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March 05, 2011

Warwick Week – Water efficient seeds, training doctors in Malawi, and why family meals are essential

New path to water efficient seeds discovered

Research by University of Warwick's School of Life Sciences has opened up a new path to produce water efficient seeds that will be a significant tool to help create drought resistance, and ensure global food security. The research team, led by Dr Lorenzo Frigerio, looked at two proteins that are members of the large family of "Major Intrinsic Proteins", or MIPs, which are widespread among living organisms and are known to act as water channels governing water uptake.

The researchers focussed much of their attention on an understudied group of intrinsic proteins known as "Tonoplast Intrinsic Proteins" or TIPs. The University of Warwick's research team work not only resulted in the most complete plant TIP expression map produced to date - it also threw up a major surprise in that they found that TIP not only had a role to play in water management in seed maturation and germination - in fact they found that it probably plays the crucial water management role.

Dr Frigerio said:

We are now on the right path to build a real understanding of how water uptake is regulated in seed development and germination. That understanding will help researchers produce seeds to meet the challenges of Global climate change, and food security through improved  drought resistance and increased water use efficiency.

Find out more at PhysOrg >>

£12 million to help local SMEs design products that even targets customers' emotional experience

A new £12 million programme has just be announced to help Midlands SMEs access some the world's leading product and service design Technology. The new International Institute for Product and Service Innovation (IIPSI) at WMG at the University of Warwick, is jointly funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the University of Warwick in a funding partnership brought together by the regional development agency, Advantage West Midlands (AWM).

The institute will bring into one place some of the world's leading product and service technologies including:  multi functional polymers that enable advanced electronics and functionality to be embedded in three dimensional plastic moulded components, and digital design tools that will allow the creation of virtual products that can shared with production partners. However the very latest digital design tools that will be available to SMEs the new institute  will go one step further than most in that they will also be designed deliver the best emotional experience for consumers.

WMG Director Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya said:

Today even the most low tech of products benefit enormously from the latest design technology in creating them and fitting them for the marketplace. The best product design technology will ensure that even the sound, feel and look of a product is perfected and even tailored to the customer's desires. This new International Institute for Product and Service Innovation will allow Midlands SME to find the technology they need to deliver that customer expectation.

Find out more in the press release >>

€2.6 million research project to prevent mothers and babies dying in Malawi

Warwick Medical School has just begun a €2.6 million three year research and training programme to train Malawian clinical officers in a bid to reduce the country's high death rate for pregnant mothers and babies. Their aim is to train 50 clinical officers as advanced leaders who will then be expected to teach and cascade to others what they have learnt.

In a country with a population of just over 14 million, only 40 doctors complete their training each year and there is a chronic shortage of skilled obstetricians. By training up the existing network of non-physician clinicians - who would be described as somewhere between midwives and obstetricians in this country - Warwick doctors are sharing their expertise to ensure they are taught the extra skills to deal with the 15 per cent of pregnancies which end up in difficult births and improve the care for mothers and newborns to increase their chances of survival.

Dr Paul O'Hare, Reader in Medicine from the University of Warwick Medical School, said:

There are probably more Malawian doctors in Manchester, than there are in the whole of Malawi. Whilst it's difficult to stem the numbers of qualified doctors leaving Africa for better pay and work conditions elsewhere, what we can practically do is ensure that the existing clinical officers and midwives are provided with the a higher level of clinical training and education. This means, for example, not only teaching them to improve their surgical skills such as C-Sections, but to be more aware that the aftercare treatment can have a profound effect on survival rates.

Find out more in the press release >>

Family meals are the key to happiness

A study conducted by academics from the universities of Warwick, Essex, Oxford and Surrey suggests that eating a family meal at least three times a week will strengthen bonds between parents and children, and prevent family breakdowns.

Other findings included that married couples are most likely to happy with their relationships, yet the longer a couple stays together, the more dissatisfied they are likely to become with each other.

The findings are among the first results to emerge from Understanding Society, a £50 million, government-funded study following the lives of 100,000 people in 40,000 households across the country.

