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Recipients:
University College London
University of Cambridge
Award Year:
2018

Results

Politics, Philosophy and Economics of Health 30 Jun 2018

This project will examine benefits sharing for the provision of genetic information in the creation of medical treatments for infectious diseases. Networks to enable the international sharing of genetic material are a cornerstone of pandemic preparedness initiatives. Countries with the highest disease burdens share their isolated virus strains, that are utilised by pharmaceutical companies to create patented therapies, typically inaccessible to the citizens of the country from which they originated. The inequity of such a system is clear. In response to Indonesia’s 2006 protest, the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Framework (PIP) was developed to facilitate benefits sharing. Uniquely, this framework set a standard of practice for governments, academics, and the private sector, and enabled it to be enforced through the use of civil contractual legislation. However, recent scientific and technological advancements, such as gene sequencing data (GSD), may serve to diminish the framework’s capacity to promote global health justice. Through an evaluation of the effectiveness and equity of current policy, this research attempts to highlight areas of tensions that arise in light of recent innovation. If left unaddressed, these new gaps could impede the goal of fairness that these policies set out to achieve, directly impacting the health of individuals globally.

Amount: £27,140
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Understanding Medical Black Boxes: A Philosophical Analysis of AI Explainability 26 Jul 2018

I plan during the next two years to develop a major, multi-year project into AI explainability in medical contexts. This project will connect existing literatures in philosophy of science, philosophy of medicine and medical ethics, where problems of understanding and explanation have been extensively studied, to the emerging literature on explainability in machine learning and the ethics of AI. The aim will be (i) to enhance our understanding of the problems AI systems raise for explainability in medical contexts and (ii) to collaborate with machine learning researchers to develop technical research apt to address these problems. The existing literatures on explainability and understanding in medicine are vast and have not previously been systematically connected to the ethics of AI. To lay the groundworks for a later grant proposal, this application proposes to conduct three pilot-studies, focusing on potential challenges from AI to: (1) mechanistic understanding, (2) clinical judgement and diagnostic reasoning and (3) informed consent. A part-time research assistant will assist in scoping the relevant literatures. Travel to groups at other universities and a workshop in Cambridge will furthermore help establish contacts with a network of researchers interested in the ethics of AI and AI explainability in medical contexts.

Amount: £86,561
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Cambridge

Residues and remains: Anthropology of practices around pregnancy endings 23 Jul 2018

My research explores the practices around pregnancy endings and their remains, including acts of forgetting and remembering, and asks what do these reveal about the status of foetuses, women and mothers in contemporary England? Pregnancy endings provide opportunities to interrogate anthropological assumptions about the contemporary family, motherhood, personhood and kinship. To analyse this, I will focus on the practices in the aftermath of a pregnancy ending to understand what they reveal about the values afforded to the remains in different contexts (clinic, home, burial site, crematorium, grave site etc) and by different stakeholders. My research will explore how reactions to and practices around pregnancy endings and remains reflect wider cultural trends in the UK, particularly around motherhood as highly moralized and notions of foetal personhood. I ask how does grief (or the absence of it) intersect with the relationship of the materiality of the remains and the woman’s body. I will conduct in-depth, embedded and analytic ethnography at the Rose Hill Clinic, East Oxford and other sites. Key outputs include a monograph, 3-4 journal articles, and materials aimed at women/ couples (i.e. newspaper articles, information video, radio/ television), health professionals and relevant others (i.e funeral providers, support groups).

Amount: £388,698
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Menstruation and the moon in early modern England 08 May 2018

The association of menstrual synchrony with the moon relates back to ancient mythologies. Historians largely dismiss the relevance of a lunar theory of menstruation by the Middle Ages, but the moon’s ability to disturb a woman’s womb through her menstrual blood was continuously discussed by early modern medical and natural philosophical writers. This project asks how the sympathetic connection between menstruation and the moon was manifest in learned discourses, vernacular knowledge, and everyday practices. Answering this requires studying women’s knowledge, the relationship between natural and occult philosophy, and the link between theory and practice in medicine. This research draws together rich, diverse manuscript and printed sources to demonstrate how the influence of the moon over the female body was ubiquitous in early modern medicine and natural philosophy. In vernacular medical handbooks, the moon was a popular socio-cultural symbol of femininity and sexual difference. Its power over the female body was demonstrated through practice in recipe books, casebooks, female-authored almanacs and medical treatises on phlebotomy. The cause and consequences of its influence were debated through learned discourse, highlighting the temporal dynamics of menstruation, and the continuous significance of fluids to changing intellectual frameworks of the body.

