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    We are sometimes confronted with reminders of unwanted thoughts — thoughts about unpleasant memories, images or worries. When this happens, the thought may be retrieved, making us think about it again even though we prefer not to. While being reminded in this way may not be a problem when our thoughts are positive, if the topic was unpleasant or traumatic, our thoughts may be very negative, worrying or ruminating about what happened, taking us back to the event.

    “Our ability to control our thoughts is fundamental to our wellbeing,” explains Professor Michael Anderson from the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, which recently transferred to the University of Cambridge. “When this capacity breaks down, it causes some of the most debilitating symptoms of psychiatric diseases: intrusive memories, images, hallucinations, ruminations, and pathological and persistent worries. These are all key symptoms of mental illnesses such as PTSD, schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety.”

    Professor Anderson likens our ability to intervene and stop ourselves retrieving particular memories and thoughts to stopping a physical action. “We wouldn’t be able to survive without controlling our actions,” he says. “We have lots of quick reflexes that are often useful, but we sometimes need to control these actions and stop them from happening. There must be a similar mechanism for helping us stop unwanted thoughts from occurring.”

    A region at the front of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex is known to play a key role in controlling our actions and has more recently been shown to play a similarly important role in stopping our thoughts. The prefrontal cortex acts as a master regulator, controlling other brain regions – the motor cortex for actions and the hippocampus for memories.

    In research published today in the journal Nature Communications, a team of scientists led by Dr Taylor Schmitz and Professor Anderson used a task known as the ‘Think/No-Think’ procedure to identify a significant new brain process that enables the prefrontal cortex to successfully inhibit our thoughts.

    In the task, participants learn to associate a series of words with a paired, but otherwise unconnected, word, for example ordeal/roach and moss/north. In the next stage, participants are asked to recall the associated word if the cue is green or to suppress it if the cue is red; in other words, when shown ‘ordeal’ in red, they are asked to stare at the word but to stop themselves thinking about the associated thought ‘roach’.

    Using a combination of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy, the researchers were able to observe what was happening within key regions of the brain as the participants tried to inhibit their thoughts. Spectroscopy enabled the researchers to measure brain chemistry, and not just brain activity, as is usually done in imaging studies.

    Professor Anderson, Dr Schmitz and colleagues showed that the ability to inhibit unwanted thoughts relies on a neurotransmitter – a chemical within the brain that allows messages to pass between nerve cells – known as GABA. GABA is the main ‘inhibitory’ neurotransmitter in the brain, and its release by one nerve cell can suppress activity in other cells to which it is connected. Anderson and colleagues discovered that GABA concentrations within the hippocampus – a key area of the brain involved in memory – predict people’s ability to block the retrieval process and prevent thoughts and memories from returning.

    “What’s exciting about this is that now we’re getting very specific,” he explains. “Before, we could only say ‘this part of the brain acts on that part’, but now we can say which neurotransmitters are likely important – and as a result, infer the role of inhibitory neurons – in enabling us to stop unwanted thoughts.”  

    “Where previous research has focused on the prefrontal cortex – the command centre – we’ve shown that this is an incomplete picture. Inhibiting unwanted thoughts is as much about the cells within the hippocampus – the ‘boots on the ground’ that receive commands from the prefrontal cortex. If an army’s foot-soldiers are poorly equipped, then its commanders’ orders cannot be implemented well.”

    The researchers found that even within his sample of healthy young adults, people with less hippocampal GABA (less effective ‘foot-soldiers’) were less able to suppress hippocampal activity by the prefrontal cortex—and as a result much worse at inhibiting unwanted thoughts.

    The discovery may answer one of the long-standing questions about schizophrenia. Research has shown that people affected by schizophrenia have ‘hyperactive’ hippocampi, which correlates with intrusive symptoms such as hallucinations. Post-mortem studies have revealed that the inhibitory neurons (which use GABA) in the hippocampi of these individuals are compromised, possibly making it harder for the prefrontal cortex to regulate activity in this structure. This suggests that the hippocampus is failing to inhibit errant thoughts and memories, which may be manifest as hallucinations.

    According to Dr Schmitz: “The environmental and genetic influences that give rise to hyperactivity in the hippocampus might underlie a range of disorders with intrusive thoughts as a common symptom.”

    In fact, studies have shown that elevated activity in the hippocampus is seen in a broad range of conditions such as PTSD, anxiety and chronic depression, all of which include a pathological inability to control thoughts – such as excessive worrying or rumination.

    While the study does not examine any immediate treatments, Professor Anderson believes it could offer a new approach to tackling intrusive thoughts in these disorders. “Most of the focus has been on improving functioning of the prefrontal cortex,” he says, “but our study suggests that if you could improve GABA activity within the hippocampus, this may help people to stop unwanted and intrusive thoughts.”

    The research was funded by the Medical Research Council.

    Schmitz, TW et al. Hippocampal GABA enables inhibitory control over unwanted thoughts. Nature Communications; 3 Nov 2017; DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-00956-z

    Scientists have identified a key chemical within the ‘memory’ region of the brain that allows us to suppress unwanted thoughts, helping explain why people who suffer from disorders such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and schizophrenia often experience persistent intrusive thoughts when these circuits go awry.  

    Our ability to control our thoughts is fundamental to our wellbeing. When this capacity breaks down, it causes some of the most debilitating symptoms of psychiatric diseases
    Michael Anderson
    Thinking RFIP

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    The collaboration, between the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation and Sunway Medical Centre in Malaysia, the University of Cambridge and Papworth Hospital, will establish a joint programme between the University’s School of Clinical Medicine and Sunway University.

    The programme will enable the sharing of academic excellence through regular academic visits and exchanges, and offer scientific and clinical training opportunities at Cambridge for outstanding postgraduates from Sunway.

    As part of the collaboration’s programme, Sunway Medical Centre will establish a Clinical Research Centre that will become a regional site partner for the University of Cambridge, working with Cambridge on clinical research.

    The clinical research centre at Bandar Sunway in Malaysia will enable the recruitment of patients to international trials led from Cambridge, and help develop an integrated approach to healthcare and clinical research in Malaysia.

    At the heart of the collaboration will be the new Capella Building located on the rapidly expanding Cambridge Biomedical Campus, the centrepiece of the largest biotech cluster outside the United States. Researchers in the building will work on some of the world’s most pressing health challenges including TB and HIV, rheumatoid arthritis and type-1 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

    This state of the art research space will drive biomedical research across stem cells, infectious disease and immunology that will help shape the future of medicine. The Capella Building will house three major research institutes: The Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Diseases, the Wellcome Trust-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute and the Milner Therapeutics Institute.

    The flagship new building, itself a collaboration between the Schools of Clinical Medicine and the Biological Sciences, will co-locate ground-breaking research already taking place in Cambridge across therapeutics, diagnostic and regenerative medicine, and enable interdisciplinary collaboration that will lead to breakthroughs in how diseases are diagnosed and treated.

    This will include transforming our understanding of how infectious diseases including TB, HIV/Aids, human cytomegalovirus, and Zika interact with humans – and therefore how they can be better treated.

    Alongside this, scientists in Capella will drive the development of new treatments in immune-related diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and type-1 diabetes.

    Stem cell scientists will deliver new therapeutic approaches for leukaemia, neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and degenerative conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

    The partnership will also provide excellent opportunities for training, education and research in the field of cardiothoracic medicine and surgery, with leading clinicians from Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire set to collaborate with nurses and consultants based at the Sunway Medical Centre in Malaysia.

    Tan Sri Dr Jeffrey Cheah was in Cambridge last week to mark the signing of the agreement between the University and the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation.

    A long-standing supporter of Collegiate Cambridge, member of the University’s Guild of Benefactors, and Fellow Benefactor of Gonville & Caius College, Dr Cheah said: “Today marks a very special moment in time for all of us at Sunway as we begin collaborations with the University of Cambridge and Papworth Hospital.

    “It is a further testament to the increasingly close bonds between Sunway and Cambridge. Sunway and the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation are committed to promoting excellence in sectors such as education and health care.

    “We are determined to raise standards and provide the best possible to not just Malaysians, but the 625-million strong population of the ASEAN region.”

    Professor Patrick Maxwell, Regius Professor of Physic and Head of the School of Clinical Medicine, said: “As the world of medicine changes more rapidly than perhaps ever before, it is clear that collaboration will be the key to success.

    “For this reason, I am delighted that we are entering into a new collaboration with Sunway, an institution which shares our unswerving commitment to excellence in medicine and medical education.

    “The new Capella will be at the centre point of this collaboration.

    “The research in this exceptional new building – through the Stem Cell Institute, the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Diseases, and the Milner Therapeutics Institute – will have a real and profound effect on the health and lives of millions of people in the UK, Malaysia and around the world.”

    Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Professor Stephen Toope said: “The agreements we have signed with the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation and Sunway Medical Centre mark the beginning of a new stage in an exceptional partnership.

    “Our collaboration reflects the fact that addressing the most pressing issues facing humanity today requires working across both borders and disciplinary boundaries.

    “No single country, discipline, or institution can have exclusive purchase on how we attack today’s fundamental problems.

