Stephen Ferguson, BioTrib lead at ETHZ, gains further recognition of his contribution to MSK science.

Further recognition for the inspirational work that our BioTrib colleague, Stephen Ferguson, undertakes in the field of MSK biomechanics – this time from the AO Research Institute at Davos.  The Berton Rahn Research Award was given for Stephen’s ground breaking work in the development of a new range of fibrous membranes that allows greater cellular mobility between fibres and more specific fibre orientation.

BioTrib wishes Stephen our warmest congratulations on his achievements in MSK engineering and science.

 

How to acknowledge EU funding?

Great piece from the EU Research Executive Agency about acknowledging your funding…. 🧐

If you have received EU funds, you are legally obliged to acknowledge them in your communications, dissemination and exploitation. To find out the differences between them please click on the following flyer and also see the image below.

Acknowledgement includes the display of:
🔷 EU Emblem
🔷 Funding statement ✍️

Super Innovation in Uppsala

Uppsala University and its Innovation hub have an enviable record of translating high-end science and engineering to the wider sector, with a few examples of this excellence provided here. The Uppsala Innovation Centre has been ranked in the global top five and has an extensive list of business start ups.

This article explains the role and services provide by Uppsala University Innovation and the support provided to students and researchers.  Importantly, the advisors have industrial experience which allows them to truly span the divide between academia and the commercial sector and can better identify the barriers and opportunities for the transfer of knowledge between sectors. 

Prof Cecilia Persson

Prof Cecilia Persson at Uppsala University, a BioTrib scientist in charge, has worked with Uppsala Innovation and the Innovation Centre closely, developing her new bone cement which will reduce the adverse effects of the current generation of injectables used to treat spinal fractures.

International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. 

from article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

This pertains to all humans regardless of the position they take in society.  However, the significant LGBTQ+ community still faces stigma, discrimination and hate across the globe.  Examples of prejudice are numerous and include

  • criminalisation of of aspects of LGBTQ+ life,  which in some cases incur the death penalty
  • increased rates of violence and abuse

Even in Europe, which we sometimes view through rose-tinted glasses when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, has serious issues when it comes to recognising equality.

As well as these headline figures, people from the LGBTQ+ community often suffer prejudice at work, in sport and with access to healthcare. As an example, the report by the respected UCLA School of Law clearly outlines the discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ people at work. For transgendered people this is exacerbated by misgendering and deadnaming.

We need to respect all people regardless and provide them with the opportunities and community we all expect.  

Simone De Beauvoir and Hard Maths!

I had to pinch myself a number of times this week to ensure I was not ensnared in some Kafkaesque nightmare. Katharine Birbalsingh CBE, Chair, Social Mobility Commission (yes, that is correct), decided to make a comment and relate hard maths in physics to the poor uptake amongst girls in this subject, not withstanding the latest round of results in A-level Mathematics.  The full select committee discussion can be found here, in which Katherine refers to anonymous research supporting her claims.  This got worse as our Chair decided to go on GB News (a common media outlet for Katharine) to explain that she had endeavoured to control for social factors, after which the only attribute left was the sex difference.  Clearly, Katharine couldn’t  have, effectively, excluded all these factors as many are outside her control, but that didn’t stop her professing her innocence.

A key aspect of the debate, to my mind, is not just about getting women in STEM careers, but that if they are excluded we get a world designed for men in an increasing technological age. Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez (review here) sets out cataloguing, through careful research, the lack of data and the lack of gender/sex disaggregation of that data, which then works in hand with the assumption that maleness and the male lens are neutral to discriminate against women. The effects of this data invisibility, arising from a lack of representation, in many technological spheres leads to profound inequalities for women, which impoverish them (and children) to an appalling extent.  This is made worse by the examples of good practice which are just ignored.  The book’s inescapable conclusion is best summed up by the quote at the beginning:

Representation of the world, like the world itself, is the work of men; they describe it from their own point of view, which they confuse with the absolute truth.”   Simone De Beauvoir 

Women living with HIV – carrying the burden of the pandemic.

Source: Sophia Forum – We are still here – accessed 25-10-21

All groups affected by HIV should have access to appropriate care and the opportunity to, for instance, enter clinical trials and access innovative treatments. A recent editorial noted the mismatch between those PLWH that were recruited to clinical trials (overrepresentation of young white males) and those seen in the general population (a more heterogeneric demography). Women have been severely underrepresented in many areas of HIV treatment and care including inclusion in research. This appears to be an ongoing issue across the HIV landscape with alternative approaches required to allow both access and opportunity in advancing care and its underpinning research. This is essential as in the UK a third of people living with HIV are women and globally the figure stands at fifty percent and it is incumbent on everyone that the right interventions are utilised in this as well as any other community. This is particularly important where intersectional issues make marginalisation and stigma even more challenging.  The near-invisibility of WLWH is not a recent phenomenon but one that has existed from the early 80s when HIV came to the fore and the public’s attention.  This is one legacy that the community needs to overcome and as Jacqui Stevenson says:

No more excuses: Making HIV research work for women. (Sophia Forum)

Other marginalised groups such as those from BAME backgrounds, whilst being disproportionately affected, were also largely excluded from trials and medical care more generally.

