Research paper summary – Casril Liebert

Ankle dorsiflexor muscle size, composition and force with ageing and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Matthew Maddocks, Matthew Jones, Thomas Snell, Bronwen Connolly, Susanne de Wolf-Linder, John Moxham, Gerrard F. Rafferty

Published in the journal Experimental Physiology, June 2014

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the name for a group of lung diseases that cause breathing problems. COPD patients often find it hard to do exercise because their muscles may be slightly weaker compared to a healthy person. The ankle dorsiflexor muscle, at the front of the shin, is used for balance and walking. This research looked at how the ankle dorsiflexor muscles were different between 20 young healthy people, 18 healthy elderly people and 17 people with COPD. This allows us to see how COPD affects the normal ageing process of the muscle.

Firstly, we took scans of the muscle to see what it is made of. We also measured the size of the muscle. The scans showed that the COPD patients had a lot of non-useful tissue in the muscle that doesn’t help the muscle work normally. The strength of the muscle was also measured. This was done by passing electricity into the nerve to the side of the knee that supplies the dorsiflexor muscle. This caused the nerves to react and tense the muscle.

The results showed that patients with severe COPD have ankle weakness. This means that their muscles are not as strong as a healthy person and it is harder to do certain tasks that require strength. The scans also revealed that a greater muscle size was associated with a greater muscle strength, and also that tissue in the muscle without a function is a major cause of muscle weakness. The muscle composition scan discovered that fat and fluid in the muscle was often found in COPD patients. This tissue that isn’t useful creates problems which affect exercise performance and postural control, causing impaired balance and walking abnormalities. The discoveries within this study have allowed us to better understand why muscle strength in COPD patients decreases much more than seen with normal ageing.

This summary was produced by Casril Liebert, Year 12 student from JFS School, Harrow, as part of our departmental educational outreach programme.

Research paper summary – David Launer

Longitudinal Assessment of Lung Function in Children With Sickle Cell Disease
Alan Lunt, Emily McGhee, Karl Sylvester, Gerrard F. Rafferty, Moira Dick, David Rees, Sue Height, Swee Lay Thein, Anne Greenough

Published in the journal Pediatric Pulmonology, December 2015

Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is amongst the most prevalent genetic conditions worldwide. Only being inherited if both one’s parents carry a ‘faulty’ gene in their DNA, SCD affects the Haemoglobin molecules that carry Oxygen in the blood, changing the shape of the red blood cells into so-called crescent shaped ‘sickles’. Despite its commonness, with over 300,000 babies being born with SCD worldwide every year, a clear and consistent picture of how SCD affects the lungs of children with SCD had not yet been researched. This study aimed to research the lung function of children affected by the disorder over time, observing how this changed in early and later childhood, and how this was affected by episodes of ACS (Acute Chest Syndrome) in early childhood, when the sickle-shaped red blood cells can block blood vessels and lead to various different injuries.

Two groups of children were tested. The first, who were slightly younger on average, were
measured twice for their lung function over an average of 2 years, while the second group were measured twice over approximately 10 years. A number of methods were used to test each person’s lung function, including ‘spirometry’ in which the quantity of air one can force out the lungs is measured, among other values like lung capacity. These measurements were then compared to a ‘control’ group of healthy children without SCD at a similar age, to give a normal level of lung function to compare against the SCD patients’.

In both groups of children with SCD, a reduction in lung function over time was seen when compared to the groups of children without SCD. However, the lung function of those in the first, younger, group decreased at a faster rate.

The results suggest that the fastest period of deterioration in lung function takes place in early childhood. Indeed, having an episode of ACS in young childhood was the only factor found that increased the likelihood of worse overall lung function later on. This could explain the faster decline of the younger group, as ACS is more common in younger children. This would seem to conclude that a focus should be placed on preventing ACS in young children as a strategy to improve the general lung function later on of those with SCD.

This summary was produced by David Launer, Year 12 student from JFS School Harrow, as part of our departmental educational outreach programme.

