Can you believe it’s October already?! We can’t! But we’re glad as we got to hear from three more fantastic speakers about their work here in the Steel City. Our new venue, The Old Queen’s Head, also seems to be going down a treat, with our audience members enjoying to wide range of drinks on offer, as well as the tasty pub food. This week we tried one of their pizzas, spinach with goat’s cheese, and we’ve got to say it was scrummy! Anyway, enough about the food and drink, here’s what you missed from the night…
Our first speaker was Jake Mills from the Department of Immunity, Infection and Cardiovascular Disease at The University of Sheffield. Jakes talk titled “Investigating the Reasons for Virally-Induced Asthma Attacks“, focused on his research exploring why people get asthma attacks when suffering from the common cold. Asthma is caused by the breakdown of cytokines in the airways and causes 2500 deaths per year, whilst costing the UK £5.2 million. But why does the common cold, caused by the Rhinovirus, instigate asthmas attacks? Well, Jake has discovered that the rhinovirus causes an up-regulation of cytokines and also causes the secretion of a glycoprotein called Tenacin-C. Tenacin-C is found at very high levels in the lungs of asthmatic patients, but it is not found in the lungs of healthy patients. Jake wanted to know what the function of Tenacin-C is, and why does the Rhinovirus increase its secretion? To answer his questions, Jake uses a technique known as a bronchoscopy, which uses a small microscope on a lead (known as a bronchoscope) to look at your throat, larynx and lower airways, including your lungs. During this procedure Jake removes bronchial cells from healthy patients to perform experiments upon. Jake has grown these cells outside of the lungs, in a process known as tissue culture, and infected them with the Rhinovirus for 72 hours. He then assessed the cells to observe any changes. Jake found that when healthy bronchial cells are infected with Rhinovirus there is an increase in the level and secretion of Tenacin-C, as seen in asthmatic patients. He also observed an increase in cellular proliferation, airway remodelling and an inflammatory response. So, as research goes, this leads on to more questions, which Jake is now trying to answer in the final year of his PhD. He hopes to better understand why Tenacin-C induces an inflammatory response, which inflammatory pathways are activated, and whether they can be blocked to possibly help the symptoms of asthma.
Next up we had Belle Rosales Cadena from the Department of Psychology at The University of Sheffield. Belle’s research focuses on body image and how our perceptions, feelings and thoughts influence how we recognise our body image and how this affects our own personal well-being. Belle began by asking the audience how they see their own bodies. As you could probably guess, the majority of the audience did not like the way they looked, and would like to change something about their body. Belle highlighted this as self-criticism and pointed out that we all do this about ourselves and our bodies a lot of the time, but it mainly affects women the most. But Belle brought to our attention that we are much more than just a body – we have personalities, mental abilities, physical strengths, feelings, thoughts... She also highlighted that other people’s opinions and the media have a big influence on our own perception of our body image. Belle’s research aims to build an online intervention to help women to deal with their body image and reflect on it in a positive way. She wants us to consider self-compassion, which incorporates the ideas of self-kindness, mindfulness and common humanity. By common humanity, she wants to stop any isolation women feel due to thinking they are in this world of self-criticism alone, and open their eyes to help them understand that there are many other women in the same situation feeling the same feelings. Belle would like to use mindfulness techniques to help women to stop over-thinking and continually over-analysing themselves, and to be grateful for their bodies. Her ultimate aim is to help women to love themselves and appreciate their bodies, as it’s not just about how you look, but about what your body does for you. Just think about how much you take your hands for granted, for example. Imagine if you no longer had them. What wouldn’t you be able to do? Now take some time to take a step back and appreciate them, thank them for everything that they do for you and what they help you to achieve in life.
Finally we had Wasim Ahmed from the Information School at The University of Sheffield. Wasims research analyses social media data to look for insights into infectious diseases. Why social media you may wonder? Well, in the 21st century there has been a burst of social media platforms and these platforms are used by a massive subset of the global population. They are important and established communication tools. Originally intended for personal use, overtime social media has come to be used for commercial insight into brands, and also (in this instance) for academic research. Wasim uses Twitter for his research, as the data is available in real time and it is relatively straight forward to analyse and allocate resources. The number of tweets (or in academic terms ‘publications’) on Twitter far outnumbers all other social media outlets. So why investigate the outbreak of infectious diseases in this way? Simply because people talk. And they talk a lot. Especially on social media, and especially on Twitter. In this way, Wasim can also gain more insight into a potential outbreak then an online survey, collect and analyse the data as it is happening, rather than retrospectively. For example, each tweet has 24 metadata points that can be analysed, but these tweets also need to be handled with care. Tweets can be interpreted differently, so a researcher needs to know how to properly analyse them and what to take at face value. For example, during the Ebola virus outbreak there were many tweets across the world, some of them highlighting new outbreaks, but some of them also talking about a possible zombie apocalypse. Now, the authors of these tweets may have had genuine fears of a zombie apocalypse, but they may have also just been cracking a joke. To work around this issue, a process called machine learning may be advantageous as it could be programmed to analyse specific and relative tweets, ignoring those that may be unreliable. It would also save Wasim a lot of time, as it has taken him 6 months to analyse 13,000 tweets! In conclusion, using social media could provide a new platform as a useful alternative to traditional qualitative methods for health research.
We think you can agree it was a great night! We received some great questions from the audience, which our speakers answered with great enthusiasm, so thank you very much to everyone that came along. We shall be back on Wednesday 1st November from 7pm at The Old Queen’s Head, where we shall be celebrating 1 year of PubhD Sheffield! Come and celebrate with us! We may even bring cakes :)
Devon and Emily