Amount: £100,057
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Cambridge

Complex Urban Systems for Sustainability and Health (London Hub) 30 Sep 2018

The London Hub for Urban Health, Sustainability and Equity aims to be the world’s foremost transdisciplinary hub for research, training and pubic engagement on urban health. It is founded on two constituent projects – Complex Urban Systems for Sustainability and Health (CUSSH) and Pathways to Equitable Healthy Cities (PEHC) – and involves leading London-based institutions and their global network of collaborating institutions. The Hub’s principal objective is to integrate and coordinate research and stakeholder engagement that support evidence-based policies aimed at improving population health, health equity and environmental sustainability in cities around the world. The Hub, and its projects, will achieve this objective through comparative studies that involve participatory research and coproduction of knowledge among academic researchers, policy makers and practitioners, and civil society; developing models for prospective policy evaluation and applying these models to data from our partner cities; and training the next generation of research and policy leaders in urban health, while establishing the foundations for sustaining and expanding the Hub beyond the Wellcome funding period. The CUSSH project focuses on how to transform cities to address vital environmental and population health imperatives, and entails partnership with the cities of London, Beijing, Kisumu, Nairobi, Ningbo and Rennes.

Amount: £5,150,000
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Investigation into the role of RBM8A/Y14 in the development and function of megakaryocytes and platelets using a human pluripotent stem cell model of haematopoiesis 30 Sep 2018

Platelets are small blood cells, which cause blood to clot, preventing bleeding after injury. They are produced by megakaryocytes, large cells in the bone marrow. In people with low platelet counts (thrombocytopenia), life-threatening bleeding occurs spontaneously or after injury. Studying platelet and megakaryocyte development and function is important in understanding a) diseases causing thrombocytopenia, such as genetic disorders and other conditions, particularly cancer (and chemotherapy) and b) strokes and heart attacks, where platelets are excessively activated, forming clots that block vessels. Using stem cells (special cells capable of becoming any cell type) derived from adult skin or blood samples we grow & study megakaryocytes and platelets in the laboratory. We study a rare genetic disease, Thrombocytopenia with Absent Radii (TAR) syndrome, in which babies are born with very few platelets and abnormal bone formation (particularly the radius in the forearm). Our group discovered the cause of TAR, due to abnormalities in a gene called RBM8A, which helps cells control what proteins are produced; however precisely why this causes TAR is unclear. We believe our research will uncover the mechanism of this condition, helping to treat patients with TAR and improve wider understanding of how megakaryocytes & platelets develop and function.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Cambridge

Integrated interdisciplinary approaches to design new anti-bacterials with novel mechanisms of action to tackle antimicrobial resistance in Tuberculosis 30 Sep 2018

Tuberculosis (TB) remains a serious threat to global health. The World Health Organisation estimate that 10.4 million new cases were contracted in 2015, and that over 500,000 of those cases were resistant to at least one of the antibiotics currently used to treat this condition. The spread of such resistance is a serious concern and as a result there is a need for the development of new drugs to combat TB. Recent work has identified two classes of molecule which have promising anti-tubercular properties: tetrahydroisoquinolines and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. My project will focus on the development of new anti-bacterials from these classes of molecule while exploring the reasons behind their anti-tubercular properties. This will be achieved through a combination of chemistry and molecular microbiology, making use of both laboratory and computational techniques.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Co-evolution of tumour mutational and CD4 T-cell differentiation landscapes 30 Sep 2018

Lung cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK and the greatest cause of cancer-related death. A type of this disease called non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) accounts for the majority (85%) of cases. T-lymphocyte cells (T-cells) of the immune system patrol the body and can recognise and destroy cancer cells by recognising mutated proteins (neoantigens) on them. Despite this, the majority of patients with advanced lung cancer die of the disease, indicating the ineffective function of the immune system. In particular, little is known about the role of a particular group of immune cells called T-helper cells that are thought to be important. In chronic infections where T-cells are constantly exposed to their targets, they become less responsive as younger cells are driven to turn into later ones more rapidly. As younger cells are lost, the body's ability to fight the infection reduces. In cancer, it is possible that mutations drive a similar problem. Using lung cancer specimens from patients on a clinical trial and animal models of cancer, we propose to study the question of whether and how mutations can paralyse the ability of T-helper cells to fight the disease.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Inhibition in the Periaqueductal Gray 30 Sep 2018