As ART has produced improved outcomes in terms of life expectancy, the demographics of people living with HIV has changed radically. A significant number of PLWH including women have a life expectancy similar to that found in the general population.  However, there are disparities between groups (see, for instance, Solomon et al 2020) and a general reduction in quality of life for PLWH due to the onset of a range of geriatric syndromes a decade or more earlier with ongoing discrimination. This has been emphasised recently by ongoing research and advocacy by Jacqui Stevenson who has studied WLWH growing older. The outcomes of the research provide eight asks to improve the lives of WLWH.

Advice for women and HIV including using PrEP can be found at:

UKRI Reviews of Doctoral Training – The Good and Some Cause for Concern

The UKRI, the overarching government body that manages publicly funded research and innovation in the UK, has just published two reports on doctoral training one in STEM (the EPSRC report) and one by the equivalent in social sciences (the ESRC report). Both reports recognise the value of doctoral training with an emphasis on employers rather than the wider community. The reports highlight the need for future action in this area:

Alongside council-specific actions, the two reviews are also an important contribution to the evidence base for a new deal for postgraduate research, which will address:

  • funding and stipend levels
  • routes in, through and out of doctoral training
  • rights and conditions
  • diversification of models and access.

UKRI – https://www.ukri.org/news/epsrc-and-esrc-doctoral-reviews-published/ accessed 10-10-2021

The EPSRC has released its review of doctoral training in the STEM arena within the UK. There is a wealth of information on the background to the report including outcomes from workshops with stakeholders and a review of the current literature. There is also the report itself and the recommendations therein.

List of recommendations  
Recommendation 1 To stimulate economic growth, EPSRC should increase the number of students it supports and the professional development that they receive. EPSRC-funded doctoral students go onto careers in innovation and research in manufacturing, information and communication technologies and other scientific and technical careers in industry and academia. To become a global science superpower, the number of people with these skills must grow and EPSRC must lead by increasing the number of students it supports. EPSRC should bid for an uplift of investment in EPS for doctoral education from the spending review and other opportunities.
Recommendation 2 EPSRC should better demonstrate the value of a doctorate, its outcomes, and the destination of doctoral graduates, so that this is understood by all key stakeholders.
Recommendation 3 EPSRC should continue to provide thought leadership in doctoral education to the EPS community by investing in the highest quality doctoral education provision which supports a diverse range of career paths.
Recommendation 4 EPSRC should provide a stable long-term baseline of investment to support a creative and innovative fundamental research community (such as the current algorithmic DTP investment), alongside a more dynamic framework to respond to and support emerging strategic priorities (for example by investing in more frequent CDT competitions and including studentship investments alongside research investments in top priority strategic areas).
Recommendation 5 To effectively support the UK’s increasing STEM capability, the system as a whole needs to grow. Recognising the high value placed on doctoral studentships by industry, EPSRC should engage with industry (both the current and new sectors) to encourage and enable increased industry funding and co-funding of doctoral students. These are effective ways of attracting industry investment into the R&D landscape.
Recommendation 6 EPSRC should showcase the ways small and medium enterprises can and do engage with doctoral students, to widen participation and enable overall growth in the system.
Recommendation 7 EPSRC should work with UKRI on doctoral student issues covered by the Government’s People and Culture Strategy expected to be published in summer 2021, ensuring that issues facing the EPS community are addressed. In particular, the New Deal for postgraduate research is expected to address areas such as the stipend level for doctoral students, the rights and conditions of doctoral studentships, financial sustainability of doctoral education investments, doctoral student recruitment policies, and the health and wellbeing of students.
Recommendation 8 The existing opportunity to employ graduates on UKRI grants does not replace our main route to doctoral education but could provide a valuable alternative career
Recommendation 9 EPSRC should work with the sector to provide greater recognition and visibility of the wider skills developed alongside research skills during a doctorate to ensure the employability of all doctoral graduates.
Recommendation 10 All EPSRC funded students should have access to opportunities outside of their research project (e.g., conferences, placements, public engagement), irrespective of the funding route. EPSRC should be explicit within each scheme that funding should be made available for opportunities outside of the research project.
Recommendation 11 EPSRC should prioritise funding excellent doctoral experiences and access to opportunities over student numbers, while ensuring value for money.
Recommendation 12 EPSRC should assist those who deliver the EPSRC doctoral investments in developing and sharing good practice.
Recommendation 13 It is essential that EPSRC continues to invest through a diverse range of flexible approaches so that we continue to support doctoral students’ varied needs, backgrounds and potential careers as well as the differing requirements of the research and innovation communities.
Recommendation 14 As EPSRC’s current mechanisms are well regarded, new initiatives should only be introduced where there is a compelling case for an alternative approach.
Recommendation 15 EPSRC should work with all stakeholders to ensure the current flexibilities relating to both collaboration and supporting students are well known and used.
Recommendation 16 Doctoral education should be available to people following a variety of career paths. EPSRC should work with stakeholders to continue to improve access, diversity of entry points to doctoral education and tailored support for individuals.
Recommendation 17 EPSRC should understand detailed EDI issues in each of our research areas or sectors and work with our community and representative bodies to address them. EPSRC will continue to work within UKRI on broader EDI initiatives.
Recommendation 18 EPSRC should explore how doctoral training investments can support the levelling up agenda.