Research paper summary – Lily Groom

Understanding Heroin Overdose: A Study of the Acute Respiratory Depressant Effects of Injected Pharmaceutical Heroin  Caroline J. Jolley, James Bell, Gerrard F. Rafferty, John Moxham, John Strang

Published in PLoS One, October 2015

Opioids are a class of drug which act by attaching to opioid receptors, found in the brain and spinal cord, reducing the perception of pain. For this reason, opioids are often prescribed for pain relief. When people misuse opioids, they are often unaware of the dangerous side effects that come with them. For example, they are respiratory depressants, meaning they can reduce the breathing rate, which can be fatal. Many of the current methods of measuring respiratory depression under-estimate the true effect these drugs have on the body (especially the breathing rate), which is why this study was undertaken. Respiratory depression is a major cause of overdose and if you cannot detect when it is happening effectively, you have less chance of helping someone suffering from it.

The participants in this study were monitored over a course of 150 minutes, after they had been given their usual opioid dose. This was done using EMGpara (a tool which assesses how hard the breathing muscles are working), pulse oximetry (measuring the blood’s oxygen levels), and measurement of carbon dioxide levels in exhaled breath. The participants were asked to rate how much they felt the drug’s effect at three minutes prior to the drug being given, and then at regular intervals afterwards. Staff ratings of intoxication and level of consciousness were also given. Pulse oximetry and observer ratings are the more commonly used methods of observing patients’ breathing currently.

However, this study found that there was an increase in the level of carbon dioxide per breath in eight of the ten participants and a low blood oxygen level in only four out of the ten patients. The difference in results shows that the traditional approach of measuring the blood’s oxygen level is not as sensitive a method to detect respiratory depression after taking an opioid. There were varying degrees of respiratory depression found in all patients. However, the pulse oximetry only picked up four of these. The study also found that just talking to a patient helped to mask episodes where they were breathing unusually slowly. This means that it is very easy to miss a potentially dangerous symptom.

The findings of this study therefore suggest that we should change the way we test for respiratory depression in clinical settings, to help identify, treat and prevent it in patients taking opioids.

This summary was produced by Lily Groom, Year 13 student from Graveney School, Tooting, as part of our departmental educational outreach programme.

Research paper summary – Lottricia Millett

Parasternal Intercostal Electromyography: a Novel Tool to Assess Respiratory Load in Children Victoria MacBean, Caroline J. Jolley, Timothy G. Sutton, Akash Deep, Anne Greenough, John Moxham, Gerrard F. Rafferty

Published in the journal Pediatric Research, May 11th 2016

Parasternal intercostal electromyography (EMGpara) is a new way to measure breathing difficulty. Research needs to be carried out because body parts used in breathing, like the lungs, need to be properly checked over for breathing problems to be managed, but the testing methods aren’t always suitable for children who are very young or ill. The parasternal intercostal muscles are muscles that move at the same time as the diaphragm (a thin sheet of muscle under the lungs) when you breathe in and out. EMGpara measures signals from the brain which are sent to these muscles without putting any instruments into the body, so it is ideal for children.

EMGpara was measured using stickers on the front of the chest while the participants (92 healthy, 20 wheezy and 25 with a machine (ventilator) to help them breathe) were breathing in and out in a resting state. For the wheezy children, measurements were taken before and after a substance to widen air passages (reliever inhaler, or bronchodilator) was used; for the critically ill children, these were taken during ventilator-assisted breathing, then with just mild air pressure to keep the airways open (continuous positive airways pressure).

It was found that as age, weight and height increased, EMGpara decreased. This is because when children are growing up, big changes take place in the respiratory system, decreasing the effort needed for breathing. EMGpara in the healthy children was the lowest; in the wheezy children it was higher before the bronchodilator was used, dropping to similar levels to the healthy children afterwards. In the critically ill children, EMGpara was higher than in the wheezy children when the ventilator was used, and even higher with continuous positive airways pressure when they were having to breathe without support.

