be the case, Professor Steve Jackson and colleagues used cutting-edge CRISPR-Cas 9 gene editing techniques to screen breast cancer cells with the BRCA1 mutation and identify which genes drive resistance.

They identified two genes that produce a protein complex now referred to as Shieldin. From this they were able to show that Shieldin plays an important role in NHEJ, binding at the site of the broken strands of DNA. It is this complex that appears to be the key to patients responding to PARP inhibitors.

The balancing act between NHEJ and HR should mean that the cells of people with the BRCA1 mutation cannot perform homologous recombination – hence PARP inhibitors are able to kill the cells. But when Shieldin levels are depleted – which may arise from spontaneous mutations in tumour cells – the balance changes and the patient’s tumour cells regain the ability to perform homologous recombination – and hence, PARP inhibitors are no longer effective.

Professor Jackson, whose group led the research, said: “There is a balancing act within our cells – a tug of war between proteins such as BRCA1 and Shieldin. Who wins determines whether the cell carries out error-free, albeit slower DNA repair, or faster, error-prone repair.”

The study’s lead author, Wellcome Clinical Fellow Dr Harveer Dev, explained: “In BRCA1 mutated cells, it appears as though the persistence of the Shieldin complex at DNA breaks renders these cells sensitive to PARP inhibitors. This explains why these drugs are normally effective in patients with BRCA1 mutations. But when Shieldin levels are low, patients can develop resistance to these drugs.”

To confirm their results, the researchers took breast cancer biopsies from patients with the BRCA1 mutation and transplanted them into mice. They found that mice that had low levels of Shieldin from the outset did not respond to the PARP inhibitors, and mice that evolved resistance to the drugs had tumours with low levels of Shieldin. They also went on to show that resistance to PARP inhibitors can lead the same cancer cells to develop vulnerabilities to alternative cancer treatments, such as radiotherapy or platinum-based chemotherapy.

Professor Jackson concluded: “As we improve our understanding of these DNA repair networks and how they interact, we should be able to better predict the responsiveness of an individual patient’s tumour to specific therapies like PARP inhibitors, and ultimately personalise cancer therapy to achieve the maximum benefit.”

This study was funded by the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK, and core funding to the Gurdon Institute from the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK.

Reference
Dev H. et al. The SHLD1/2 protein complex promotes non-homologous end-joining and counters homologous recombination in BRCA1-deficient cells. Nature Cell Biology; 18 July; DOI: 10.1038/s41556-018-0140-1

A team of researchers at the University of Cambridge has identified a protein complex that might explain why some cancer patients treated with the revolutionary new anti-cancer drugs known as PARP inhibitors develop resistance to their medication.

As we improve our understanding of these DNA repair networks and how they interact, we should be able to better predict the responsiveness of an individual patient’s tumour to specific therapiesSteve Jackson Shaury NashAlineando secuencias


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

YesLicense type: Attribution-ShareAlike
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Protein discovery may explain why some patients develop resistance to new class of anti-cancer drugs

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Wed, 07/25/2018 - 00:13

In a study published in Nature Cell Biology, the team from the Wellcome/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute show that Shieldin – so-called because it shields the ends of broken DNA – regulates DNA repair and could be a useful marker for identifying which patients are likely to respond poorly to PARP inhibitors.

The DNA in our cells is susceptible to damage caused by external factors such as sunlight or smoking, or internal factors including our genetics. One form of damage is when both strands of the DNA double helix break – this can lead to cell death, so cells have various repair mechanisms to fix the damage.

The simplest mechanism for repairing DNA breaks is known as ‘non-homologous end-joining’ (NHEJ). This mechanism essentially ‘sticks together’ the broken DNA strands, but it is imperfect and can result in deletions of segments of DNA.

A more accurate repair mechanism is ‘homologous recombination’ (HR). This mechanism uses a copy of our DNA as a reference text to fill in any missing gaps. However, NHEJ and HR work in competition against each other: if the balance is tipped in favour of HR, then cells will use this mechanism to repair the DNA damage.

Among the proteins involved in HR is BRCA1. However, some people carry a ‘bad’ BRCA1 mutation, which makes them more susceptible to cancer. Normal cells in these people have one ‘bad’ copy of the BRCA1 gene, but still have one ‘good’ copy, meaning that they can still carry out HR – and hence are still able to carry out vital DNA repair; however, their cancer cells have lost the good copy of BRCA1 and are no longer able to carry out homologous recombination.

Professor Steve Jackson and colleagues at the Gurdon Institute previously exploited this weakness to develop PARP-inhibitor drugs, which cause a double-strand DNA break that can only be repaired by homologous recombination: so, BRCA1-negative cancer cells die, while surrounding healthy cells survive.

However, some patients taking PARP inhibitors develop resistance to the drugs – and some patients do not even respond from the outset. To understand why this should be the case, Professor Steve Jackson and colleagues used cutting-edge CRISPR-Cas 9 gene editing techniques to screen breast cancer cells with the BRCA1 mutation and identify which genes drive resistance.