    “Working together, Cambridge University, the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation and Sunway Medical Centre are poised to make a signal contribution to some of the world’s major medical challenge"

    Stephen Posey, Chief Executive Officer, Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: “I am truly excited by what we could achieve by working more closely with Sunway Medical Centre, the Jeffrey Cheah Foundation and the University of Cambridge to advance teaching and research in the field of cardiothoracic medicine.

    “Heart and lung diseases are a global problem to which we must find global solutions.

    “This partnership is an excellent example of how global leaders in medicine and research can work together for the benefit of patients across the world.” 

    A new collaboration between the University of Cambridge, Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Sunway Medical Centre in Malaysia will see researchers and clinicians from the two countries working together across borders and disciplinary divides to tackle some of the world’s major health challenges.


    No single country, discipline, or institution can have exclusive purchase on how we attack today’s fundamental problems.
    Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
    Stephen Posey, Professor Patrick Maxwell, Tan Sri Dr Jeffrey Cheah, Professor Stephen Toope

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    These students walk in the footsteps of giants: Francis Crick, Elizabeth Blackburn, Stephen Hawking, Iris Murdoch and Eric Hobsbawm all pursued PhD research here.

    We thought you might like the opportunity to meet a few of them ...

    Nearly 10,000 postgraduate students from more than 250 countries, working in countless different subject areas, contribute to Cambridge’s thriving postgraduate community.

    Jerelle Joseph, PhD in computational chemistry at Churchill College (Gates Scholar)

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    Researchers from the University of Cambridge and Mycorrhizal Systems Ltd (MSL) have confirmed that a black truffle has been successfully cultivated in the UK for the first time: the farthest north that the species has ever been found. It was grown as part of a programme in Monmouthshire, South Wales, run by MSL in collaboration with local farmers. The results of the programme, reported in the journal Climate Research, suggest that truffle cultivation may be possible in many parts of the UK.

    After nine years of waiting, the truffle was harvested in March 2017 by a trained dog named Bella. The aromatic fungus was growing within the root system of a Mediterranean oak tree that had been treated to encourage truffle production. Further microscopic and genetic analysis confirmed that Bella’s find was indeed a Périgord black truffle (Tuber melanosporum).

    The black truffle is one of the most expensive delicacies in the world, worth as much as £1,700 per kilogram. Black truffles are prized for their intense flavour and aroma, but they are difficult and time-consuming to grow and harvest, and are normally confined to regions with a Mediterranean climate. In addition, their Mediterranean habitat has been affected by drought due to long-term climate change, and yields are falling while the global demand continues to rise. The truffle industry is projected to be worth £4.5 billion annually in the next 10-20 years.

    Black truffles grow below ground in a symbiotic relationship with the root system of trees in soils with high limestone content. They are found mostly in northern Spain, southern France and northern Italy, where they are sniffed out by trained dogs or pigs. While they can form naturally, many truffles are cultivated by inoculating oak or hazelnut seedlings with spores and planting them in chalky soils. Even through cultivation, there is no guarantee that truffles will grow.

    “It’s a risky investment for farmers – even though humans have been eating truffles for centuries, we know remarkably little about how they grow and how they interact with their host trees,” said paper co-author Professor Ulf Büntgen of Cambridge’s Department of Geography. “Since the system is underground, we can’t see how truffles are affected by different environmental conditions, or even when the best time to water them is. There’s been no science behind it until now, so progress is slow.”

    In partnership with local farmers, Büntgen’s co-author Dr Paul Thomas from MSL and the University of Stirling has been cultivating truffles in the UK for the past decade. In 2015, MSL successfully cultivated a UK native Burgundy truffle, but this is the first time the more valuable black Périgord truffle has been cultivated in such a northern and maritime climate. Its host tree is a Mediterranean oak that was planted in 2008. Before planting, the tree was inoculated with truffle spores, and the surrounding soil was made less acidic by treating it with lime.

    “This is one of the best-flavoured truffle species in the world and the potential for industry is huge,” said Thomas. “We planted the trees just to monitor their survival, but we never thought this Mediterranean species could actually grow in the UK – it’s an incredibly exciting development.”

    The researchers have attributed the fact that black truffles are able to grow so far outside their native Mediterranean habitat to climate change. “Different species respond to climate change on different scales and at different rates, and you often get an ecological mismatch,” said Büntgen. “For instance, insects can move quickly, while the vegetation they depend on may not. It’s possible that truffles are one of these fast-shifting species.”

    “This cultivation has shown that the climatic tolerance of truffles is much broader than previously thought, but it’s likely that it’s only possible because of climate change, and some areas of the UK – including the area around Cambridge – are now suitable for the cultivation of this species,” said Thomas. “While truffles are a very valuable crop, together with their host trees, they are also a beneficial component for conservation and biodiversity.”

    The first harvested truffle, which weighed 16 grams, has been preserved for posterity, but in future, the truffles will be distributed to restaurants in the UK.

    Paul Thomas and Ulf Büntgen. ‘New UK truffle find as a result of climate change.’ Climate Research (2017). DOI: 10.3354/cr01494. 

    The Mediterranean black truffle, one of the world’s most expensive ingredients, has been successfully cultivated in the UK, as climate change threatens its native habitat.

    Even though humans have been eating truffles for centuries, we know remarkably little about how they grow and how they interact with their host trees.
    Ulf Büntgen
    Left: Bella with the host oak tree Right: Perigord black truffle

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    The top ten institutions conduct more than two thirds of all UK university animal research between them, completing a combined total of 1.4 million procedures. Over 99% of these procedures were carried out on rodents or fish, and in line with national data they were almost evenly split between experimental work and the breeding of genetically modified animals.

    The ten universities are listed below alongside the total number of procedures that they carried out in 2016. Each institution’s name links to its animal research webpage which includes more detailed statistics. This is the second year in a row universities have come together to collectively publicise their numbers and examples of their research.

    University  Total (2016)
    University of Oxford 217,765
    University College London 203,744
    University of Edinburgh 203,285
    University of Manchester 174,120
    University of Cambridge 155,394
    King's College London 155,058
    Imperial College London 101,369
    University of Sheffield 83,130
    University of Birmingham 54,728
    University of Glasgow 50,566

    All universities are committed to the ‘3Rs’ of replacement, reduction and refinement. This means avoiding or replacing the use of animals where possible, minimising the number of animals used per experiment and minimising suffering to improve animal welfare. However, as universities expand and conduct more research, the total number of animals used can rise even if fewer animals are used per study.

    All ten universities are signatories to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK, a commitment to be more open about the use of animals in scientific, medical and veterinary research in the UK. 116 organisations have signed the concordat including UK universities, charities, research funders and commercial research organisations.

    Wendy Jarrett, Chief Executive of Understanding Animal Research, which developed the Concordat on Openness, said: “The Concordat has fostered a culture of openness at research institutions up and down the country. Institutions now provide an unprecedented level of information about how and why they conduct medical, veterinary and scientific research using animals. Almost two-thirds of the university Concordat signatories provide their animal numbers openly on their website – accounting for almost 90% of all animal research at UK universities. “

    Dr Martin Vinnell, Home Office Establishment Licence Holder at the University of Cambridge, said: “All of us involved in biomedical research believe it is vital that we are completely open about our use of animals and that is why we are joining the UK’s other leading research universities in collectively releasing our statistics, in addition to our other efforts in support of transparency as part of the Concordat on the Declaration of Openness.

    "Although the use of animals continues to contribute to our understanding of health and disease and in the development of medical treatments, medicines and surgical techniques that we take for granted, there must be no complacency in our shared goal of replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of animals. At the same time, the welfare of animals has to be paramount.”

    Animal research has played a key role in the development of virtually every medicine that we take for granted today. However, despite decades of dedicated research, many widespread and debilitating conditions are still untreatable. Medical research is a slow process with no easy answers, but animal research helps to take us incrementally closer to treatments for cancer, dementia, stroke and many other debilitating conditions.

    Animal research at the University of Cambridge

    As part of the ongoing commitment to greater openness about animal research, the ten universities which conduct the most animal procedures have publicised their figures today, revealing that they collectively conducted a third of all UK animal research in 2016. All ten universities appear in the QS World University Ranking Top 100.

    It is vital that we are completely open about our use of animals and that is why we are joining the UK’s other leading research universities in collectively releasing our statistics
    Martin Vinnell

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    The Commission has been co-led by Professor David Menon from the Division of Anaesthesia at the University of Cambridge together with Professor Andrew Maas from Antwerp University Hospital and University of Antwerp, Belgium.

    The Commission is being launched today at the European Parliament and targets policy makers, funders, and patient organisations, as well as health-care professionals. It combines the expertise of over 300 international clinicians and researchers, many of whom are part of the International Initiative for Traumatic Brain Injury Research (InTBIR). The authors set out clinical and research priorities with 12 key messages and recommendations to reduce the global burden of TBI.

    The enormous and rising health and socioeconomic burden posed by TBI demands urgent action from health-care professionals and policy makers. About half the world’s population will suffer a TBI over their lifetime. TBI is estimated to affect 50 million people every year. It is the leading cause of mortality in young adults and a major cause of disability across all ages. It also substantially increases the risk of late-life dementia.