Deciding which action to take, such as whether to cross a busy road, is a critical survival skill. Making decisions requires integrating complex information and identifying the cellular mechanisms of this process is critical for understanding how the brain computes decisions. In this project will investigate neurons that control defensive decisions in mice and focus on inhibitory neurons in the midbrain Periaqueductal Grey (PAG), which have the ability to veto defensive behaviours.The first main goal of the project is to use electrophysiological and advanced molecular techniques, such as RNA sequencing and gene knock-down, to identify the genes and ion channels that control the firing of PAG inhibitory neurons. The second goal is to determine key regulators of the activity of these neurons, in particular neuromodulators and long-range synaptic connections from other brain areas, using techniques such as optogenetics in combination with behavioural assays that exploit the innate defensive behaviours of mice. The results of this work will reveal new the biophysical principles that drive firing in a key population controlling a critical behavioural decision, and provide an entry point for understanding how pathological states such as anxiety lead to maladaptive decisions.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Epigenetic control of neurodevelopmental gene regulatory networks linked to neurodegeneration 30 Sep 2018

Dementia is predicted to affect 130 million people worldwide by 2050 according to the World Alzheimer 2015 Report30. Some familial forms of dementia inherited in autosomal-dominant fashion are linked to mutations altering gene dosage2,8,14,16,19,23,25. Patients with the mutations display a long pre-symptomatic phase during which cellular changes may take place before the onset of the disease decades later23. The cellular changes are reflected in gene regulatory networks3,4,5,12,28,31. As evidence from other neurodevelopmental conditions suggests10,13,17, changes during early neural development may lead to onset of the disease decades later. In order to study the neurodevelopmental gene regulatory networks and their links to dementia, I would like to focus on two forms of their regulation: small RNAs and demethylation escapees. Demethylation escapees are regions of the genome that escape epigenome resetting during early embryonic development27. Small RNAs have an important role in neural development and gene regulatory networks controlling them1,6,20,24. In order to address the question, I will use RNA and whole genome bisulfite sequencing methods of neurons derived from human stem-cells from familial dementia patients, combined with bioinformatics analyses. Focusing on small RNAs and demethylation escapees, the project might hint at neurodevelopmental gene regulatory pathways dysregulated in autosomal familial dementia.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Cambridge

Non-local computations in hippocampal circuits: neural mechanisms 17 Jul 2018

The overall goal of this proposal is to build a neural-level understanding of how non-local cortico-hippocampal communication mediates memory consolidation and spatial computations. The well-studied network of spatially modulated neurons in the hippocampus and associated regions provides the pre-eminent cellular-model of memory for events and places. However, the activity of these neurons mainly encodes local information, that is, the current configuration of an animal in its environment. Work conducted by us, and others, have identified transient reactivations of hippocampal neurons and cortical counterparts as a key mechanism supporting systems consolidation and spatial planning. These brief ‘non-local’ events provide a means by which remembered experiences can gradually update memory networks, equally they are theorised to support the calculations necessary for route planning. Our aims are: 1) to understand how hippocampus and cortex interacts during reactivations; 2) determine how reactivated information affects existing representations; 3) precisely define the spatial computations that guide navigation; 4) investigate how neuromodulation controls the occurrence of reactivations. To this end, our approach is to combine computational modelling, machine learning, and state-of-the-art experimental techniques. Developing a basic understanding of these processes opens the way to understand how they fail in disease and may ultimately deliver tremendous therapeutic benefits.

Amount: £1,670,136
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Investigating the energy homeostasis of cellular calcium signalling 31 May 2018

Cellular calcium signalling is a ubiquitous and fundamental mechanism driving many processes in cell physiology. However it carries a significant energetic cost: calcium that enters the cytosol must be removed or sequestered by ATPases. In this project we propose to explore the mechanisms involved in maintaining energetic homeostasis in the face of this energy demand. The transfer of calcium signals to mitochondria is thought to support energy production, as it upregulates the rate limiting enzymes of the TCA cycle, increasing the rate of ATP production, although extrusion of calcium from the mitochondria also carries an energetic cost. The recent development of new targeted fluorescent reporters allows detailed exploration of compartmental ATP generation, making these questions accessible. We will therefore use fluorescence microscopy and imaging of a novel mitochondrial targeted ATP reporter to measure changes in cytosolic and mitochondrial ATP in response to changes in cytosolic and/or mitochondrial calcium signals to address these fundamental questions in cell biology. It is important to understand the fundamental mechanisms of cellular energy homeostasis so that we can better understand how mitochondrial dysfunction, associated with many disease states, undermines the ability to match energy demand with energy production.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Regulation of Neural Stem Cells 30 Sep 2018