They identified two genes that produce a protein complex now referred to as Shieldin. From this they were able to show that Shieldin plays an important role in NHEJ, binding at the site of the broken strands of DNA. It is this complex that appears to be the key to patients responding to PARP inhibitors.

The balancing act between NHEJ and HR should mean that the cells of people with the BRCA1 mutation cannot perform homologous recombination – hence PARP inhibitors are able to kill the cells. But when Shieldin levels are depleted – which may arise from spontaneous mutations in tumour cells – the balance changes and the patient’s tumour cells regain the ability to perform homologous recombination – and hence, PARP inhibitors are no longer effective.

Professor Jackson, whose group led the research, said: “There is a balancing act within our cells – a tug of war between proteins such as BRCA1 and Shieldin. Who wins determines whether the cell carries out error-free, albeit slower DNA repair, or faster, error-prone repair.”

The study’s lead author, Wellcome Clinical Fellow Dr Harveer Dev, explained: “In BRCA1 mutated cells, it appears as though the persistence of the Shieldin complex at DNA breaks renders these cells sensitive to PARP inhibitors. This explains why these drugs are normally effective in patients with BRCA1 mutations. But when Shieldin levels are low, patients can canngs. l Biology in July 2018..m stab.mplex.chosen is determined by a delicate balance between etings. l Biology in July 2018. develop resistance to these drugs.”

To confirm their results, the researchers took breast cancer biopsies from patients with the BRCA1 mutation and transplanted them into mice. They found that mice that had low levels of Shieldin from the outset did not respond to the PARP inhibitors, and mice that evolved resistance to the drugs had tumours with low levels of Shieldin. They also went on to show that resistance to PARP inhibitors can lead the same cancer cells to develop vulnerabilities to alternative cancer treatments, such as radiotherapy or platinum-based chemotherapy.

Professor Jackson concluded: “As we improve our understanding of these DNA repair networks and how they interact, we should be able to better predict the responsiveness of an individual patient’s tumour to specific therapies like PARP inhibitors, and ultimately personalise cancer therapy to achieve the maximum benefit.”

This study was funded by the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK, and core funding to the Gurdon Institute from the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK.

Reference
Dev H. et al. The SHLD1/2 protein complex promotes non-homologous end-joining and counters homologous recombination in BRCA1-deficient cells. Nature Cell Biology; 18 July; DOI: 10.1038/s41556-018-0140-1

A team of researchers at the University of Cambridge has identified a protein complex that might explain why some cancer patients treated with the revolutionary new anti-cancer drugs known as PARP inhibitors develop resistance to their medication.

As we improve our understanding of these DNA repair networks and how they interact, we should be able to better predict the responsiveness of an individual patient’s tumour to specific therapiesSteve Jackson Shaury NashAlineando secuencias


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

YesLicense type: Attribution-ShareAlike
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

New video game teaches teens about electricity

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 07/24/2018 - 16:39

The game, called Wired, is available to download and play for free from today, and teaches the key mathematical concepts unpinning electricity. Electricity affects all of us every day, but is difficult to teach as it is abstract, difficult to visualise and requires lots of practice to master.

“A video game is an ideal way to teach students about electricity as it allows players to visualise the underlying concepts and the relationships between them,” said Diarmid Campbell from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, and the game’s designer. “It provides a structure for incremental challenges, each one building on previous ones, and there is a set of tried and tested motivational techniques that can encourage people to push through tricky areas.”

Campbell spent close to two decades in the gaming industry, developing titles for PlayStation, Xbox and PC. He is now a senior teaching associate at Cambridge, and develops video games to inspire more teenagers to study engineering.

Players of Wired will get an intuitive understanding of circuits, the logic of switches, voltage, current and resistance. They do this not by analysing circuits, as in textbooks, but by wiring up circuits to solve problems.

“Most educational games are delivered through the classroom and only need to be more fun than the lesson they are replacing,” said Campbell. “Wired will be delivered through gaming websites, so it needs to be at least as fun as other video games that people play. We are not gamifying education; we are edu-fying, and perhaps even edifying, a game.”

In many areas of physics, people already have an intuitive understanding of how things behave before they learn about them more formally. For instance, people have been throwing balls around since they were toddlers so when they learn about projectiles and Newton’s laws of motion they have an intuition to guide them in how to apply the equations.

Since electricity is invisible and isn’t something we encourage kids to play with, this intuition isn’t there in the same way. Students can learn the mathematics, but may not have the intuition to know how to apply it. “Students are often told that electricity behaves like water flowing through pipes – which gets you some of the way there, but actually, people don’t really understand how water behaves either,” said Campbell. “How many people can tell you why the shower changes temperature when you flush the toilet?”

According to Campbell, Wired bridges this gap, giving players an intuitive understanding of how electricity behaves and gets players solving problems that are not usually encountered until A-level physics.

The project was supported by The Underwood Trust.

The game is currently available on Mac and Windows.

An installable version can be downloaded at:
https://store.steampowered.com/app/885470/Wired/

A browser version of the game can be played at:
https://wiredthegame.com/

A new video game, designed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, gives teenagers an understanding of electricity by solving a series of puzzles in a bid to encourage more of them to study engineering at university. 