    The care and consequences of TBI cost the global economy US$400 billion annually. Given an estimated gross world product of about $74 trillion, this means that about $1 in every $200 of annual global output is spent on the costs or consequences of TBI.

    “Traumatic brain injury affects huge numbers of people worldwide, with potentially serious consequences for their health and wellbeing and a major economic burden on already stretched health services,” says Professor Menon. “We are not doing enough to prevent and manage such injuries, which is why we calling on policymakers, funders and healthcare professionals to take action.”

    Increasing industrialisation and motor vehicle use are causing increases in TBI due to traffic incidents in low-income and middle-income countries, which disproportionately affect the young. In high-income countries, incidence of TBI is highest and increasing in the elderly due to falls. Expectations of unfavourable outcomes in the elderly can lead to treatments being withheld or prematurely withdrawn, with resulting poorer outcomes reinforcing therapeutic nihilism in the management of these patients. However, with appropriate care good results can be obtained.

    More recently, substantial interest has focused on the health impact of sports-related concussion and its long-term effects. It is now recognised that repetitive injuries carry increased risks and that TBI should not be seen as an event, but as a process, often with lifelong consequences.

    The Commission reports that understanding of TBI and care of patients is hampered by inconsistent epidemiological data, poor integration of systems of care, and substantial disparities in access to care. Furthermore, current medical management is inappropriately based on a one-size-fits-all approach. Inadequate attention to the condition’s heterogeneity at presentation and outcome might also be a substantial contributor to the failure of clinical trials of promising new therapies. Crucially, even when additional evidence is generated to improve management, the integration of such evidence into clinical guidelines and routine clinical care is slow. Most importantly, many cases of TBI are preventable, but well recognised measures to prevent the disease are not universally mandated in law or they are poorly implemented in practice.

    The authors set out priorities and recommendations to address the varied challenges in understanding, prevention, and care of TBI, and seek to identify strategies to better characterise TBI, increase prognostic accuracy, and match treatments to patients—a precision-medicine approach.

    The Commission also promotes use of new tools for clinical evidence generation and implementation, so that research outputs are more generalisable and can be more rapidly integrated into clinical care. Moreover, it highlights the importance of international collaboration of funding agencies and researchers to provide a global response to reduce the individual and societal burden of TBI.

    Substantial reductions in the global burden of traumatic brain injury (TBI) could be achieved with improved policies for prevention, new directions for clinical care, and novel approaches to research, according to The Lancet Neurology Commission on TBI.

    Traumatic brain injury affects huge numbers of people worldwide, with potentially serious consequences for their health and wellbeing and a major economic burden on already stretched health services
    David Menon
    Car crash rescue 3

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    In the past few days, I have lost count of the times I’ve heard politicians and others say that sexual comments, coercion or even acts of force were acceptable 15, 20 or 25 years ago, but the “goalposts have moved” and that times have changed

    Sexual abuse has never been acceptable. But with many victims silenced, it has certainly been kept a private shame rather than the public concern it should always have been.

    It has infected the entertainment industry and even parliament. The stories emerging now have rightly shocked Britain – and led women and male victims to call out harassment and inappropriate behaviour under the #metoo banner.

    This is an issue facing all of society, not just the people who have been in the headlines. Cambridge University recently launched a campaign calling for an end to this silence. Why now?

    Some years ago I was asked to meet some students for an urgent meeting. Two of them told me that they had been sexually assaulted by fellow students at a university event. They said that they did not want to go to the police, but wanted the university to do something about it. But what could the university do? I told them that we could do nothing.

    All universities in the UK at the time subscribed to guidance derived from the Zellick report, published in October 1994, which said that allegations of rape and sexual assault were matters for the police and not for universities – even if the student victim wanted the university to do something.

    As Zellick said: “If the victim will not report the matter to the police … the university should not use its internal procedures.” The guidance told us universities were not equipped to deal with such cases. But this left victims with only two choices – go to the police or keep quiet.

    Without a mandate to investigate or respond, many universities did not develop proper case handling. It was many years until it became a sector standard to have disciplinary code of conduct for harassment or sexual assault.

    But that was then. Things are, thankfully, different now.

    Ringing the changes

    A year ago, on November 8 2016, Universities UK published Changing the Culture. This report considered violence against women, harassment and hate crime against university students. It also reconsidered the Zellick report and concluded that it was outdated and its guidance inappropriate. I was part of the particular task force that reconsidered the report and then rejected it. This was a vital step in universities accepting responsibility for their students who have been the victims of sexual misconduct.

    One year on, at Cambridge we have made significant strides in responding to sexual misconduct. In October we launched Breaking the Silence, a campaign banner under which there are various initiatives to respond to sexual misconduct and abuse including a complaints procedure, anonymous reporting, consent workshops and sports codes of conduct.

    Culture of respect

    Like many universities, we are told we should both do more and that we are are doing too much, with the risk of undermining criminal processes. Universities are therefore walking a tightrope, where we have to ensure that all students who study (and staff who teach and do research) feel safe and confident that any abuse will be taken seriously. At the same time we need to ensure that our processes are fair. We will take all allegations seriously, but we must ensure that they are investigated carefully and objectively and that our responses are appropriate to all.

    Over the past three years the university sector has done a lot, but there is more to be done. We need to work ever harder to ensure that there is a change in culture and that we are a beacon for the rest of society as to what is acceptable conduct, based on respect.

    Three years ago I told those two students that there was nothing the university could do. Today I can tell them that if they come forward with complaints of sexual misconduct they will be guided and supported to determine what is right for them. For some that will be to go to the police, for others it will be to rely on the university to identify an appropriate response. But whatever route they wish to adopt, all students, no matter where they are studying, need to be empowered and to have confidence and trust so that they can break their silence.

    The headlines we’ve read are shocking, but if we can turn righteous indignation into change, we will have gained something from these appalling stories – a society where no one has to say #metoo again.

    This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

    One year on from government guidance that finally gave universities the mandate to investigate sexual harassment claims, Professor Graham Virgo looks back on progress made, and what we need to do next 

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    The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, working with colleagues in Italy and China, have demonstrated how graphene – a two-dimensional form of carbon – can be directly printed onto fabric to produce integrated electronic circuits which are comfortable to wear and can survive up to 20 cycles in a typical washing machine.

    The new textile electronic devices are based on low-cost, sustainable and scalable inkjet printing of inks based on graphene and other two-dimensional materials, and are produced by standard processing techniques. The results are published in the journal Nature Communications.

    Based on earlier work on the formulation of graphene inks for printed electronics, the team designed low-boiling point inks, which were directly printed onto polyester fabric. Additionally, they found that modifying the roughness of the fabric improved the performance of the printed devices. The versatility of this process allowed the researchers to design not only single transistors but all-printed integrated electronic circuits combining active and passive components.

    Most wearable electronic devices that are currently available rely on rigid electronic components mounted on plastic, rubber or textiles. These offer limited compatibility with the skin in many circumstances, are damaged when washed and are uncomfortable to wear because they are not breathable.

    “Other inks for printed electronics normally require toxic solvents and are not suitable to be worn, whereas our inks are both cheap, safe and environmentally-friendly, and can be combined to create electronic circuits by simply printing different two-dimensional materials on the fabric,” said Dr Felice Torrisi of the Cambridge Graphene Centre, the paper’s senior author.

    “Digital textile printing has been around for decades to print simple colourants on textiles, but our result demonstrates for the first time that such technology can also be used to print the entire electronic integrated circuits on textiles,” said co-author Professor Roman Sordan of Politecnico di Milano. “Although we demonstrated very simple integrated circuits, our process is scalable and there are no fundamental obstacles to the technological development of wearable electronic devices both in terms of their complexity and performance.“

    “The printed components are flexible, washable and require low power, essential requirements for applications in wearable electronics,” said PhD student Tian Carey, the paper’s first author.

    The work opens up a number of commercial opportunities for two-dimensional material inks, ranging from personal health and well-being technology, to wearable energy harvesting and storage, military garments, wearable computing and fashion.

    “Turning textile fibres into functional electronic components can open to an entirely new set of applications from healthcare and wellbeing to the Internet of Things,” said Torrisi. “Thanks to nanotechnology, in the future our clothes could incorporate these textile-based electronics, such as displays or sensors and become interactive.”

    The use of graphene and other related 2D material (GRM) inks to create electronic components and devices integrated into fabrics and innovative textiles is at the centre of new technical advances in the smart textiles industry. The teams at the Cambridge Graphene Centre and Politecnico di Milano are also involved in the Graphene Flagship, an EC-funded, pan-European project dedicated to bringing graphene and GRM technologies to commercial applications.

    The research was supported by grants from the Graphene Flagship, the European Research Council’s Synergy Grant, The Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, The Newton Trust, the International Research Fellowship of the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Ministry of Science and Technology of China. The technology is being commercialised by Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialisation arm.

    Tian Carey et al. ‘Fully inkjet-printed two-dimensional material field-effect heterojunctions for wearable and textile electronics.’ Nature Communications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-01210-2

    Researchers have successfully incorporated washable, stretchable and breathable electronic circuits into fabric, opening up new possibilities for smart textiles and wearable electronics. The circuits were made with cheap, safe and environmentally friendly inks, and printed using conventional inkjet printing techniques. 