Of all the tissues and organs in the human body the nervous system is the most intricate and complex, consisting of more than 100 billion neurons. These neurons make precise connections with each other to form functional networks that can transmit information at amazing speed over considerable distances. Neurons are produced by neural stem cells, which renew themselves at each cell division while also giving rise to all of the diverse types of neurons in the brain. The Brand lab is interested in how the environment influences stem cell behaviour, in particular how nutrition regulates neural stem cell proliferation. Uncovering the molecular mechanisms that control whether a stem cell chooses to proliferate or remain dormant is crucial for understanding tissue regeneration under normal and pathological conditions and in response to ageing. It is critical to learn not only how stem cell proliferation is induced but also how stem cells can return to a dormant (‘quiescent’) state, as uncontrolled stem cell division can lead to cancer, including brain tumours like glioma. A thorough appreciation of the signals, both extrinsic and intrinsic, that control stem cell behaviour is necessary to understand how homeostasis is achieved and maintained in the brain.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Cambridge

New methods to predict gene function in fission yeast 30 Sep 2018

Computational biology aims to answer some of biology’s most complex questions using computational and statistical methods. The field has successfully identified genes involved in disease and has helped to discover drugs for their treatment. My PhD research takes this approach to understand the processes by which we age. Aging is a complex disease — characterised by the progressive loss of function in an organism over time — with huge social and financial cost. Faced with an aging population, breakthroughs in this area are desperately needed. I am attempting to do this using data collected from experiments that measure the lifespan of yeast in different environmental conditions. Whilst we are only distantly related to yeast, it is a useful model of human aging as it shares many cellular processes, but lives for a fraction of the time. Ultimately, I aim to use these data to predict the genes that cause yeast to age. Whilst a handful of aging genes have been identified, more genes are likely to contribute. I use networks and machine learning approaches to make my predictions. Going forward, these will help to deepen our understanding of aging and aid the development of treatments to eventually cure this disease.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Analysis of Inflammatory markers in chronic subdural haematoma 31 May 2018

This project plans to measure levels of tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) which is involved in fibrinolysis of blood clots within the CSDH lesions. This bleeding is an essential part of CSDH formation, followed by coagulation and fibrinolysis which is triggered by the cleavage of plasminogen by tPA to generate plasmin. tPA will be measured in these samples using the commercially available ELISA kit. I will determine whether levels of tPA are correlated with levels of other inflammatory markers in CSDH fluid or in blood, and also to examine if increased tPA levels at the site of the haematoma predicts risk of CSDH recurrence. If tPA concentrations in blood or CSDH fluid correlate with clinical outcome, this could be used clinically to decide whether surgical or pharmacological management are most appropriate for individual patients. Finally, the effects of dexamethasone treatment on levels of tPA and other cytokines will also be determined, by comparison of dexamthasone and placebo-treated patients. These patient samples are anonymised and will only be unblinded after measurement of the above analytes has been completed.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Cambridge

Effects of Rab3a-Interacting Molecule 1a (RIM1a), linked to the enhancement of cognitive function, on presynaptic function and plasticity: a direct link from genes to cognition? 30 Sep 2018

Neurons communicate with each other via specialised junctions called synapses. The brain contains trillions of synapses where information is transferred and processed, which shapes neuronal network and brain function. Synaptic terminals contain small vesicles filled with neurotransmitters. When a nerve impulse invades the synaptic terminal, it triggers fusion of synaptic vesicles with the plasma membrane and release of transmitter molecules. Neurotransmitters quickly diffuse towards the target neuron, where they bind to specific receptors and evoke further electrical or chemical signalling. Very often mutations in proteins that regulate synaptic vesicle fusion lead to neurological disorders and cognitive impairment. RIM1alpha is one of the key proteins that regulate synaptic release of neurotransmitters by bringing together the key components of release machinery. Recently, a novel mutation in RIM1alpha was discovered that enhances cognitive function in humans. This "experiment of nature" represents a unique model to test how alterations in synaptic function shape high-level brain activity and cognition. In this project we aim to understand the effects of this RIM1alpha mutation in mouse neuronal model on synaptic transmission and use-dependent synaptic plasticity. We anticipate that our results will provide novel unparalleled insights into the cellular mechanisms that underlie cognitive processing in the brain.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