A video game is an ideal way to teach students about electricity as it allows players to visualise the underlying concepts and the relationships between them.Diarmid Campbell Diarmid CampbellScreenshot from Wired


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

New video game teaches teens about electricity

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 07/24/2018 - 16:39

The game, called Wired, is available to download and play for free from today, and teaches the key mathematical concepts unpinning electricity. Electricity affects all of us every day, but is difficult to teach as it is abstract, difficult to visualise and requires lots of practice to master.

“A video game is an ideal way to teach students about electricity as it allows players to visualise the underlying concepts and the relationships between them,” said Diarmid Campbell from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, and the game’s designer. “It provides a structure for incremental challenges, each one building on previous ones, and there is a set of tried and tested motivational techniques that can encourage people to push through tricky areas.”

Campbell spent close to two decades in the gaming industry, developing titles for PlayStation, Xbox and PC. He is now a senior teaching associate at Cambridge, and develops video games to inspire more teenagers to study engineering.

Players of Wired will get an intuitive understanding of circuits, the logic of switches, voltage, current and resistance. They do this not by analysing circuits, as in textbooks, but by wiring up circuits to solve problems.

“Most educational games are delivered through the classroom and only need to be more fun than the lesson they are replacing,” said Campbell. “Wired will be delivered through gaming websites, so it needs to be at least as fun as other video games that people play. We are not gamifying education; we are edu-fying, and perhaps even edifying, a game.”

In many areas of physics, people already have an intuitive understanding of how things behave before they learn about them more formally. For instance, people have been throwing balls around since they were toddlers so when they learn about projectiles and Newton’s laws of motion they have an intuition to guide them in how to apply the equations.

Since electricity is invisible and isn’t something we encourage kids to play with, this intuition isn’t there in the same way. Students can learn the mathematics, but may not have the intuition to know how to apply it. “Students are often told that electricity behaves like water flowing through pipes – which gets you some of the way there, but actually, people don’t really understand how water behaves either,” said Campbell. “How many people can tell you why the shower changes temperature when you flush the toilet?”

According to Campbell, Wired bridges this gap, giving players an intuitive understanding of how electricity behaves and gets players solving problems that are not usually encountered until A-level physics.

The project was supported by The Underwood Trust.

The game is currently available on Mac and Windows.

An installable version can be downloaded at:
https://store.steampowered.com/app/885470/Wired/

A browser version of the game can be played at:
https://wiredthegame.com/

A new video game, designed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, gives teenagers an understanding of electricity by solving a series of puzzles in a bid to encourage more of them to study engineering at university. 

A video game is an ideal way to teach students about electricity as it allows players to visualise the underlying concepts and the relationships between them.Diarmid Campbell Diarmid CampbellScreenshot from Wired


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Christ's Pieces recognised as one of the UK's very best green spaces

Cambridge Council Feed - Tue, 07/24/2018 - 13:02

CHRIST’S Pieces has been recognised by the Green Flag Award Scheme as one of the very best in the country.

The city centre park, which is managed by Cambridge City Council, received the prestigious Green Flag Award last week.

This international award, run by the environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy, is now in its third decade, and indicates that parks or open spaces boast the highest possible environmental standards, are well maintained and have excellent facilities for visitors.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

University primary school "outstanding" in 1st OFSTED report

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 07/24/2018 - 12:41

Two inspectors visited the school to carry out their assessments.

They found;

  • From the opening in 2015, the headteacher has led the school with a tenacious, yet compassionate determination to ensure that all pupils succeed, whatever their starting points. 
  • Leaders at all levels, including governors, are relentless in their pursuit of high-quality learning experiences for pupils across every aspect of the exceptionally well-considered curriculum. 
  • The school’s research-informed curriculum is ambitious, innovative and inclusive. It aims to ‘develop compassionate citizens in a positive social climate of high expectations.’ In doing so, it challenges pupils very effectively to achieve well.
  • Pupils are regularly challenged to achieve their best, through carefully planned activities and teachers’ skilful questioning.
  • Provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is outstanding. Staff provide high-quality support for vulnerable pupils in a nurturing environment and so typically these pupils make excellent progress. The welfare and care of all pupils is of paramount importance.
  • The behaviour of pupils is outstanding.
  • Working relationships between staff and parents are excellent. Parents are kept well informed about their children’s progress. Most are regular participants in the ‘family Friday’ sessions which allow them to join in with their children’s learning and to discuss it with school’s staff.
  • Pupils with complex needs receive high-quality care across all aspects of the school day.

Headteacher, Dr. James Biddulph, welcomed the report saying:

"It is a privilege to lead such a dedicated and passionate team of educators, including teachers and teaching assistants, ably supported by a superb administrative team.  They have each risen to the massive challenge set us by the University and UK government to create a school that could contribute to innovating curricula and thinking about what constitutes a truly brilliant education for our children.  We look forward to more collaboration with our colleagues in other schools to continue our own learning and contribute to the learning of others." 