Find out more in the Daily Telegraph >>

February 18, 2011

Warwick Prize for Writing, why staying up too late damages your health, and superbug investigations

Warwick Prize for Writing shortlist

The shortlist has been announced for the 2011 Warwick Prize for Writing. The six books selected cover a range of topics and modes of writing, all of them relating to this year's theme of colour.

The books selected are:

  • The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam
  • Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage by Peter Forbes
  • The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna
  • The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and its Cultural Consequences by Peter D McDonald
  • What Color is the Sacred by Michael Taussig
  • White Egrets by Derek Walcott

The shortlist is now subject to a judging panel, chaired by former Children's Laureate Michael Rosen. Other judges include Vice-Chancellor Professor Nigel Thrift, Editorial Director of Chatto & Windus (part of Random House) Jenny Uglow, author and poet Erica Wagner and writer, cultural critic, public speaker and broadcaster Baroness Lola Young.

The winner of the £50,000 prize will be announced at an awards ceremony at The Royal Festival Hall in London on Tuesday 22 March 2011. The winning author will also be given the opportunity to take up a short placement at the University.

Find out more in the press release >>

Lack of sleep increases risk of heart attacks

Experts at the University Warwick have discovered that those who stay up longer are at greater risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke than those who get a full night's sleep.

Professor Francesco Cappuccio from Warwick Medical School said:

If you sleep less than six hours per night and have disturbed sleep you stand a 48% greater chance of developing or dying from heart disease and a 15% greater chance of developing or dying of a stroke. The trend for late nights and early mornings is actually a ticking timebomb for our health so you need to act now to reduce your risk of developing these life-threatening conditions. The whole work-life balance struggle is causing too many of us to trade in precious sleeping time.

Co-researcher Dr Michelle Miller added: 

Chronic short sleep produces hormones and chemicals in the body which also increase the risk of developing high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes and obesity.

Read more in Marie Claire >>

Researchers investigate superbug attacks

A superbug that contributed to the deaths of about 80 patients in Shropshire, has become dominant across the West Midlands. The strain E.coli ESBL has gradually built up resistance to the one group of antibiotics that were originally effective against it. At the University of Warwick Department of Biosciences, scientists now believe that there is growing evidence that these resistant strains can spread through the environment. The research team believe that unlike normal E.coli , the multi-resistant organism can survive for longer outside the gut.

For example, Dr Will Gaze, Senior Research Fellow, said he had found far higher concentrations of multi-resistant E.coli downstream of sewerage outlets. Professor Liz Wellington added that low levels of antibiotics were getting into the environment; with antibiotics around, the bacteria's ability to swap DNA with other bacteria could speed up the ability to gain resistance. It can also create new, more dangerous bacteria.

Read more in the BBC news >>

Chancellor Sir Richard Lambert appointed global non-executive director for Ernst and Young

Chancellor Sir Richard Lambert has been appointed as a global non-executive director for Ernst & Young, the professional services giant. The Chancellor, CBI director-general until January, spent 35 years at the Financial Times, where he was editor from 1991 until 2001, sat on the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee from 2003 to 2006 and has been the University of Warwick's chancellor since 2008.

Read more in the Sunday Times >>

Dr Manu Vatish wins national award

Dr Manu Vatish beat off stiff competition from across the country to win a prestigious award and grant from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship, a national award recognising his care for pregnant women.

It will allow him to spend time in the Bronx area of New York and Harvard Medical School studying the effects of obesity and how best to manage it during pregnancy and labour. Dr Vatish – an Oxford graduate and Warwick Medical School associate professor – works as a consultant obstetrician at University Hospital, where he oversaw 37-stone Henley Green mum Leanne Salt’s pregnancy when she became the heaviest woman ever to give birth to triplets in August 2008.

He said:

It is a great honour to have been awarded a Churchill Fellowship, which will allow us to continue to deliver maternity care for our patients to the highest standards and maintain excellence in patient focused reproductive research at Warwick Medical School.

Read more in the Coventry Telegraph >>

January 24, 2011

Warwick Week – Xbox robot, automotive future in Turkey, and why men don't look after their health

University of Warwick engineering students use Xbox to aid award winning rescue robot

Engineering students at the University of Warwick are building an innovative rescue robot which uses the Xbox Kinect to help navigate the machine - in a bid to retain the European RoboCup Rescue Championship title which was won by a team of Warwick students last year. They are currently trialling the XBox Kinect to see if they can use it to provide a method of real time visual communication and 3D mapping, which will ultimately aid in the navigation of the autonomous robot to give the team an edge over the competition.

