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    Now, in a study involving marmosets, scientists at the University of Cambridge have identified the region of the brain that contributes to this phenomenon, and shown that the experimental antidepressant ketamine acts on this region, helping explain why this drug may prove effective at treating anhedonia.

    Depression is a common and debilitating condition which is recognised as a leading cause of disability worldwide. A survey published in 2016 found that 3.3 out of every 100 UK adults had experienced depression in the week before being interviewed.

    A key symptom of depression is anhedonia, typically defined as the loss of ability to experience pleasure. However, anhedonia also involves a lack of motivation and lack of excitement in anticipation of events. All these aspects have proven difficult to treat. One major issue slowing down progress in developing new treatments is that the brain mechanisms that give rise to anhedonia remain largely unknown.

    “Imaging studies of depressed patients have given us a clue about some of the brain regions that may be involved in anhedonia, but we still don't know which of these regions is causally responsible,” says Professor Angela Roberts from the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge.

    “A second important issue is that anhedonia is multi-faceted – it goes beyond a loss of pleasure and can involve a lack of anticipation and motivation, and it’s possible that these different aspects may have distinct underlying causes.”

    In fact, even when existing therapies do work, the reasons why they are effective are not always clear, making it difficult to target these therapies to individuals. 

    Using marmosets, a type of non-human primate, Professor Roberts and MBPhD student Laith Alexander, along with other colleagues, including those at the Wolfson Brain Imaging Centre and Translational Neuroimaging Laboratory, have shown how over-activity in a specific area of the brain’s frontal lobe blunts the excitement seen when anticipating a reward and the motivation to work for that reward. Their results are published today in the journal Neuron.

    In the present study marmosets were trained to respond to two sounds: if they heard sound A, they would receive a treat of marshmallows; if they heard sound B, they would not receive a treat. Once they had learned the association, they would become aroused at sound A, reflected in an increase in blood pressure and excited movements of the head. They would not show the same response to B.

    The researchers then infused either a drug or a saline solution into a region of the brain known as ‘area 25’ through thin cannulae (metal tubes) in the marmosets’ head. Cannulae are inserted during a single surgical procedure, and once the anaesthetic has worn off they do not trouble the animals.

    The effect of the drug was to temporarily make this particular brain region over-active, and this resulted in the marmosets showing less excitement and anticipation at the prospect of a marshmallow treat. They were however as quick to eat the marshmallow treat as before. The saline infusion made no difference to the activity in area 25 or to the marmosets’ excitement and anticipation.

    In a second task, the marmosets had to make more and more responses to get their reward – while initially they would receive a marshmallow treat after pressing a coloured shape on a touch sensitive computer screen just once, as the task proceeded, they would be required to press the coloured shape an increasing number of times. Eventually, the marmoset would reach a point where it gave up, considering the treat to be no longer worth the effort required.

    When the marmosets’ area 25 was over-activated, the researchers observed that the marmosets gave up much faster. This lack of motivation is another key symptom associated with anhedonia.

    By using PET scanning techniques to observe activity across the marmoset’s brain the researchers found that over-activity in area 25 had a knock-on effect to other brain regions, which also became more active, indicating that these were all part of brain circuity controlling anticipatory excitement.

    Finally, the researchers investigated the effect of the experimental antidepressant, ketamine. Marmosets were given the antidepressant 24 hours ahead of the experiment. This time, even when marmosets were administered the treatment to make area 25 over-active, they still showed excitement and anticipation at the marshmallow reward. PET scanning revealed that the brain circuits were functioning normally. In other words, ketamine had blocked the effects of over-activating area 25, which would otherwise blunt anticipation.

    “Understanding the brain circuits that underlie specific aspects of anhedonia is of major importance, not only because anhedonia is a core feature of depression but also because it is one of the most treatment-resistant symptoms,” says Laith Alexander, the study’s first author.

    “By revealing the specific symptoms and brain circuits that are sensitive to antidepressants like ketamine, this study moves us one step closer to understanding how and why patients may benefit from different treatments.”

    Marmosets are used to study brain disorders such as depression because of the similarity of the frontal lobes to those of humans. Rats, which are often used in psychology studies, have frontal lobes quite different to those of humans, making it less easy to translate studies of frontal lobe circuitry directly into the clinic.

    “Depression affects many millions of people worldwide, so it’s important we get to the problems within the brain that underlie the various symptoms,” says Professor Roberts. “Studying these symptoms in non-human primates, such as marmosets can help bridge the gap between findings from rodent studies and the clinic.

    “Using marmosets, we are able to manipulate the activity in specific brain regions, helping us see which regions are causally involved. These effects are temporary, and wear off after a short time.”

    The research was funded by Wellcome.

    Reference
    Alexander, L, et al. Fractionating blunted reward processing characteristic of anhedonia by over-activating primate subgenual anterior cingulate cortex. Neuron; 4 Dec 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.11.021

    ‘Anhedonia’ (the loss of pleasure) is one of the key symptoms of depression. An important component of this symptom is an inability to feel excitement in anticipation of events; however the brain mechanisms underlying this phenomenon are poorly understood.

    Understanding the brain circuits that underlie specific aspects of anhedonia is of major importance, not only because anhedonia is a core feature of depression but also because it is one of the most treatment-resistant symptoms
    Laith Alexander
    Window view

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    A new book is the first to encompass the vast history of how living things procreate, from the banks of the ancient Nile to the fertility clinics of today.

    Detail from the German anatomist Samuel Thomas Soemmerring's ‘images of human embryos', dating from 1799.

    Creative Commons License
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    Built on land adjacent to Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie Hospitals, the children’s hospital will bring together some of the world’s top scientists to explore new ways of diagnosing and treating some of the most challenging diseases of childhood. Mapping the whole human genome and understanding the genetic basis of disease and recovery is central to the hospital’s vision. It aims to make an important contribution globally to the development of children’s healthcare while providing world class care for families in the east of England.

    The project is a partnership involving Cambridge University Hospitals (CUH) NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Cambridge. The development is a major part of the strategy to invest in world class facilities led by the Sustainability and Transformation Partnership for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

    The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Professor Stephen Toope, said: “The announcement from the Secretary of State is extremely positive. It is not only an investment in the research and clinical expertise in Cambridge but, importantly, it is an investment in the future of our children and young people. By helping us to improve how we treat those young people unfortunate enough to be affected by serious childhood diseases, the new hospital  has the potential to transform the provision of healthcare for families in the East of England.”

    Patrick Maxwell, Regius Professor of Physic and Head of the School of Clinical Medicine, said: “This is a welcome and very significant investment from the government. The new children’s hospital will bring together clinical and research expertise from across Cambridge, enabling us to make a major difference to the health of young people across the East of England and, through our research, throughout the UK and beyond.”

    Professor David Rowitch from the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Cambridge added: “It is time to bridge the divide between physical and mental health and move away from silo working. With strengths across the board from genomics to complex medical care, child and adolescent psychiatry, Cambridge is perfectly positioned to lead by example.”

    The announcement has also been welcomed by the chief executives of the two NHS trusts involved. Roland Sinker, CUH chief executive, described the announcement as “a tribute to our outstanding staff who care for very poorly children day in day out in facilities that currently are not reflecting the world class service we provide”. Tracy Dowling, chief executive of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, which provides mental health services for young people and adults as well as physical health services for older people and those with long-term conditions, said the new hospital would provide “the most incredible opportunity” to bring together physical and mental health services under one roof.