School pupils enjoying a picnic in the grounds

The school opened at Eddington, at the University of Cambridge’s North-West Cambridge site, in September 2015 with just 120 pupils. It was the first operational building serving the local community. There will be pupils 630 in September 2021, when it’s expected to reach full capacity. The school has been designed to provide diverse learning spaces. All the classrooms open up to the school grounds to promote outdoor learning opportunities. Currently there are 31 staff. Staff training is highly valued and teachers have access to advice and support of the University’s Faculty of Education. In January, the school was named as a regional hub for the Chartered College of Training (CCT).

The University of Cambridge’s Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, Professor Graham Virgo, says:

"When we opened in 2015, we were expected to be a local community primary school as well as establish ourselves as the first University Training School in the UK for primary. The challenge has been enormous and demonstrates the University's commitment to impact positively on society locally, as well as nationally. I am delighted that the hard work of many people, particularly the headteacher, the teaching staff, teaching assistants and pupils themselves, has been recognised through this outstanding OFSTED report."

The school is already working with colleagues as far afield as India and is planning a number of new projects to consider how research informed practice can be disseminated through primary schools. As the headteacher commented, in remarks to the inspectors, “We are not the finished article…we never will be.”

More information can be found here.

The University of Cambridge Primary School is celebrating after receiving its first OFSTED report. Inspectors found the school outstanding in all the performance categories. The school, which has been open for three years at Eddington, on the edge of Cambridge, is the first University Training Primary School in the UK.

The challenge has been enormous and demonstrates the University's commitment to impact positively on society locally, as well as nationally.Prof Graham Virgo, Senior Pro-Vice-ChancellorFlag parade at Eddington


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

University primary school "outstanding" in 1st OFSTED report

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 07/24/2018 - 12:41

Two inspectors visited the school to carry out their assessments.

They found;

  • From the opening in 2015, the headteacher has led the school with a tenacious, yet compassionate determination to ensure that all pupils succeed, whatever their starting points. 
  • Leaders at all levels, including governors, are relentless in their pursuit of high-quality learning experiences for pupils across every aspect of the exceptionally well-considered curriculum. 
  • The school’s research-informed curriculum is ambitious, innovative and inclusive. It aims to ‘develop compassionate citizens in a positive social climate of high expectations.’ In doing so, it challenges pupils very effectively to achieve well.
  • Pupils are regularly challenged to achieve their best, through carefully planned activities and teachers’ skilful questioning.
  • Provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is outstanding. Staff provide high-quality support for vulnerable pupils in a nurturing environment and so typically these pupils make excellent progress. The welfare and care of all pupils is of paramount importance.
  • The behaviour of pupils is outstanding.
  • Working relationships between staff and parents are excellent. Parents are kept well informed about their children’s progress. Most are regular participants in the ‘family Friday’ sessions which allow them to join in with their children’s learning and to discuss it with school’s staff.
  • Pupils with complex needs receive high-quality care across all aspects of the school day.

Headteacher, Dr. James Biddulph, welcomed the report saying:

"It is a privilege to lead such a dedicated and passionate team of educators, including teachers and teaching assistants, ably supported by a superb administrative team.  They have each risen to the massive challenge set us by the University and UK government to create a school that could contribute to innovating curricula and thinking about what constitutes a truly brilliant education for our children.  We look forward to more collaboration with our colleagues in other schools to continue our own learning and contribute to the learning of others." 

School pupils enjoying a picnic in the grounds

The school opened at Eddington, at the University of Cambridge’s North-West Cambridge site, in September 2015 with just 120 pupils. It was the first operational building serving the local community. There will be pupils 630 in September 2021, when it’s expected to reach full capacity. The school has been designed to provide diverse learning spaces. All the classrooms open up to the school grounds to promote outdoor learning opportunities. Currently there are 31 staff. Staff training is highly valued and teachers have access to advice and support of the University’s Faculty of Education. In January, the school was named as a regional hub for the Chartered College of Training (CCT).

The University of Cambridge’s Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, Professor Graham Virgo, says:

"When we opened in 2015, we were expected to be a local community primary school as well as establish ourselves as the first University Training School in the UK for primary. The challenge has been enormous and demonstrates the University's commitment to impact positively on society locally, as well as nationally. I am delighted that the hard work of many people, particularly the headteacher, the teaching staff, teaching assistants and pupils themselves, has been recognised through this outstanding OFSTED report."

The school is already working with colleagues as far afield as India and is planning a number of new projects to consider how research informed practice can be disseminated through primary schools. As the headteacher commented, in remarks to the inspectors, “We are not the finished article…we never will be.”

More information can be found here.

The University of Cambridge Primary School is celebrating after receiving its first OFSTED report. Inspectors found the school outstanding in all the performance categories. The school, which has been open for three years at Eddington, on the edge of Cambridge, is the first University Training Primary School in the UK.