The team is being backed by WMG academic, Dr Emma Rushforth, who believes the project will give the students an excellent opportunity showcase their skills. She said:

As well as giving each team member experience in solving real engineering problems, the project offers them the chance to acquire unparalleled expertise in mobile robot design which, in future, companies will need to have.

Read more in the press release and the Official Xbox Magazine >>

Lord Bhattacharyya looks towards Turkey

Speaking in the House of Lords, Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, head of Warwick Manufacturing Group, advised that the Midlands automotive sector needs to see Turkey as the next big sales opportunity, saying that the country could become the next 'powerhouse' economy. There are only around a hundred vehicles per thousand people in Turkey and in neighbouring countries, the number is lower still, though people are getting wealthier.

Developing durable, low fuel consumption vehicles will be crucial to meeting consumer needs, he argues:

That's why Turkey is now focused on improving R&D. Facilities that employ at least 50 technicians get around half of their investment costs Those program costs required beyond the development phase to introduce into operational use a new capability; to procure initial, additional, or replacement equipment for operational forces; or to provide for major modifications of an existing capability. This is a major opportunity for British business. We have world-leading innovation in automotive to offer. If we offer partnership with Turkish institutions now, we will reap rewards when expanding businesses look to the UK for support. If we spurn this chance, others will seek to take that place.

Read more in the Birmingham Mail >>

Prestigious US honour for Head of Dentistry

Edward Lynch, Head of Warwick Dentistry, part of Warwick Medical School, has been honoured with accredited membership of the prestigious American Society for Dental Aesthetics (ASDA). Fewer than 200 educators, innovators and practitioners worldwide have received this distinguished accredited membership since ASDA was established in 1976, when it became the first aesthetic dental association in the world. To mark his membership, Edward was asked to give the prestigious keynote address at the annual ASDA congress in San Antonio, Texas. He was also voted by his peers in April 2010 as this year’s most influential person in UK dentistry.

Dr Lynch explained: 

I’m delighted to receive the honour of this prestigious accreditation and hope that it allows us to continue to raise awareness about the excellent and innovative dental education and research we provide in Warwick Dentistry at Warwick Medical School. We are building a team of world class academics in Warwick Dentistry and we aim to be a world-leading postgraduate unit, internationally renowned for our high quality and relevance of our education programmes and for the excellence and significance of our research.

Read more in the press release >>

Wave power could contain fusion plasma

Scientists may have found a way to channel the flux and fury of a nuclear fusion plasma into a means to help sustain the electric current needed to contain that very same fusion plasma. Researchers at the University of Warwick’s Centre for Fusion Space and Astrophysics and the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s Culham Centre for Fusion Energy used large scale computer simulations to confirm a longstanding prediction by U.S. researchers that high energy alpha particles born in fusion reactions will be key to generating fusion power in the next planned generation of tokamaks. This work was only possible using the recently commissioned large scale computing facilities at the University of Warwick supported by EPSRC, in particular for theoretical work supporting fusion energy generation.

University of Warwick researcher Professor Sandra Chapman said:

These large scale computer simulations capture the plasma dynamics in unprecedented detail and have opened up an exciting new area.

Read more in Scientific Computing >>

Do men fail to look after their own health?

In Coventry the biggest influence on your life expectancy is not the colour of your skin or even where you live and work. The Telegraph recently revealed how men living in inner city Coventry are unlikely to reach retirement age. In Foleshill, men living in this inner city district have the lowest average life expectancy in the whole of Coventry – just 64 years-old.

Alan Dolan, associate professor in men’s health at the University of Warwick, argues that society is partly to blame for men failing to take of their own health.

