Work/Life Balance: Springtime ‘Walking the talk’

 

‘Walking the talk’ with the month of April 2019 spent in Nice, France.

A great thing about being an independent consultant is that much of the work can be done from anywhere – I have a particular fondness for Nice.

Many of you might recognise from one of my photos (the sea-view, from my LinkedIn photo header of several years), that I use my distinctive A Tree of Life Sciences® logo and image as a watermark on my slides in presentations etc.

It’s invigorating to get away and create an environment to facilitate creative thinking and fresh ideas; this time developing talks.

Life throws all sorts of things at us all, over the years; but these days I am loving my work and being able to contribute something a bit different on occasions.

It was great to get away on this occasion in Nice, France. It is also great to be back home, in the UK.

Returned to the UK and discovered something new for the ‘The Spring Collection’

Full of the joys of Spring and with a spring in my step, I’d like to share some photos taken on 5th May on a family outing.

I wanted to capture a moment to share the magical experience of a walk in a bluebell wood, near to home in England! Awash with a carpet of bluebells, indicators of ancient British woodland.

For 6 things you might not know about bluebells click here

Here’s to work/life balance!

by Dr Julie Charlesworth

(All my own photos. P.S. that’s me and and my hubby of 39 years! We are also proud parents and grandparents together!)

Science, poetry and a personal thank you

I was honoured and very chuffed to have received a personal thank you from the University of Manchester for my support of the University of Manchester Access Programme (MAP) and in addition my student mentoring as part of the Manchester Gold programme in particular the impact on one of their PhD students.

A reception with about 150 people was held on February 27th in the Manchester Art Gallery. What a wonderful welcome with a personalised ‘party bag’ – actually it was very tastefully presented and it included a beautiful limited edition art print of Manchester University on the front of the card. Inside was a handwritten personal letter – what a lovely thoughtful gesture. It will be treasured!

The event was hosted by the university chancellor and poet, Lemm Sissay. Lemm opened the celebrations with a stirring and inspiring rendition of his poem ‘Making a difference’ – now that’s how to connect with an audience (learning point to self here)! A participant in the MAP recounted how the programme had truly ‘made a difference’ to her life and career opportunities.

Meeting Lemm Sissay

The guests at the reception were made to feel like special friends. It was great to see some now familiar faces and also to meet new ‘friends’ with diverse talents and careers: people with a common respect and fondness for the University who had contributed their time and ‘given back’ towards the future.

There was much mingling and serious talk; merriment and banter; and opportunities for happy photo shots.

[Note to myself – in 2016, the first time I saw Lemm speaking I think it may have rekindled the embers of my inner poet self – a little part of my soul. Subsequently, after a particularly inspiring science event I briefly dabbled in the art of poetry myself with a short poem. Better stick to the day job me thinks – but I’m happy to be a scientist and science communicator who might occasionally get carried away in the moment and burst into poetry (of a sort) – much to the embarrassment of my family. After all, science can also be ‘sheer poetry’!]

I left the Gallery with a sense of the importance of friendships and giving. I had a lovely evening and I very much appreciated being acknowledged in such a friendly and personal way.

by Dr Julie Charlesworth

World Cancer Day: Tomorrow’s Treatments Made in Manchester

What an Inspiring event!
The event was held on February 5th 2019 in honour of World Cancer Day 2019. (Bright Building, Manchester Science Parks, UK).

Leading research conducted in Manchester is improving treatments for patients across the world. The format of the event included a review of recent achievements and areas of research activities; the vision for the future; compelling stories from 2 patient advocates; and a clear and informative panel discussion on Proton Beam Therapy. Presentations were followed by a reception with a chance to meet and put questions to some of the scientists and experts actively involved in research in Manchester.

The progress and achievements are phenomenal! The vision for the future is challenging, promising and positive.

Thank you to the organisers for the invitation to attend this special event.

For more about this read on…

We heard about research activities and achievements – recent, current and on the horizon. Here is an indication of just some of the exciting and important areas of research in Manchester; with a few comments and thoughts:

Prevention and screening – addressing questions such as: “Can we use circulating DNA or proteins in the blood to find lung cancer at its earliest stages?” “Can we use it to detect recurrences at the earliest stages?”