The challenge has been enormous and demonstrates the University's commitment to impact positively on society locally, as well as nationally.Prof Graham Virgo, Senior Pro-Vice-ChancellorFlag parade at Eddington


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Military spending did not “crowd out” welfare in Middle East prior to Arab Spring

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 07/24/2018 - 12:00

Research casts doubt on the widely-held view that spiralling military expenditure across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) “crowded out” investment in healthcare and public services, leading to civil unrest that eventually exploded in the Arab Spring revolutions.

The so-called “guns versus butter” or “welfare versus warfare” hypotheses – that prioritised military spending resulted in neglect of health and education, thereby creating conditions that fomented public rebellion – is considered by many experts to be a root cause of the uprisings that gripped the region during 2011.

However, a team of researchers who analysed economic and security data from MENA nations in the 16 years leading up to the Arab Spring found no evidence of a trade-off between spending on the military and public services, specifically healthcare.

The researchers from Cambridge and the Lebanese American University argue that much of the evidence for the ‘guns versus butter’ causal link come from analyses of wealthy European nations, which has then been assumed to hold true for the Middle East. 

They say the study’s findings, published today in the journal Defence and Peace Economics, provide a “cautionary note” against a reliance on simplistic correlations based on data from OECD nations to draw important policy conclusions about the causes of turmoil in the Middle East.  

“Our research finds reports of this apparent spending trade-off prior to the Arab Spring to be somewhat spurious,” said Dr Adam Coutts, based at Cambridge University’s Department of Sociology.

“Academics and policy-makers should be careful in assuming that models and results from studies of other regions can be transplanted onto the Middle East and North Africa,” he said.

“Determining the cause of unrest is a rather more complex task than some experts may suggest. Historical experiences and political economy factors need to be considered.”    

While only Saudi Arabia is in the top ten global nations for military spending in terms of hard cash, when calculated as a share of GDP six of the top ten military spenders are MENA nations.

Coutts and colleagues ran World Bank data through detailed statistical models to explore the trade-off between spending on military and on welfare – health, in this case – of 18 different MENA nations from 1995 up to the start of the Arab Spring in 2011.

The team also looked at casualties resulting from domestic terror attacks in an attempt to estimate security needs that might have helped drive military spending in a region plagued by terrorism. 

They found no statistically significant evidence that increased military spending had an impact on health investment. “Contrary to existing evidence from many European nations, we found that levels of military expenditure do not induce or affect cuts to healthcare in the Middle East and North Africa,” said co-author Dr Adel Daoud from Cambridge’s Centre for Business Research.

The researchers also found no evidence for casualties from terrorism affecting either health or military spending – perhaps a result of the routine nature of such occurrences in the region.

“There may have been a policy adaptation in which regional conflicts and security threats are no longer the main influence on government security and military spending decisions,” said Daoud.

Adam Coutts added: “It has been argued that Arab populations accepted an ‘authoritarian bargain’ over the last forty years – one of societal militarisation in return for domestic security – and that this came at the expense of their welfare and social mobility.

“However, health and military spending cannot be predicted by each other in this troubled region. Policy analysts should not single out military spending as a main culprit for the lack of investment in public goods.

“Once again we find that straightforward explanations for unrest in the Middle East and North Africa are tenuous on close analysis.”

Findings dispute “guns versus butter” narrative as a major factor behind the Arab Spring. Researchers caution against uncritically applying lessons from Western nations to interpret public policy decisions in the Middle East.

Policy analysts should not single out military spending as a main culprit for the lack of investment in public goodsAdam CouttsHossam el-HamalawyMedics transferring injured protesters in Abbassiya Square, Egypt


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

YesLicense type: Attribution-ShareAlike
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Military spending did not “crowd out” welfare in Middle East prior to Arab Spring

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 07/24/2018 - 12:00

Research casts doubt on the widely-held view that spiralling military expenditure across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) “crowded out” investment in healthcare and public services, leading to civil unrest that eventually exploded in the Arab Spring revolutions.

The so-called “guns versus butter” or “welfare versus warfare” hypotheses – that prioritised military spending resulted in neglect of health and education, thereby creating conditions that fomented public rebellion – is considered by many experts to be a root cause of the uprisings that gripped the region during 2011.

However, a team of researchers who analysed economic and security data from MENA nations in the 16 years leading up to the Arab Spring found no evidence of a trade-off between spending on the military and public services, specifically healthcare.

The researchers from Cambridge and the Lebanese American University argue that much of the evidence for the ‘guns versus butter’ causal link come from analyses of wealthy European nations, which has then been assumed to hold true for the Middle East. 

They say the study’s findings, published today in the journal Defence and Peace Economics, provide a “cautionary note” against a reliance on simplistic correlations based on data from OECD nations to draw important policy conclusions about the causes of turmoil in the Middle East.  

“Our research finds reports of this apparent spending trade-off prior to the Arab Spring to be somewhat spurious,” said Dr Adam Coutts, based at Cambridge University’s Department of Sociology.

“Academics and policy-makers should be careful in assuming that models and results from studies of other regions can be transplanted onto the Middle East and North Africa,” he said.

“Determining the cause of unrest is a rather more complex task than some experts may suggest. Historical experiences and political economy factors need to be considered.”    

