Come on people – we need money

Just noticed that Bloodhound Programme Ltd, the company behind Project Bloodhound, the initiative to break the land speed world record, has entered into administration with the appointment of Andrew Sheridan and Geoff Rowley, partners at specialist business advisory firm FRP Advisory LLP, as joint administrators.

Project Bloodhound was founded in 2007 and aims to hit speeds of 1,000 mph at a specially built, 18km long, 1500m wide race track at Hakskeen Pan in the deserts of the Northern Cape of South Africa.

In addition to seeking to break the land speed world record, the project is a major R&D catalyst and the focal point for a STEM education campaign which has reached over 2 million children since its launch, including 120,000 UK schoolchildren per year.

To date the project has operated on a partnership and sponsorship model, with support from a variety of partners including Rolls Royce and Rolex as well as the Ministry of Defence which has lent prototype jet engines for the car, and the Northern Cape Provincial Government in South Africa, which has supported the creation of the track. Individual donations from members of the public have also supported the development of the car and the global education programme.

The project has already successfully built a viable racing car which has been tested to 200mph, whilst developing or testing propulsion, aerodynamic and telecommunications technologies with the potential for far reaching applications outside of the project. The team is now seeking around £25m in investment to provide guaranteed funding and see the project to completion.

So, hands in pockets UK investors. Interested parties should contact the FRP Advisory LLP Bristol office on 0117 203 3700

F1 pitstop techniques to help in resuscitation of newborn babies

On your marks...

On your marks…

 

Now, here’s an interesting one…

Williams has been assisting the neonatal unit at the University Hospital of Wales (UHW) in Cardiff by bringing Formula One pitstop know-how to help in the resuscitation of newborn babies.

Recognising the similarities between neonatal resuscitations and Formula One pitstops, the resuscitation team at UHW invited members of the Williams team to the hospital last year for an exploratory meeting to discuss how Formula One techniques and processes could be incorporated into their work. Wednesday 4 May saw members of the neonatal team from UHW visit the Williams factory in Oxfordshire to observe the team practice pitstops to see first-hand how they operate.

Both scenarios require a team of people to work seamlessly in a time critical and space-limited environment. In Formula One, a pit crew can change all four tyres on a car in around two seconds, with a team of nearly 20 people working in unison to successfully service a car. Williams has a dedicated human performance specialist who works with its pitcrew to fine tune the technique, processes, team work and health and fitness of team members.

Their experience previously treating new-borns in clinical practice has facilitated the transition of knowledge between the two industries and they have been the primary advisor to the hospital. Williams’s pitstops have been a real success story for the team in 2016, recording the fastest stops of any team at each of the first four races of the 2016 Formula One season.

Following these site visits, the neonatal team has identified and started implementing a number of changes to improve its resuscitation processes that are based on those used in Formula One racing. The resuscitation equipment trolley has now been audited and streamlined to ensure that equipment can be located as quickly as possible.

The neonatal team has mapped out a standardised floor space in delivery theatres to clearly show the area for the neonatal resuscitation team to work in; copying the customised floor map the Williams team takes to races to map out the specific pit box requirements at each track.

The pitstop resuscitation team at UHW are also in the early stages of implementing Formula One communications and analysis techniques, including the use of a “radio-check” prior to a resuscitation, greater use of hand signals rather than verbal communication, and video analysis to analyse performance following a resuscitation with debrief meetings as standard.

Speaking about the project Dr Rachel Hayward, specialist registrar in Neonates at the University Hospital of Wales said: “Resuscitation of a compromised neonate at delivery is time critical, requiring the provision of efficient and effective resuscitation to ensure an optimal outcome.”

Lovely the language medics use…

“Delays in providing effective resuscitative care can have marked consequences on survival or the development of long term complications. There is a growing amount of evidence to support a systematic approach to resuscitative care which is time-critical and dependent upon optimal team dynamics and clear communication.

“Analogous with the requirements of an effective pitstop we have worked with the Williams team to implement Formula One techniques and processes to augment neonatal resuscitative care”.

Claire Williams, Deputy Team Principal of Williams, added: “When we were approached by the Neonatal team at the University Hospital of Wales last year to offer some advice we were delighted to assist. Their work is vitally important and the pressure they work under is difficult to comprehend; it’s a matter of life and death every day of the week.

“If some of the advice we have passed on helps to save a young life then this would have been an extremely worthy endeavour. We are increasingly finding that Formula One know-how and technology can have benefit to other industries and this is a great example.”

I think this is great. We should have many more cross-industry knowledge transfers like this.

Can a chemical search engine explain how life began on Earth?

Scientists have developed a new form of ‘chemical search engine’ which could provide clues to the origins of life on Earth.

