As the Summer holidays draw closer we find ourselves at the last PubhD Sheffield of the (academic) year! Time for all the BBQs and sunshine to appear, and for one last assemblage of researchers down the pub, before they head off to conferences - in expectedly exotic places!
To kick off the event, we were treated to the return of our very first PubhD Sheffield speaker, Isobel Williams. Izzy is in the final year of her PhD, between the fields of psychology and neurology at the University of Sheffield. She has been working with people who have Functional Neurological Symptoms (FNS) - which affect up to 30% of neurology outpatients but are relatively unheard of! FNS are neurological symptoms with no traditional medical explanation. There are four main types of symptom: non-epileptic attacks (seizures), movement disorders (e.g., tremor), cognitive problems (e.g., difficulties with memory), and sensory disturbances (e.g., visual impairment). She has a specific interest in seeing whether the way an individual processes emotions is associated with these symptoms. She has recruited patients and healthy volunteers to help with her study, and from her work, it might be suggested that patients who experience non-epileptic attacks have greater difficulty processing emotions relating to anxiety and trauma than those without non-epileptic attacks. Izzy explains that non-epileptic attacks could be described as almost like the body’s emergency button - as if some people’s bodies are trying to respond to emotion by using physical movement! This finding has very interesting implications for the way that patients with FNS may be treated in the future.
Our second speaker was Chris Devany, a second year PhD student from the Department of Psychology, Sociology and Politics at Sheffield Hallam University. Chris is interested in young male ‘Hidden NEETs’ - men who are ‘Not in Employment, Education or Training’ and are not claiming benefit or welfare services from the state. He wants to understand who these people are, why they aren't claiming, and if they do actually need help! There have been five main groups identified so far: Pakistani/Somali, Middle-class, Homeless, People involved with crime, and miscellaneous (eg people between jobs). Chris plans to interview both stakeholders, like job centre and social workers, and also actual male NEETs, in order to understand the problem. So far, some of the key factors influencing young male ‘hidden’ NEETs include mental health, stigma, fear of sanctions and having skills for purpose in the workplace. Chris still has more interviews lined up, but he hopes that this work may influence social policy and approaches to helping young male NEETs throughout society.
Our final speaker was second year PhD student Claire Green, who studies within the Sheffield Institute for Translational Neuroscience at the University of Sheffield. Claire is interested in how two different genes can cause the same disease, and to look into this, she is modelling data which specifically relates to neurodegenerative diseases. But because people are easier to visualise, she first introduced us to Brian and Jeff, two imaginary individuals who both have Alzheimer’s Disease: Brian has a mutation in a gene called ‘APP’ on chromosome 21, whilst Jeff has a mutation on gene ‘PSEN1’ on chromosome 14. She explains that whilst each of these people have a unique mutation, they both display the same disease - how can this be so when the genes are (metaphorically speaking) oceans apart? She reminded us that our DNA is made up of lots of genes, which then code for a message known as RNA, that can be transported around the cell in order to make proteins. These proteins are then the things that form building blocks and make things happen in our cells. She described that an error in our genes, is sort of like a typo - however this typo cannot be overlooked, it just creates a slightly different ‘recipe’ of proteins to be made! Claire is specifically interested in a protein called TDP-43, whose recipe is messed up in ~12 different diseases. She is hoping to use computer modelling to look at the similarities and differences in RNA levels of these diseases, with the view to better genetic understanding and possibly even tailored drug treatments based on the genetic makeup of the diseases!
We would like to say thank you to all our speakers this year - its been a delight to hear about your research and meet you all. We really have seen a wonderful mix of disciplines represented at PubhD Sheffield this year, and we look forward to seeing and hearing from many more in the new programme. If you would like to volunteer to talk, or would like to come along to the next programme of events, please dont hesitate to get in contact or follow us on social media!
Have a great summer!
Emily + Devon
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