    Turning textile fibres into functional electronic components can open to an entirely new set of applications from healthcare and wellbeing to the Internet of Things.
    Felice Torrisi
    Sample circuit printed on fabric

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    A wide-ranging new study of fossils spanning over four million years suggests that stature and body mass advanced at different speeds during the evolution of hominins – the ancestral lineage of which Homo sapiens alone still exist.

    Published today in the journal Royal Society: Open Science, the research also shows that, rather than steadily increasing in size, hominin bodies evolved in “pulse and stasis” fluctuations, with some lineages even shrinking.

    The findings are from the largest study of hominin body sizes, involving 311 specimens dating from earliest upright species of 4.4m years ago right through to the modern humans that followed the last ice age.

    While researchers describe the physical evolution of assorted hominin species as a “long and winding road with many branches and dead ends”, they say that broad patterns in the data suggest bursts of growth at key stages, followed by plateaus where little changed for many millennia.

    The scientists were surprised to find a “decoupling” of bulk and stature around one and a half million years ago, when hominins grew roughly 10cm taller but would not consistently gain any heft for a further million years, with an average increase of 10-15kgs occurring around 500,000 years ago.

    Before this event, height and weight in hominin species appeared to evolve roughly “in concert”, say the authors of this first study to jointly analyse both aspects of body size over millions of years. 

    “An increase solely in stature would have created a leaner physique, with long legs and narrow hips and shoulders. This may have been an adaptation to new environments and endurance hunting, as early Homo species left the forests and moved on to more arid African savannahs,” says lead author Dr Manuel Will from Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology, and a Research Fellow at Gonville & Caius College.     

    “The higher surface-to-volume ratio of a tall, slender body would be an advantage when stalking animals for hours in the dry heat, as a larger skin area increases the capacity for the evaporation of sweat.

    “The later addition of body mass coincides with ever-increasing migrations into higher latitudes, where a bulkier body would be better suited for thermoregulation in colder Eurasian climates,” he says.

    However, Dr Will points out that, while these are valid theories, vast gaps in the fossil record continue to mask absolute truths. In fact, Will and colleagues often had to estimate body sizes from highly fragmented remains – in some cases from just a single toe bone.

    The study found body size to be highly variable during earlier hominin history, with a range of differently shaped species: from broad, gorilla-like Paranthropus to the more wiry or ‘gracile’ Australopithecus afarensis. Hominins from four million years ago weighed a rough average of 25kg and stood at 125-130cm.  

    As physicality morphs over deep time, increasingly converging on larger body sizes, the scientists observe three key “pulses” of significant change.

    The first occurs with the dawn of our own defined species bracket, Homo, around 2.2-1.9m years ago. This period sees a joint surge in both height (around 20 cm) and weight (between 15-20kg).

    Stature then separated from heft with a height increase alone of 10cm between 1.4-1.6m years ago, shortly after the emergence of Homo erectus. “From a modern perspective this is where we see a familiar stature reached and maintained. Body mass, however, is still some way off,” explains Will.        

    It’s not until a million years later (0.5-0.4m years ago) that consistently heavier hominins appear in the fossil record, with an estimated 10-15kg greater body mass signalling adaptation to environments north of the Mediterranean.

    “From then onwards, average body height and weight stays more or less the same in the hominin lineage, leading ultimately to ourselves,” says Will.

    There are, however, a couple of exceptions to this grand narrative: Homo naledi and Homo floresiensis. Recently discovered remains suggest these species swam against the tide of increasing body size through time.

    “They may have derived from much older small-bodied ancestors, or adapted to evolutionary pressures occurring in small and isolated populations,” says Will. Floresiensis was discovered on an Indonesian island.

    “Our study shows that, other than these two species, hominins that appear after 1.4m years ago are all larger than 140cm and 40kg. This doesn’t change until human bodies diversify again in just the last few thousand years.”

    “These findings suggest extremely strong selective pressures against small body sizes which shifted the evolutionary spectrum towards the larger bodies we have today.”

    Will and colleagues say evolutionary pressures that may have contributed include ‘cladogenesis’: the splitting of a lineage, with one line – the smaller-bodied one, in this case – becoming extinct, perhaps as a result of inter-species competition.

    They also suggest that sexual dimorphism – the physical distinction between genders, with females typically smaller in mammals – was more prevalent in early hominin species but then steadily ironed out by evolution.

    Study co-author Dr Jay Stock, also from Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology, suggests this growth trajectory may continue.

    “Many human groups have continued to get taller over just the past century. With improved nutrition and healthcare, average statures will likely continue to rise in the near future. However, there is certainly a ceiling set by our genes, which define our maximum potential for growth," Stock says.

    “Body size is one of the most important determinants of the biology of every organism on the planet,” adds Will. “Reconstructing the evolutionary history of body size has the potential to provide us with insights into the development of locomotion, brain complexity, feeding strategies, even social life.”

    The largest study to date of body sizes over millions of years finds a “pulse and stasis” pattern to hominin evolution, with surges of growth in stature and bulk occurring at different times. At one stage, our ancestors got taller around a million years before body mass caught up.

    Body size is one of the most important determinants of the biology of every organism on the planet
    Manuel Will
    Femoral head bones of different hominin species. From top to bottom: Australopithecus afarensis (4-3 million years; ~40 kg, 130 cm); Homo ergaster (1.9-1.4 million years; 55-60 kg; ~165 cm); Neanderthal (200.000-30.000 years; ~70 kg; ~163 cm).

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    Sheep can be trained to recognise human faces from photographic portraits – and can even identify the picture of their handler without prior training – according to new research from scientists at the University of Cambridge.

    The study, published today in the journal Royal Society: Open Science, is part a series of tests given to the sheep to monitor their cognitive abilities. Because of the relatively large size of their brains and their longevity, sheep are a good animal model for studying neurodegenerative disorders such as Huntington’s disease.

    The ability to recognise faces is one of the most important human social skills. We recognise familiar faces easily, and can identify unfamiliar faces from repeatedly presented images. As with some other animals such as dogs and monkeys, sheep are social animals that can recognise other sheep as well as familiar humans. Little is known, however, about their overall ability to process faces.

    Researchers from Cambridge’s Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience trained eight sheep to recognise the faces of four celebrities (Fiona Bruce, Jake Gyllenhaal, Barak Obama and Emma Watson) from photographic portraits displayed on computer screens.

    Training involved the sheep making decisions as they moved around a specially-designed pen. At one end of the pen, they would see two photographs displayed on two computer screens and would receive a reward of food for choosing the photograph of the celebrity (by breaking an infrared beam near the screen); if they chose the wrong photograph, a buzzer would sound and they would receive no reward. Over time, they learn to associate a reward with the celebrity’s photograph.

    After training, the sheep were shown two photograph – the celebrity’s face and another face. In this test, sheep correctly chose the learned celebrity face eight times out of ten.

    In these initial tests, the sheep were shown the faces from the front, but to test how well they recognised the faces, the researchers next showed them the faces at an angle. As expected, the sheep’s performance dropped, but only by about 15% - a figure comparable to that seen when humans perform the task.

    Finally, the researchers looked at whether sheep were able to recognise a handler from a photograph without pre-training. The handlers typically spend two hours a day with the sheep and so the sheep are very familiar with them. When a portrait photograph of the handler was interspersed randomly in place of the celebrity, the sheep chose the handler’s photograph over the unfamiliar face seven out of ten times.

    During this final task the researchers observed an interesting behaviour. Upon seeing a photographic image of the handler for the first time – in other words, the sheep had never seen an image of this person before – the sheep did a 'double take'. The sheep checked first the (unfamiliar) face, then the handler’s image, and then unfamiliar face again before making a decision to choose the familiar face, of the handler.

    “Anyone who has spent time working with sheep will know that they are intelligent, individual animals who are able to recognise their handlers,” says Professor Jenny Morton, who led the study. “We’ve shown with our study that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities, comparable with those of humans and monkeys.

    “Sheep are long-lived and have brains that are similar in size and complexity to those of some monkeys. That means they can be useful models to help us understand disorders of the brain, such as Huntington’s disease, that develop over a long time and affect cognitive abilities. Our study gives us another way to monitor how these abilities change, particularly in sheep who carry the gene mutation that causes Huntington’s disease.”

    Professor Morton’s team recently began studying sheep that have been genetically modified to carry the mutation that causes Huntington’s disease.

    Huntington’s disease affects more than 6,700 people in the UK. It is an incurable neurodegenerative disease that typically begins in adulthood. Initially, the disease affects motor coordination, mood, personality and memory, as well as other complex symptoms including impairments in recognising facial emotion. Eventually, patients have difficulty in speech and swallowing, loss of motor function and die at a relatively early age. There is no known cure for the disease, only ways to manage the symptoms.

    The research was supported by the CHDI Foundation, Inc., a US-based charitable trust that supports biomedical research related to Huntington’s disease.

    Knolle, F et al. Sheep recognize familiar and unfamiliar human faces from two-dimensional images. Royal Society Open Science; 8 Nov 2017; DOI: 10.1098/rsos.171228

    Sheep can be trained to recognise human faces from photographic portraits – and can even identify the picture of their handler without prior training – according to new research from scientists at the University of Cambridge.

