Scientists from the University of Warwick are travelling to London this week to be part of the Royal Society’s prestigious 350th anniversary celebrations.
They will be talking about their scientific research into disorders affecting the brain. Their pioneering work is contributing to the understanding of complex neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s which affect many millions of people worldwide and could lead to earlier diagnosis and better treatment.
Starting on Friday 25th June and running until Sunday 4th July 2010, the Royal Society’s annual Summer Science Exhibition will take place at Southbank Centre.
Dr Joanna Collingwood, Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering’s Biomedical and Biological Systems Laboratory at the University of Warwick, and her colleagues will explain to the public how the powerful X-rays available at Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron science facility, are helping them analyse samples of brain tissue donated for research by patients who had the disorders and in particular to establish whether iron levels are different in diseased tissue.
This could be a real breakthrough as these diseases involve loss of cells in areas of the brain important for forming memory, and coordinating our movements. Scientists have long thought that the death of these cells may be affected by the way that some of our essential metals are processed in those regions of the brain.
Dr Collingwood says, “We use Diamond’s X-rays to look at the distribution and form of metal ions in the critical regions. The X-ray beam provides us with an extremely sensitive tool to detect the tiny quantities of the elements that we are studying in tissues. The work, which is ongoing, has already uncovered quite a lot of information about the distribution of iron, copper, and zinc in specific cell groups and the surrounding tissue, and has also provided information about the chemical forms of the iron present.
“This builds on a previous study of Parkinson’s disease tissue, in which we saw the concentration of iron almost doubled in the individual neurons in the vulnerable nigra region. Looking ahead, if we can understand the changes in the tissue and understand the contributions that the metal ions are making to changes in this tissue, this should support some of the current work that is going on to use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to pick up early changes and potentially lead to earlier diagnoses.”
The Warwick team will use a model of the brain to help them explain to the public which brain area their research focuses on and the level of detail they can uncover about individual cells, which are less than the width of a human hair, and the many different metals contained within them.
Gerd Materlik, Diamond’s Chief Executive, comments, “As the nation’s synchrotron science facility, we welcome thousands of scientists each year from a wide range of fields. These scientists are working on very important research projects that could bring benefits to our quality of life through environmental improvements, new materials and help develop new consumer products to name just a few. It is a huge privilege for us to be able to give a selection of scientists who use Diamond and its benefits the opportunity to talk about their synchrotron related work at the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition, particularly in the year that the society is celebrating its 350th anniversary.”
The event is wonderful for showcasing the latest scientific discoveries and each year it attracts thousands of visitors and is particularly popular with post-16 students who are able to find out more about modern science and technology and talk first hand to scientists about their research projects.
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Notes to Editors
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron facility, a powerful machine that produces very intense beams of X-rays, infrared and ultraviolet light. The light is created by accelerating electrons to almost the speed of light and passing them through special magnets, causing them to release energy in the form of incredibly bright synchrotron light, which can be used to look at liquid, solid and gas samples right down to the scale of molecules and atoms.
The world’s first dedicated X-ray producing synchrotron was built in Daresbury, Cheshire, in 1981 and after almost three decades of successful operation was decommissioned in 2008. As its successor, Diamond improves on efficiency, being six times the size of the earlier synchrotron yet with just a 10-15% increase in running costs.