Aiming to enable health screening to be earlier and easier for some patients who are at higher risk (and who might otherwise present with more advanced lung disease). For example, a pilot study in Rochdale used mobile vans in more convenient locations for patients. This is now being further evaluated in a wider NHS roll-out taking ‘screening to supermarket car parks’ (recent media coverage).

Approaches in research and treatment taking into account multi-morbidity – because people with cancer are living with other diseases.

Enabling real time follow up of patients – using technologies to see how patients are doing in real time.

Precision medicine – the use of linked bio-banks, advances in genomics and informatics to try to close the gap in translational research and treatment of patients.

The new Proton beam facility located here in Manchester – the first patient was treated in December 2018. Pioneering research and collaborations are being facilitated and encouraged.

‘Team Science’ – as the way forward. ‘Cancer research conducted in an interdependent fashion in a large group across many subjects to deeply integrate knowledge.’

‘Town Hall’ events are also enabling wider discussion including the involvement of patients.

Finally, an overall aim is to provide the best cancer care – with opportunities facilitated by the Manchester Cancer Research Centre (MCRC) involving 3 partners working so closely together: The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester University and Cancer Research UK. There will be interesting findings to report.
Of course, not all research will lead to big breakthroughs. Research involves a lot of hard work and can be frustrating and even disappointing at times. On the other hand, science can also be surprising; serendipity is also a factor on occasions. With a wealth of sound research activity, cross-disciplinary teams and fresh perspectives there is every reason to feel optimistic that cancer research will be contributing to knowledge and understanding of fundamental biology, mechanisms, real life implications and benefits for patients.

Life can throw up unexpected circumstances and events. A terrible blow was dealt by the devastating fire at the Paterson building in April 2017.
There are now prospects of a new building and new opportunities with ‘team science’.

There was a palpable ‘buzz’ in the air at this event in February.

As I have said before there’s a lot happening in Manchester UK these days!

by Dr Julie Charlesworth

….

The Manchester Cancer Research Centre (MCRC) is a unique partnership between the University, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute.
Further information about the MCRC

Previous related posts:
Feeling proud and honoured to be invited to such events which also included a preview of the opening of the MCRC in 2015
and here is a short report of a visit in 2016 also touching on why the location holds special memories from my own early research years.

January Science Reflections – 3 pertinent points

With all that is happening in Europe and the UK these days, a few flashbacks to the summer of science 2018 come to mind – I already covered some highlights of the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) in posts I wrote from July to September 2018. Below are 3 additional take home thoughts which seem particularly pertinent now.

Reflections: photos taken at EuroScience Open Forum 2018 in France

1. When people get together, things happen – collaboration and cooperation in science is healthy and productive.

2. Open science and reproducibility of results can enhance trust in scientific findings.

3. Science is serious but scientists can be playful and science communication can be playful too on occasions – ‘Science Rocks!’

Presentations at the meeting and subsequent papers have certainly sparked wider discussion and progress e.g. Europe’s scientific publications: Plan S and its objective of full open access to publicly funded scientific publications.

The challenges of Open Access and Medical Publishing are also currently the subject of much debate.

***

More posts on ‘ESOF2018’
Overview
Frontier research
UK Exhibition

Further reading:
Useful website on Medical Publishing

Holiday Message

Here’s to successful serious science and the joys of discovery and communication.
Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Peace and Perspective.
Take care and have fun fellow Earthlings ❤️🌎⭐

And here’s a little something I made earlier …..
(Well I tried and had fun playing)😂

Northern Power Futures Festival

They delivered as promised ‘an explosion of inspiration, workshops, practical advice and engaging event for all to enjoy’ on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th November 2018 in Manchester Central.
NP Futures Manchester central
I turned up to observe and listen seriously and carefully. Discussions covered ‘all things work, community, culture, lifestyle and wellbeing’.

It was refreshing and worthwhile to be able to turn up at such an event without any prior commitment and discover some quality sessions.

Notably, there was a large turn out of school students on the Friday, enthusiastic to participate in talks clearly relevant to their futures in both a regional and global context.