    We’ve shown that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities, comparable with those of humans and monkeys
    Jenny Morton
    Sheep correctly identifying face

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    Not only has the sundial survived largely undamaged for more than two millennia, but the presence of two Latin texts means researchers from the University of Cambridge have been able to glean precise information about the man who commissioned it.

    The sundial was found lying face down by students of the Faculty of Classics as they were excavating the front of one of the theatre’s entrances along a secondary street. It was probably left behind at a time when the theatre and town was being scavenged for building materials during the Medieval to post-Medieval period. In all likelihood it did not belong to the theatre, but was removed from a prominent spot, possibly on top of a pillar in the nearby forum.

    “Less than a hundred examples of this specific type of sundial have survived and of those, only a handful bear any kind of inscription at all – so this really is a special find,” said Dr Alessandro Launaro, a lecturer at the Faculty of Classics at Cambridge and a Fellow of Gonville & Caius College.

    “Not only have we been able to identify the individual who commissioned the sundial, we have also been able to determine the specific public office he held in relation to the likely date of the inscription.”

    The base prominently features the name of M(arcus) NOVIUS M(arci) F(ilius) TUBULA [Marcus Novius Tubula, son of Marcus], whilst the engraving on the curved rim of the dial surface records that he held the office of TR(ibunus) PL(ebis) [Plebeian Tribune] and paid for the sundial D(e) S(ua) PEC(unia) (with his own money).

    The nomen Novius was quite common in Central Italy. On the other hand, the cognomen Tubula (literally ‘small trumpet’) is only attested at Interamna Lirenas.

    But even more striking is the specific public office Tubula held in relation to the likely date of the inscription. Various considerations about the name of the individual and the lettering style comfortably place the sundial’s inscription at a time (mid 1st c. BC onwards) by which the inhabitants of Interamna had already been granted full Roman citizenship.

    “That being the case, Marcus Novius Tubula, hailing from Interamna Lirenas, would be a hitherto unknown Plebeian Tribune of Rome,” added Launaro. “The sundial would have represented his way of celebrating his election in his own hometown.”

    Carved out from a limestone block (54 x 35 x 25 cm), the sundial features a concave face, engraved with 11 hour lines (demarcating the twelve horae of daylight) intersecting three day curves (giving an indication of the season with respect to the time of the winter solstice, equinox and summer solstice). Although the iron gnomon (the needle casting the shadow) is essentially lost, part of it is still preserved under the surviving lead fixing. This type of ‘spherical’ sundial was relatively common in the Roman period and was known as hemicyclium.

    “Even though the recent archaeological fieldwork has profoundly affected our understanding of Interamna Lirenas, dispelling long-held views about its precocious decline and considerable marginality, this was not a town of remarkable prestige or notable influence,” added Launaro. “It remained an average, middle-sized settlement, and this is exactly what makes it a potentially very informative case-study about conditions in the majority of Roman cities in Italy at the time”.

    “In this sense, the discovery of the inscribed sundial not only casts new light on the place Interamna Lirenas occupied within a broader network of political relationships across Roman Italy, but it is also a more general indicator of the level of involvement in Rome’s own affairs that individuals hailing from this and other relatively secondary communities could aspire to.”

    The ongoing archaeological project at Interamna Lirenas continues to add new evidence about important aspects of the Roman civilization, stressing the high levels of connectivity and integration (political, social, economic and cultural) which it featured.

    The 2017 excavation, directed by Dr Launaro (Gonville & Caius College) and Professor Martin Millett (Fitzwilliam College), both from the Faculty of Classics, in partnership with Dr Giovanna Rita Bellini of the Italian Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per le Province di Frosinone, Latina e Rieti, is part of a long-standing collaboration with the British School at Rome and the Comune of Pignataro Interamna and has benefitted from the generous support of the Isaac Newton Trust and Mr Antonio Silvestro Evangelista.

    Inset image: The find spot near the former roofed theatre in Interamna Lirenas

    A 2,000-year-old intact and inscribed sundial – one of only a handful known to have survived – has been recovered during the excavation of a roofed theatre in the Roman town of Interamna Lirenas, near Monte Cassino, in Italy.

    “Not only have we been able to identify the individual who commissioned the sundial, we have also been able to determine the specific public office he held in relation to the likely date of the inscription”
    Alessandro Launaro
    The sundial pictured after excavation

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    More than 60,000 people are employed in the so-called ‘Cambridge cluster’ of companies, and in excess of £12 billion in turnover is generated annually by the 4,700 knowledge-intensive firms in and around the city. The innovation that underpins the cluster is impressive – the city publishes 341 patents per 100,000 residents (that's more than the next four cities in the UK combined).

    In my role, I am in the privileged position of having a general overview of how Cambridge’s entrepreneurial ecosystem works. When I took up this new post, I had heard that the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Cambridge is complex, fragmented and difficult to navigate. But now, I would argue that there is a logic and coherence to the Cambridge ecosystem, and what makes it work is that the structure exists, yet it is constantly evolving.

    As one of the world’s leading universities, we are a big part of the cluster and we have a long tradition of innovation and entrepreneurship: there are more than 40 different programmes, groups and activities run by students, researchers, departments and Colleges, to support enterprise at Cambridge. These fall into five broad categories: research & people, finance & IP, space, skills and capability development, and networks.

    Research & People
    The foundation of everything we do is great people doing great research. Through their work, people at all levels in the University, from students to postdocs to faculty, are pushing the boundaries of human knowledge.

    Finance and IP
    When research leads to new ideas and insights, Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s technology transfer arm, helps staff and students find the best way to turn their ideas into reality for the benefit of the global community. Cambridge Enterprise provides IP protection when appropriate, helps individuals undertake consultancy for external organisations, protects and licences technologies, and invests seed funds in new companies.

    As a company grows, it will need additional financing, and Cambridge-based funders such as Cambridge Innovation Capital, Cambridge Angels, Amadeus Capital Partners, Cambridge Capital Group, IQ Capital or the IP Group, can all provide support.

    Physical space
    Organisations don't just need money: they also need space to grow. When entrepreneurs are first thinking of a business model, they can take a desk in ideaSpace. We have three ideaSpaces across the University - each provides space for a community of entrepreneurs who can assist each other as they develop their ideas. If the organisation is successful and starts to grow, there are follow-on spaces around the city, such as St John's innovation Centre or the Bradfield Centre. The Babraham Research Campus provides space for bio-medical firms - currently, there are 60 firms on the Babraham site, with a waiting list. Eventually, a growing organisation might move to the Cambridge Science Park.

    Of course, there are other types of space that matter. Makespace provides a community workshop where people can create prototypes. The local consultants, especially the technology consultants, provide prototyping and design support. Cambridge Consultants and The Technology Partnership both play a crucial role in the Cambridge ecosystem.

    Skills and capability development
    Departments and groups across the University run programmes and initiatives to help entrepreneurs develop their organisations and their personal capabilities. Lectures and networking are provided by Enterprise Tuesday, a scheme run by the Cambridge Judge Business School. Cambridge Judge also runs Accelerate, a start-up accelerator programme, and Ignite, an intensive one-week training programme for aspiring entrepreneurs and corporate innovators to trial and prepare business ideas for the commercial environment.

    The Maxwell Centre runs Impulse, a programme designed to help entrepreneurs translate their ideas into reality. Increasingly, groups are seeking to run scale-up programmes, supporting businesses as they grow. Cambridge Judge runs a scale-up programme in collaboration with Barclays, while Cambridge Network runs a school for scale-ups.

    Connected Cambridge
    The final element is the multiple networks in Cambridge that bring people together. For example, Cambridge Wireless connects people interested in the Internet of Things; Cambridge Network connects local businesses, and Cambridge Ahead supports the long-term growth of Cambridge.  

    Of course, our students are a vital source of ideas, and student societies and associations - including CUE - Cambridge University Entrepreneurs, CUTEC - Cambridge University Technology and Enterprise Club and EPOC - Entrepreneurial Post-Docs of Cambridge– bring our entrepreneurial students and postdocs together.

    These and other networks and initiatives all help bring the community together and support people as they seek to make the right connections. In Cambridge it is relatively easy to reach others - entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and academics - because of the interconnected nature of the city and the institutions it houses.

    The entrepreneurial ecosystem works in Cambridge because it contains all five of these elements. But this isn’t the whole story. Cambridge is also successful because the people within the ecosystem are constantly innovating to improve it. Whenever somebody spots a gap - or a perceived gap - they try to fill it. We have a Makespace in Cambridge - a community workshop where people can make and repair things. Entrepreneurs use this to create prototypes for new products. Recently we launched a Biomakespace - in recognition of the need for a bio-prototyping facility. Cambridge Judge, in collaboration with Cambridge Enterprise, runs a Social Venture Incubator to help people grow social ventures.

    Each of these new initiatives was launched to fill a perceived gap in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and by filling this gap the ecosystem becomes stronger. This innovation in the ecosystem means that we are always trying to make the ecosystem in Cambridge better. We are constantly experimenting with the ways in which we work.