    Adapted from a news story from CUH.

    The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, has announced up to £100 million of public capital for an innovative children’s hospital for the east of England. This will be a new facility that is purpose-built to meet the needs of the region’s youngest patients, integrating mental and physical health and combining the highest quality services with world class science and research.

    It is not only an investment in the research and clinical expertise in Cambridge but, importantly, it is an investment in the future of our children and young people
    Professor Stephen Toope
    Children

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  • 12/13/18--00:00: Bats to the rescue
  • Peters' wrinkle-lipped bat. Courtesy of Adrià López-Baucells

    A new study shows that bats are giving Madagascar’s rice farmers a vital pest control service by feasting on plagues of insects. And this, a Cambridge zoologist believes, can ease the pressure on farmers to turn rainforest into fields.

    Peters' wrinkle-lipped bat.

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    The BBC National Short Story Award is one of the most prestigious prizes for a single short story, with the winning author receiving £15,000, and four further shortlisted authors £600 each. The stories are broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and published in an anthology.

    The 2018 winner of the BBC National Short Story Award was Trinidadian writer Ingrid Persaud, who won for The Sweet Sop, her ‘tender and ebullient’ story about a father-son relationship. Persaud’s 2018 victory was announced during a live broadcast of BBC Radio 4’s Front Row from Cambridge University’s West Road Concert Hall, with the winner of the 2018 BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University also revealed, before a reception at Cambridge University Library.

    Previous alumni include Lionel Shriver, Zadie Smith, Hilary Mantel, Jon McGregor and William Trevor.

    This year marks the 14th year of the award with broadcaster Nikki Bedi chairing the judging panel for 2019. Nikki is a television and radio broadcaster who writes and presents The Arts Hour on BBC World Service and BBC Radio London. Her counterpart on the BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University (YWA) is BBC Radio 1 and CBBC’s Book Club presenter Katie Thistleton, who will chair the judging panel for the teenage award for the second time as it opens for submissions for the fifth year.

    Bedi and Thistleton will be joined by an esteemed group of award-winning writers and artists on their respective panels. For the BBC National Short Story Award: novelist and writer of narrative non-fiction, Richard Beard; short story writer, novelist and youngest author to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Daisy Johnson; screenwriter, novelist and 2017 BBC National Short Story Award winner, Cynan Jones; and returning judge, Di Speirs, Books Editor at BBC Radio.

    For the BBC Young Writers’ Award, Thistleton will lead former teacher and Betty Trask Award winner, Anthony Cartwright; Waterstones Prize and YA Bookseller Prize-winning writer, Patrice Lawrence; winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year children’s author, Kiran Millwood Hargrave; and writer, rapper and world-record breaking human beatboxer, Testament.

    James Gazzard, Director of Cambridge’s Institute of Continuing Education, home to the Centre for Creative Writing, said: “Cambridge has produced great writers for many hundreds of years, and we look forward to discovering the new and diverse writers these awards give a voice to.

    “This collaboration with the BBC and First Story contributes to the University’s and our Vice-Chancellor’s commitment of opening up Cambridge to all, to nurturing talent in new ways, while drawing on the unique teaching and academic environment that the University famously provides. We were delighted with the numbers of writers who decided to take part last year. The success of First Story’s Young Writer’s Festival on our Sidgwick Site – as well as our own Short Story Festival at Madingley Hall – proved that the form is not only alive and well, but thriving.”

    Nikki Bedi, Chair of the 2019 BBC National Short Story Award Judging Panel, said “The short story is my favourite form of literature and there is nothing more delicious and perfect for me than devouring, digesting and loving a surprising and perfectly formed short story. From sneakily reading my parents’ copies of Roald Dahl’s dark works when I was far too young, I developed a taste for the form that has never left me.

    "There are so many undiscovered voices and stories waiting to be told out there and we’ll be in the privileged position of receiving and reading them. I’m looking forward to works that transport me to new places, physically and culturally.”

    The writers shortlisted for the BBC Young Writers’ Award have their stories broadcast on a special Radio 1’s Life Hacks Podcast, and published in an anthology. Entrants can access a virtual treasure trove for writing inspiration courtesy of Cambridge University Library’s specially curated digital archive. The winner of the 2018 Young Writers’ Award was 17-year-old Davina Bacon for her ‘compassionate’ and ‘intelligent’ story Under a Deep Blue Sky. The previous winners are Brennig Davies for Skinning, Lizzie Freestone for Ode to a Boy Musician and 2017 winner, Elizabeth Ryder for The Roses.

    In addition, the BBC Student Critics’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University (SCA) launches today and calls for applications. 2018 saw 600 16–18-year-old students from 40 schools flex their critical muscles as they read, discussed and critiqued the five shortlisted NSSA stories. For 2019, this activity is being extended to encourage wider community link-ups between schools, colleges, libraries and bookshops around the UK.

    Full Terms and Conditions for the NSSA and YWA are available with submissions accepted online at www.bbc.co.uk/nssa and www.bbc.co.uk/ywa from 9am (GMT), 13th December 2018. The Terms and Conditions for the BBC Student Critics’ Award can be found here. The deadline for receipt of entries for the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University is 9am (GMT) Monday, 11th March, 2019. The deadline for receipt of entries for the BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University is 9am (GMT), Monday, 25th March, 2019. The deadline for receipt of applications for the BBC Student Critics’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University is 9am (GMT), Monday, 1st April, 2019.

    The shortlist for the BBC National Short Story Award with Cambridge University will be announced on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row at 7.15pm on Friday, 6th September, 2019. Readings of the shortlisted stories will broadcast on BBC Radio 4 from Monday 9th to Friday 13th September and interviews with the shortlisted writers will air from Friday, 6th September, 2019 on Front Row. The shortlist for the BBC Young Writers’ Award with First Story and Cambridge University will be announced on Radio 1’s Life Hacks from 4pm on Sunday, 22nd September, 2019.

    The announcement of the winners of the BBC National Short Story Award and BBC Young Writers’ Award will be broadcast live from the Award ceremony in BBC Broadcasting House on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row from 7.15pm on Tuesday, 1st October, 2019.

     

    Booker Prize shortlistee Daisy Johnson and beatboxer Testament have today been announced as judges of the BBC’s National Short Story Award and Young Writers’ Award with Cambridge University and First Story – as submissions for the 2019 competitions open.

    Cambridge has produced great writers for many hundreds of years, and we look forward to discovering the new and diverse writers these awards give a voice to.
    James Gazzard
    2018 winner Ingrid Persaud accepts her award at the West Road ceremony earlier this year.

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    A pledge letter to the charity, Stand Alone, shows a commitment to improving the student experience for those who study without family support.

    Recent research reveals that 86% of students rely on parental and familial support during their time at University. However, around 9,000 UK students have bo contact or relationship with their families, leaving them financially, materially and emotionally vulnerable during their studies. Accounts of student life show that estranged students often become homeless over summer and have to stay in student accommodation alone over the Christmas holiday period. These students may be up to three times more likely to drop out of University. 

    Estranged students are commonly LGBT+ students who were rejected by their families after coming out, children of immigrant families who reject practices such as forced marriage or FGM, or children who are distanced after divorce and remarriage. There are also a proportion of estranged students who've been disowned for pursuing education against the wishes of their family or extended family network.