The University of Cambridge Metabolic Research Laboratories, Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science, Cambridge 30 Sep 2018

Since 2013, the University of Cambridge Metabolic Research Laboratories (MRL) has developed into a world-leading centre for basic and applied research in obesity and related metabolic disease. Underpinning funding from Wellcome, which has provided new clinical research facilities and other crucial core support, has been central to this success. Importantly, this endeavour has been undertaken in partnership with the MRC, who have funded a new Unit, the Metabolic Diseases Unit (MDU), which is embedded in the MRL. The MRL, together with the MRC Epidemiology Unit (Dir. Wareham) and cognate clinical facilities, form the Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science (IMS) which operates seamlessly from basic science through to population science, translational research and delivery of ambulatory care within a single co-ordinated institute. The current bid is focused on further developing world-class metabolic research within the MRL through core support for clinical and animal model research as well as underpinning laboratory science at an internationally leading level. Given the centrality of bioinformatics to all contemporary biomedical research, we have placed a particular emphasis on development of this area for the next phase of our evolution.

Amount: £4,795,450
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Cambridge

Exploring the role of Genome Architecture in Neuronal Development using an in vitro model system 31 May 2018

The research aim is to explore the role of genome organisation and three-dimensional configuration in regulating transcriptional responses during neuronal differentiation. To do so, expression of co-regulated candidate genes during differentiation from neuronal progenitor cells (NPCs) to post-mitotic neurons (PMNs) will be identified with qRT-PCR. NPCs will be dissected from E12.5 mouse cortices and cultured in basic Fibroblast Growth Factor (bGFG). Differentiation into PMNs will be induced by adding neurotrophin-3 (NT-3). The nuclear localisation of pairs of co-regulated genes will be detected using double fluorescence in situ hybridisation (D-FISH), assessing whether these genes relocate to transcriptionally active regions, like transcription factories, or transcriptionally repressive regions, like the nuclear periphery. Results will also compare transcriptional changes in neuronal differentiation with nuclear re-organisation patterns in the expression of activity-regulated genes (ARGs), like c-Fos and Gadd45b. This will allow the identification of genome architecture changes specific to cortical development. Possible gene co-localisation, genomic-wide contacts and loci interactions will be studied with 4C technology, which combines chromosome conformation capture (3C) methodology with high-throughput sequencing.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University College London

Investigating the role of mechanical forces in cell exit from the Zebrafish tailbud 30 Sep 2018

During the elongation of the embryonic body, groups of stem cells within the tip of the embryo continually generate progenitor cells that later make up the spinal cord and segmented vertebrae. Interestingly, differentiation of other embryonic cell types has been shown to be influenced by mechanical forces from the environment surrounding the cells in culture. Over the course of my PhD I will investigate the influence of the native mechanical environment on the differentiation of progenitor cells in the zebrafish embryo into cell types contributing to the formation of specialised tissues. This will aid in our understanding of how mechanical properties of tissues, such as their stiffness, can influence cell differentiation. Firstly, I will characterise cell movement, cell shape, and environmental stiffness coinciding with cell state transitions in the tailbud. Secondly, I will investigate the influence of mechanical forces on differentiation and epithelial to mesenchymal transitions. Finally, I will investigate the role of YAP in regulating differentiation into spinal cord and mesodermal cell types. These studies will provide important insight into the fundamental problem of how cell fate decisions and cell movements are coupled during embryonic development.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Cambridge

Mechanisms of lineage commitment during exit from pluripotency in vivo 30 Sep 2018

In early mammalian development, a pool of cells in the embryo can generate all cell types of the body, an ability referred to as 'pluripotency'. Specification of the cells is regulated by selective activation of genes that define tissue identities. These developmental programs are regulated by proteins known as 'transcription factors' that direct expression of other genes. However, the precise mechanisms that control cell fate specification are still poorly understood. The aim of my project is to understand the molecular mechanism of how genetically identical cells can be instructed to differentiate. I will focus on understanding the functional role of covalent 'epigenetic' DNA modifications in cell lineage priming and specification. To be able to address this fundamental question, I will use mouse embryos and stem cell culture systems, linked to imaging and single cell technologies to study the effect of perturbation of DNA modifications on cell fate specification. The results from my project will help us to understand how cells regulate their fate in early development. This is of great importance to understand developmental defects and learn how to instruct stem cells in culture for differentiation for potential use in cellular therapies in regenerative medicine.

Amount: £0
Funder: The Wellcome Trust
Recipient: University of Cambridge