Going to events in this way gives you access to a wider perspective on developments in different contexts.

Thank you to the organisers, speakers etc., and all those involved. It takes a lot of hard work and experience to make it flow so naturally and be so relevant overall.

More information on Northern Power Futures here

by Dr Julie Charlesworth

‘It’s a wrap!’ ESOF 2018

‘It’s a wrap!’ ESOF 2018 was a truly inspiring and uplifting experience!!
I’d like to share my overall experience with you, through a compilation of a few more of my snapshots.

ESOF 2018 overview

The EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF 2018) was very timely because it put SCIENCE and EUROPE in the spotlight with a motto of ‘sharing science towards new horizons’.

There were more than 4000 participants ( >25% under 35); coming from 93 countries with 107 nationalities represented.

Central to the event was a full week of programmes, jam-packed with intellectually stimulating and thought-provoking sessions: excellent keynotes, a plethora of diverse presentations, panel sessions, workshops etc. Three key themes were SCIENCE, BUSINESS, and CAREERS. Alongside these programmes there were exhibition stands and posters to discuss. Throughout the week there were plenty of networking opportunities with speakers, scientists, policy makers and other participants.

Having media accreditation, I also had access to the Press Room and of course I voiced many questions in the press conferences.

In addition to all the hard work there was a programme of social events culminating in the ESOF Party at the Cité de l’espace – a fitting setting to celebrate the joy of scientific discovery with serious science, fun science and humour. An uplifting 🚀 experience!

Over the summer, I have already started writing on particular topics and new ideas – there will be more to come …

Overall, just to say it was all about exploring new subjects, feeling the pulse of current issues and exciting developments; questioning, sharing ideas and communicating back to wider ‘audiences’. It’s about developing understanding on a range of new topics and across disciplines and making new friends.

SHARING SCIENCE TOWARDS NEW HORIZONS!

by Dr Julie Charlesworth 18.9.2018

Synthetic Biology – Some Frontier Research

Information and thoughts from presentations and discussions at the EuroScience Open Forum, Toulouse, France 2018

I recently had an opportunity to find out what is happening in some exciting frontier research where new approaches in synthetic biology might ultimately lead to the discovery and development of potential medicines, greater availability of medicines, and hopefully enable the production of cheaper and more effective medicines.

Photos taken at the EuroScience Open Forum in Toulouse, France: ESOF 2018 session on challenges and promises of synthetic biology and also the press conference

INTRODUCTION

In this blog article I am reporting on information shared and discussed at ESOF on the 13th of July 2018, and I am also sharing my thoughts with you on this fascinating and thought-provoking area of research.

There are 5 sections for you to browse or you can quickly scroll to those parts of most interest to you.

The sections are:

WHAT IS SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY?

EXCITING RESEARCH IN THIS FIELD – the science

WHY I THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO DISCUSS THIS NOW

SUMMARY AND CONCLUDING REMARK

*FURTHER INFORMATION

WHAT IS SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY?
Synthetic biology aims to build artificial systems for innovative applications in biotechnology, medicine and bio-engineering. It also aims to answer some long-standing questions in biology.

Synthetic biology requires an interdisciplinary approach which can include biotechnology, molecular biology, genetic and chemical engineering, modelling systems and evolutionary biology.

EXCITING RESEARCH IN THIS FIELD – the science

Setting the scene – why has there been so much interest and news coverage in recent times? Synthetic biology has raised hopes for addressing some potential crises in nature such as species extinction, plastics in the oceans and the needs of society such as cheaper drugs, cleaner fuels and new organisms that could help reduce climate change by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. These are big topics. Sometimes there is a risk of ‘hype’ and not every potential breakthrough will deliver. Nonetheless, there have been exciting advances and there are many promises and challenges.

There is a lot of potential to do good. For example, scientists are currently working to edit the genes of mosquitos to prevent them from carrying malaria. With the demonstration of the first gene drive system* and potential genetic control technologies for the malaria mosquito, gene-drive technology to speed the inheritance of specific genes has attracted interest from scientists. There is ongoing frontier research to develop biosynthetic tools for engineering genomes and pan-genomes (an entire gene set of all strains of a species) with precision.