In a new paper published today in the journal Nature Communications, a team from the University of Glasgow’s School of Chemistry describes a new approach to solving a 50-year conundrum in which they used an automated robot system to explore many different random combinations of the building blocks of proteins.

The team found that peptide compounds of long length and complexity can form in a very simple way by heating and cooling the building blocks as they go through wet and dry cycles.

The research was led by the University’s Regius Chair of Chemistry, Professor Lee Cronin. Professor Cronin’s group has previously researched methods of creating inorganic life and has also created the ‘chemputer’, a 3D printer-inspired robot which can synthesise complex chemicals. This new piece of research brings concepts from both projects together.

Professor Cronin: “Proteins are some of the basic building blocks of life, and we’ve long known that they make up the working machinery of living cells. However, we’re still struggling to determine whether proteins came first or if the genetic machinery of DNA or RNA did.

“The problem is that the origin of life was thought to be so complicated that we are not sure if there was enough time to make such complex molecules or understand the mechanisms by which they were produced.

“Our research aimed to help answer this question by creating a robot capable of creating many different random combinations of conditions, and then focusing in on the promising ones. Very quickly, we found that it was possible to assemble the building blocks just like the way we find them in modern proteins. Our chemical search engine is able to search large amounts of chemical space, similar to how systems like Google search the internet. Instead of reading HTML, however, the system performs chemical reactions.”

The team concludes that small protein fragments can be made much longer and much more easily than previously thought, which could lead to the formation of life-like molecules and machines in the laboratory.

The team’s robot system allows the researchers to record very precisely how many combinations of chemicals and the outcomes of the reaction which will help them to calculate the likelihood of producing the first complex molecules essential for life as we know it today.

Professor Cronin adds: “We believe this is a significant finding which could suggest that the beginning of life on Earth was a simpler process than we previously expected. It could also provide valuable support to the idea that the universe is teeming with life, as well as allowing us to ‘search’ for new types of life in the laboratory.”

The team’s paper is titled Formation of oligopeptides in high yield under simple programmable conditions. The research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Research Council (EPSRC) and the Royal Society-Wolfson Foundation.

Gene breakthrough

Zoologists and bioengineers from Trinity College Dublin have identified over 1,000 genes whose responses change markedly when embryos are not able to move freely in the womb.

The discovery will help scientists better understand how important tissues are programmed to develop in our bodies which could, in turn, suggest how stem cells can be primed for use in tissue engineering and regenerative therapies.

The collaborative research conducted in the School of Natural Sciences and Trinity Centre for Bioengineering is addressing how embryonic movement influences bone and joint development. This research also furthers understanding of the consequences of reduced movement and shows how we might guide desired differentiation of bone and cartilage from stem cells.

Says Developmental Biologist and Associate Professor in Zoology, Paula Murphy who is the study’s senior author of the study:

“Why do babies move about so much while they are developing in the womb, particularly flexing their arms and legs? We know that if they don’t move enough, they are born with skeletal problems such as thin, fragile bones.

“Highly regulated signalling systems are needed for Mother Nature to follow the complex ‘recipes’ of genetic expression that enable the development of normal skeletons. What often surprises people is that mechanical signals also feed in to these signalling systems, and it is the movement of an embryo that sparks these.”

By studying how animals move and develop, the zoologists and bioengineers have pinpointed which steps during skeleton formation require stimulation from movement. Additionally, by examining the patterns of all the genes in the genome, they have shown which specific genes and molecules are stimulated by movement.

Contracting muscles and cartilage rudiments of the skeleton develop at the same time in the embryo, and the movement of the muscles influences normal development of bone and cartilage. Highlighted in this 3D image is the developing limb skeleton (left), muscle (right, in orange) and tendon (right, in green).

Contracting muscles and cartilage rudiments of the skeleton develop at the same time in the embryo, and the movement of the muscles influences normal development of bone and cartilage. Highlighted in this 3D image is the developing limb skeleton (left), muscle (right, in orange) and tendon (right, in green).

Very little is known about how the mechanical signals are integrated into the biochemical signalling pathways. This could soon change, however, as these researchers home in on the 1,000-plus genes whose responses changed in mouse embryos that lacked muscles and therefore did not kick during development.

The research, just published in the BMC Genomics journal, featured Research Fellow at Trinity, Rebecca Rolfe, as the first author. It highlighted a number of genes already known to encode regulatory molecules that guide developmental decisions in the embryo.

It also highlighted genes that are involved in controlling cell shape changes and in aiding cell-to-cell communication. In particular, the research highlighted the ‘Wnt’ pathway which passes signals from the exterior to the interior of specific cells, as a potential point of integration of mechanical and molecular signalling.