    The University has joined others, including the University of Oxford, in pledging to create additional institutional support for those students who may be struggling because their families aren't behind them.

    It commits to giving estranged students a non-repayable enhanced bursary to assist with financial struggles, and will ensure estranged young people are housed over the holiday periods. Further changes will follow after a full audit of their provision.

    Professor Graham Virgo, Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) at The University of Cambridge said:

    “The University of Cambridge understands that students studying without the support of their family may experience additional challenges. We are committed to helping estranged students meet their full potential at Cambridge by providing a comprehensive package of support. We will also aim to raise awareness among staff and students at Cambridge of estranged students, the barriers they face and the support available to them.”

    The University's pledge letter can be found here

     

    The University of Cambridge has made an enhanced commitment to supporting students without relationships with their family.

    We are committed to helping estranged students meet their full potential at Cambridge
    Professor Graham Virgo
    Students walking

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    More than 85 well-preserved dinosaur footprints – made by at least seven different species – have been uncovered in East Sussex, representing the most diverse and detailed collection of these trace fossils from the Cretaceous Period found in the UK to date. Click here to find out more. 

    Two large iguanodontian footprints with skin and claw impressions

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    The study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, found that 76% fewer purchases of sugary confectionary, chocolate and potato crisps were bought and eaten ‘on-the-go’ from supermarkets with checkout food policies compared to those without. In addition, 17% fewer small packages of these items were bought and taken home from supermarkets immediately after introducing a checkout food policy.

    Large supermarket chains such as Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s have captured the majority of the grocery market and play a major role in shaping food preferences and purchasing behaviour. Retail practices such as product displays, positioning, promotions and pricing can all influence consumers’ choices in stores.

    Supermarket checkouts provide a unique location for prompting purchases as all customers have to pass through them to pay and may spend considerable time in queues; however, the majority of food at supermarket checkouts could be considered unhealthy. Over the last decade, many UK supermarket groups have made voluntary commitments to remove or limit unhealthy foods at the tills or to provide healthier options.

    “Many snacks picked up at the checkout may be unplanned, impulse buys – and the options tend to be confectionary, chocolate or crisps,” says Dr Jean Adams from the Centre for Diet and Activity Research at the University of Cambridge. “Several supermarkets have now introduced policies to remove these items from their checkouts, and we wanted to know if this had any impact on people’s purchasing choices.”

    To examine the effect that the introduction of checkout food policies in major supermarket chains has had on shoppers’ purchasing habits, Dr Adams led a team of researchers at the universities of Cambridge, Stirling and Newcastle who analysed data from the Kantar Worldpanel’s Consumer panel for food, beverages and household products. Six out of the nine major supermarkets introduced checkout food policies between 2013 and 2017. (The researchers anonymised the information to avoid ‘naming and shaming’ companies.)

    Firstly, the team looked at how purchases of less healthy common checkout foods brought home changed following the implementation of checkout policies. They used data from over 30,000 UK households from 12 months before to 12 months after implementation.

    The researchers found that implementation of a checkout food policy was associated with an immediate 17% reduction in purchases. After a year, shoppers were still purchasing over 15% fewer of the items compared to when no policy was in place.

    Next, they looked at data from 7,500 shoppers who recorded food bought and eaten ‘on-the-go’ during 2016-17 from supermarkets with and without checkout food policies. On-the-go purchases are often impulsive and can be the result of children pestering their parents. The researchers found that shoppers made 76% fewer annual purchases of less healthy common checkout foods from supermarkets with checkout food policies compared to those without.

    As the study was not a randomised control trial, it was not possible to say definitely that the changes in purchasing behaviour were due to the checkout food policies. Stores that chose to have checkout food policies may have been different from those that did not. Or shoppers may have changed to purchasing larger packages from the same stores, or similar products from stores that aren’t supermarkets.

    “Our findings suggest that by removing sweets and crisps from the checkout, supermarkets can have a positive influence on the types of purchases their shoppers make,” says Dr Katrine Ejlerskov, the study’s first author. “This would be a relatively simple intervention with the potential to encourage healthier eating. Many of these purchases may have been impulse buys, so if the shopper doesn’t pick up a chocolate bar at the till, it may be one less chocolate bar that they consume.”

    “It may seem obvious that removing unhealthy food options from the checkout would reduce the amount that people buy, but it is evidence such as this that helps build the case for government interventions to improve unhealthy behaviours,” adds Dr Adams.

    “One such intervention might be to introduce nutritional standards for checkout food as suggested in the Government’s recent Childhood Obesity Plan. Such a government-led policy might prove attractive to supermarkets as it would provide a level playing field across the sector.”

    The work was undertaken by the authors as part of the Public Health Research Consortium. The Public Health Research Consortium is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care Policy Research Programme.

    Reference
    Ejlerskov, KT et al. Supermarket policies on less healthy food at checkouts: natural experimental evaluation using interrupted time series analyses of purchases. PLOS Medicine; 18 Dec 2018; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002712

    Policies aimed at removing sweets and crisps from checkouts could lead to a dramatic reduction in the amount of unhealthy food purchased to eat ‘on the go’ and a significant reduction in that purchased to take home, suggests new research led by the University of Cambridge.

    It is evidence such as this that helps build the case for government interventions to improve unhealthy behaviours
    Jean Adams
    Shopping carts
    Researcher Profile: Dr Jean Adams

    “Most people have a vague idea about what eating better involves – more fruit and veg, less fat and sugar – and they also often have an aspiration to eat better,” says Dr Jean Adams. “But they don’t always manage to put this aspiration into practice.”

    Jean’s research group in the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) asks why this is the case – and what can be done about it. “We’re particularly interested in how we can provide environments that make it easier for everyone to eat better. This might involve making healthier foods more available, cheaper, attractive, or easier to prepare.”

    Jean began her career studying medicine at Newcastle University, but admits she “never really enjoyed it”. But between her second and third year at medical school, she did a research year and realised this was where her passion lay. She went on to study for a PhD in public health and since then her career has involved public health research, rather than clinical medicine.

    “I do a lot of talking and listening to people working in local and national government to understand what sorts of opportunities they feel are coming up and what research they would find helpful. In Cambridge we then try and focus on what the most rigorous and useful research we could do would be.”

    Jean hopes that her research will lead to more people finding it easier to eat better. “Poor diet accounts for as much death and disease in the UK as tobacco smoking, so we are trying to address a major problem,” she says.

    While she finds her work interesting and rewarding, she says research can be more prosaic than it is sometimes painted. “I have never had a Eureka moment and no-one’s ever slapped a sheaf of papers on my desk that explains everything! In my experience, research is more about grinding things out with a lot of refining and polishing leading to incremental accumulation of knowledge.”

    Nor is it particularly glamorous: “The CEDAR offices are in a slightly dingy corner deep in the heart of Addenbrooke’s Hospital. We have a small meeting room with a big white board. Sometimes I think that whiteboard has been the key vehicle for almost all of the great research CEDAR has produced!”

    But fortunately, it can be both enjoyable and exhilarating. “My favourite meetings are the ones where we talk about ideas and share our brain power to arrive at new insights. I particularly enjoy when someone makes me see an old problem in a new way, or helps me crystallise some vague ideas that have been bubbling in my head for a while.

    “We also try not to take ourselves too seriously and have a lot of fun along the way.”