The way we see men has a very important impact on they way they behave and on their health. We want men to be independent, resilient, reliant and physically and emotionally strong. It starts in childhood, we tell them ‘big boys don’t cry’, ‘be a man my son’ or ‘don’t be a wimp’ – it’s all quite macho. The way men demonstrate that masculinity is associated with health risks... Also, men don’t tend to talk about their health. Can you imagine a group of men sat around discussing testicular self-awareness or cancer? But that’s not to say men don’t understand their health. Men are often unwillingly exposed to health hazards and danger at work. They are less likely to refuse to do jobs that may well damage their health, they don’t feel able to. Men can’t live outside their gender and they can’t choose to become more like women.

Read more in the Coventry Telegraph >>

November 19, 2010

Warwick Week – Measuring Happiness, Sibling Rivalry, Undeserving Poor and Masons' Marks

Why it's hard to measure happiness

This week the government announced plans to measure the nation’s happiness, or general well-being (GWB) according to David Cameron. Prof Andrew Oswald of Warwick Business School is an expert in emotional prosperity and happiness. He said:

Economic performance is... a means to an end. That end is not the consumption of beefburgers, nor the accumulation of television sets, nor the vanquishing of some high level of interest rates, but rather the enrichment of mankind's feeling of well-being. Economic things matter only in so far as they make people happier.

Read the full article on BBC Magazine >>

An only child is a happy child

New research from Prof Dieter Wolke, Warwick Medical School, shows that the more siblings children have, the unhappier they become, due to bullying and competition. The research was featured in The Observer this week:

One of the widest-ranging research projects on family life conducted in Britain has revealed that the fewer siblings children have, the happier they are – and that only children are the most contented.

The findings, shared exclusively with the Observer, suggest that "sibling bullying" could be part of the problem, with 31% of children saying they are hit, kicked or pushed by a brother or sister "quite a lot" or "a lot". Others complain of belongings being stolen by siblings and being called hurtful names.

The figures are the first to emerge from Understanding Society, a study tracking the lives of 100,000 people in 40,000 British households. They will be revealed on Friday in Britain in 2011, the State of the Nation, a magazine published by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Read the full article on The Observer website >>

The deserving and the undeserving poor

Prof Mark Harrison was discussing the morals of the welfare state on BBC Radio 4’s Analysis programme on Monday this week (15th November).

The 30 minute programme, led by presenter Chris Bowlby considered whether a state welfare system can ever distinguish between those who deserve help and those who do not. Other contributors to the programme included Will Hutton, The Work Foundation; Jose Harris, Emeritus Professor of Modern History, Oxford University; Hazel Forsyth, Museum of London; and Gordon Lewis, Community Project Manager, Salvation Army.

Find out more about the programme and listen again >>

Masons' marks get a revival

A medieval system of marking stone in building work could be a cheap and effective way of ending the modern day frustration of constructing ‘flat-pack’ furniture, according to Dr Jenny Alexander, History of Art Department.

Her research was featured in The Guardian this week as a cheap and efficient solution to complex self-assembly furniture. She said:

If companies that make flat-pack furniture used a system similar to masons' assembly marks to show which pieces went together, it could remove the need for the complex and often impenetrable instruction booklets they currently issue.

Read the full article on the Guardian website >>

September 10, 2010

Warwick Comment

A recent report into obesity surgery has shown that it "could save millions of pounds". As reported by the BBC this week: "The Office of Health Economics suggests £1.3bn could be saved over three years if a quarter of eligible patients got treatment through more people working and fewer demands on the NHS."

Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown, Chair of Public Health at Warwick Medical School suggests that surgery isnt' the answer to the problem:

Like so many of the treatments modern medicine offers, obesity surgery has helped and will continue to help some obese people greatly. It will also have created serious problems for a small number of people in whom surgery does not go well and overall, like other modern medical treatments, obesity surgery will have remarkably little effect on the public health.

The epidemic of obesity is very serious and it is not going to be solved by surgery or pills. It can only be solved by changing the obesogenic environment we have created and by making it clear that individuals are also responsible for their health. Obesity is caused by eating unhealthily and not taking enough exercise. So it is a problem individuals can solve for themselves.

Sugar intake is critical particularly in the form of fizzy drinks and snacks. Changing to healthier eating patterns, consuming for example more fruit and vegetables, and becoming more physically active both increase feelings of wellbeing so there are immediate positive returns for those who take these steps. Whatever the results the Office of Health Economics study, let us not fool ourselves into thinking that surgery is the answer.

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