This study has shown that measuring EMGpara is possible in children of a range of ages and levels of health. The results from the healthy children have shown important age-related changes in EMGpara, and those from the wheezy and critically ill children have shown that EMGpara is affected by changes in how hard the breathing muscles have to work because of different diseases and treatments. EMGpara could be a really helpful method in testing the breathing ability of patients who are usually difficult to assess.

This summary was produced by Lottricia Millett, Year 12 student from Burntwood School, Wandsworth, as part of our departmental educational outreach programme.

A summer with the King’s Muscle Lab

Sasha is a KCL student who is working with Dr Joerg Steier, a former King’s Muscle Lab researcher who is still part of our wider research group.  Here she tells us how she has found her research ‘taster’ summer so far…

My name is Sasha and I am a 2nd year Neuroscience student at KCL. The Neuroscience course,Sasha much like other Biomedical Science courses at King’s, aims to coach you in to a research career. For ages I was never really sure whether I wanted to pursue a career in research. I couldn’t see myself stuck in a lab with pipettes in a white coat, but after a few months of working as a summer student alongside researchers, I have learnt research is nothing like that at all!

I decided to get work experience over the summer because I knew I wouldn’t be sure to pursue a career in research unless I actually had some experience of doing the job. I saw a project online through King’s called ‘the Multiple Dimensions of Sleepiness’ and after having a few lectures on sleep physiology and medicine and thoroughly enjoying them, I decided to email the supervisor, Dr Steier, and share my interest in his project. It was agreed that I would help Dr Steier throughout the summer in collecting and analysing data, attending research meetings, and writing up the paper.

On the first day of helping Dr Steier I was super nervous – I really wanted to make a good impression! We were meeting at his office at 11am so I got there at 10.40am with plenty of time to spare. I knocked on the door and there was no answer. Not to worry I thought – it’s just because I’m early. I stood outside the office for 45 minutes with no one answering the door. I decided at this point to email Dr Steier as maybe he had forgotten we were meeting. He speedily replied saying “Ah I wondered where you were, today I am at my other office in the Lane Fox Unit (Westminster) not at Nuffield house (London Bridge).” So I spent my first day on the job running across London to the other campus arriving sweaty and breathless. Already I had learnt something very important – researchers may have multiple offices in different locations (and I must check beforehand which office I need to go to)!

The next few weeks went smoothly, I attended research meetings where researchers of the King’s Muscle Lab shared their ups and downs of their projects. From these meetings it became clear that research isn’t always smooth sailing, there are set backs and hurdles you need to get through but you have your colleagues, who have often been through the same thing, to support you. Attending these meetings I gained a really good insight in to the different projects that take place in the King’s Muscle Lab. At first it was difficult as I noticed researchers seems to abbreviate EVERYTHING, they are either discussing what happened in ICU or they’re gathering data from EEG’s, MSLT’s and PSG’s… It took me a few meetings to get the hang of it but after that there is nothing cooler than abbreviating everything and having your housemates think you’re an actual genius!

So far, my favourite part about helping on the project has been the data collection. This is because our data is questionnaire based so I have been able to interview patients from the sleep clinic. I have really taken to patient contact and I feel that it is the best way to really get down to the problem you are researching. It’s also really helped with my confidence and I have learnt to approach different patients in different ways based on their needs.

After data collection was completed, we needed to do some analysing. This was done using SPSS [statistical software]. Having never using this software before I was a bit overwhelmed. It seemed so confusing and Dr Steier could do everything on it so quickly. I honestly thought I would never get the hang of it. But after several YouTube videos and a couple of hours in the library I seemed to be producing means, standard deviations, correlations and linear regressions with ease! Alike to the abbreviations, it was tough at the beginning but it felt so good to actually understand how it worked.