Work in areas of synthetic biology does tend to raise questions about our relationship to the natural world. Issues of potential uncontrolled consequences should be addressed in designs.
There are also some ethical and societal concerns to consider including the potential for misuse and risks. Questions to the panel of researchers, and an open discussion with the session attendees and representatives of the media, were encouraged in the ESOF sessions.

Promises and challenges in three specific areas of frontier scientific research were presented and discussed further:

Medicinally active natural products from plants. We learned how, by understanding the science i.e. the biosynthetic pathways involved in making these products, it may be possible to harness the medicinal activity of these plant-derived molecules. Thus, with the discovery of the relevant plant genes and the biosynthetic pathways, scientists may be able to engineer micro-organisms to produces complex molecules that could be of pharmaceutical value. This could potentially facilitate the large scale production of new medicines. This is easier said than done.

CRISPR* systems and their application may enable scientists to better understand and fight pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria; gaining further insight into bacterial genetics to develop increasingly effective medical treatments

CRISPR technology was adapted from a natural defence mechanism of bacteria (and archaea, another domain of single-celled microorganisms) where CRISPR has evolved to recognise viral DNA and fight off future invasive attacks of viruses.

There has been much recent excitement about the potential use of CRISPR technology as a simple yet powerful tool for gene editing in more complex organisms. Gene editing allows scientists to change gene sequences by adding, replacing or removing sections of DNA. CRISPR components can pinpoint DNA sequences within the gene which is to be altered. Then an enzyme called Cas9 snips through the DNA changing it or allowing it to be replaced by another stretch of DNA that is introduced at the same time. This can either replace a faulty gene with a healthy one or change a gene to make it behave differently. `

At ESOF 2018 we learned about some exciting frontier research ‘putting the CRISPR back in bacteria’ and investigating other repair systems in bacteria in conjunction with CRISPR to develop new and efficient tools for bacterial gene editing. This type of work could be potentially useful for novel approaches against infections; particularly relevant in view of the issue of Antibacterial Resistance, which is a real threat now and of increasing concern.
For example, we heard about research using CRISPR tools for reprogramming in order to target antibiotic resistant genes and achieve the sequence specific killing of virulent (harmful) members of a microbial population, and immunising avirulent (not virulent) members.
 In this way sequence-specific antimicrobials could be potentially delivered by a bacteriophage (a virus that infects and replicates within bacteria). Clinical trials to develop such antimicrobials could face many regulatory issues.

MYCOCHASSIS
Engineering bacteria to deliver therapeutic agents or to present antigens (substance that causes the body to make an immune response against that substance) for vaccination is an interesting approach with potentially promising clinical application. However, a key challenge is the choice of bacteria to engineer for this use i.e. the ‘chassis’ you use.

Mycoplasmas are small and relatively simple bacteria that are good candidates for ‘chassis’ design. The ‘MYCOCHASSIS’ project is using a genome-reduced bacterium Mycoplasma pneumonia (M. pneumonia). This project is ‘combining bioinformatics, -omics, and biochemistry approaches with genome engineering tools, systems biology analyses, and computational whole-cell models’. (See further information below*)

The goals of ongoing research are to engineer M. pneumonia and characterise this chassis (using in vivo models i.e. whole living organisms). Further work is needed to address the potential development of a ‘chassis’ to treat human lung diseases. It is an area with promises and challenges.

WHY I THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO DISCUSS THIS NOW
There is an increasing focus of synthetic biology on biotechnology and medical applications for very good reasons. There have been important advances in synthetic biology, notably in gene-editing techniques. It is an area of fascinating science – with many potential benefits. It is a fast changing field with new reports emerging frequently – including new promising initiatives, challenges and concerns. Furthermore, advances in one field may also have exciting implications in other fields. It is important to keep track of challenges and opportunities.

Questions relating to any emerging issues in biological engineering need to be discussed and as with other new developments in science and technology, risk-benefit assessment and monitoring is important for decision making.

