The Main building of the University with the South of Glasgow behind it
Credit: University of Glasgow

World Changers in Focus: September

By Katrina Williams

A deep dive into the world-changing research by Team UofG.

This month has been an impressive one for the University of Glasgow. The Times’ Higher Education Scottish University of the Year has risen to 73rd in the QS world rankings and 11th in The Guardian’s UK table. In this instalment of our World Changers column, The Glasgow Guardian takes a deep dive into the work of researchers and alumni from the University throughout September.

Current student and Glasgow School of Art alumni, Sarah Iannucci, has developed a web app in order to explain and visualize the effects of Covid mutations to the general public. The app itself – named the SARS-CoV-2 Spike Mutation Explorer – utilises 3D models, illustration, and animation, exemplifying a variety of variants alongside “characteristic mutations” which users can interact with. Sarah hopes that the app will provide a much-needed contextual link to scientific reports concerning variants of the virus in order to improve understanding for a range of “non-expert” groups, like journalists so that further information about them can be circulated throughout the general public in a comprehensible format.

In another feat of engineering, a team at the University have created worm-like robots which could potentially be implemented within both the health and industry sectors. The 4.5cm long robots contain “intrinsic strain sensors”, the execution of which has been made possible by precursory work by the University of Glasgow’s Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (BEST) group, who have discovered methods to insert pliable electronics within the worms. The group foresees the robots being used in the production of “more lifelike prosthetics” or in navigation of difficult-to-reach sites in heavy industry or potentially in reaction to natural disasters in order to reach survivors caught in debris. Professor Ravinder Dahiya, leader of the group, said: “The ability of soft robots like these to adapt to their surroundings through seamlessly embedded stretchable sensors could help autonomous robots more effectively navigate through even the most challenging environments.”

“The group foresees the robots being used in reaction to natural disasters in order to reach survivors caught in debris.”

This month the University has also continued its reputation of being a “world leader” in cancer research. A study led by researchers at the University has led to the discovery of an “autophagy inhibitor” in chronic myeloid leukaemia; autophagy is in essence the cell’s survival mechanism against pre-existing cancer treatments such as chemotherapy. Therefore it is hoped that using this knowledge in conjunction with standard treatment will provide a combination therapy for blood cancers.  It’s the first inhibitor of its kind to show efficacy against leukaemia cells and the scientists hope it may also be applicable for other cancer types, such as pancreatic, colorectal and lung cancers.

“…it is hoped that using this knowledge will provide a combination therapy for blood cancers…”

In the run-up to COP26, the University is contributing to a host of events in Glasgow and sustainability research. One of the initiatives that has found the spotlight this month is the green zine project which received funding from the UK government. The University of Glasgow is collaborating with the Glasgow Zine Library in order to publish zines made by 14-18-year-olds, tackling the topic of climate change. The project, which received £120,000 funding this month from the UK government, will encourage a range of young adults to participate in various workshops to create the zines. Through this, it is hoped that participants will not only have their understanding of the effects of climate change widened, but that they will find confidence in pursuing “potential careers in publishing, writing, or illustration”. Senior Lecturer in Children’s Literature Studies, Dr Ramdarshan Bold, said: “We hope this project will serve as a way to expand young people’s imagination, thus empowering them to co-create narratives for transformative change, in addition to addressing serious problems, and experiences, in a creative way.”

“Glasgow is collaborating with the Glasgow Zine Library in order to publish zines made by 14-18-year-olds.”

Finally, University researchers have also produced important studies to aid the understanding of mental illness. A recent study has revealed connections between child maltreatment and mental illness in adulthood. Data contributed from over 56,000 participants via the UK Biobank shows that those who have undergone “three or more maltreatment types” – such as neglect and emotional, sexual, or physical abuse – are much more likely to develop issues with their mental health as adults. Though researchers also attempted to pin down specific factors explaining this relationship, they were unable to find any particularly substantial connection. Dr Frederick Ho, the study’s lead author, commented: “As we did not identify strong mediators, prevention of child maltreatment should be prioritised to reduce maltreatment-related mental health burdens.”


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