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    Archive for the 'Life Sciences' Category

    Education Select Committee Brexit hearing session at UCL

    By Melissa Bradshaw, on 9 February 2017

    On 25 January, the Education Select Committee held the second Oral Evidence Session of its inquiry on the effect of Brexit on higher education (HE) at UCL.

    The committee heard evidence from UCL President & Provost Professor Michael Arthur, NUS Vice-President (Higher Education) Sorana Vieru and representatives of University and College Union, Erasmus Student Network UK, Universities UK, the British Council and London Economics.

    There was a strong consensus on the potentially damaging effects of Brexit on HE, and an urgent call for the government to do more to address them.

    Professor Michael Arthur

    Professor Michael Arthur

    The hearing took place just over a week after Theresa May’s historic speech on the UK’s strategy for exiting the European Union, and evidence was heard in two panels.

    The Chair of the Education Committee, Neil Carmichael MP, began each session by asking the panellists for their reaction to the Prime Minister’s speech.

    Every one of the panellists welcomed the tone of the speech and its emphasis on a “global Britain”, but called for immediate action and more specific detail – particularly in regard to the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK.

    Referring to the Prime Minister’s expressed wish to guarantee the rights of EU citizens, Professor Arthur said: “I’d like to challenge the Prime Minister to go one step further and take the initiative to make the guarantee and challenge the rest of the EU to follow”, arguing that this would give Britain the moral high-ground and provide the negotiations a foundation of good will.

    The committee heard evidence of the significant contribution of the higher education sector to the British economy, including the contributions EU staff and students make to the wider economy when they are residing here.

    Dr Gavan Conlon (London Economics) also argued that, with education the UK’s fifth largest services export, the HE sector can generate revenue that could contribute to the government’s proposed industrial strategy.

    The panellists spoke of the positive contributions that EU staff and students make in terms of diversity and ‘soft power’, contributing to Britain’s prestigious academic profile and giving their British peers invaluable experience in international engagement, leadership and collective problem solving. “For a global Britain we need global graduates”, said Rosie Birchard (Erasmus Student Network UK).

    The committee also heard evidence that currently UK HE “punches well above its weight” globally – thanks, in part, to our membership of the EU. Jo Beall (British Council) pointed to statistics showing that the UK leads the world in research quality (by field-weighted citation impact) and 1 in 10 world leaders were educated here.

    (more…)

    Lunch Hour Lecture: Bones, mummies, tuberculosis and ancient DNA

    By Ella Richards, on 18 March 2016

    As World Tuberculosis Day approaches on 24 March, Dr Helen Donoghue (UCL Clinical Microbiology) ends this term’s series of Lunch Hour Lectures by looking back at 9,000 year old tuberculosis DNA.

    MTB

    MTB via Flickr

    What is tuberculosis 

    Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) that spread via aerosol and primarily affects the lungs.

    Although there are current health scares about antibiotic-resistant strains of TB, due to modern sanitation, vaccination programmes and antibiotics there have not been any major TB epidemics in the UK in the 21st century. However, it is currently estimated that one third of the world’s population is infected with various strains of MTB. These infections often pass under the radar because the majority of them are latent, meaning that the infected person does not have any symptoms of the disease.

    TB is one of the world’s oldest diseases, in part due to this high level of latency. There are multiple strains of MTB, all associated with differing areas of the globe. What is striking about these strains is that people with TB generally carry the strain of MTB associated with their ethnic origin, despite their current location.

    For Dr Donoghue, this is evidence that MTB has evolved with humans. She argued that in the Neolithic and Palaeolithic periods, when humans lived in small populations, pathogens that were highly infectious and killed their hosts quickly failed to survive as they would simply wipe out tribes. In contrast, MTB’s combination of high latency rates and virulence means that carriers transmit the disease before dying.

    What’s more, evolving with humans has meant that there are numerous strains of extinct MTB, as well as extant MTB. The research conducted by Dr Donoghue and her team means that new methods are being perfected to analyse these extinct, ancient strains. (more…)

    Lunch Hour Lecture: Ovarian cancer screening — the long journey

    By Ella Richards, on 15 March 2016

    Will effective screening for ovarian cancer, one of the most common cancers affecting women, ever become a reality?

    A group of researchers started to reach for this goal more than 30 years ago. As Professor Usha Menon (UCL Institute for Women’s Health) explained in her Lunch Hour Lecture, determining a method of diagnosing early stage ovarian cancer is almost in touching distance.

    What is ovarian cancer?

    Ovarian cancer is cancer of the ovaries and fallopian tubes, and it is the fifth most common cause of cancer-related deaths in women in Europe.

    Unfortunately most ovarian cancer patients do not have clear symptoms in the early stages of the disease, meaning that 55% of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed in stage III or IV, when the cancer is harder to treat.

    Moreover, there is a 90% survival rate when ovarian cancer is diagnosed at stage I, however only a 5% to 20% survival rate for five years when diagnosed at stage III or IV. (more…)

    Lunch Hour Lecture: Reproduction without sex — what does technology have to offer?

    By Ella Richards, on 15 March 2016

    Professor Joyce Harper’s (UCL Institute for Women’s Health) International Women’s Day Lunch Hour Lecture discussed the often taboo subject of scientific involvement in reproduction, why people choose to reproduce without sex and how science can solve reproductive issues.

    joyce-harper

    Professor Joyce Harper

    Why is there an increased focus on reproduction without sex?

    Professor Harper was blunt: “Unfortunately, as women, we aren’t well designed. As you sit here, in this lecture theatre, you are becoming more and more infertile with every minute that slips by, and after 35 years your fertility decreases significantly. By 42, it is very difficult to get pregnant, by 45 it is almost impossible.”

    “Evolution has not kept up with feminism.” Across the world, and especially in developed countries such as the UK, women are delaying having children until their 30s. Twenty-first century opportunities mean that women are busy doing other things in their 20s, such as travelling and enjoying their career, rather than settling down and having children at the age that their mothers or grandmothers did.

    This means that when women try to get pregnant in their 30s they are often surprised by reproductive issues and they come to IVF clinics at an average age of 38. (more…)