Conspiracy theories as new pandemics arise… the role of the scientist!

Word Cloud from a set of Guardian posts on the origins of HIV

While reading the literature for a forthcoming grant submission on aspects of the HIV pandemic, I came across several articles both within and outside the mainstream media that relate to the development and spread of troubling assertions. These concern, for instance, the origin of HIV and an implied role of politicians in restricting or encouraging certain avenues of development to maintain industries’ pre-eminent economic position and profit-making. Sometimes these assertions develop into conspiracy theories which are explained, at a later date, in relatively simple terms, as is the case in recognising HIV sequences in the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Here, a bit more thought and critical evaluation would have prevented this avenue of thought, but instead it was posted on a pre-print server for all to see and then subsequently withdrawn, but not before the ‘engineered’ virus concept had taken hold in certain areas of the media.  The simple explanation was that a number of viruses have these sequences.

So what, as scientists, are we to do about preventing such misrepresentations in terms of engaging the public and our own self-management? Here are some thoughts:

  • Employ the skills that are central to our work as scientists, indeed as researchers more broadly, of checking, validating and providing critical insight to our work.  This is particularly important in the medical field generally, but in pandemics specifically, where there may be a heightened awareness of our own frailty and fear of new pathogens that arise from time to time.
  • Personally, I am concerned by the rise in the production of pre-prints from a niche activity to one that has now become mainstream. I suspect this is motivated by data-driven metrics (citations but also prestige) as well as the ‘first to print’, which may be important in exploiting base technologies. It can be argued, however, that this rapid dissemination of information is key, not only in developing collaborative research, especially in times of a pandemic, but also in allowing the quick development of frameworks and insights that may otherwise take months to generate if the peer-review process had to be adhered to. To protect both the research community and the wider public, servers hosting pre-prints have strengthened their assessment procedures once an article is posted. Nature Cancer provides a more nuanced overview of this issue as does the Lancet.
  • We should take it upon ourselves to assess the risks involved in how we report scientific findings, asking ourselves whether our published work can be misconstrued or misrepresented so as to allow a false discourse to emerge that can create a situation that does more harm than good.  I am not suggesting, in any form, that we should self-censor but there may be better ways of disseminating information to allow a more constructive debate.  A lack of transparency can also lead to a rise in misinformation, although we should endeavour to realise that the relationship between opaqueness, conspiracies and power, in the eyes of the public and other stakeholder groups, is a complex one and there are no easy fixes.
  • Following on from this we should aim to provide the public with timely information (see my second point) that adds to the debate, treats the individual or group with respect and takes out of the communication moralising (our prejudice) about their behaviour or activity. This is a multidisciplinary arena which works most effectively when it engages people from different disciplines and stakeholder groups to develop strategies relevant to the target cohort(s).
  • Words (and deeds) matter – choose your words carefully and have consideration for the cultural as well as scientific aspects of the cohorts’ living status.  Using certain words and phrases, however well meaning, can alienate, disenfranchise, further stigmatise and evoke distrust in the individuals or groups we are trying to help.  This applies across a range of illnesses and traumas, but particularly so for those in which there is significant stigma, such as mental health and HIV. In doing so, and where you can, try to make it a two-way dialogue and place the person we are trying to help at the centre of the research – co-create and co-produce – and ensure their contribution is valued.

Those outside science, medicine and research also have responsibilities, especially those that are in positions which require them to uphold given behaviour and adhere to certain protocols or codes of conduct. This is particularly important when using frameworks to build trust between stakeholders in the public at large and the wider concept of ‘truth’.