We are now at a point in our project where we have sent off an abstract to a journal and we are waiting for it to be accepted. I have prepared myself to not be too disgruntled if it doesn’t get accepted because, like I said, there are many setbacks in research – you just need to let your passion for the subject keep you going. In only a couple of months I have learnt so many research skills that will help me in my career, but I think most importantly I have learnt many skills that will help me through life. I would say the TOP career skills I have learnt are to be a Team player, be Open minded and to Persevere!

Lung function in dolphins!

Dan came across a research paper the other day that was all about measuring respiratory function in dolphins – and it turns out that dolphins have pretty fascinating respiratory systems so we thought it worth sharing.  Obviously measuring lung function in any animal is tricky, but when they live in water…  We’re pretty impressed with the data these researchers managed to get, given that we often struggle with adult humans.  One good thing is that dolphins are so smart that the research team were actually able to train them to perform specific respiratory manoeuvres (“chuffs”) so that they could compare normal dolphin breathing to these effortful breaths.  The researchers also emphasised that the dolphins were free to swim away or resist the measurements if they wished, so actually they ‘gave consent’ for the study in their own way (tricky to sign a consent form when you’ve only got flippers).

Dolphins’ lungs get exposed to a much wider range of pressures than animals who live on the ground, as they have to be able to breathe at the surface but also cope with the increasing pressure as they dive.  It has been thought for some time that diving mammals probably have much floppier small airways and alveoli in order to allow these parts of the lungs to collapse when under pressure during dives, and then re-expand easily when they re-surface.  In this study, the researchers passed small tubes with pressure sensors down into the dolphins’ stomachs so that they could measure the pressure being generated by the dolphins’ respiratory muscles.  This is the same as we do in our studies – though probably a bit harder to do…  This showed that dolphins’ lungs are about four times ‘stretchier’ than human lungs, in line with the researchers’ hypothesis.

F1.largeThe researchers also used a very large flow sensor over the dolphins’ blowholes to measure how much and how fast they were breathing, along with the concentrations of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the air.  Dolphins only breathe about 3 or 4 times per minute (compared to 12-15 breaths per minute in an adult human), but when they do take a breath they have to exchange a huge amount of air very quickly (their total time to breathe in and out is only about 0.7 seconds).  This study showed that even during a normal breath, air moves out of the blowhole at a rate of over 2,600 litres per minute, which is almost four times higher than the fastest human cough we’ve ever measured in our lab!  During a “chuff”, the highest flow recorded in this study was 8,400 litres per minute – that would be 84 bathtubs full of air over a minute!  During a normal breath the dolphins tended to take breaths of about 5-6 litres (which is about the total lung size in adult humans), but this went up as high as 18 litres during chuffs.  They also absorb more oxygen than humans do from the air they breathe – air contains 21% oxygen.  Exhaled breath from a human is normally about 17% oxygen, but dolphins get quite a lot more from it and breathe out gas at only 12.3% oxygen.  They also breathe out a bit more carbon dioxide than us (7% compared to 5% for humans).

So, in summary…  Dolphins:  big lungs, fast lungs, effective lungs.  We are in awe of the research team for what looks like an exceptionally challenging study, with fascinating results!

Student Panel meeting – 1st July 2016

Recently, a group of ‘Harris Experience Advanced’ Year 12 Scientists, including myself, and some other students from Burntwood, JFS and Graveney Schools were lucky enough to be invited to attend a visit to the King’s Muscle Lab at King’s College London in Denmark Hill.Notes page 1

Upon arrival we were invited into one of the lecture rooms where we received a short introduction about what the King’s Muscle Lab does, and the research that takes place there. The main focus of their research is Physiology, involving studying the functions of body systems, then linking this to respiratory problems and other diseases among patients.
We were first given insightful presentations from researchers carrying out projects for their studies at or allied to the King’s Muscle Lab which was interesting and very beneficial to us, as it allowed us to see the wide variety of projects that can be included within different science degrees, and what type of research areas we may want to look into pursuing ourselves, in the future.

We were then split into groups of mixed students from different schools, to talk about a disease called COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and the subject areas linked to it with the academics. The groups were rotated so that everyone had a chance to discuss each area surrounding the topic. This gave us a chance to voice our opinions within a group of students that we had not met before, and it was fascinating to listen to others’ opinions and consider them in addition to our own, to form valid points for discussion.

Firstly, Ms Kylie Morgan (PhD student) lead a discussion on ‘the use of animal models for COPD Notes page 4research’ and we talked about the controversy of research into COPD and found that it is most commonly carried out on rats and mice, and discussed the ethics surrounding this. Following this, Dr Aish Sinha (Junior Doctor at King’s) encouraged discussion on how doctors and researchers are measuring and assessing the extent of the disease, and that it can be difficult to measure whether medication is successful for patients. COPD is heavily related to the issue of smoking, and in a discussion with Ms Basak Tas (PhD student) we explored the problem of addiction within COPD.
In the session with Ms Charlotte Cheadle (PhD student) we discussed pharmacological management of COPD and how medication is delivered. For people with COPD, the volume of air that can be exhaled is reduced however the volume of air that can be inhaled remains the same and this can affect patients in a variety of ways, both directly and indirectly. In a talk guided by Ms Arietta Spinou we came up with different ways a patient’s quality of life can be affected which we split into social impacts and physical impacts. Under the headline social, the anxiety the disease could cause for a patient was suggested, as they could become self-conscious of coughing in public which could lead to social isolation and loss of integrationNotes page 3 within their social circles. In terms of physical problems that COPD can cause, we discussed tiredness, which would limit the activities of their everyday lives, coughing which is heavily linked to social problems mentioned above, and having to turn down opportunities that cannot be adapted to fit with the disease. These short discussions were very insightful as the points that came up included some that I had not considered before.

Following the discussions, we then all met back in the lecture room to feed back. One person from each group was nominated to present their group’s views on each topic area and this allowed each group to build upon their opinions and bounce ideas off each other.

Overall the visit was a captivating experience, and as you can imagine, these events are veryNotes page 2 popular and we are very fortunate to have received such special treatment. On behalf of the Harris Federation and Harris Experience Advanced students, I can safely say that we all thoroughly enjoyed the visit and I would like to thank the members of staff that made it possible, with a special thanks to Dr Victoria MacBean and Dr Alan Lunt and the Academics that delivered and lead the group discussion sessions. We look forward to being involved in more of these fantastic opportunities in the future.

By Ashleigh Francis
Sixth Form Student at Harris City Academy Crystal Palace

The value of working together

Research is tough at times – much of the time in fact.  Progress is slower than in many other jobs, and getting turned down is a frequent aspect of the work (funding applications and submissions to research journals are very rarely successful on the first attempt).  There are also a lot of things you need to know.  This can range from complex stuff like specific scientific techniques to something as simple as knowing who to contact to get a replacement lightbulb in the office.  Also, difficult things happen in researchers’ personal lives too, and such things can make the research work much harder.  The thing that makes this all manageable is that we work together as a team and help one another.

This might seem like a simple thing, and an obvious one.  It would however be possible to let everyone figure out their difficulties on their own – it would take longer, but you can learn techniques by going on courses or reading about them in books and papers, and despite the fact that the King’s College London website can be a bit of a challenge, you’ll find the email address for the facilities helpdesk eventually.  Doing it that way would be stupid, and we’d all probably be really grumpy too.  So instead, we use each others’ experience and knowledge to complement one another and get things done quicker and better.  Some examples:

Alan has spent a lot of time learning new and (sometimes) complicated statistical methods.  We use statistics to demonstrate that the findings of our studies haven’t just occurred by chance, so stats are in many ways the crux of our work.  We have generally used relatively simple statistical methods in our lab, but Alan’s willingness to explore new techniques (and do all the really hard reading and learning for the rest of us) means that we can explore our research data in ways we hadn’t thought possible, and robustly demonstrate findings that we felt were there but couldn’t quite show.

Caroline is the only doctor in the lab at the moment, so can help others with questions about things like the prognosis for a certain disease, or how particular medications work.  The training for physiotherapists, nurses, physiologists and the like doesn’t cover these things in as much depth.

Ged has more experience in, and greater knowledge of, human physiology than any of the other lab members.  It’s always surprising how detailed an explanation of the physiology underlying a particular process Ged can give!  This is invaluable in allowing us to understand why things that we see in our studies might happen, and how different body systems interact.  Ged’s knowledge of how the body controls breathing is particularly impressive (as that’s what his PhD concentrated on).

Manuel is a super-clever signal processing engineer, and so understands the data we acquire in a completely different way to any of the rest of us.  He can explain why it might be that we get a strange wibbly line in the middle of a study – and more importantly can often get rid of it, which means we can use a recording that otherwise we would have had to ignore.

Dan has a lot of experience as an ICU nurse, caring for patients at the bedside as well as doing research.  We do quite a lot of studies in intensive care and Dan’s insight into the minute-to-minute reality of an intensive care unit patient’s stay is hugely beneficial in allowing us to plan studies around patients’ needs, and make sure what we do is sensible and feasible.

Alongside all these skills, the silly little things that people pick up along the way are incredibly helpful too – how to change a setting to format your Word document correctly, what time to go to the canteen to avoid the big queue (and get the best chips), which screwdriver fits that bit of equipment the best, what forms you need to complete to submit your PhD thesis, what type of tape when securing the tubes we put up people’s noses to measure their diaphragm function…  The list goes on.

Most important though is the fact that we’re all friends.  If things are a bit tough, we offer words of encouragement, cups of tea, a help with something tricky, sympathy (and a bit of a whinge) if you’ve just had a grant or paper rejected, and perhaps even a quick trip to the pub (we are all over 18, and we do do it out of working hours).  Knowing that someone will help you out if needed is absolutely priceless.

A poem by Athos Athanasiou about the SpaceUp:UK conference

A wintry Friday in June we came to SpaceUp UK, bright eyed and keen, and this is what we heard.

If we age in space like we do on earth, but quicker
then we can raise our healthspan by making muscles thicker.
So move your muscles frequently, don’t be a floatanaut.
If you want to keep your health in age train like an astronaut.

Your skeleton aint static
cos blood runs through your bones.
We need high-res schematics
to map resulting holes.

Cardiac stem cells will senesce in Microgravity.
But there are ways around it for they go stochastically.
Cardiovascular degradation; we can’t get round that fact.
So run in the Space Station, yes that is how you act.

Low gravity in space could cause disks to expand.
It makes your back quite painful, whether you sit or stand.
In Heavy G they could contract and this is painful too.
But we don’t know a lot of why this will happen to you.

Our children will be living in a very different world,
so they should be our focus from a very early age.
Don’t teach them hocus pocus
and don’t just teach them STEM
Add A for Art
and make it steam.
Engage imagination, enthusiasm, dreams.
For the skills they need are lifewide.
And what we show them now will shape the world we leave behind.

Increase their science capital by reaching out to schools.
Show them that there’s a reason why we do the science we do.
Put pictures of a person looking down a microscope.
Knit a set of lungs or hearts. Knit dreams. Knit joy. Knit hope.
But get them involved
in the work you do.
Interviewing patients
and making posters.
They can bridge the communication gap.

Our brains evolved through gravity.
If you take that away,
the water pressure then builds up
and gives our heads a pain.
And if this pain is constant
you could become depressed.
But space is quite exciting now
so astronauts feel it less.

Standing still on earth, in bright light, on a flat surface,
We balance using 10% visual, 20% vestibular system in the ears and 70% proprioception.
If one is affected we undertaking sensory reweighting.
In astronauts the vestibular system gets messed up.
In a few days this reweighs
increasing dependence on the visual.
But visual quality also decreases.

If your dreams of bein’ an astronaut you don’t get to fulfill,
then set up the biggest space life science centre in Brazil.

In the stratosphere there is a sweet spot
where the air is warm and the water is liquid.
Test for life.
Not on the ground.
Up there
in the sky.
Do it independently.
Use Helium.
Send your project up there suspended on a string.
It might crash down,
but you would still have useful science.

On a flight to Mars, there’s greater risk of medical events.
And some are big so make sure the mission is medically capable.
How do you automate medicine, well an early warning system.
But beware, astronauts as soon as they get called astronauts believe they are infallible.

(To the tune of the Wombles’ theme)
Upstream market, downstream market, UK Space agency free.
They got involved in Tim’s mission to bring it back to you and me.
Making good use of experiment time they find.
Circadian rhythm the astronauts oft leave behind.
(Apologies Wombles)

Two superpower worked apart on Soyuz and Apollo
with duplicating problems and duplicating science.
They had to come together, there were far too many mistakes,
an unprecedented international collaboration in the ISS.
But that’s a start, the next step is
to work with other areas and fields cooperatively.

Homeostasis maintains the status quo.
In temperature, pressure, light and gravity.
It goes from -100o to 260o in 45 minutes.
Phew, that’s hard.
We need to help these astronauts stay well.

Puffy faces
Chicken legs
Spinal fluid
Pushes on the eye
The axial length is shortened
It makes it hard to get to Mars
We need to look to tests

Bob, he wears a spacesuit, it keeps his pressure even.
It mimics the loading we get right here on Earth.
It works by increasing tension in the vertical elastic fibres.
The fitting was quite intimate.
You can simulate the gravity in a Micro-G lab.
Then put it on and take it off in parabolic flight.

Influence policy. Use space tech for food and water shortage.
We can get a lot of data but it needs to be shared.
For those that need it most don’t have the access to it.

In 2018 James Webb Space Telescope will hopefully unfurl.
We’ll bite our nails for then, there’s lots that can go wrong.
And later WFIRST and LUVOIR.

Space tourism. DEBATE!
Space entertainment. DEBATE!
Space law. DEBATE!
There is much we need to think about.

So do we go by rocket or do we take the lift?
An elevator could give us payload as long as it don’t drift.
The price is prob’ly cheaper so that will help with thrift.
And so it seems that this would be a most fantastic gift.

And then? What then? Where should we go?
Let’s reach for the stars.
Don’t limit our thoughts, think beyond our technology.
Tweak some laws of Physics and then you can set sail.
But it’s all about the money and so about the time.
And will we get there before humanity may fail.

XCor does commercial space.
Get to Sydney in 2 hours.

Now we should thank those that worked hard to get this done.
Cheers and be jolly.
For Charles and Phil and Stephanie and Kate and Vicky and Molly.
And all those that I’ve missed.
And you the people taking part.
Who talked and listened.

So off you go with lots of facts re-join the Human Race.
And go and do exciting things that have to do with Space.

Athos Athanasiou
June 2016 at SpaceUpUK
@athosfolk
More space poems here: http://www.worldspaceweek.org/news/space-poem-day-world-space-week-day-1/
More Poems here http://athspoemaday.blogspot.co.uk/

Max Thomas’ journey to clinical physiology

Max Thomas was a student on the MSc course in Human and Applied Physiology in 2012-13, some of which is taught by Ged, Vicky, Alan and Caroline.  He is now a trainee Clinical Scientist in Birmingham and recently contacted us for some advice about respiratory muscle testing.  Here he tells us about his career path to date.

 

What made you decide to study physiology at King’s?

Prior to arriving at King’s, I studied Biology. Science had always been the only subject that could keep my focus and attention. I knew my passion was within the field of biological science, but was clueless as to where. My first year reflected this lack of uncertainty with the modules I selected ranging from microbiology and comparative physiology, to forensic biology and pharmacology.

As the years progressed I found myself more drawn to subjects involving health, disease and physiological function. My final year research project looking at age-related muscle decline was what sold me on the MSc in Human and Applied Physiology. My project supervisor was Dr Jamie McPhee, an enthusiastic and knowledgeable physiologist, who suggested the course as one of the best in the country.

I’ll be perfectly honest, at that point I had no career goal at the end of the MSc; I studied because I was truly passionate about the science and knew that interest would take me forward. That fact is something I am more proud of myself for every time I reflect on it.

 

What did you think of the course?

What would you think of a course that teaches about the physiology in health, disease, extreme temperatures, space, the deep sea and fighter pilots? Also throw in some lectures about the astronaut selection process given by astronauts, a lecture on blast injuries, and the chance to contribute to some really interesting research. It was awesome. Although, it was equally as challenging as it was fun.

Its broad content suited my uncertainty about the aspect of the science I most enjoyed. We were exposed to everything physiological science can offer from micro, such as staining muscle biopsies for microscopy, to full body physiology in health, disease and extreme environments – with some excellent in-house experiments and research project field trips. Being exposed to so much allowed me to really determine what I was interested in and where I wanted to focus.

 

Tell us your one favourite thing about the MSc.

On top of the course programme, the guest lectures we had throughout the year were fantastic. However, the field trips were hands down the best part about the course. My particular favourite was the trip to an RAF station in Henlow where we helped out with a research project there using the hypobaric chambers. The team there were looking at the efficacy of two breath-actuated breathing devices used by Chinook helicopter crews who can be exposed to altitudes of 10,000 feet. We were able to participate in and operate the experiment for a week, and it is still one of the coolest things I’ve done to date.

…and one thing you really didn’t like.

Douglas bags

 

What have you been up to since you left King’s?

I spent a year getting as much exposure to clinical science as I could (mostly observational experience in cardiac and respiratory physiology) whilst applying to graduate schemes.

I’m currently in year 2 of a highly competitive graduate scheme called the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP). The STP is a 3 year clinical scientist training scheme where you work in a hospital and develop competence in performing diagnostic tests and clinical assessment whilst undertaking an MSc in your relevant field – mine is Respiratory and Sleep Science.

The MSc in at King’s is definitely the reason why I was a cut above the rest when applying. There were 7 positions for Respiratory and Sleep Science when I applied, and this graduate scheme has thousands of applicants.

 

Can you tell us what your job involves now?

I spent the last year rotating around cardiology, vascular sciences, pathology and radiology learning incredible amounts and getting to see some really interesting procedures and surgeries. Now I am back in my Respiratory and Sleep department I perform lung function tests on patients (including respiratory muscle function which Dr MacBean must be super proud of me for), and help with sleep studies, consultations and issuing treatment for sleep apnoea. We work with a range of patients and diseases i.e. COPD, neuromuscular disorders (like Duchenne muscular dystrophy), lung cancer, etc.

Next year I will move on to performing cardiopulmonary exercise tests (CPET) in a clinical setting, and blood gas analysis for the issuing of oxygen therapy.

Whilst working, I am also able to perform clinical research and I am currently in the midst of a project looking at two different forms of occupational asthma.

 

Do you have one favourite geeky physiological fact?

Aren’t they all inherently geeky? My favourite fact comes from someone asking me if the human body is seven years old, or if that is a fabricated pub-fact. My research lead me to the answer: there are tissues in the brain that never regenerate and are as old as us. However, the interesting part of this story is not that Dave at the pub was blowing hot air, but how we’re certain of this fact. This all relies on the nuclear bomb.

Testing of nuclear bombs in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s vastly increased atmospheric concentrations of an isotope of carbon, carbon-14 (C14). C14 is used along with other forms of carbon by plant matter during photosynthesis, the plant matter is eaten by animals, and humans eat either the animals or plants, or both. The C14 is incorporated into the tissues formed and the concentrations in the tissues are remarkably accurate of atmospheric concentrations around that date.

Max Thomas, Trainee Clinical Scientist, Birmingham Heartlands Hospital