    The cluster is now so well-established that the level of entrepreneurial activity in Cambridge has become self-propagating. The fact that so many people are involved in enterprise, entrepreneurship and innovation encourages others to participate. This makes Cambridge “a safe place to fail” - a phrase coined by one of our local entrepreneurs, Andy Richards. The level of activity means that even if your first venture fails, there will always be something else for you to go and try, so in essence, the entrepreneurial ecosystem provides a safety net for those who choose to get involved in it. This is what makes Cambridge such an interesting and welcoming place for enterprise.

    Andy Neely is Cambridge’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Relations, a role which oversees the University’s activities in innovation, commercialisation and entrepreneurship. After six months in the role, he sees an entrepreneurial ecosystem that may appear complex at first – but a deeper examination reveals a combination of knowledge, expertise, support and infrastructure that makes Cambridge one of the most enterprising and entrepreneurial cities in the world. 

    Hauser Forum

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    Countries, with both developed and developing economies, need to do more to ensure that children with disabilities not only access education, but also benefit from quality education.

    In England, while children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) access school, multiple concerns have been raised in relation to their learning and quality of life in school. The educational attainments of these children are significantly lower than for those without SEND at every level of the national curriculum.

    In 2017 the Department for Education reported that, at Key Stage 2 level, only 14% of children with SEND reached the expected level for reading, writing and maths (in contrast to 62% of children without SEND).

    Socially, there has been an increase in incidents of bullying and hate crime in relation to children with SEND and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children highlights that they are significantly more likely to face abuse. Official statistics note that children with social, emotional, mental health needs are nine times more likely to face permanent exclusion from school.

    The World Health Organisation in collaboration with the World Bank recently emphasised that 15% of the world’s population, approximately one billion, live with some form of disability. Estimates for the number of children under the age of 14 living with disabilities range between 93m and 150m.

    Across the world, people with disabilities have poorer health outcomes, lower educational achievements, less economic participation and higher rates of poverty than people without disabilities. This is partly because people with disabilities experience significant barriers in accessing basic services, including health, education and employment.

    Amongst these, education is paramount as it has significant economic, social and individual returns. Education has the potential to lift people out of chronic poverty. Accessing quality education can improve learning outcomes which leads to positive economic growth. The Global Monitoring Report calculates that if all students living in low income countries were to leave school with basic reading skills there would be a 12% reduction in world poverty.

    Additionally, education has the potential to create more equitable and healthy societies. For example, evidence shows educating mothers reduces early births, lowers infant mortality rates and improves child nutrition.

    Furthermore, inclusive education is integral to creating societies that are interconnected, based on values of social justice, equity of opportunities and freedom. The Sustainable Development Goals have given a considerable boost to this vision of “inclusive and equitable quality education” with significant international proclamations and national legislations being drawn up. Nevertheless, children with disabilities continue to remain the most difficult to reach.

    Including children with disabilities in education systems, and ensuring quality education, is a moral and ethical commitment with considerable benefits both at the individual and national level. The International Labour Organisation estimates that the exclusion of persons with disabilities from the work force costs nations up to 7% of the national GDP. Other estimates from China suggest that every additional year of schooling in rural areas means a 5-8% wage increase for the person with disabilities.

    While there is a long way to go, there is little question that educational access is on an upward trajectory in many low and middle income countries. According to official data from India over the last five years there has been approximately 16% increase in the numbers of children with disabilities enrolled in mainstream primary schools.

    Nonetheless, children who are most like to be excluded, even in states with high enrolment rates are those with disabilities. They are also most likely to drop out before completing five years of primary schooling and are least likely to transition to secondary school or higher education.

    Across the globe, learning for children with disabilities remains a significant challenge. In order to address this, we need to invest in inclusive teaching and learning processes and not just changes to school infrastructure. Teachers need better training and support underpinned by principles of inclusion. Significantly, children with disabilities must be respected as important partners in creating better schools for all. 

    The report has been produced for the World Innovation Summit for Education and will be presented this week at the summit in Doha.

    Researchers from the Faculty of Education have produced a new report on the current state of education for children with disabilities in both England and India. Here, Dr Nidhi Singal, one of the report’s authors, outlines some of the key statistics, and argues that teachers need better training and more support “underpinned by principles of inclusion”.    

    We need to invest in inclusive teaching and learning processes and not just changes to school infrastructure
    Nidhi Singal

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    Whether you like it or not, almost every step you take online is recorded: the websites you visit, the purchases you make, the songs you listen to, the messages you post or read on social sites, and the pages you follow on Facebook. These digital footprints provide a treasure trove of data that can reveal not only what you like and how you see the world, but also who you are as a person.

    In our research entitled “Psychological targeting as an effective approach to digital mass persuasion” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, we show that these digital footprints can be used to influence effectively the behaviour of large groups of people. By targeting consumers with persuasive messages that are tailored to their core psychological profiles (e.g. the degree to which they are extroverted or introverted) it is possible to significantly increase the likelihood that people will take a specific action, such as clicking on an ad or purchasing the promoted product.

    The basic principle behind this form of personalised persuasion is not new: marketing practitioners have long used behavioural and demographic data to target consumers with customised messages. What is new, however, is the ability to identify and target audiences based on psychological traits that reflect people’s preferences and needs at a much deeper and instinctual level. Prior targeting might have focused on demographic or behavioural attributes such as ‘women ages 18-45’ who searched for the term ‘Soccer World Cup on Google between 2-4pm’. Psychological targeting, however, can focus on a person’s fundamental character traits and psychological needs, which are known to explain and predict preferences in a broad variety of contexts.

    Psychological targeting in action

    Across three studies, we targeted more than 3.5 million users on Facebook. As of now, Facebook advertising does not allow marketers to directly target users based on their psychological traits. However, it does so indirectly by offering the possibility to target based on Facebook ‘Likes’. While previous research has shown that one can accurately predict people’s psychological traits after getting their permission to access to their Facebook profiles, we leveraged inherent features of the Facebook advertising platform to target our ads at consumer segments of different psychological profiles. For example, if liking ‘Socialising’ on Facebook correlates with the personality trait of extroversion, and liking ‘Stargate’ goes hand in hand with introversion, then targeting users associated with each of these Likes allows us to separately target extroverted and introverted audiences.

    Then, we sent out persuasive appeals in the form of Facebook ads that either aligned with or ran counter to the users’ psychological profiles. Finally, we measured users’ reactions to the ads by counting which ad users clicked on (i.e. clicks) and whether users purchased the product promoted in the ad (i.e. conversions).

    In one of the experiments, for instance, we chose an online beauty retailer and created customised ads that could be targeted toward either extroverts or introverts, as identified according to their Facebook Likes. We found that matching the content of persuasive messages to individuals’ psychological characteristics resulted in up to 40% more clicks and up to 50% more purchases than their mismatching or un-personalised messages. Extroverts responded more positively to advertising messages when the beauty retailer’s ad was focused on extroverted preferences and interests (e.g. showing a group of women in a social situation, dancing, and having fun, accompanied by ad copy saying: ‘Dance like no one’s watching (but they totally are)’). Meanwhile, introverts responded more positively to those ads that focused on introverted preferences (e.g. a single woman by herself in a quiet environment, enjoying her ‘me-time,’ accompanied by ad copy saying: ‘Beauty doesn't have to shout’).

    Implications: the good and the bad

    The ability to influence the behaviour of large groups of people by tailoring persuasive messages to their psychological needs could be used to help people make better decisions, and lead healthier and happier lives. Human nature regularly encourages us to act in ways that focus on short-term benefits and neglect negative long-term consequences: just ask anyone who has ever tried to diet how difficult it is to resist the temptation of a chocolate bar and instead eat an apple. The same can be said about saving money: putting money aside for a rainy day is certainly less enjoyable in the moment than spending it on the new pair of shoes that caught your eye in a store window. So, how can psychological targeting help people overcome their human limitations?

    Let’s take the example of saving money. Similar to the way psychological targeting can convince people to buy a product, it can also be used to convince people to save more. When targeting people identified as extroverts, ads could encourage them to imagine spending their savings on an exciting summer holiday with their friends in a vibrant and exhilarating city that allows them to pursue outgoing and social activities. Conversely, when targeting introverts, ads could highlight the ability to invest one’s savings in making their home a more comfortable refuge to escape the hectic outside world. In both cases, psychological targeting could help people to see the benefits of saving, and eventually save more.

    On the other hand, psychological targeting could be used to exploit weaknesses in people’s character and persuade them to take action against their best interest. For example, online casinos could target ads at individuals who have psychological traits associated with pathological gambling. In fact, psychological targeting has been covered extensively in the context of its ability to influence the outcome of elections. While the veracity of these claims remains uncertain, our findings illustrate how psychological mass persuasion could be used to manipulate people to behave in ways that are neither in their best interest nor in the best interest of society.

    Next steps: fuelling a critical debate

    Our findings show that psychological targeting works. The technology is not science fiction; it exists today. To us, the most important discussion we need to have now is not what may or may not have happened in the past, but what we as individuals and as a society can and should do moving forward. Key questions that need to be answered in a critical public discourse are:

    How do we as consumers and society-at-large want to use this new technology? In what settings do we want to facilitate its application, and when do we want to restrict it? For which purposes should we use it, for which should we not? Under which agreements should we be allowed to implement it, and with which required a degree of transparency?