These are just a few thoughts and are not meant to be definitive answers. But I do hope to stimulate some debate.

Validation and Verification

Collectively, verification and validation are a cornerstone of many areas of research, none more so that in engineering and the physical sciences. Yet many early stage researchers have yet to appreciate their definitions or fully understand the signficance of these activities.  William Morales’, blog provides a brief introduction to Device Design Verification and Validation – useful for those just beginning in their careers in the MedTech arena or indeed anyone who needs a quick refresher.  However, there is still of lot of discussion about the use of the terms particulary between fields as there maybe nuances or historical context that means the defintions deviate – for instance the article at ResearchGate by Ryan and Wheatcroft (2017).  Simple defintions may employ something along the lines of:

  • verification - am I building something right
  • validation - am I building the right something

Software engineering, an increasingly important aspect of medical devices, especially through the rise of in situ/in vivo monitoring, has it owns definitions. Sargent defines the processes by which a researcher can V&V computational simulations whilst Viceconti et al (2021) discuss V&V for in silico trials.

A warm welcome to André Plath, our second ESR to start in BioTrib

BioTrib welcomes André Plath who has started as an Early Stage Researcher at the ETH Zurich within Prof Stephen Ferguson’s Group.  Like Pedro, André is from Brazil.  André will surely be pleased with the performance of his home country in the Olympics where the Brazilian Footbal Team won an exciting game over another soccer ‘Super-Power’ Spain, 2-1.  Whilst at ETH Zurich, André will research Boundary Lubrication of Fibrous Scaffolds as he brings new technologies to the fore for improving joint replacement and/or augmentation.

Excellent paper from the Nu-Spine ETN – Congratulations to Seung and co-authors!

Seung Hun Lee and colleagues at ETH Zurich have recently published a peer reviewed paper “Comprehensive in vitro Comparison of Cellular and Osteogenic Response to Alternative Biomaterials for Spinal Implants” in Materials Science and Engineering: C. The article explored the effects of silicon nitride (SN) in terms of cell proliferation, mineralization and osteogenesis, all of which were deemed positive with respect to the effects of other materials including Ti and PEEK. A similar result to that of SiN was found for zirconia toughened alumina. Further, the paper demonstrates the potential of surface texturing in enhancing the osteogenic capacity of this material. The graphical abstract for the paper can be found below.

CC License – NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).
Seunghun S. Lee, Stephanie Huber, Stephen J. Ferguson,
Comprehensive in vitro comparison of cellular and osteogenic response to alternative biomaterials for spinal implants,
Materials Science and Engineering: C, Volume 127, 2021, 112251, ISSN 0928-4931, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.msec.2021.112251.

BioTrib’s first ESR – Pedro Lima Dos Santos

A big welcome to Pedro from Campina Grande in Brasil.

Some of you will have met Pedro already through the on-line courses etc we have held previously. Just to let you know that Pedro has now been in the UK for 2 weeks of which 10 days were spent quarantining. Previously he had been working as a researcher in Lisbon, Portugal.  Like England in the UEFA final, Brasil lost 1-0 in the Copas America final vs Argentina over the weekend and on home territory so he is probably in need of some sympathy!

Pedro will be researching surface modifications in additive manufacturing processes to enhance artificial joint performance.

93 percent club

Earlier in the year I reported on a new University Stakeholder Group that was gaining traction within the sector. Unusually this one was centred on those which form the greatest proportion of school leavers, those from state schools.  There is further news on this on the BBC website.  Sophie Pender expertly brings the situation to the fore saying:

“Truthfully, when many state-educated people reach the pinnacle of their careers, they’ve often dispensed with their state-school identity,”

“Our socioeconomic background is not obvious on the surface.

“It’s a characteristic that we are able to mask if we need to – and that needs to stop.”

 Quotes taken from the BBC website – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-57580910, accessed 12th July 2021

I just wonder how may of us now say ‘dinner’ rather than ‘tea’!?

Further information on this not-for-profit social enterprise can be found by following the link  – 93percent.

Paige Kesemeyer – homelessness to academic success!

A truly brilliant piece from Paige Kesemeyer about her journey from disadvantage and initial lack of opportunity to completing her BA degree in Social Policy and an MA in Society, Culture and Media.   Education for all and the opportunities that it provides are a necessary part of imaging a just and beneficial society which allows all to flourish as they see fit. It also provides us (society) with the widest possible pool of talent and encourages a broader range of innovation and ideas to circulate within different sectors.  It also recognises the importance of taking to account all stakeholder views to ensure that minimal disadvantage is impacted on particular groups.