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    The robot hand, developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, was made by 3D-printing soft and rigid materials together to replicate of all the bones and ligaments – but not the muscles or tendons – in a human hand. Even though this limited the robot hand’s range of motion compared to a human hand, the researchers found that a surprisingly wide range of movement was still possible by relying on the hand’s mechanical design.

    Using this ‘passive’ movement – in which the fingers cannot move independently – the robot was able to mimic different styles of piano playing without changing the material or mechanical properties of the hand. The results, reported in the journal Science Robotics, could help inform the design of robots that are capable of more natural movement with minimal energy use.

    Complex movement in animals and machines results from the interplay between the brain (or controller), the environment and the mechanical body. The mechanical properties and design of systems are important for intelligent functioning, and help both animals and machines to move in complex ways without expending unnecessary amounts of energy.

    “We can use passivity to achieve a wide range of movement in robots: walking, swimming or flying, for example,” said Josie Hughes from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, the paper’s first author. “Smart mechanical design enables us to achieve the maximum range of movement with minimal control costs: we wanted to see just how much movement we could get with mechanics alone.”

    Over the past several years, soft components have begun to be integrated into robotics design thanks to advances in 3D printing techniques, which has allowed researchers to add complexity to these passive systems.

    The human hand is incredibly complex, and recreating all of its dexterity and adaptability in a robot is a massive research challenge. Most of today’s advanced robots are not capable of manipulation tasks which small children can perform with ease.

    “The basic motivation of this project is to understand embodied intelligence, that is, the intelligence in our mechanical body,” said Dr Fumiya Iida, who led the research. “Our bodies consist of smart mechanical designs such as bones, ligaments, and skins that help us behave intelligently even without active brain-led control. By using the state-of-the-art 3D printing technology to print human-like soft hands, we are now able to explore the importance of physical designs, in isolation from active control, which is impossible to do with human piano players as the brain cannot be ‘switched off’ like our robot.”

    “Piano playing is an ideal test for these passive systems, as it’s a complex and nuanced challenge requiring a significant range of behaviours in order to achieve different playing styles,” said Hughes.

    The robot was ‘taught’ to play by considering how the mechanics, material properties, environment and wrist actuation all affect the dynamic model of the hand. By actuating the wrist, it is possible to choose how the hand interacts with the piano, allowing the embodied intelligence of the hand to determine how it interacts with the environment. 

    The researchers programmed the robot to play a number of short musical phrases with clipped (staccato) or smooth (legato) notes, achieved through the movement of the wrist. “It’s just the basics at this point, but even with this single movement, we can still get quite complex and nuanced behaviour,” said Hughes.

    Despite the limitations of the robot hand, the researchers say their approach will drive further research into the underlying principles of skeletal dynamics to achieve complex movement tasks, as well as learning where the limitations for passive movement systems lie.

    “This approach to mechanical design can change how we build robotics,” said Iida. “The fabrication approach allows us to design mechanically intelligent structures in a way that is highly scalable.”

    “We can extend this research to investigate how we can achieve even more complex manipulation tasks: developing robots which can perform medical procedures or handle fragile objects, for instance,” said Hughes. “This approach also reduces the amount of machine learning required to control the hand; by developing mechanical systems with intelligence built in, it makes control much easier for robots to learn.”

    The research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

    Reference:
    J.A.E. Hughes, P. Maiolino, F. Iida. ‘An Anthropomorphic Soft Skeleton Hand Exploiting Conditional Models for Piano Playing.’ Science Robotics (2018). DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aau3098

    Scientists have developed a 3D-printed robotic hand which can play simple musical phrases on the piano by just moving its wrist. And while the robot is no virtuoso, it demonstrates just how challenging it is to replicate all the abilities of a human hand, and how much complex movement can still be achieved through design. 

    Smart mechanical design enables us to achieve the maximum range of movement with minimal control costs: we wanted to see just how much movement we could get with mechanics alone
    Josie Hughes
    Robot hand playing the piano

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    A new study has found that London police officers visibly armed with electroshock ‘Taser’ weapons used force 48% more often, and were more likely to be assaulted, than those on unarmed shifts.

    However, while use of force can include everything from restraint and handcuffing to CS spray, the Tasers themselves were only fired twice during the year-long study period.  

    Criminologists from the University of Cambridge say the findings suggest that Tasers can trigger the ‘weapons effect’: a psychological phenomenon in which sight of a weapon increases aggressive behaviour.  

    While the ‘weapons effect’ has been repeatedly demonstrated in simulated conditions over the last forty years, this is one of the largest studies to show it “in the field” and the first to reveal the effect in law enforcement.

    Researchers say their findings, published today in the journal Criminal Justice and Behaviour, may well apply to policing situations in which other forms of weaponry – including the lethal variety – are involved. 

    “We found that officers are more likely to be assaulted when carrying electroshock weaponry, and more likely to apply force,” said lead researcher Dr Barak Ariel from Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology.

    “It is well established that the visual cue of a weapon can stimulate aggression. While our research does not pierce the ‘black box’ of decision-making, the only difference between our two study conditions was the presence of a Taser device.”

    “There was no increase in injury of suspects or complaints, suggesting it was not the police instigating hostilities. The presence of Tasers appears to provoke a pattern where suspects become more aggressive toward officers, who in turn respond more forcefully,” he said. 

    The City of London force is responsible for policing the ‘Square Mile’ business district in the centre of London. It also holds national responsibility for economic crime and prioritises counter-terrorism, violent crime and public order due to its central location.

    The force was the first in England and Wales to test “extended deployment” of Tasers – described as “conducted energy devices” in UK policing – to frontline officers. During the rollout, police chiefs allowed Ariel and colleagues to conduct a major experiment. 

    Between June 2016 and June 2017 the researchers randomly allocated 400 frontline shifts a Taser-carrying officer and compared the results to an equal number of unarmed shifts over the same period. A total of 5,981 incidents occurred during the study.

    Use of force by police carrying Tasers was 48% higher than the officers on unarmed shifts. In what researchers call a “contagion effect”, even those unarmed officers accompanying Taser carriers on ‘treatment’ shifts used force 19% more often than those on Taser-free ‘control’ shifts.

    Six physical assaults against police were recorded during shifts with Taser-carrying officers, compared to just three on the unarmed ‘control’ shifts. While the numbers are small, assaults against officers are rare, and researchers argue that this doubling is significant.

    Despite the increased hostility uncovered by the study, actual use of electroshock weapons was minimal over the study period, with just nine “deholsterings” – only two of which resulted in electric shocks applied to a suspect.   

    “The City of London police rarely discharged Tasers during the study. Yet the very presence of the weapon led to increased hostility between the police and public,” said Ariel.

    The weapons effect was first shown by psychologist Leonard Berkowitz in 1967, in a laboratory experiment involving the administering of electric shocks in the presence of a rifle – an experiment that Ariel points out has been replicated 78 times.

    “For many, a weapon is a deterrence. However, some individuals interpret the sight of a weapon as an aggressive cue – a threat that creates a hostile environment,” Ariel said.

    “The response is consequently a ‘fight or flight’ dilemma that can result in a behavioural manifestation of aggression and assault. This is what we think we are seeing in our Taser experiment.”     

    “It would not be surprising to find that serious or violent offenders fit this criteria, especially young males – the very type of suspect that is regularly in direct contact with frontline police.”

