Virtual Heartbeats

Your heart beats thousands of times a day, pumping blood round the body to provide oxygen and nutrients wherever they’re needed. Every single heartbeat happens as a result of a co-ordinated wave of biological electricity running through the nerves and muscles of the heart. If it’s disrupted, the results can be catastrophic. One way things can go wrong is known as ventricular fibrillation, where the signals activating the big muscles at the bottom of the heart – the ventricles – become chaotic, making it wriggle and squirm, rather than pumping in the proper way. To find out more about what happens during ventricular fibrillation, and whether it’s possible to predict and prevent it, researchers have developed this ‘virtual heart’ – a mathematical model based on measurements from rabbit hearts. It’s even possible to dose the virtual heart with virtual drugs, to find new ways to treat or prevent heart failure in the future.

Written by Kat Arney

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Connecting the Dots

Our brain contains over 100 trillion connections. To analyse how its structure makes it function in certain ways involves building a connectome – a complete map of all the nerves in a typical brain and their connections. This huge job involves imaging large areas of brain with enough resolution to identify the individual nerve cells, and their tangled extensions – dendrites and axons. A new system for producing images like this has recently been developed. Called the brain-wide positioning system, it simultaneously takes pictures of the cell nuclei (shown in red) and whole neurons labelled with fluorescent protein (green). Comparing these two sets of images can help to identify neurons and establish which connections are which. Although this picture was taken in a mouse’s brain, this technology will help us to accurately image individual human brains, which we can use to build up the picture of the human connectome.

Written by Esther Redhouse White

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Good luck to anyone getting results today!

9 years ago I got mine, and got into my second choice uni in London. I dropped out pretty early on but made some incredible friends & memories.

I went back, but had to drop out because of my health a few years later.

And now at just turned 27 I’m about to go back to do biomedicine and then onto medicine to hopefully become a rheumatology consultant.

The route you take doesn’t always have to be the quickest - and taking that time for myself helped me decide what I really wanted from my life.

No matter what happens today, you’ll find your footing and life will work out for you. Maybe not in the ways you first expect - but in the grand scheme of your entire life, today doesn’t decide your actual future.

Mind Mushrooms

For hundreds of years scientists have tried to map the human brain, figuring out which bits do what. While they’ve made great progress in tracking down the parts responsible for vision, movement and other tasks, we still know little about how our brains store and retrieve memories. To keep things simple, researchers have turned to the fruit fly, Drosophila. Although they’re hardly insect Einsteins, fruit flies can still remember a few things and even be trained to do easy tasks, storing this information in specialised nerve cells in an area of the brain called the mushroom body. These images show the fly brain (purple), with nerve cells wiring into the mushroom bodies highlighted with a fluorescent green molecule. Studying the activity of these cells as the flies learn reveals that memories are consolidated in several different parts of the brain at once, and also retrieved together at a later date.

Written by Kat Arney

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16/08/22 The Begining.

We start our story in one of the biggest polish cities - Warsaw. But before we move further with the plot - let’s establish some starting points.

I’m almost done with my internship at the Institute for Experimental Biology. It was an amazing summer that has both ruined me financially (since I had to take a two month long break from work) and lifted me spiritually by helping me figure out what I actually want to do in life (which is to be a scientist and get a PhD in something fancy like tissue engineering or biomedicine) at the same time. Unfortunately it’s highly unlikely that I will get into a good school for my masters (since I want to move abroad to do it) but hey - there’s no shame in getting my shit together and doing everything I can to get in. I still have some time before applying and I can at least try to up my grades and write the best damn personal statement ever written. It’s A LOT of work but I think I can do it.

So this is where we are now. I have 10 more days of my internship and then I’m going back home to the city I used to love but now everywhere I look I just see past and past alone. I guess that’s what you get for burning to many bridges at once… But let’s not get distracted by the past. We’ll discuss that some other time. For now I’m going to use those next ten days to finish all the things Warsaw and to study for the exams I didn’t take in June because of reasons.

Ugh… I really need to stop acting like an idiot and start facing my problems.

You’re probably wandering why I’ve decided to start writing. Well.. To be honest I’m not entirely sure. I just feel like I’s going to help me feel like me once again. 
And that’s a pretty good reason to just put my thoughts into the depths of the internet. After all - that’s what we all want, right? To feel like ourselves? Or maybe it’s to own an island… I get those two confused sometimes.

So that’s all for now. If you’re still reading this - congratulations. You’ve managed to get through my ramblings and for that you deserve a medal. Or at least a hand written postcard. Thank you for listening and see you next time, when we’ll be discussing all the reasons why we all should just go out and explore more.


Tobacco for Treatment

Infamous for its dire effects on our health, tobacco could soon be harnessed to produce an altogether different kind of drug, transforming it into a lifesaver for patients suffering from malaria. Effective treatments for malaria already exist, based on artemisinin, a compound extracted from sweet wormwood, Artemisia annua; yet these plants yield far too little to provide enough medicine for the millions affected. Tobacco, a fast-growing crop planted across the globe, could provide a solution to this problem. Researchers have recently succeeded in genetically modifying tobacco plants to produce artemisinic acid, a compound that can later be converted to artemisinin, by inserting a whole suite of genes from Artemisia into the tobacco genome. Some of the transformed plants, pictured, produced large amounts of artemisinic acid, suggesting that enough artemisinin could be made using tobacco to meet global demand for anti-malarial drugs, ultimately enabling more patients to gain access to treatment.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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A Clearer Picture

All the effort of climbing to a mountaintop can be for naught when a cloudy day ruins the view. The scattering of light can also spoil the view at a microscopic level, particularly when imaging tissues. A technique called CLARITY can help by making tissues transparent through the removal of their lipids. However with the lipids gone, can a tissue still hold itself together? To avoid this potential pitfall CLARITY uses a highly toxic chemical called acrylamide to lock the tissue’s proteins in place. This adds more complexity to a technique that can already take weeks to complete. Researchers therefore tested whether this step could be replaced with a simpler process called fixation. The simplified CLARITY technique still preserved tissue integrity and produced images of equal quality, exemplified by nerve cells imaged in a section of mouse cerebellum (pictured). Now easier to implement, this technique can be more widely applied.

Written by Lux Fatimathas

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Malaria of Interest

There are many ways to tackle an epidemic like malaria – one is to go on the attack. Plasmodium falciparum (Pf) is a parasite that carries the disease but it also relies on a protein called Hsp90 to survive. Pharmacologists are examining the chemical structure of Hsp90 (purple) looking for weaknesses – the bobbly surface hides cracks and holes which drug molecules can slot into, changing the way the protein behaves. This virtual approach speeds up expensive drug design – identifying a yellow-coloured compound that fits into a specific ‘pocket’ of Hsp90, stopping it from working and potentially killing the Pf parasite. Sometimes it can seem like a long way from the lab bench to the real world, yet here is a process that can now be used to quickly 'screen’ large numbers of anti-malaria chemicals, potentially saving thousands of lives.

Written by John Ankers

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What’s Eating You?

Necrotising fasciitis is a life-threatening condition in which bacteria eat away at human flesh. These pieces of artificial skin were grown in a lab then infected with bacteria from four different patients. Just two days later they are overgrown with biofilms – slimy organic mixtures that are hard to tackle with medicine. These biofilms combine necrotising fasciitis-causing bacteria (highlighted in white) with a sludge of fats, DNA and even natural polymers (red, blue and green, respectively). Investigating how these elements come together could be vital to tackling necrotising fasciitis before biofilms have a chance to form. Although the disease is rare, it can develop quickly through soft tissues and usually affects young, otherwise healthy people.

Written by John Ankers

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