While only Saudi Arabia is in the top ten global nations for military spending in terms of hard cash, when calculated as a share of GDP six of the top ten military spenders are MENA nations.

Coutts and colleagues ran World Bank data through detailed statistical models to explore the trade-off between spending on military and on welfare – health, in this case – of 18 different MENA nations from 1995 up to the start of the Arab Spring in 2011.

The team also looked at casualties resulting from domestic terror attacks in an attempt to estimate security needs that might have helped drive military spending in a region plagued by terrorism. 

They found no statistically significant evidence that increased military spending had an impact on health investment. “Contrary to existing evidence from many European nations, we found that levels of military expenditure do not induce or affect cuts to healthcare in the Middle East and North Africa,” said co-author Dr Adel Daoud from Cambridge’s Centre for Business Research.

The researchers also found no evidence for casualties from terrorism affecting either health or military spending – perhaps a result of the routine nature of such occurrences in the region.

“There may have been a policy adaptation in which regional conflicts and security threats are no longer the main influence on government security and military spending decisions,” said Daoud.

Adam Coutts added: “It has been argued that Arab populations accepted an ‘authoritarian bargain’ over the last forty years – one of societal militarisation in return for domestic security – and that this came at the expense of their welfare and social mobility.

“However, health and military spending cannot be predicted by each other in this troubled region. Policy analysts should not single out military spending as a main culprit for the lack of investment in public goods.

“Once again we find that straightforward explanations for unrest in the Middle East and North Africa are tenuous on close analysis.”

Findings dispute “guns versus butter” narrative as a major factor behind the Arab Spring. Researchers caution against uncritically applying lessons from Western nations to interpret public policy decisions in the Middle East.

Policy analysts should not single out military spending as a main culprit for the lack of investment in public goodsAdam CouttsHossam el-HamalawyMedics transferring injured protesters in Abbassiya Square, Egypt


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

YesLicense type: Attribution-ShareAlike
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Cambridge to appoint DeepMind Chair of Machine Learning

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 07/24/2018 - 10:24

The new chair, which will be based at Cambridge’s Department of Computer Science and Technology, will build on the University’s strengths in computer science and engineering, and will be a focal point for the wide range of AI-related research taking place across the University. Cambridge researchers are designing systems that are cybersecure, model human reasoning, interact in affective ways with us, uniquely identify us by our face and give insights into our biological makeup.

The first DeepMind Chair is expected to take up their position in October 2019, following an international search by the department. The chair will have full academic freedom to pursue research in the field of machine learning.

Cambridge has a long tradition of excellence in computer science, and is home to the largest technology cluster in Europe. The DeepMind Chair will build on this tradition by enhancing Cambridge’s capacity in AI-related research, and will contribute to the UK’s standing as a global hub in this rapidly-growing area.

The gift is part of a wider DeepMind programme to encourage uptake of machine learning, to support the wider academic ecosystem. As part of these efforts, DeepMind will give a donation to support four Master’s students from underrepresented groups wishing to study machine learning and computer science at Cambridge. More information will be made available this coming autumn, for scholarships beginning in the 2019 academic year.

Demis Hassabis, DeepMind’s co-founder and CEO, completed his undergraduate degree in computer science at Queens’ College, Cambridge and received his PhD from UCL, while numerous other employees continue to give back to Cambridge through teaching and mentorship.

“I have many happy memories from my time as an undergraduate at Cambridge, so it’s now a real honour for DeepMind to be able to contribute back to the Department of Computer Science and Technology and support others through their studies,” said Hassabis. “My hope is that the DeepMind Chair in Machine Learning will help extend Cambridge’s already world-leading teaching and research capacities, and support further scientific breakthroughs towards the development of safe and ethical AI.”

“This gift will not only enhance Cambridge’s strengths in the field of AI research, but will benefit the UK more broadly, as AI has such transformative potential in so many aspects of our lives,” said Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. “Our researchers are not only developing these new technologies, but are working to ensure that they benefit humanity. This new Professorship is an important piece of that puzzle.”

“This new Professorship will build on our existing strengths and become an important focus for research and teaching in applied AI,” said Professor Ann Copestake, Head of the Department of Computer Science and Technology. “The interdisciplinary environment in the University will help the development of ethical and sustainable AI-based solutions to complex social, economic and environmental challenges.”

Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries Margot James MP said: “The UK already has a global standing in AI and this new post at Cambridge is another string to our bow. Through our Industrial Strategy and £1bn AI sector deal, we are creating the right environment for the technology to be developed in the UK. I welcome any initiative which will help us achieve our aim of making sure it improves our economy and society.”

The University of Cambridge will establish a DeepMind Chair of Machine Learning, thanks to a benefaction from the world-leading British AI company.  

This gift will not only enhance Cambridge’s strengths in the field of AI research, but will benefit the UK more broadly, as AI has such transformative potential in so many aspects of our lives.Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Cambridge to appoint DeepMind Chair of Machine Learning

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Tue, 07/24/2018 - 10:24

The new chair, which will based at Cambridge’s Department of Computer Science and Technology, will build on the University’s strengths in computer science and engineering, and will be a focus point for the wide range of AI-related research taking place across the University. Cambridge researchers are designing systems that are cybersecure, model human reasoning, interact in affective ways with us, uniquely identify us by our face and give insights into our biological makeup.

