Credit: University of Glasgow

World Changers: November

By Charlotte Christian

The Glasgow Guardian takes a monthly dive into the world changing research being carried out on campus.

This past month, the University of Glasgow has continued to assert itself as a global centre of innovation. The breadth of research emanating from the university is impressive, just this month alone we have seen everything from advances in Alzheimer’s treatment, to scientists solving a century-old mystery, once again placing UofG at the forefront of discovery.

Researchers at UofG’s new Advanced Research Centre (ARC) have discovered a new drug treatment that slows the progression of neurodegenerative disease in mice, renewing hope of treatment for diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The drug was developed jointly by teams from Vanderbilt University, Tennessee and the University of Glasgow, an undertaking spanning the course of a decade. The research found that by drug-activating a brain protein called the M1-receptor, involved in memory and learning, the lifespan of mice experiencing neurodegeneration can be extended. This breakthrough brings renewed hope, with potential use in slowing the progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Until now, global efforts by scientists have been unsuccessful in finding a drug able to halt the progression of the disease, only able to treat symptoms of the disease. Professor Andrew Tobin, Director of ARC and Professor of Pharmacology at UofG, said “The world desperately needs clues as to how to stop neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease – and our study is of critical importance as we show that many of the features of the disease seen in our animal model can be halted by our drug treatment.”

UofG researchers have been busy participating in a new project that aims to provide Sub-Saharan Africa with cheap and portable methods to diagnose diseases. The leading cause of death across Africa is infectious disease, the most prevalent being HIV/AIDS, diarrhoea, malaria, and tuberculosis. Whilst the African continent has an enormous health burden caused by infectious disease, it also has the greatest gap between diagnostic need and diagnostic provision. This saw the creation of the Didida project (Digital Innovations and Diagnostics for Infectious Diseases), the formation of an international partnership between eight countries. UofG researchers have developed system prototypes able to diagnose Malaria and schistosomiasis, and will help establish a graduate school, creating a new generation of researchers armed with the Didida tools.  By linking high grade health tests to mobile phones, access to quality healthcare in underfunded areas can be provided. Point-of-care tests can bridge the distance between the patient and the health professional, improving and decentralising overburdened healthcare systems.

The theme of academic excellence is continued as Professor Rory O’Connor is awarded American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Research Award for his research into the psychology of suicide. He is the first Scottish recipient of the award for his work on better understanding the transition from suicidal thoughts to suicidal acts. The internationally acclaimed award is given to “a researcher or group of researchers who have completed significant research to advance a specific area of suicide prevention.” Professor O’Connor thanked his collaborators and stated his “heartfelt thanks to all those directly affected by suicide and suicidal behaviour, who have taken part in our research and given so generously of their time.”

A new study has reported that many deaths and hospitalisations of children in care could have been avoided. The report was produced by the UofG’s Social and Public Health Sciences Unit which was established to investigate the health outcomes of care-experienced children across Scotland. It indicated that care-experienced children are more likely to face adverse health events, higher mortality, mental health-related hospitalisations, chronic conditions, and injuries, compared to the general population. Notably, the report showed that hospitalisation rates for diabetes and epilepsy are lower while the child is in care, compared to before and after. A key takeaway was that hospitalisations for depression and avoidable deaths increase after young people leave care, and there is a dire need for better support extending beyond ages 16-18.

With monkeypox being declared a pandemic in July of this year, a £2 million investment in a new UK research group leads the way in tackling the outbreak. UofG’s Centre for Virus Research, alongside The Pirbright Institute, are leading the consortium to develop better diagnostic tests and determine potential therapies, as well as study vaccine effectiveness and the virus’ transmission/spread. Professor Palmarini, project co-lead from the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Virus Research, stated that in order to tackle the monkeypox pandemic, collective action is essential, “By bringing together research expertise in different areas, we will harness the UK’s world-leading knowledge to learn more about how the virus works and spreads and provide the foundations for the development of potential new treatments.” The group will focus on developing control measures, screen potential drugs, and study monkeypox to discover potential paths of transmission between animals and us.

Researchers or detectives? Scientists solve the century-old mystery of the origin of a Martian meteorite called Lafayette. The meteorite has taught a lot about Mars through previous research and was donated to Purdue University, Indiana, in the early 20th century, but its origin was uncertain. That is until, a UofG planetary scientist, Dr Áine O’Brien, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical & Earth Sciences noticed the presence of a toxin that often contaminated crops and causes sickness in humans and animals whilst looking to learn more about the organic molecules preserved in Lafayette – which in turn could tell us more about the possibility of life on Mars. By dating the toxin, with help from Purdue researchers, they were able to confirm a story reported in 1935 that a Black student at Purdue University witnessed it land in a pond where he was fishing, recovered it and donated it to the university. With the help of archival research, the team narrowed it down to four Black male students that were enrolled at Purdue at the time of the meteorite’s descent.

Last but not least, a new study “IRONMAN” shows that an iron infusion every one to two years could reduce the risk of hospitalisation of those with heart failure and people dying from heart-related causes by 24% compared to usual care. Research funded by the British Heart Foundation showed that an IV iron infusion is a safe and effective way to reduce the risk of hospitalisation, a prospect that may help the approximately 1 million people living in the UK with heart failure. This new treatment is a straightforward and inexpensive way to considerably improve quality of life, simultaneously reducing hospitalisation rates in an already overburdened NHS.


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