    Half a million police officers in the United States regularly carry Tasers, and electroshock weapons are now becoming part of frontline policing across the UK.

    The study author’s offer a simple solution to bypass the weapons effect: conceal the Tasers. “The relatively inexpensive policy change of keeping Tasers hidden from sight should not limit efficacy, but could reduce the weapons effect we see in the study,” said Ariel.

    “This conclusion could be generalised to all types of police armoury, including the lethal firearms carried by police officers. If the presence of weapons can lead to aggression by suspects, so its concealment should be able to reduce aggression and increase officer safety,” he said.

    Study co-author Chief Superintendent David Lawes, from the City of London Police, said: “Following the findings of the study, we are exploring whether a simple holster change or weapon position move will nullify the weapons effect issue shown in the experiment. We have also updated our training package for officers carrying Tasers to make them aware of the findings.”

    “The use of Tasers have been a proportionate and sensible introduction to policing against a backdrop of unsophisticated terror attacks and an increase in violent crime across London.

    “The City of London Police seeks to ensure that any major changes to policy are supported by an evidence base and we wanted to be confident that an extension of Taser deployments to our frontline responders was the right thing to do for both our officers and the public they serve.

    “A number of other forces are interested in replicating the study to add to the evidence base and see whether the experiment produces the same results outside of London.

    “Across our force, we will continue to use evidence to define how we target problems, which tactics we should use and how we can ensure policing is efficient and safer for both the general public and our officers.”

    Cambridge experiment with City of London police found that, while rarely deployed, just the presence of electroshock devices led to greater overall hostility in police-public interactions – an example of what researchers call the ‘weapons effect’.

    The presence of Tasers appears to provoke a pattern where suspects become more aggressive toward officers, who in turn respond more forcefully
    Barak Ariel
    A City of London police officer armed with a Taser

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    In the popular imagination, robots have been portrayed alternatively as friendly companions or existential threat. But while robots are becoming commonplace in many industries, they are neither C-3PO nor the Terminator. Cambridge researchers are studying the interaction between robots and humans – and teaching them how to do the very difficult things that we find easy. Click here to find out more.

    Puppy, a running robot developed by Fumiya Iida’s team

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    Professor David Klenerman, FRS was awarded a Knight Bachelor for Services to Science and for the Development of High Speed DNA Sequencing Technology.

    Professor Klenerman said: “I feel very humbled to be recognised in this way.” 

    Sir David is a professor of biophysical chemistry at the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Christ's College. He is best known for his contribution in the field of next-generation sequencing of DNA, which subsequently resulted in Solexa, a high-speed DNA sequencing company that he co-founded.

    “I also want to acknowledge and sincerely thank the highly talented people who have worked with me over the years and without whom my research would simply not have been possible. In particular the development of Solexa sequencing was the result of a massive team effort.”

    Klenerman was educated at the University of Cambridge where he was an undergraduate student of Christ's College and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1982. He earned his Doctor of Philosophy degree in chemistry in 1986 as a postgraduate student of Churchill College.

    Sir David has received a string of honours for his work, including a 2018 Royal Medal from the Royal Society for his outstanding contribution to applied sciences. He was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2015 and Fellow of the Royal Society in 2012.

    Professor Madeleine Julia Atkins, who was first honoured as a CBE in 2011, has been awarded a DBE for Services to Higher Education.

    Professor Atkins, lately Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, has had a long and distinguished career in higher education, most recently providing outstanding leadership in ensuring a smooth transition between HEFCE and the new Office for Students and Research England. She has also been a Trustee and Board member for Nesta, and was until recently a Deputy Lieutenant in the West Midlands. She has been a Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Newcastle University, is a former Vice-Chancellor of Coventry University, and is now President of Lucy Cavendish College here at Cambridge University. She studied for a degree in law and history at Girton College and has a PhD from the University of Nottingham.

    Professor Atkins said: “I am honoured to receive this award, which recognises the contribution of my former colleagues at HEFCE who worked so hard to make the transition to OfS and Research England both smooth and successful. I am delighted now to be bringing some of my experience in the higher education sector to support the students and Fellowship of Lucy Cavendish College”.

    Professor John Frederick William Birney, FRS, the joint director, European Bioinformatics Institute was awarded a CBE For Services to Computational Genomics and to Leadership across the Life Sciences.

    Professor Birney is Director of EMBL-EBI, Europe's flagship laboratory for the life sciences, and runs a small research group. He played a vital role in annotating the genome sequences of human, mouse, chicken and several other organisms. He led the analysis group for the ENCODE project, which is defining functional elements in the human genome. Birney’s main areas of research include functional genomics, assembly algorithms, statistical methods to analyse genomic information (in particular information associated with individual differences) and compression of sequence information.

    Professor Birney, known as Ewan to his friends, family and colleagues, was educated at Eton, Oxford and St John’s College, Cambridge.

    Dr Jennifer Mary Schooling, Director of the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction, University of Cambridge was awarded an OBE For Services to Engineering and to Digital Construction.

    Dr Schooling is a Fellow of Darwin College and has been the Director of the Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction since April 2013. CSIC focuses on how better data and information from a wide range of sensing systems can be used to improve our understanding of our infrastructure, leading to better design, construction and management practices. CSIC has strong collaborations with industry, developing and demonstrating innovations on real construction and infrastructure projects, and developing standards and guidance to enable implementation.

    Andrew Nairne, Director of Kettle’s Yard, was awarded an OBE for Services to Museums and the Arts. Kettle’s Yard is the University of Cambridge’s modern and contemporary art gallery.

    Andrew Nairne said: “I am delighted to receive this recognition following the hugely successful reopening of Kettle’s Yard in 2018: a magnificent team effort.”

    “As Director of one of the eight University of Cambridge Museums, I believe museums have a vital role to play in the life of both the University and the community.”

    The Honours list, which dates back to around 1890, recognises notable services and contributions to Britain.

    Members of collegiate Cambridge recognised for outstanding contributions to society in Science, Education, Engineering and Art

    “I feel very humbled to be recognised in this way.”
    Professor Sir David Klenerman
    Professor Sir David Klenerman

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    During a pilot study, published today in the journal BMJ Open, seventeen patients received daily automated telephone calls for one month. All patients had high blood pressure and were recruited from GP practices in East of England. The calls were tailored to patients’ needs and provide them with advice and support about taking their prescribed medicines. The calls also asked a series of interactive questions and reacted to the patients’ answers.

    Examples of the messages included:

    Please do not forget to take your tablets. To achieve better control over high blood pressure, you will need to take them every day.

    This is your message for your blood pressure tablets. One easy way to remember your tablets, is to take them with another daily activity, such as your morning cup of tea. If they are always done together, it will be harder to forget.

    Please keep taking your tablets as prescribed even if you are well and feeling healthy. High blood pressure is one of those things that unless you actually feel it you're not aware that it is a problem.

    Taking your medications as prescribed will support you to keep enjoying things or activities that are important to you.

    Whatever the day may holds, please do not forget to take your tablets. To achieve better control over high blood pressure, you will need to take them every day.

    The patients completed questionnaires at the beginning of the study and at follow up, and completed interviews to understand the impact of the service.

    “This the first time automated telephone call technology has been used in the UK in this way,” said Dr Katerina Kassavou from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge. “There is considerable evidence to show that highly tailored interventions are more likely to support patients’ adherence to their prescription regime, which in turn leads to better patient outcomes.”