    The reason we started this research was to provide empirical evidence for the effectiveness of psychological targeting. Our hope is that these findings can support the public debate on this topic by showing both the general public and key decision makers – such as elected officials and business leaders – just how important and timely this topic is. Our belief is that by having an open and transparent discussion, solutions and checks and balances can be developed in the form of policies, regulations and technological counter-measures, which will ensure that psychological targeting serves as a driver for good rather than evil.

    Adapted from a story published on Columbia University’s website. 

    How effective is psychological targeting in advertising? Dr Sandra Matz, a former PhD student at Cambridge now based at Columbia University, and her co-authors, including Dr David Stillwell from the Cambridge Psychometrics Centre, have published a new study which demonstrates that companies only need one Facebook ‘like’ to effectively target potential customers. 

    Members of the audience take pictures as President Barack Obama participates in a town hall meeting moderated by CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. April 20, 2011

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    This is the first randomised trial comparing the use of keyhole (endovascular) aneurysm repair versus traditional open surgery to repair ruptured aneurysm, with full midterm follow-up.

    Abdominal aortic aneurysm is a swelling of the aorta – the main blood vessel that leads away from the heart, down through the abdomen to the rest of the body. If the artery wall ruptures, the risk of death is high, and emergency surgery is needed.

    Three recent European randomised trials showed that keyhole repair does not reduce the high death rate up to three months after surgery compared with open repair. However, mid-term outcomes (three months to three years) of keyhole repair are still uncertain.

    An international research team set out to assess three year clinical outcomes and cost effectiveness of a strategy of keyhole repair (whenever the shape of the aorta allows this) versus open repair for patients with suspected ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm who were part of the IMPROVE trial.

    Dr Michael Sweeting from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge, who was involved in the trial, says: “More than 1000 people a year in the UK require emergency surgery to repair a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. Without repair, ruptured aneurysm is nearly always fatal. However, surgery is not without its own significant risks, so we are always looking at ways of reducing the risk to the patient. One option is keyhole surgery, but until now not enough was known about how its outcomes compare to regular, open surgery beyond one year after repair.”

    The trial involved 613 patients from 30 vascular centres (29 in the UK – including at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge - and one in Canada) with a clinical diagnosis of ruptured aneurysm, of whom 316 were randomised to a strategy of keyhole repair and 297 to open repair.

    Deaths were monitored for an average of 4.9 years and were similar in both groups three months after surgery. At three years, there were fewer deaths in the keyhole group than in the open repair group, leading to lower mortality (48% vs 56%). However, after seven years there was no clear difference between the groups.

    The need for repeat surgery (‘reinterventions’) related to the aneurysm occurred at a similar rate in both groups, with about 28% of each group needing at least one reintervention after three years.

    Average quality of life was higher in the keyhole group in the first year, but by three years was similar across the groups. This early higher average quality of life, coupled with the lower mortality at three years, led to a gain in average quality adjusted life years or QALYs (a measure of healthy years lived) at three years in the keyhole versus the open repair group.

    The keyhole group also spent fewer days in hospital (14.4 versus 20.5 in the open repair group) and had lower overall costs (£16,900 versus £19,500 in the open repair group).

    The researchers point to some study limitations, such as sample size and midterm data focusing on aneurysm-related events, which may have led to some bias. Nevertheless, they say compared with open repair, there are clear benefits associated with keyhole surgery.

    “These findings show that, in the first three years after repair, keyhole surgery can improve outcomes and quality of life for patients compared to open surgery, and is more cost effective and requires less time in hospital – important factors to consider for our stretched health services,” adds Dr Sweeting.

    Comparative clinical effectiveness and cost effectiveness of endovascular strategy v open repair for ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm: three year results of the IMPROVE randomised trial. BMJ; 15 Nov 2017; DOI:

    Adapted from a press release from The BMJ.

    The use of keyhole surgery to repair ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm is both clinically and cost effective and should be adopted more widely, concludes a randomised trial published by The BMJ today.

    More than 1000 people a year in the UK require emergency surgery to repair a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. Without repair, ruptured aneurysm is nearly always fatal
    Michael Sweeting
    Abdominal aortic aneurysm

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    Primary liver cancer is the second most lethal cancer worldwide. To better understand the biology of the disease and develop potential treatments, researchers need models that can grow in the lab and accurately reflect how the tumours behave in patients. Previously, cultures of cells had been used but these are hard to maintain and fail to recreate the 3D structure and tissue architecture of human tumours. 

    The researchers created the mini tumours (up to 0.5mm) – termed ‘tumouroids’ – to mimic the three most common forms of primary liver cancer. The tumour cells were surgically removed from eight patients and grown in a solution containing specific nutrients and substances which prevent healthy cells out-competing the tumour cells. 

    The team, from the Wellcome/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, used the tumouroids to test the efficacy of 29 different drugs, including those currently used in treatment and drugs in development. One compound, a type of protein inhibitor, was found to inhibit the activation of a protein called ERK in two of the three types of tumouroids, a crucial step in the development of liver cancer.

    The researchers then tested this compound in vivo, transplanting two types of tumouroids into mice and treating them with the drug. A marked reduction in tumour growth was seen in mice treated with the drug, identifying a potential novel treatment for some types of primary liver cancer.

    The tumouroids were able to preserve tissue structure as well as the gene expression patterns of the original human tumours from which they were derived. The individual subtypes of three different types of liver cancer, as well as the different tumour tissues which they came from, were all still distinguishable even after they had been grown in a dish for a long time. As the tumouroids retain the biological features of their parent tumour, they could play an important role in developing personalised medicine for patients.

    The creation of biologically accurate models of tumours will also reduce the number of animals needed in certain experiments. Animal studies will still be required to validate findings, but the tumouroids will allow scientists to explore key questions about the biology of liver cancer in cultures rather than mice. 

    Lead researcher Dr Meritxell Huch, a Wellcome Sir Henry Dale Fellow from the Gurdon Institute, said: “We had previously created organoids from healthy liver tissue, but the creation of liver tumouroids is a big step forward for cancer research. They will allow us to understand much more about the biology of liver cancer and, with further work, could be used to test drugs for individual patients to create personalised treatment plans.”

    Dr Andrew Chisholm, Head of Cellular and Developmental Sciences at Wellcome said: “This work shows the power of organoid cultures to model human cancers. It is impressive to see just how well the organoids are able to mimic the biology of different liver tumour types, giving researchers a new way of investigating this disease.  These models are vital for the next generation of cancer research, and should allow scientists to minimise the numbers of animals used in research.”

    Dr Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive of the NC3Rs which partially funded the work, said: “We are pleased to see that the funds from our annual 3Rs prize, sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline, have furthered Dr Huch's research. Each year the prize recognises exceptional science which furthers the 3Rs, and the work being conducted by Meri and her team is continuing to make progress in this area. This new breakthrough involving liver cancer organoids has the potential to reduce the number of animals required in the early stages of liver cancer research, and provide more biologically accurate models of human tumours.”

    This work was funded by a National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) research prize, Wellcome and Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre.

    Broutier, L et al. Human primary liver cancer–derived organoid cultures for disease modelling and drug screening. Nature Medicine; 13 Nov 2017; DOI: 10.1038/nm.4438

    Press release from Wellcome.

    Scientists have created mini biological models of human primary liver cancers, known as organoids, in the lab for the first time. In a paper published in Nature Medicine, the tiny laboratory models of tumours were used to identify a new drug that could potentially treat certain types of liver cancer.

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    The Institute - one of the largest cancer research facilities in Europe - is based in the heart of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. This close collaboration between scientific research and hospital brings huge benefits for the 6,000 cancer patients that pass through the doors of the hospital every year, as well as patients around the UK and the world.

    By focusing on the clinical application of high-quality basic research, the Institute forms a bridge between the laboratory and the clinic, and brings together leading scientists, doctors and nurses. The Institute’s landmark findings include the discovery that breast cancer can be divided up into 10 different diseases, paving way for new treatments, and its pioneering research into blood tests that could one day be used to understand the unique molecular profile of a person’s cancer.

    Professor Greg Hannon joined the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute in 2014 as a Senior Group Leader. This was after spending more than 20 years at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, where he was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and chaired the cancer genetics program as part of the Lab’s NCI-designated Cancer Center.

    Professor Hannon is internationally recognised for his contributions to small RNA biology, cancer biology, and mammalian genomics. He has a long history in the discovery of cancer genes, and he has developed widely used tools and strategies for manipulation of gene expression in mammalian cells and animals, and exome capture approaches that are now being used to inform personalized medicine in the clinic.

    Last year Professor Hannon was announced as one of the first ever winners of Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge awards. He and his team will receive up to £20 million for an innovative project to build a 3D tumour that can be studied using virtual reality and which shows every single different type of cell in the tumour. The technology will allow multiple doctors and scientists to look at a tumour at the same time, working together to help diagnose and treat patients better. 

