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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.

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    The alternative explanation to the so-called ‘Planet Nine’ hypothesis, put forward by researchers at the University of Cambridge and the American University of Beirut, proposes a disc made up of small icy bodies with a combined mass as much as ten times that of Earth. When combined with a simplified model of the solar system, the gravitational forces of the hypothesised disc can account for the unusual orbital architecture exhibited by some objects at the outer reaches of the solar system.

    While the new theory is not the first to propose that the gravitational forces of a massive disc made of small objects could avoid the need for a ninth planet, it is the first such theory which is able to explain the significant features of the observed orbits while accounting for the mass and gravity of the other eight planets in our solar system. The results are reported in the Astronomical Journal.

    Beyond the orbit of Neptune lies the Kuiper Belt, which is made up of small bodies left over from the formation of the solar system. Neptune and the other giant planets gravitationally influence the objects in the Kuiper Belt and beyond, collectively known as trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs), which encircle the Sun on nearly-circular paths from almost all directions.

    However, astronomers have discovered some mysterious outliers. Since 2003, around 30 TNOs on highly elliptical orbits have been spotted: they stand out from the rest of the TNOs by sharing, on average, the same spatial orientation. This type of clustering cannot be explained by our existing eight-planet solar system architecture and has led to some astronomers hypothesising that the unusual orbits could be influenced by the existence of an as-yet-unknown ninth planet.

    The ‘Planet Nine’ hypothesis suggests that to account for the unusual orbits of these TNOs, there would have to be another planet, believed to be about ten times more massive than Earth, lurking in the distant reaches of the solar system and ‘shepherding’ the TNOs in the same direction through the combined effect of its gravity and that of the rest of the solar system.

    “The Planet Nine hypothesis is a fascinating one, but if the hypothesised ninth planet exists, it has so far avoided detection,” said co-author Antranik Sefilian, a PhD student in Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. “We wanted to see whether there could be another, less dramatic and perhaps more natural, cause for the unusual orbits we see in some TNOs. We thought, rather than allowing for a ninth planet, and then worry about its formation and unusual orbit, why not simply account for the gravity of small objects constituting a disc beyond the orbit of Neptune and see what it does for us?”

    Professor Jihad Touma, from the American University of Beirut, and his former student Sefilian modelled the full spatial dynamics of TNOs with the combined action of the giant outer planets and a massive, extended disc beyond Neptune. The duo’s calculations, which grew out of a seminar at the American University of Beirut, revealed that such a model can explain the perplexing spatially clustered orbits of some TNOs. In the process, they were able to identify ranges in the disc’s mass, its ‘roundness’ (or eccentricity), and forced gradual shifts in its orientations (or precession rate), which faithfully reproduced the outlier TNO orbits.

    “If you remove planet nine from the model and instead allow for lots of small objects scattered across a wide area, collective attractions between those objects could just as easily account for the eccentric orbits we see in some TNOs,” said Sefilian, who is a Gates Cambridge Scholar and a member of Darwin College.

    Earlier attempts to estimate the total mass of objects beyond Neptune have only added up to around one-tenth the mass of the Earth. However, in order for the TNOs to have the observed orbits and for there to be no Planet Nine, the model put forward by Sefilian and Touma requires the combined mass of the Kuiper Belt to be between a few to ten times the mass of the Earth.

    “When observing other systems, we often study the disc surrounding the host star to infer the properties of any planets in orbit around it,” said Sefilian. “The problem is when you’re observing the disc from inside the system, it’s almost impossible to see the whole thing at once. While we don’t have direct observational evidence for the disc, neither do we have it for Planet Nine, which is why we’re investigating other possibilities. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that observations of Kuiper belt analogues around other stars, as well as planet formation models, reveal massive remnant populations of debris.

    “It’s also possible that both things could be true – there could be a massive disc and a ninth planet. With the discovery of each new TNO, we gather more evidence that might help explain their behaviour.”

    Reference:
    Antranik A. Sefilian and Jihad R. Touma. ‘Shepherding in a self-gravitating disk of trans-Neptunian objects.’ Astronomical Journal (2019).

    The strange orbits of some objects in the farthest reaches of our solar system, hypothesised by some astronomers to be shaped by an unknown ninth planet, can instead be explained by the combined gravitational force of small objects orbiting the Sun beyond Neptune, say researchers. 

    We wanted to see whether there could be another, less dramatic and perhaps more natural, cause for the unusual orbits we see in some TNOs
    Antranik Sefilian
    Kuiper Belt's ice cores

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    A team from the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute at the University of Cambridge has developed and tested ‘Decoder’, a new game that is aimed at helping users improve their attention and concentration. The game is based on the team’s own research and has been evaluated scientifically.