    The IVR application was developed by Simon Edwards, a Communications Specialist from the University Information Service telecoms team at Cambridge.

    “Many patients had previous, often negative, experiences with IVR technology, particularly from marketing schemes, so it was important for us to work closely with the research team to understand what patients really wanted,” said Edwards.

    “We created a tailored experience which included the preferred delivery method, the timing of calls, and the intervals between repeat calls. The team also researched how the content of the message should change through the month-long trial to maintain patient engagement.”

    All recruited patients completed the one-month intervention and follow up interviews. Patients reported that the intervention helped them overcome barriers to taking medications, such as being busy or having many medications to take. They also said it helped them understand the importance of taking medication itself.

    Even though the messages were automated, patients also valued the social aspect of the service – especially those patients with lower perceived social support. The IVR service also enabled patients to ask questions, which could be followed up by their doctor or practice nurse later. Patients also recognised it was likely to be more cost-effective to the NHS than a nurse calling them.

    The next stage of the work is currently underway. It includes both IVR and text messages and it’s being tested for efficacy in a randomised controlled trial with more than 100 patients recruited by GP practices. The trial is also collecting medical data, i.e. blood pressure and blood sugar, and will also look at the cost effectiveness of the system.

    “The early signs are that this digital intervention is well liked by patients and could play an important role in helping patients manage their medicines,” says Dr Kassavou. “We now need to make sure it works in a wider population and to demonstrate that it is a cost-effective intervention.”

    The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) under its School of Primary Care Research and the Research for Patient Benefit programme.

    Reference
    Kassavou, A et al. Development and piloting of a highly tailored digital intervention to support adherence to anti-hypertensive medications, as an adjunct to primary care consultations. BMJ Open; 4 Jan 2019

    Remembering to take medication is vital for managing long term health conditions such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or multiple conditions. Latest research from the University of Cambridge suggests that using interactive voice response (IVR) technology supports patients to take their medicine as prescribed.

    The early signs are that this digital intervention is well liked by patients and could play an important role in helping patients manage their medicines
    Katerina Kassavou
    Oval white medication pill
    Researcher profile: Dr Katerina Kassavou

    Dr Katerina Kassavou began her career studying psychology at the University of Crete before moving to Cambridge in 2014. She is now part of the Behavioural Science Group at Cambridge, looking at how we can change people’s behaviours to improve their health.

    Katerina’s work is focused on developing, implementing and evaluating digital interventions to change behaviours related to health, such as using automated phone calls to encourage patients to take their medication.

    “I conduct my research in primary care, which is a challenging setting to try out new and innovative ideas, but probably the most fruitful place to implement and evaluate health behaviour change,” she says.

    A typical day for Katerina involves multiple tasks, including supervising other researchers, meetings with colleagues, liaising with GP practices, developing interventions and research procedures, analysing data, and disseminating research findings.

    “I’d like to be able to help people change their health behaviours as part of their everyday life. I truly enjoy living in a society of healthy, happy, creative and productive people and I would like my research to lead towards this outcome worldwide.”

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    International finance markets lagged behind punters having a flutter when it came to getting the right result on EU referendum night, according to research.  

    A study shows that gamblers sensed the Leave vote coming an hour before the currency experts in the city – creating a window of “arbitrage” during which the price difference between betting and FX markets yielded up to a 7% return on the pound.

    Researchers from the Faculty of Economics compared the behaviours of the Betfair betting market and the sterling-dollar exchange rate from closure of the polls at 10pm, when odds of 10 to 1 were being offered on Brexit.

    Both markets were “informationally inefficient”: very slow to react despite the data already available, as well as that flooding in from vote counts across the country. This meant there was money to be made by trading early on either market, say researchers.

    The study shows the betting market moved to a Leave result around 3am, by which time Brexit odds had reversed (1 to 10). Yet the foreign exchange market didn’t fully adjust to the reality of Brexit until around 4am. At 4:40am the BBC predicted a Leave victory.

    The difference in efficiency between the two markets created an hour when selling sterling and hedging the result of the referendum on Betfair would have made up to nine cents of profit per pound – a significant “unleveraged return” that, in theory at least, could have seen astute traders make millions. 

    Researchers say the findings support the idea that gambling, or so-called “prediction markets”, might provide better forecasts of election outcomes than either experts or polls.

    “Clearly, punters trading on Betfair are a different group of people to those dealing in FX for international finance. It looks like the gamblers had a better sense that Leave could win, or that it could at least go either way,” said Dr Tom Auld, lead author of the study published recently in theInternational Journal of Forecasting

    “Our findings suggest that participants across both markets suffered a behavioural bias as the results unfolded. Initially, both traders and gamblers could not believe the UK was voting to leave the EU, but this disbelief lingered far longer in the city.”

    Auld and his co-author Prof Oliver Linton used the expected outcomes for each voting area – data that was publicly available prior to the referendum – to create a “forecasting model”.

    By adjusting it with each actual result in turn, they say that their model would have predicted the final result from around 1:30am had it been deployed on the night.

    “According to theories such as the ‘efficient market hypothesis’, the markets discount all publicly available information, so you cannot get an edge on the market with data already out there,” said Auld.

    “However, using data publicly available at the time we show that the financial markets were very inefficient, and should have predicted Brexit possibly over two hours before they actually did.” 

    “If there is a second referendum, the vote should be better understood by markets – in line with a theoretical concept called the adaptive markets hypothesis. Studies such as ours will mean that market participants will be primed to profit from any possible opportunities and inefficiencies,” he said. 

    The researchers compared their modelling with gambling and currency market data from EU referendum night. The website Betfair provided data from their exchange platform – the world’s largest betting exchange – between 10am on June 23 and 5am on June 24. 

    More than 182,000 individual bets were placed with Betfair and over 88,000 trades were made in the GBP futures market during this seven-hour window. Trading on Brexit broke records for a political event on Betfair, with over £128m wagered including over £50m that was matched on the night of the vote itself.

    “Prediction markets such as betting exchanges are an ‘incentive compatible’ way to elicit the private opinions of participants, as people are putting their money where their mouth is, whereas what they tell pollsters can be cheap talk,” added Auld.

    “Prediction markets could in theory be used to help value or price financial assets during events such as major votes. This is an area I will be focusing on for future research.” 

    Research shows how financial markets should have predicted Brexit hours before they eventually did, and that betting markets beat currency markets to the result by an hour – producing a “close to risk-free” profit-making opportunity, according to economists.  

    It looks like the gamblers had a better sense that Leave could win, or that it could at least go either way
    Tom Auld
    The financial trading centre in the heart of London

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    Depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting more than 300 million people. The condition often first emerges in adolescence, a critical developmental time period when an individual experiences substantial changes in their brain structure and chemistry. A known risk factor of depression is exposure to early life stress, such as illness, parents’ separation or death, or adverse family circumstances.

    “Mental health disorders that first occur in adolescence are more severe and more likely to recur in later life,” says Dr Anne-Laura van Harmelen from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, the study’s senior author. “With child and adult mental health services underfunded and overstretched, it is critical that we identify new ways to build resilience, particularly in those adolescents who are most at risk for depression.” 