    Professor Hannon said: “I’m incredibly honoured to be given this opportunity. I have Simon’s incredible legacy to build upon and the large responsibility to lead what is unquestionably a world-class institute into its next decade.

    “I’m eternally grateful to Simon for bringing me to the Cancer Research UK Institute and for providing an atmosphere in which our science can thrive. It will soon be my responsibility to maximize that environment for others by drawing on the wisdom and intellect of my colleagues.”

    Professor Hannon will take over from Professor Simon Tavaré on 1 February. Professor Tavaré has led the Institute since 2013 and was a Senior Group Leader since 2006.

    Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “I’m delighted that Professor Hannon has been appointed as the next Director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute. The Institute performs world class research of profound importance across a range of cancer areas. I want to thank Simon for all his hard work over the last few years, taking the institute from strength to strength. I look forward to working with Greg and seeing his enthusiasm helping the Institute achieve even greater levels of success.”

    Professor Patrick Maxwell, Regius Professor of Physic at the University of Cambridge, says: “This is excellent news for the cancer community at Cambridge and indeed for the Cambridge Biomedical Campus as a whole. Greg has a strong track record of attracting significant funding and truly pushes the boundaries of cancer research, developing innovative new technologies to explore cancer from all angles – in the case of his new virtual reality work, quite literally.”

    Press release from Cancer Research UK.

    Professor Greg Hannon is today announced as the new director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute. 

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    This new team, intended to combine the brightest minds from two of the biggest global information, communication and telecommunications (“ICT”) companies with one of the foremost academic institutions in the world, will further strengthen the UK’s status as one of the world’s leading hubs for innovation. Backed by up to £25 million in funding and contributions over the next five years, the research group is expected to focus on projects relating to photonics, digital and access network infrastructure and media technologies, alongside work aimed at enhancing the societal impact of communications technologies.

    The research project aims to bring together experts from the BT Labs, the Huawei R&D Team and academics from the University of Cambridge to explore new technologies which have the potential to unlock economic benefits for UK businesses and organisations, such as reducing the cost of network infrastructure and boosting operational performance. The projects are also expected to focus on the critical role that new technologies can play in delivering positive impacts for society, such as those aimed at reducing inequality, particularly for those groups excluded from digital transformation and using ICT technologies to improve resilience of communities to climate change.

    Finally, the funding is also intended to be used to support longer-term, ‘blue skies’ research projects being progressed by postgraduate students at the University which are focused on generating benefits for industry and society at large. All these projects will be assessed by an Academic Advisory Board intended to be made up of senior representatives from each of the parties. The University maintains strong links with the hi-tech business cluster of more than 4,700 companies which has sprung up around the Cambridge area. The new research and collaboration team – expected to be based at the University’s Maxwell Centre – will further harness the combined strengths of industry and the very best in academia to strengthen the area’s position as one of the leading technology hubs in Europe.

    From left to right: BT CEO, Gavin Patterson, University of Cambridge Vice-Chancellor, Prof Stephen Toope and Huawei CEO, Ken Hu

    Following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding today, the new group is expected to kick off research activity in the first half of 2018 with five to ten researchers from BT and Huawei working alongside their University collaborators.

    Prof Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Cambridge, said:  “The University of Cambridge is delighted to be, once again, demonstrating the importance of its research to business and industry. The world of telecommunications has advanced rapidly over the last two decades. However, there is still work to be done to improve the technologies we use on a daily basis and to ensure that they are long-lived. By working with BT and Huawei we will be able to demonstrate that the insights delivered through our research have a broad impact.”

    Gavin Patterson, BT Group Chief Executive said: “BT’s fixed and mobile infrastructure is the engine of the UK economy, so it is essential that we continue to innovate in this space to enhance the UK’s competitiveness on the world stage towards and through Brexit.

    “BT currently invests around £500m every year in R&D, and over the last ten years we’ve been the third biggest contributor to the UK’s R&D efforts.

    “We believe the best way of ensuring this country remains at the forefront of innovation is by combining the expertise and commercial focus of industry with the fantastic intellectual capital found at our world-leading universities. Working together with Huawei and the University of Cambridge, we will discover the next generation of technologies which promise to deliver huge economic, social and cultural benefits for UK citizens.”

    Ken Hu Deputy Chairman and Rotating CEO, Huawei, said: “Technology is changing the world faster than we have ever seen. It will bring many benefits to mankind, and affect nearly every aspect of our lives. Huawei will continue to invest and form partnerships to build out future infrastructure. We have over 80,000 people in research and development globally, working with customers, universities and industry bodies.

    “No single organization has all the answers. Partnership is the only way forward in a complex digital age. We look forward to working with BT and the University of Cambridge. Together, we will explore future technologies and help ensure a positive social impact.”

    Both BT and Huawei have a long history of working with Cambridge on research projects. Researchers at the BT Labs in Adastral Park recently collaborated with the University’s Cavendish Lab on a project to assess the potential theoretical speeds that can be delivered over the UK’s access network infrastructure. Huawei and the University of Cambridge have been working together for seven years on range of successful research projects including media, communications and other technologies.

    BT and Huawei today announced a new five-year initiative which aims to see the two companies establish a joint research and collaboration group at the University of Cambridge. 

    By working with BT and Huawei we will be able to demonstrate that the insights delivered through our research have broad impact
    Prof Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor
    The Maxwell Centre

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  • 11/19/17--16:41: The beauty of engineering
  • The competition, sponsored by ZEISS (Scanning electron microscopy division), international leaders in the fields of optics and optoelectronics, has been held annually for the last 13 years. See more of this year's winners here

    Crystal tigers, metal peacock feathers and a 'nano man' are just some of the striking images featured in the Department of Engineering's annual photo competition, the winners of which have been announced today.

    The Tiger Jigsaw

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    In biology, one long-running debate has teeth: whether ancient fish scales moved into the mouth with the origin of jaws, or if the tooth had its own evolutionary inception.

    Recent studies on species such as zebrafish showed scales and teeth developing from distinctly different clusters of cells in fish embryos, pouring cold water on ‘teeth from scales’ theories.

    However, while most fish in the sea have bones, one ancient lineage – sharks, skates and rays – possess skeletons made entirely of cartilage.

    These cartilaginous fish retain some primitive characteristics that have been lost in their bony counterparts, including small spiky scales embedded in their skin called ‘dermal denticles’ that bear a striking resemblance to jagged teeth.  

    Now, researchers at the University of Cambridge have used fluorescent markers to track cell development in the embryo of a cartilaginous fish – a little skate in this case – and found that these thorny scales are in fact created from the same type of cells as teeth: neural crest cells.

    The findings, published in the journal PNAS, support the theory that, in the depths of early evolution, these ‘denticle’ scales were carried into the emerging mouths of jawed vertebrates to form teeth. Jawed vertebrates now make up 99% of all living vertebrates, from fish to mammals.

    “The scales of most fish that live today are very different from the ancient scales of early vertebrates,” says study author Dr Andrew Gillis from Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole.

    “Primitive scales were much more tooth-like in structure, but have been retained in only a few living lineages, including that of cartilaginous fishes such as skates and sharks.

    “Stroke a shark and you’ll find it feels rougher than other fish, as shark skin is covered entirely in dermal denticles. There’s evidence that shark skin was actually used as sandpaper as early as the Bronze Age,” says Gillis.

    “By labelling the different types of cells in the embryos of skate, we were able to trace their fates. We show that, unlike most fish, the denticle scales of sharks and skate develop from neural crest cells, just like teeth.

    “Neural crest cells are central to the process of tooth development in mammals. Our findings suggest a deep evolutionary relationship between these primitive fish scales and the teeth of vertebrates.

    “Early jawless vertebrates were filter feeders – sucking in small prey items from the water. It was the advent of both jaws and teeth that allowed vertebrates to begin processing larger and more complex prey.”

    The very name of these scales, dermal denticles, alludes to the fact that they are formed of dentine: a hard calcified tissue that makes up the majority of a tooth, sitting underneath the enamel.  

    The jagged dermal denticles on sharks and skate – and, quite possibly, vertebrate teeth – are remnants of the earliest mineralised skeleton of vertebrates: superficial armour plating. 

    This armour would have perhaps peaked some 400 million years ago in now-extinct jawless vertebrate species, as protection against predation by ferocious sea scorpions, or even their early jawed kin. 

    The Cambridge scientists hypothesise that these early armour plates were multi-layered: consisting of a foundation of bone and an outer layer of dentine – with the different layers deriving from different types of cells in unborn embryos.

    These layers were then variously retained, reduced or lost in different vertebrate linages over the course of evolution. “This ancient dermal skeleton has undergone considerable reductions and modifications through time,” says Gillis.

    “The sharks and skate have lost the bony under-layer, while most fish have lost the tooth-like dentine outer layer. A few species, such as the bichir, a popular fish in home aquariums, have retained aspects of both layers of this ancient external skeleton.”

    Latest findings support the theory that teeth in the animal kingdom evolved from the jagged scales of ancient fish, the remnants of which can be seen today embedded in the skin of sharks and skate. 

    This ancient dermal skeleton has undergone considerable reductions and modifications through time
    Andrew Gillis
    Dermal denticles on the tail of the Little Skate, as used in the latest research.

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