    Read more here.

    A new ‘brain training’ game designed by researchers at the University of Cambridge improves users’ concentration, according to new research published today. The scientists behind the venture say this could provide a welcome antidote to the daily distractions that we face in a busy world.

    Reading

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    The study, commissioned by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and produced by the REAL Centre at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, reveals that the most disadvantaged girls rarely reach high levels of education, beyond primary, that benefit most from national and aid funding. In Nigeria and Pakistan, girls from poor rural households average just one year at school, while rich urban boys enjoy 11 or 12 years of study.

    National governments and donor countries must show greater political commitment if global goals on gender equality in education are to be reached, according to the report, 12 Years of Quality Education for All Girls: A Commonwealth Perspective. The report will be launched at the Education World Forum, the world’s largest gathering of education and skills ministers, in London on Monday 21 January 2019.

    Barriers to access

    The study highlights an array of barriers that prevent girls accessing education, including gender-based violence within and on the way to school, and absenteeism during menstruation because of a lack of availability of sanitary protection. For marginalised girls, cost is also a key barrier in sending girls to school, with poverty leading some girls to have sex with men who provide them with the essentials of secondary schooling that their family cannot afford. Schools must be made “safe spaces” for girls, particularly in areas affected by conflict, say the authors, while cash support for the poorest families may help ease financial pressures and free up daughters to go to school.

    Professor Pauline Rose, Director of the REAL Centre and author of the report, said: “Evidence shows us what works to address barriers that marginalised girls face in their access and learning. Much more needs to be done to implement these interventions at far greater scale. It is vital that current political uncertainties do not jeopardise the prioritisation of investment in girls’ education to enable this to happen.” 
     
    The report was commissioned by the Platform for Girls’ Education, co-chaired by the UK Foreign Secretary and Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Education. The platform, a group of 12 influential figures across the Commonwealth, was created after the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in April 2018 affirmed the importance of 12 years of quality education for all, particularly marginalised girls. Achieving that target by 2030 is one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals signed up to in 2015 by leaders across the globe. 

    Equality a “distant reality”

    The study finds that, over the past 20 years, considerable progress has been made in increasing access to primary schooling in the 53 countries of the Commonwealth. There are now equal proportions of boys and girls primary enrolled in 31 out of 44 Commonwealth countries with data. But despite this progress, “12 years of schooling remains a distant reality for many of the most disadvantaged girls residing in Commonwealth countries,” the report says. Gender parity in enrolment has sometimes been achieved even though primary schooling is still not universal: in 2017, 137 million primary-and-secondary school aged children were out of school in these countries, approximately half of them girls.

    In 15 out of 21 Commonwealth countries with available data, poor rural girls spend no more than five years in school, and so have little chance of making the transition to secondary school. In six countries, they spend only one or two years in education. Children and adolescents affected by conflict are most likely to be out of school, and refugee girls are particularly at risk: they are half as likely as their male counterparts to be in secondary school.

    Poor learning in school

    Even those children in school are frequently not learning the basics, researchers found. The recently launched Human Capital Index shows that girls’ education fares far worse when years in school is adjusted for whether or not children are learning. In 14 out of the 26 countries with data, girls who are in school are learning only for the equivalent of six years or less. The picture is likely to be even starker for girls in rural areas and those facing other forms of disadvantage.

    Disadvantage starts early, the study says, with many girls denied early years investment that is proven to boost educational achievement later. In eight of 14 Commonwealth countries with data, no more than 40 percent of poor rural girls have access to pre-primary education, and in three out of these eight countries, fewer than 10 percent are enrolled.

    Governments should do more to target funding on lower levels of education and marginalised groups, the report argues. In 33 out of 45 Commonwealth countries with data, governments are spending far more on post-primary levels of education than on primary schooling, even though the probability of the most disadvantaged girls reaching these levels of education is extremely low. Of the 35 Commonwealth countries with data on pre-primary spending, 25 governments are spending less than five percent of their education budgets on pre-primary education.

    Early years not prioritised

    The same failure to prioritise the early years is seen in education aid spending. Funding for primary education fell from around two thirds in 2002 to under a half (47%) by 2016, and a mere 0.4 percent of education aid to Commonwealth countries was spent on pre-primary education. By contrast, 10 percent is spent on scholarships to allow students from aid-recipient Commonwealth countries to study in donor countries, even though only the most privileged benefit from such schemes.