The first DeepMind Chair is expected to take up their position in October 2019, following an international search by the department. The chair will have full academic freedom to pursue research in the field of machine learning.

Cambridge has a long tradition of excellence in computer science, and is home to the largest technology cluster in Europe. The DeepMind Chair will build on this tradition by enhancing Cambridge’s capacity in AI-related research, and will contribute to the UK’s standing as a global hub in this rapidly-growing area.

The gift is part of a wider DeepMind programme to encourage uptake of machine learning, to support the wider academic ecosystem. As part of these efforts, DeepMind will give a donation to support four Master’s students from underrepresented groups wishing to study machine learning and computer science at Cambridge. More information will be made available this coming autumn, for scholarships beginning in the 2019 academic year.

Demis Hassabis, DeepMind’s co-founder and CEO, completed his undergraduate degree in computer science at Queens’ College, Cambridge and received his PhD from UCL, while numerous other employees continue to give back to Cambridge through teaching and mentorship.

“I have many happy memories from my time as an undergraduate at Cambridge, so it’s now a real honour for DeepMind to be able to contribute back to the Department of Computer Science and Technology and support others through their studies,” said Hassabis. “My hope is that the DeepMind Chair in Machine Learning will help extend Cambridge’s already world-leading teaching and research capacities, and support further scientific breakthroughs towards the development of safe and ethical AI.”

“This gift will not only enhance Cambridge’s strengths in the field of AI research, but will benefit the UK more broadly, as AI has such transformative potential in so many aspects of our lives,” said Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. “Our researchers are not only developing these new technologies, but are working to ensure that they benefit humanity. This new Professorship is an important piece of that puzzle.”

“This new Professorship will build on our existing strengths and become an important focus for research and teaching in applied AI,” said Professor Ann Copestake, Head of the Department of Computer Science and Technology. “The interdisciplinary environment in the University will help the development of ethical and sustainable AI-based solutions to complex social, economic and environmental challenges.”

Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries Margot James MP said: “The UK already has a global standing in AI and this new post at Cambridge is another string to our bow. Through our Industrial Strategy and £1bn AI sector deal, we are creating the right environment for the technology to be developed in the UK. I welcome any initiative which will help us achieve our aim of making sure it improves our economy and society.”

The University of Cambridge will establish a DeepMind Chair of Machine Learning, thanks to a benefaction from the world-leading British AI company.  

This gift will not only enhance Cambridge’s strengths in the field of AI research, but will benefit the UK more broadly, as AI has such transformative potential in so many aspects of our lives.Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor


The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Images, including our videos, are Copyright ©University of Cambridge and licensors/contributors as identified.  All rights reserved. We make our image and video content available in a number of ways – as here, on our main website under its Terms and conditions, and on a range of channels including social media that permit your use and sharing of our content under their respective Terms.

Yes
Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Cambridge man prosecuted for abandoning burnt out vehicle

Cambridge Council Feed - Mon, 07/23/2018 - 16:51

A CAMBRIDGE man has been successfully prosecuted by Cambridge City Council for abandoning his vehicle. 

Duane Butcher, of Molewood Close, was ordered to pay a fine of £660 by Cambridge Magistrates, on Thursday 10 May, after he failed to claim his Renault Megane, which had been left parked on Molewood Close in a damaged and burnt out condition.

The vehicle had been reported to the council as abandoned and a hazard to the local community.

Categories: Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Scientists generate key life event in artificial mouse ‘embryo’ created from stem cells

Cambridge University NewsFeed - Mon, 07/23/2018 - 16:00

The team, led by Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz at the University of Cambridge, previously created a much simpler structure resembling a mouse embryo in culture, using two types of stem cells – the body’s ‘master cells’ – and a 3D scaffold on which they can grow.

Now, in a study published today in Nature Cell Biology, Professor Zernicka-Goetz and colleagues have developed the embryo-like structures further, using not just two but three types of stem cells which let them reconstruct a process known as gastrulation, an essential step in which the embryonic cells being self-organising into the correct structure for an embryo to form.

Once a mammalian egg has been fertilised by a sperm, it divides multiple times to generate a small, free-floating ball comprising three types of stem cells. At the stage of development known as the ‘blastocyst’ stage, the particular stem cells that will eventually make the future body – the embryonic stem cells (ESCs) – cluster together inside the embryo towards one end. The other two types of stem cell in the blastocyst are the extra-embryonic trophoblast stem cells (TSCs), which will form the placenta, and primitive endoderm stem cells (PESCs) that will form the yolk sac, ensuring that the foetus’s organs develop properly and providing essential nutrients.

In March 2017, Professor Zernicka-Goetz and colleagues published a study that described how, using a combination of genetically-modified mouse ESCs and TSCs, together with a 3D ‘jelly’ scaffold known as an extracellular matrix, they were able to grow a structure capable of assembling itself and whose development and architecture very closely resembled the natural embryo. There was a remarkable degree of communication between the two types of stem cell: in a sense, the cells were telling each other where in the embryo to place themselves.