Synthetic biology should address the needs of society as well as being in accordance with societal values and ethics. Development of new medicines and creation of synthetic DNA and forms of life are highly relevant to us all. I think the purpose should be for the good of humankind. There will, however, be different viewpoints of what is ‘good’ and discussions could be highly contentious – better to proceed with an eyes wide open approach.


There will need to be appropriate regulations and safeguards against misuse (intended or unintended) particularly with such very fast moving technology, which in some cases could become easily and widely available.

It is likely there will be unexpected breakthroughs, which may be pursued and lead to effective solutions. On the other hand, some may be considered too risky. There will be different opinions, and debates will continue. Possible implications for society, including questions, risks and opportunities need to be openly discussed.

There are concerns about the possibility of criminal activity and manufacture of illegal drugs using engineered organisms. For legal medicinal products a shift toward more equitable and globally distributed pharmaceutical production could be a beneficial and worthy goal. However, there would be concerns around the potential disruption of existing manufacturing markets and raw material supply chains, and new makers could disrupt pharmaceutical markets.

The reversibility of a genetic technology will depend on its interplay with biological, ecological and social environments. Some people consider gene drive techniques too risky to become the technique of choice. Although it may appear promising, it may not necessarily provide the best option to address a particular targeted challenge.

If, in the future, we are faced with an urgent necessity, the type of research done now to characterise potential solutions, may be very useful and enable a more rapid development of a solution. Ongoing research is exciting not only for its potential applications but also in advancing our knowledge and understanding of fascinating areas of biology and understanding in life sciences.

SUMMARY
The three presentations and open discussions between the panel and audiences provided a valuable insight into the field of synthetic biology. Some specific and exciting advances in ongoing work were described; along with promises and also challenges. There were opportunities for open discussion covering specific and general questions.

CONCLUDING REMARK
This frontier research has many promises and also many challenges. 
It is fascinating science and has enormous potential.

……………………………….

*FURTHER INFORMATION

CRISPR is an acronym for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats.
Short animation videos:
What is gene editing and how does it work?
(Published on 4 Oct 2016 Produced by the Royal Society in conjunction with Wellcome Trust)
Genetic Engineering and Diseases – Gene Drive & Malaria (Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell Published on 21 Sep 2016)

Some further reading:
’20 emerging issues in biological engineering’ Wintle et al. eLife 2017;6:e30247. DOI: https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30247

‘Exploiting CRISPR-Cas nucleases to produce sequence-specific antimicrobials’ David Bikard et al Nature Biotechnology 32,1146–1150(2014)
‘Defining a minimal cell: essentiality of small ORFs and ncRNAs in a genome-reduced bacterium’Lluch-Senar M et al. Mol Syst Biol. 2015 Jan 21;11(1):780. doi: 10.15252/msb.20145558.

UKRI exhibition: epigenetics and more…

Look what I came across in the exhibition hallway – UKRI making its mark! It was a chance to hear more about this new ‘entity’ and to discuss interesting ongoing research in many different fields.

Photos taken at the July 2018 EuroScience Open Forum Toulouse, France

I just couldn’t resist the chance to play with a hands on activity relating to epigenetics – a fun approach to understanding science.

Have you ever wondered how every cell of your body has the same DNA but is not doing the same thing and cells are doing different things at different times?

‘All of your body’s roughly 50 trillion cells contain the same genetic information encoded within your DNA. DNA is interpreted differently in each cell type due to epigenetics, a collection of chemical marks that affect how genes behave. As such, epigenetics is part of what allows each part of your body to do different jobs.’

‘UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is a new entity that brings together nine partners to create an independent organisation with a strong voice for research and innovation’

More about UKRI here
More about work in this area at the Babraham Institute, Cambridge,UK.

by Dr Julie Charlesworth

Thank you ESOF 2018!

Euorpean Science Open Forum (ESOF 2018) media accreditation

EuroScience Open Forum 2018 in France

Thank you ESOF 2018!

For Media Accreditation

For the Freedom to dip in and out with access to everything. The opportunity to meet, mingle and make friends with so many interesting people.

As a science communicator, I am returning with so many stories to tell from Toulouse.

I will be spreading not only the serious science but also the joy of science. Watch this space – here and elsewhere.

by Dr Julie Charlesworth

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