    People often engage in reminiscing about past events during their everyday lives, sometimes as a strategy for lifting their mood when they feel sad. A team of researchers from the University of Cambridge and University College London set out to examine whether remembering positive experiences could prove an important way of protecting ourselves against stress when it occurs in adolescence.

    To test their hypothesis, the researchers analysed data from 427 young people, average age of 14 years, from Cambridge and the surrounding area, all of whom were considered to be at risk of depression. They examined the effect of recalling positive memories on two signs of vulnerability to depression: negative self-related thoughts and high morning levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The results are published today in Nature Human Behaviour.

    At the start of the experiment, all participants took part in a ‘cued recall Autobiographical Memory Test’. This involved giving the participants a word – either positive or negative – and asking them to recall a specific memory related to the word. Previous studies have shown that people who are depressed find it difficult to recall specific memories, relying instead on more general recollections.

    In a semi-structured interview, the participants reported on the frequency of moderate to severe negative life events in the past 12 months. In addition, they self-reported any symptoms of depression during the previous two weeks and negative self-related thoughts. The interviews were then repeated 12 months later. The researchers also took saliva samples across four days at both the start of the study and after a year to examine levels of morning cortisol.

    The team found that recalling specific positive memories was associated with fewer negative self-related thoughts and with lower levels of cortisol 12 months later. In other words, remembering more specific positive events reduced their vulnerability to depression over the course of one year. Further investigation showed that recalling positive events only reduced negative self-related thoughts and depressive symptoms in response to stressful life events, but not if the adolescents had experienced no stressful life events.

    “Our work suggests that ‘remembering the good times’ may help build resilience to stress and reduce vulnerability to depression in young people,” says Adrian Dahl Askelund, the study’s lead author. “This is important as we already know that it is possible to train people to come up with specific positive memories. This could be a beneficial way of helping support those young people at risk of depression.”

    The research was funded by the Aker Scholarship, the Royal Society and Wellcome.

    Reference
    Askelund, A. D. et al. Positive memory specificity is associated with reduced vulnerability to depression. Nature Human Behaviour; 14 Jan 2019; DOI: 10.1038/s41562-018-0504-3

    Recalling positive events and experiences can help protect young people against depression in later life, suggests new research published today.

    Our work suggests that ‘remembering the good times’ may help build resilience to stress and reduce vulnerability to depression in young people
    Adrian Dahl Askelund
    Friends at sunrise
    Researcher profile: Dr Anne-Laura van Harmelen

    “From the very beginning of my research career, I have been determined to understand what happens in individuals suffering from the consequences of childhood adversity,” says Dr Anne-Laura van Harmelen.

    Anne-Laura is a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow at the Department of Psychiatry, and a fellow of Lucy Cavendish College. She currently leads the Risk and Resilience group that examines the social, cognitive and neurobiological mechanisms that help build resilience in adolescents with a history of adversity, and the interplay between negative social experiences and the brain.

    “Our research aims to understand why some young people with a history of childhood adversity develop mental health disorders, whereas others do not,” she explains. Her work has revealed the social, psychological and behavioural factors that build resilience in adolescents with a history of child abuse, including high self-esteem, good adolescent friendships and remembering positive events in response to stress.

    While her research is ultimately about improving early identification of vulnerable young people with a view to providing better support and interventions, Anne-Laura also hopes that by increasing people’s understanding and awareness of adolescent mental health problems, her research will reduce social stigma surrounding adolescent mental health problems. “Reducing stigma is crucial for encouraging vulnerable adolescents to seek help.”

    Robust, generalisable studies require strong designs and large samples, and children and adolescents with childhood adversity and/or mental health disorders are notoriously difficult to recruit and retain in research studies. This is why Anne-Laura’s work would not be possible without national and international collaborations, she says.

    “Cambridge hosts world leaders who are at the forefront of many of the advances in our understanding of the mechanisms that underlie mental health and in the development of new treatments and ways of supporting those at risk. That’s why Cambridge is such an exciting place to be able to conduct my research.”

    Anne-Laura’s work is funded by the Royal Society and MQ.

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    They have a developed a way of calculating the risk of developing the disease by combining information on family history and genetics with other factors such as weight, age at menopause, alcohol consumption and use of hormone replacement therapy.

    Although individually some of these things have a small impact on the likelihood of developing the disease, researchers found that by considering all of them at once, plus family history and genetics, they can identify groups of women who have different risks of developing breast cancer.

    Importantly, for the first time, researchers have taken into account more than 300 genetic indicators for breast cancer. This makes calculating the risk much more precise than ever before.

    From this, the researchers have created an online calculator for GPs to use in their surgeries.

    Some GPs, practice nurses and genetic counsellors are testing this tool before it is considered for wider use. Doctors are prompted to answer a series of online questions about their patient including their medical and family history, whether they have any known genetic alterations linked to cancer, their weight and whether they drink alcohol.

    In the future, information like this could help to tailor breast cancer screening depending on an individual’s risk. For example, it could help determine what age they are first invited for breast screening or how regularly they are invited to receive it.

    The risk calculation could also help people to make decisions about preventative therapy – such as identifying women at high risk who may benefit from taking the drug tamoxifen - as well as encouraging women to think about the ways they could reduce the risk themselves, for example trying to keep a healthy weight.

    Professor Antonis Antoniou, lead author at the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, said: “This is the first time that anyone has combined so many elements into one breast cancer prediction tool. It could be a game changer for breast cancer because now we can identify large numbers of women with different levels of risk – not just women who are at high risk.

    “This should help doctors to tailor the care they provide depending on their patients’ level of risk. For example, some women may need additional appointments with their doctor to discuss screening or prevention options and others may just need advice on their lifestyle and diet.

    “We hope this means more people can be diagnosed early and survive their disease for longer, but more research and trials are needed before we will fully understand how this could be used.”

    Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK. Nearly 55,000 women are diagnosed with the disease each year. But a large proportion of breast cancer cases occur in people who are at an increased risk. Cancer Research UK has helped to double breast cancer survival over the last 40 years.

    Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK’s GP expert, said: “Research like this is hugely exciting because in the future it will enable us to offer much more tailored care which will benefit patients and make best use of the services that we have available.

    “Although having an increased risk of breast cancer means a woman is more likely to develop the disease – it’s by no means a certainty. A woman at high risk may never get breast cancer just as a woman at low risk still could. But any woman with concerns should speak to her GP to discuss the options.” 

    Reference
    Lee, A et al. BOADICEA: a comprehensive breast cancer risk prediction model incorporating genetic and nongenetic risk factors. Genetics in Medicine; 15 Jan 2019; DOI: 10.1038/s41436-018-0406-9

    Adapted from a press release by Cancer Research UK

    Scientists have created the most comprehensive method yet to predict a woman’s risk of breast cancer, according to a study led by researchers at the University of Cambridge. The study, funded by Cancer Research, is published today in Genetics in Medicine.

    It could be a game changer for breast cancer because now we can identify large numbers of women with different levels of risk – not just women who are at high risk
    Antonis Antoniou
    Breast cancer cell

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    This year's series opens on Friday 18 Jan with a talk from Professor Paul Fletcher from Cambridge Neuroscience and the Department of Psychiatry. Professor Fletcher will be discussing how the brain models and constructs the world around us. 

    Each year, the series tackles an important theme and this year the subject is 'vision'. Over the course of eight lectures, speakers will delve into topics ranging from our perception of colour, how we view the Universe to how our computers use vision. This is the 34th lecture series and the talks are open to everyone. 

