Research in our faculties, schools and institutes is increasing
our understanding of the world. Here’s some of the most
recent activity going on at Leeds.
Colonoscopy is a crucial weapon in the early diagnosis of colorectal cancer, one of the biggest killers in the west. But it can be a difficult procedure, as Pietro Valdastri, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems, says: “It involves pushing a tube through the large intestine and is usually carried out under anaesthetic. Often, it becomes too painful to proceed or fails altogether.”
The alternative, developed by Pietro and his team, takes a different approach, using a robotic arm of controllable magnets to draw a thinner tube through the intestine. Being able to pivot its camera in three dimensions enables surgeons to better navigate and get a clearer picture of tell-tale polyps, which need to be removed. Clinical trials begin at St James’s Hospital in Leeds this year and, if successful, the technique could become a routine procedure in five years.
A protein complex plays a key role in preventing the build-up of toxic plaques in the brain linked to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease, according to new research.
Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s are linked to proteins that “clump together” in brain cells, causing progressive dysfunction and death of the cells. Working with international colleagues, Leeds researchers discovered that the nascent polypeptide-associated complex (NAC) helps prevent this happening. Professor Sheena Radford FRS, who led the Leeds team, said: “By understanding the mechanism of how NAC works, we are closer to developing a molecule to slow down or even prevent degenerative diseases.”
Tickling the ear with a small electrical current may help to slow down one of the effects of ageing, according to new research. Scientists found that a short daily therapy delivering a painless electrical current to the ear led to physiological and wellbeing improvements. They believe it could help protect against chronic diseases of ageing – high blood pressure, heart disease and atrial fibrillation.
From one side, it’s the sole of a child’s shoe; turned over, a chilling symbol of the Holocaust. The sole was cut from a Jewish religious scroll when synagogues were looted after the deportation of Salonika’s Jews to Auschwitz – and is now the subject of research at Leeds. The sole is one of a number of Jewish objects and rare books amassed by pioneering scholar Cecil Roth. After his death, the University acquired the collection, which is now being made available online thanks to donor funding. Outreach activities will promote engagement with the collection, highlighting Roth’s contribution to the study of Jewish life.
The thinnest free-standing gold ever produced has been created at Leeds. It could have widespread applications in medicine, electronics and chemistry. Flexible gold flakes, just two atoms thick, could speed up reactions in a range of industrial processes and form the basis of components for bendable screens, electronic inks and transparent conducting displays. The material could also form the basis of medical diagnostics and water purification systems.
This amazing image of paracetamol crystal exhibiting colours under polarised light won a string of accolades for PhD student Alexandru Moldovan. He uses computational tools and atomic force microscopy to examine the interactions between crystal surfaces.
A major international research centre into digital technologies in the workplace is being established at the universities of Leeds and Sussex. The £6.5 million Digital Futures at Work Research Centre (DigIT) will focus on the impact of digital technologies on employers, employees, job seekers and regulators. Its research will provide recommendations about how digital technology can be used effectively in the world of work.
A book by Honorary Research Fellow Dr Jill Liddington inspired the hit BBC1 drama series Gentleman Jack. Dr Liddington’s book, Female Fortune: the Anne Lister Diaries 1833–36, explores the story of the 19th century Yorkshire heiress, scholar, traveller, businesswoman and LGBTQ+ trailblazer, through her detailed and part-coded diaries. The book inspired Bafta-winning writer Sally Wainright to script the series, which also featured historian Anne Choma (MA English Literature 1994) as an adviser for the production.
Scientists are developing a technique to monitor insects using weather radar. Researchers from Leeds, the University of Exeter and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science are developing machine learning to automatically recognise and quantify the diversity of insects within weather data – unlocking a treasure trove of information about our wildlife at a time when insect populations crucial to the food chain are falling sharply.
Research has shown higher rates of gum disease and increased levels of an oral bacterium in individuals at risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. This suggests both may be triggers for the development of the disease. The work, led by Dr Kulveer Mankia, concludes that gum disease may be a legitimate target to explore for preventive intervention in rheumatoid arthritis.
The Mathematics for Social Activism conference took place last June, focusing on using mathematics and data to drive social progress by bringing together mathematicians, data analysts, social scientists and practitioners from academia, NGOs and government. Topics included using data and mathematical modelling to understand and tackle challenges such as climate change, poverty, inequality, social unrest and polarisation in society, effective communication and democratic decision making.
Leeds is leading a research group examining how to rapidly decarbonise UK transport. The DecarboN8 network – including members of the north’s eight most research intensive universities – will focus on tackling emissions from cars, vans, buses, lorries and trains which, among them, create a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. It will also examine emissions from the construction and maintenance of vehicles and infrastructure.
The sights and sounds of a British spring were captured by a research project to encourage nature writing in the UK. Led by School of English staff, Land Lines invited people to document their favourite places and their observations of wildlife – such as an encounter with a fox or the sound of birdsong. Participants could upload words and photographs to a website hosted by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which funded the project.
New compositional thresholds for baby food are outlined in the draft Nutrient Profile Model, developed by the School of Food Science and Nutrition and the School of Medicine in collaboration with the World Health Organisation. It promotes a healthy diet in infants and young children by suggesting labelling improvements, curbing misleading marketing and tightening limits on levels of sugar and salt.
People taking part in Dry January feel immediate physical, psychological and emotional benefits, according to the first major study of participants’ experiences of the popular challenge. Each year, around five million adults end the festive season by giving up alcohol for January. Research led by Dr Henry Yeomans sought to understand its popularity by analysing people’s response to participating. Unlike many government health campaigns from around the world, Dry January reinforces the positive experiences of abstaining from alcohol, rather than highlighting the impacts of drinking alcohol. The study suggests a need to reshape alcohol policies in light of the popularity and apparent success of this campaign.
Seventy years ago, nine Leeds researchers set out to record and map dialects from all corners of the country, carrying out the most comprehensive survey of English dialects ever conducted. Thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund the survey will now be updated and digitised. Dr Fiona Douglas from the School of English, who is leading, said: “The project will preserve this invaluable cultural legacy for future generations.”