PubhD Leicester September 2016

The second Tuesday of the month is a busy time at Duffys. The front half of the pub are watching the Celtic-Barcelona game in the Champions League while the back half of the pub are ready for PubhD. Looking at the score in the football, I think that those of us in the room at the back had a much better evening…

First up is Karoline who is researching normal and cystic kidney development.

Kidneys filter blood and they help get rid of waste, cystic kidneys develop cysts, which hamper their use. This can lead to renal failure and the only cure at the moment is dialysis or transplant. It in an inherited disease and it can be passed on in a dominant way or recessive way. It’s dominant in around 1 in 100 to 1 in 400 and recessive is less common. As it’s inherited, the issue is in the very DNA.

The DNA makes proteins in the cell and those cells form together to form organs. Each organ has a specific structure but in polycystic kidney disease a protein might not be functioning in the right way. So, organs do not form in the way that they are supposed to. Kidneys can become filled with cysts and they can no longer filter blood properly. It can lead to fluid filled cysts or air filled ones and can lead to enlarged kidneys or undersized ones.

Cells have an “antennae” used to receive information, which is then passed on from protein to protein and allows cells to react to what is happening outside of them. If some proteins are mutated then the information isn’t processed correctly and so cysts are formed. Or it could be that the proteins cause cells to divide in the wrong direction.

Key learning: There are around 70,000 sufferers in the UK

Next up is Jenny, researching forensic psychology, specifically females who commit intimate partner violence.

Jenny is looking at offenders with treatment needs and how to prevent them from re-offending in the future. Intimate partner violence and abuse is domestic violence. This is defined as anything that takes place in the home environment; it isn’t just drunken men beating up their wives. She is also comparing men and women -we already know a lot about why men commit intimate partner violence and abuse. There are two camps here. The feminist one says that we live in a patriarchal society and so it’s a way of demonstrating power over women. The second camp see it as a much more complicated psychological reaction.

It’s taken a long time for society to recognise that battered women are a problem but now women can escape these relationships. On the other side of the coin, it’s very difficult to get men to come forward when they have been the victim of intimate partner violence and abuse. Sometimes women commit it as self-defence and in fact feminists claim that this is the only reason. However, it’s much more complicated than that. Women self-report that they commit just as much as men and that sometimes they start it so it can’t all be self-defence.

What are women’s treatment needs? The “power and control” method that is used for men isn’t effective for men and we don’t know yet whether it is appropriate for women. Jenny’s research breaks down into three areas:

1. Systematic review – going through the literature to see what the risk factors are for women who have committed intimate partner violence and abuse
2. Qualitative study – looking at different factors for women in prison for intimate partner violence and abuse
3. Interview female prisoners – What is their story?

Once this is done, can we build a theory for why women commit abuse?

Key learning: There are 80,000 people in prison in the UK

Finally we have Barbara, who is researching cancer detection.

The word cancer doesn’t mean anything – it’s just the rapid growth of cells that will eventually attack organs. There can’t really be a “cure” for it and people don’t actually die from cancer. But what causes it? Imagine that all the cells of your body are different towns. Each town contains the same library and each library contains books that have the instructions for building the town. If the town is by the sea, what do we need? Well, we probably won’t need books on avalanches. So, the librarians get rid of books that aren’t relevant for that town. The books are DNA and the change is how the cell uses the DNA.

As we get older, our librarians get older and they can start to make mistakes as they transcribe the books. Most of the time these “typos” aren’t a problem. We have lots of mistakes in our bodies but the cells will usually “self-destruct”. The older you get, the more chance you have of getting cancer.

How can we identify cancer at an earlier stage, whilst it is still treatable? Even after treatment you can still have some cancer cells in the body but if they come back, because of their symptoms it could be too late. In clinics, we use biopsies – a needle enters the tumour to give a snapshot. However, this can miss things.

So, how can we identify things without doing lots and lots of biopsies? The answer lies in liquid biopsies. When cells die, DNA is released into the blood. Hence by looking at the blood it is possible to get a real-time, global picture of the body. Then we can start to see if we can tell which areas of the cancer are more mutated and potentially use this to monitor cancer progression. This technique can be used to detect for any type of cancer except brain cancer.

Key learning: This new technique costs £2,000 to check six patients.

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