    The series continues on 25 Jan with Professor Anya Hulbert of Newcastle University discussing colour perception. It's followed by Professor Dan-Eric Nilsson from Lund University who studies how eyes in the animal kingdom have evolved. Sophie Hackford of Wired Magazine will examine how computers see the world, both the physical world and the ever expanding quantities of data they store. Professor Carlo Rovelli of the University of Aix-Marseille will discuss the current understanding of physical reality and new ways that are being developed to visualise it.   

    Dr Carolin Crawford, from Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy, will discuss how we view the Universe, by delving back to the stargazing of ancient times and bringing us up to date with the giant telescopes of the modern day. The following week Professor Andrew Blake, of the Samsung AI Research Centre, will consider whether we can trust the visual judgment of computers in critical tasks such as autonomous vehicles. The series closes with Professor Sir Colin Blakemore, of the School of Advanced Study, University of London, who will discuss how our eyes perceive distance and how that interacts with art and architecture.

    Professor Mary Fowler, Master of Darwin College, says: “Vision plays an important role in how we perceive and understand the world around us, and in turn how we design and shape it. In our series of fascinating talks, we will be exploring the theme of vision from many different angles with eight distinguished speakers from across the arts, sciences and humanities.””

    The lectures are held every Friday during Lent term (18 Jan - 8 March) at Lady Mitchell Hall on the Sidgwick site. The lectures are free and start at 17.30 but you are advised to get there early to make sure of a seat. More information can be found at: http://www.dar.cam.ac.uk/lectures

     

    How we see the world around us is crucial to our understanding of it. This year's Darwin College lecture series explores this topic, asking how we define colour, how animals adapt their eyesight to survive and how we perceive visual space.

    Vision plays an important role in how we perceive and understand the world around us
    Prof Mary Fowler
    Eye

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    The Lilley research group, Cambridge Centre for Proteomics
    The European Union has awarded ten million euros to a consortium of 18 research groups in the field of mass spectrometry based proteomics research. 
     
    The European Proteomics Initiative Consortium (EPIC-XS), funded as part of the Horizon 2020 Work programme, is coordinated by Albert Heck, professor of biomolecular mass spectrometry and proteomics at Utrecht University. The project began on 1 January 2019 and will run for four years. 
     
    Proteomics, the large-scale study of proteins and their role in living cells and organisms, is an important technology used to gain insight into the function of biological systems. Proteomics has been applied in many different types of studies. These include understanding how cells of the body respond to drug treatment and discovering new biomarkers in body fluids such as blood serum that can be used to detect disease but also monitor how patients respond to treatment.
     
    Proteomics research requires state of the art technology, in-house technical know-how, sustainable and robust workflow practices, successful and correct data interpretation, and data management. The EPIC-XS initiative will support researchers by providing them with access to state of the art proteomics equipment, and allowing them to submit research proposals that make use of the proteomics technology offered by the project. 
     
    This initiative is a follow-up of the previous European proteomics infrastructure project PRIME-XS, which was completed in 2015. EPIC-XS will again provide access to proteomics facilities throughout Europe, supporting and expanding the European proteomics community with its expertise. The provision of courses and training programs will enable new research communities to be schooled in advanced proteomics technologies.
     
    The EPIC-XS consortium consists of partners from fifteen nations: Great Britain, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Estonia, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Czechia, Austria and Norway. All partners share a common goal: to facilitate the development and sustainability of proteomics exploration to all life science researchers within the European Union.
     
    The British partner of EPIC-XS is the Cambridge Centre for Proteomics (CCP). CCP was established in 2000 in the Department of Biochemistry. Since then, CCP has become a world-leading facility applying its technology to a wide variety of biological questions. The Centre is comprised of a core facility that offers full quantitative analysis on virtually any sample of any complexity and a research group that creates and applies novel proteomics technology. Its Director, Professor Kathryn Lilley, said: 
     
    “I am delighted that CCP is involved in EPIC-XS, having been a partner in its highly successful forerunner, PRIME-XS. As part of consortium, we develop technology, combining our expertise in determining where proteins are located within living cells, with that of our European colleagues who are using proteomics to investigate protein structure.
     
    “This kind of international partnership is essential. There is a vast array of proteomics methods and each research laboratory can only become expert in a sub-set of these. By working together, we can unite and finesse our methodologies to uncover important cellular processes inaccessible with current approaches. This will make us greater than the sum of our parts.”

    The University of Cambridge has joined European partners in a major study of proteins which will shed light on the role played by biological systems in health and disease.

    This kind of international partnership is essential
    Kathryn Lilley
    The Lilley research group, Cambridge Centre for Proteomics

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    Breathe London will use a range of cutting-edge fixed and mobile sensors to build up a real-time, hyperlocal image of London’s air quality.  The data these monitors collect from across the capital will provide an unprecedented level of detail about London’s air quality crisis and deliver new insight into the sources of pollution.

    Professor Rod Jones from Cambridge's Department of Chemistry and his group are leaders in the development and use of low-cost air quality sensors, which have been used in projects around the world from Heathrow Airport to Beijing and Dhakar.  They are supporting the Breathe London project by providing their expertise in sensors and through the analysis and interpretation of results from the sensor networks and two Google Street View cars which have been equipped with air pollution monitoring equipment. 

    The data generated by this new network will be available for the public to view on an interactive map on the Breathe London website. The map will show Londoners the condition of the air they are currently breathing and allow more accurate pollution forecasting.

    The Breathe London project was devised by City Hall and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, a global alliance of 90 cities committed to addressing climate change. The project has brought together some of the UK’s top health and scientific experts with leading technology companies and the Environmental Defense Fund.

    Baroness Bryony Worthington, Executive Director of the Environmental Defense Fund, said: “The Breathe London partnership is breaking new ground. We’re developing new scientific approaches using the latest technologies to explore London’s air quality in unprecedented detail.

    “This will provide information for both the public and decision makers that can help drive better solutions to a problem that affects every Londoner. The support of Mayor Khan, C40 Cities, CIFF and all the partners has been invaluable and together we hope to advance air quality management in London, the UK and cities worldwide."

    “By combining fixed and mobile monitors, and by sampling air quality at so many locations, this project paints a far more accurate picture of air pollution across London,” said Jones. “Air pollution is a complex challenge, affected by many different factors, so getting the best possible data is vital. I’m especially looking forward to the possibility of replicating this project in other cities around the world.”

    The project is funded by the Clean Air Fund at the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) and managed by C40 Cities.

    Cambridge researchers are using their expertise in air quality sensors to support the new Breathe London project launched by Mayor Sadiq Khan earlier this week.

    By combining fixed and mobile monitors, and by sampling air quality at so many locations, this project paints a far more accurate picture of air pollution across London
    Rod Jones
    Winding through London

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    Through sound and photography, Cambridge researcher Dr Elizabeth Turk shares her experiences of talking to shamanic healers in Mongolia. Over the past eight years, the social anthropologist has been exploring the increased popularity of nature-based remedies and ‘alternative’ medicine in the wake of the region's seismic politico-economic shifts of recent decades.

    Buyankhishig criss-crossed the hillside before making offerings of vodka and milk. Then, beating her drum and chanting, she invited her ancestral spirits to enter her body.

    Creative Commons License
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