    In addition, only around five percent of total education aid appears to be spent with the main objective of achieving gender equality. The UK alone bucks the trend, with all but 2% of education aid targeting gender equality directly or significantly affecting it.

    To tackle discrimination and work towards gender equality in education, governments of Commonwealth countries must show visible high-level political commitment backed by resources, the study concludes. Funding towards early childhood education and early learning should be prioritised.

    Support for girls at puberty

    There must also be steps to address the particular challenges marginalised girls face at puberty, such as provision of sanitary pads in schools, and moves to keep girls safe and secure in school, including providing female staff, secure buildings and door-to-door transport between school and home. More broadly, gender-sensitive teaching practices and materials are needed to ensure discriminatory stereotypes are not enforced, says the study.

    The report sets out three priorities for further action, including “high-level, visible political leadership” towards gender equality in education, backed up by sufficient resources to reach the most marginalised girls. Investment in early years education is also vital, together with making girls’ education a priority in wider national development planning.

    For more information, contact: Professor Pauline Rose or Faculty of Education Communications Manager Lucy Ward on lw28@cam.ac.uk

    The poorest girls in many Commonwealth countries spend no more than five years in school, with the global target of 12 years of quality universal education remaining “a distant reality” for many, according to a new report charting global inequality in girls’ education.

    It is vital that current political uncertainties do not jeopardise the prioritisation of investment in girls’ education
    Pauline Rose
    Students in Tanzania.

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    During a panel discussion and round-table, business leaders, academics and conservation practitioners will share their insights on developing nature-based solutions that reverse the loss of biodiversity at scale.

    Sir David has previously said that he does not recall hearing the word ‘conservation’ during his undergraduate days. But in the 70 years since, much has changed. We have increased our understanding of and appreciation for how the natural world underpins life on Earth, the fragility of our planet’s natural systems, and the need to protect these systems.

    In this context, the private sector’s dependence on a healthy natural world is an area of particular focus and growing prominence. The World Economic Forum (WEF) included a number of environmental risks, including biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, in the top ten risks identified in the its Global Risks Report 2018.

    Within Sir David’s adult life, the UN’s approach to the problems facing our planet has also undergone a significant change. The ongoing commitment to global well-being is now closely linked with the need for development to advance within planetary boundaries. In 2015 the UN adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which strive to address the challenges we face using an integrated and holistic approach. Investing in nature has the potential to make a significant contribution to all 17 Goals, and the private sector is key to this investment.

    The panel discussion will be chaired by Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, and a prominent thinker on human rights and environmental law.

    “Restoring and sustaining the natural world is a powerful feat of creativity and imagination, and a powerful commitment to building a more abundant and equitable society,” says Professor Toope. “It is also a challenge we must meet, because without it there is no meaningful future for society as we know it.

    “I strongly believe that organisations such as the University of Cambridge have a duty to engage with these challenges, no matter how great. Through collaborations across disciplines and between sectors, including NGOs and business, we can better understand and identify solutions and demonstrate the leadership necessary to address these major issues.” 

    The panel will draw on expert insight from the Cambridge Conservation Initiative partners, including IUCN, UNEP-WCMC and Fauna & Flora International. The role of the private sector in delivering the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals will feature prominently, with a particular focus on nature’s contribution to sustainability, as well as to health, equality, justice and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

    Business is already investing significantly in managing and conserving nature, but there are still considerable opportunities to do more. As panellist Corli Pretorius, Deputy Director of the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, explains: “Nature’s sustainability should be explicit in our procurement decisions and consumer choices. It should form an integral part of the decision-making of a financial system for sustainable development.”

    André Hoffmann, panellist and Vice-Chairman of the Board of Roche Holding Ltd adds: “The business community has the chance to take a leadership role in including the natural world in business thinking. For years the benefits delivered by nature have been undervalued by the private sector. We now require a wholesale shift to a new way of operating, towards innovative nature-based approaches that strive to improve the state of the natural world to ensure a sustainable future for society and our planet.”

    This event recognises a pivotal moment in the fate of our natural world, both in terms of its parlous state and its increasing prominence in the limelight. Sir David Attenborough, who has witnessed both the birth of conservation, and an increasing focus on the environment across sectors, will conclude the panel discussion with his thoughts on nature’s role in the future of humanity.

    Sir David Attenborough will join the Cambridge Conservation Initiative as it hosts an event at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos today exploring the role of nature in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals.

    Restoring and sustaining the natural world is a powerful feat of creativity and imagination
    Stephen Toope
    Kingfisher

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