However, a key step in the life of the embryo – gastrulation, described by the eminent biologist Lewis Wolpert as “truly the most important time in your life” – was missing. Gastrulation is the point at which the embryo transforms from being a single layer to three layers: an inner layer (endoderm), middle layer (mesoderm) and outer layer (endoderm), determining which tissues or organs the cells will then develop into.

“Proper gastrulation in normal development is only possible if you have all three types of stem cell. In order to reconstruct this complex dance, we had to add the missing third stem cell,” says Professor Zernicka-Goetz. “By replacing the jelly that we used in earlier experiments with this third type of stem cell, we were able to generate structures whose development was astonishingly successful.”

By adding the PESCs, the team was able to see their ‘embryo’ undergo gastrulation, organising itself into the three body layers that all animals have. The timing, architecture and patterns of gene activity reflected that of natural embryo development.

Image: Synthetic embryo like structure with embryonic part generated from the embryonic stem cells (pink) and and extra-embryonic tissues in blue. (Credit: Zernicka-Goetz lab, University of Cambridge)

“Our artificial embryos underwent the most important event in life in the culture dish,” adds Professor Zernicka-Goetz. “They are now extremely close to real embryos. To develop further, they would have to implant into the body of the mother or an artificial placenta.”

The researchers say they should now be in a position to better understand how the three stem cell types interact to enable the embryo to develop, by experimentally altering biological pathways in one cell type and seeing how this affects the behaviour of one, or both, of the other cell types.

“We can also now try to apply this to the equivalent human stem cell types and so study the very earliest events in human embryo development without actually having to use natural human embryos,” says Professor Zernicka-Goetz. 

By applying these studies side-by-side, it should be possible to learn a great deal about the fundamental aspects of the first stages of mammalian development. In fact, such comparisons should enable scientists to study events that happen beyond day 14 in human pregnancies, but without using 14-day-old human embryos; UK law permits embryos to be studied in the laboratory only up to this period.

“The early stages of embryo development are when a large proportion of pregnancies are lost and yet it is a stage that we know very little about,” says Professor Zernicka-Goetz. "Now we have a way of simulating embryonic development in the culture dish, so it should be possible to understand exactly what is going on during this remarkable period in an embryo’s life, and why sometimes this process fails.”

The research was funded by the European Research Council and Wellcome.

Reference
Sozen, B et al. Self-assembly of embryonic and two extra-embryonic stem cell types into gastrulating embryo structures. Nature Cell Biology; 23 Jul 2018; DOI: 10.1038/s41556-018-0147-7

The creation of artificial embryos has moved a step forward after an international team of researchers used mouse stem cells to produce artificial embryo-like structures capable of ‘gastrulation’, a key step in the life of any embryo.

Our artificial embryos underwent the most important event in life in the culture dish. They are now extremely close to real embryosMagdalena Zernicka-GoetzZernicka-Goetz lab, University of CambridgeSynthetic embryo-like structure made of three stem cells types in yellow, pink and greenResearcher Profile: Dr Berna Sozen

Dr Berna Sozen is living the dream.

Originally from Turkey, she came to Cambridge to join Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz’s team. “During my MSc, as a young passionate researcher-to-be, I was fascinated by her research, which resolves the puzzles in early mammalian life,” she says. “My dream has come true and I have spent several years at Cambridge now.”

Understanding the very early stages of embryo development is important because it may help explain why a significant number of human pregnancies fail at around the time the embryo implants into the wall of the uterus. Key events after implantation stage of embryo development are largely inaccessible to science because they occur in the ‘black box’ of the human uterus even before most women know that they are pregnant.

The research is not always easy, of course – her work with Professor Zernicka-Goetz, growing embryo-like structures from mouse stem cells, really is at the cutting-edge of research – but it can be hugely satisfying.

“Observing these self-developing embryo-like structures under the microscope is so exciting that I do not care even if there is a need to be in lab in the middle of night!” she says. “I still clearly remember the moment that I and my co-author saw these structures for the first time. It was a breath-taking moment. Those moments are what we live for in science.”

Berna is helping contribute to the immense legacy that Cambridge has to offer in embryology and stem cell research.

“I work in the same building where Nobel Laureate Bob Edwards succeeded in fertilising a human egg in vitro. Another Nobel Laureate Sir Martin Evans was the first to culture mouse embryonic stem cells and cultivate them in a laboratory at University of Cambridge,” she says. “These works revolutionised treatments for fertility and laid the foundations for human stem cell research. These great scientists paved the way for Magdalena’s pioneering research in embryology. I feel I couldn’t have been in any better place for my research than this.”

The beautiful images of early embryos produced by Professor Zernicka-Goetz’s team no doubt help inspire Berna’s other passion in life, photography. “Colours and patterns become glamorous behind the lens and I always find the beauty in everything,” she says. “I think this makes me a better biologist!”


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