Adds Associate Professor Murphy:

“If we can better understand the signalling processes involved, we might guide development of stable bone and cartilage tissues for use in regenerative therapies. We are now working to fill in the gaps in our knowledge around the combinations of mechanical and molecular signals that are needed to guide differentiation of stem cells for this purpose.”

The future of science

What’s new in space? Why do coincidences happen? Can science make cyclists go faster? Why do cats make us sneeze?

These are just a few of the many intriguing questions being explored at this year’s Cambridge Science Festival.

Running from Monday 10 to Sunday 23 March and celebrating its 20th appearance this year, the Science Festival hosts over 250 thought-provoking talks and hands-on events for everyone.

The programme is out now on the Cambridge Science Festival website. With over 250 events, most of which are free, there’s surely something for all tastes.

You can also follow the event on Facebook and Twitter.

Spotting prostate cancer sooner

South west London’s St Anthony’s Hospital has introduced a new effective scan fusion procedure to help identify prostate cancer earlier than conventional methods.

A man’s risk of having prostate cancer is based on their PSA (protein prostate specific antigen) which is produced by the prostate gland.

This means that a scan and a biopsy need to be taken. The new technique called the BiopSee combines two diagnostic tools – an ultrasound scan with an MRI scan. This targets suspected cancerous areas of the prostate.

Stephen Gordon, St Anthony's Hospital

Stephen Gordon, St Anthony’s Hospital

 

In addition the samples can be taken from any part of the prostate and by avoiding the rectum, the risk of infection is reduced.

Stephen Gordon, Consultant Urological Surgeon, St Anthony’s Hospital, who introduced the purpose built fusion device to the hospital, says:

“The benefit of this approach is that not only is the prostate cancer detection rate likely to be better but that if cancer is found by targeting, then it is more likely to be of a significant nature which is best detected at an early stage. The procedure is performed as a day case under general anaesthetic.”

A standard biopsy is performed with an ultrasound probe in the back passage with the biopsy needle passing through the rectum into the prostate. On average 12 samples are taken randomly from different areas, which confirms prostate cancer about 35% of the time.

Adds Gordon:

“The problem with this is the random nature of the sampling and the fact that biopsies are taken via the back passage. This means the front or lower parts of the prostate are missed and despite being given antibiotics, men still suffer from infections.”

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK with 40,000+ men diagnosed with the disease and over a quarter of a million men living with the condition. Prostate cancer primarily affects older men (65 to 79) although 25% of cases occur in younger men.

Shining a light on infection

Using its new lab – Crystal – the UK’s national synchrotron facility, Diamond Light Source, has become the first and only place in Europe where pathogens requiring Containment Level 3 – including serious viruses such as those responsible for AIDS, Hepatitis and some types of flu – can be analysed at atomic and molecular level using synchrotron light.

Aerial image of Diamond Light Source

Aerial image of Diamond Light Source

This special light allows scientists to study virus structures at intense levels of detail and this new Crystal facility extends that capability to many viruses that have a major global impact on human and animal health. Studying pathogens in this way has the potential to open up new paths for the development of therapeutic treatments and vaccines.

Diamond already has a strong track record of studying viruses at lower levels of containment. In 2012, scientists determined the structure of the virus that causes hand-foot-and-mouth disease, which can cause severe central nervous system disease in children and poses serious public health threats across the Asia-Pacific region. Some 1.7 million cases were reported by the Chinese Ministry of Health during 2010, and there is no vaccine or therapy available.

An Anglo-Chinese collaboration used the facilities at Diamond to solve the structure of the Human Enterovirus 71 (EV71), which is the root cause of the disease.

EV71's structure

EV71’s structure

Using synchrotron light, the team were able to visualise the virus in different states and collect a series of structures, from which they were able to uncover a detailed picture of the virus’s actions in sequence. Rather than being a rigid object, the virus appears to actually breathe. Such visualisation requires specialist microscopes 10,000 times more powerful than standard laboratory microscopes.

Crystal enables researchers to rapidly visualise viruses in their entirety and at incredible scales. The facility’s brilliant beams of X-rays allow scientists to study crystallised virus particles, and so produce a comprehensive 3D image of the virus structure. By identifying the virus structure in atomic detail, scientists can target research into vaccines and anti-viral drugs.

Says Dr Katherine McAuley, science leader for the facility:

“Crystal is a major advance, not just for the UK, but for Europe at large. We are introducing a step change in research capabilities, so that more complex studies can be undertaken in a swift and effective way. The unique capabilities that the facility offers are expected to draw scientists from around the world, and establish the nation’s synchrotron as a hub of world-leading research into disease prevention.”

%d bloggers like this: