Duchess visits Cambridge
The Duchess of Gloucester paid a visit to the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, at the Addenbrooke's Site, to look at some of the research carried out in the Cambridge City Over 75 Cohort Study.
This unique project began in 1985 and is a long-term follow-up study of a population sample of around 2,600 people aged 75 and above. Each of the individuals taking part in the study has been assessed several times during the past 15 years, to understand what factors affect the maintenance of physical and mental health and influence their quality of life. The study is multi-disciplinary, investigating genetic and neurobiological factors as well as medical, social and psychological factors. The team is headed by Carol Brayne (Institute of Public Health) and Felicia Huppert (Department of Psychiatry).
Dr Brayne said: "Longitudinal studies are vital to build up a picture of successful and frail ageing. This study is important because it has concentrated on the oldest old - the age group expanding fastest at the moment."
The project has resulted in more than 50 publications on various aspects of ageing and findings have been used by a wide range of groups, including health service policy makers and product designers wanting to make user-friendly products for older people.
Photograph: Nigel Luckhurst
Scientists Pinpoint Rare Disease
A team of scientists at the University of Cambridge has taken part in an international collaboration to identify the gene responsible for a rare hereditary disorder. The condition, called Incontinentia Pigmenti, occurs only in women and affects the skin, hair, eyes and nervous system.
Dr Sue Kenwrick, of the Wellcome Trust Centre for the Molecular Mechanism of Disease, said the condition was difficult to diagnose and sufferers could often be treated for entirely different diseases, such as herpes or sepsis, a kind of blood infection. Dr Kenwrick said: "Identification of this gene is therefore a major breakthrough for diagnosing as well as understanding the cause of IP."
Growing old and looking good
Does growing old necessarily mean a reduced quality of life?
Dr Suzanne Dickson, of the University's Department of Physiology, has begun a research programme to answer that question with the help of a grant from the European Union worth E1,018,000 (£644, 300), rated top out of 211 applications. Together with researchers in Edinburgh, Gothenburg, Copenhagen and Madrid, Dr Dickson is investigating a group of compounds, called Growth Hormone Secretagogues, that act in the brain to make the body produce more of its own growth hormone.
She explained: "The average life expectancy is currently between 75 and 82 years and this may increase to 85 years in the next few years, but it's not clear whether these additional years will be satisfying to live. The body slows its production of growth hormones from the mid 30s onwards and this can become problematic later in life when the body becomes increasingly frail. In an increasing number of the healthy old, loss of muscle strength limits the chances of living an independent life. Growth hormone helps reduce fat and increases muscle mass, as well as having other beneficial metabolic effects, so if we can increase its production in elderly people, this would be very good for health and could mean elderly people can lead independent lives."
Dr Dickson added: "Hormone replacement therapy is another way of achieving this but it is very expensive. The compounds we will be investigating could be a more cost effective way of improving the quality of life for elderly people."
University staff and partners interested in research on education can access a publication called Research at Homerton. This can be obtained free from the Research Secretary at Homerton College. Alternatively, it can be downloaded from the College's website at http://www.homerton.cam.ac.uk
Professor Donald Broom, Colleen Macleod Professor of Animal Welfare, was asked to give a series of lectures for the European Commission. The lectures are designed to inform accession countries - countries wishing to join the E.U. - about E.U. requirements on animal welfare. Accession countries are required to modify their laws and enforcement procedures so they conform with those in force within the E.U.
Professor Broom has been a member, or chairman, of the E.U. Scientific Committee on Animal Welfare for the past 10 years, and he has already led courses on the subject in Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Slovakia. Further courses this year will be held in Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, Estonia, Cyprus and Malta.
Professor Broom said: "The countries vary considerably in their state of preparedness and their knowledge of public opinion and its effects on practice in the farm animal industry within the E.U. Whilst the Czech Republic already has animal protection laws which are in some respects stronger than those in the UK, the idea that the public can force changes in laws and in the buying practices of supermarket chains so that farmers have to change housing systems is surprising to people in some countries. However, people from all of these countries are eager to find out about and meet the criteria for accession."
Rewriting the Renaissance
Researchers in the Department of Music have embarked on a project to chart the spread of music books throughout the Iberian peninsula during the 16th century, with a strong emphasis on cultural exchange with Italy. The research is funded to the tune of £103,000 by the Leverhulme Trust and its aim is to re-examine the traditional views of Spain and Portugal as a self-contained culture which were put forward by 20th century historians.
Dr Tess Knighton and Dr Iain Fenlon, leading the research, believe that, far from being culturally isolated, printed and manuscript music from across Europe circulated throughout the Iberian peninsula at all levels of society. Dr Knighton said: "No attempt has previously been made to consider the place of music in Renaissance Spain and Portugal against the wider background of the book trade - or to analyse its relationship to the musical and literary cultures of other parts of Europe. This project will be of interest not only to musicologists, but also to social and cultural historians of the period."
A new Interdisciplinary Materials Research Laboratory was recently opened in the university's Department of Chemical Engineering. This £2.2 million venture, which was funded by HEFCE, the Shell Endowment Fund, and the University of Cambridge, is designed to be a nucleus for collaborative studies on semi-solids, soft solids and structured fluids. It completes a major six-year programme of modernisation in the Department, providing the new, high-technology laboratory facilities that are essential for conducting cutting-edge research - thereby ensuring that the department remains at the forefront of the changing demands in the discipline.
The new lab was formally opened by Dr Graham Ferris, an Executive Vice-President of Shell Chemicals Ltd, at the department's Research Open Day at the end of June. The opening was attended by senior university officers, members of the Chemical Engineering Syndicate and the Council of the School of Technology, a representative of the Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE), and many industrial collaborators. The theme of the open day was Novel Materials Processing, and it featured talks by a number of external and internal speakers.
Photograph: Nicholas Robinson