Sally has always had a passion for our planet, graduating in 2004 with a BSc (Hons) in Geography and then continuing her studies to qualify as a Geography teacher. Over a 12-year teaching career Sally has been department lead and had whole-school responsibility for Teaching and Learning. Whilst teaching in Indonesia Sally led the charge on environmental action, facilitating the school becoming single-use plastic free, and working with the local community to raise awareness about the upstream solutions to this environmental challenge. Sally has since swapped her classroom for a sailing vessel and now leads all-female sailing voyages with eXXpedition, carrying out scientific research into plastic pollution and educating about the issue, the solutions and the role that everyone has to play in overcoming this environmental challenge.
As we reach the end of another strange month in 2020, with the UK still in lockdown, it is wonderful to report that alumni and friends’ support for our appeal for COVID-19 research continues to be an enormous success.
If you are perhaps feeling overwhelmed by the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic, please take some comfort in the fact that Bristol’s team of COVID-19 scientists, researchers and academics – over 147 of them – are working hard to tackle this enormous global challenge. They are helped, in no small part, by the £200,000 donated so far to our COVID-19 Research Appeal, an astonishing outpouring of support and belief in Bristol.
Professor Jeremy Tavaré, Dean of the Faculty of Life Sciences, recorded a thank you message this week for the 600 donors who have given to Bristol’s COVID-19 research.
It’s important to remain hopeful that Bristol’s research, in collaboration with partners in the UK and around the world, could be key in getting us back to some kind of normality. Support from alumni is crucial, because like many universities in the UK and around the world, Bristol has had to freeze capital budgets as we wait to understand the full impact of the pandemic on higher education. The passionate interest that alumni and friends are showing for our research is certainly spurring on our COVID-19 team at Bristol.
Progress to date on ramping up our research
From the donations coming in to our appeal we have so far managed to achieve the following:
The installation of a new incubator into Drs David Matthews and Andrew Davidson’s secure laboratory, to enable their teams to scale up their research. David and Andrew’s work on SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID- 19, is focused on understanding the pathogenesis of the virus. Their work is taking place in Bristol in one of only two specialist university labs in the whole of the UK and is critical to the development of diagnostic tools, drugs and vaccines to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Setting up additional secure (Category Level 3) laboratories at Bristol University’s Langford site to facilitate research into the airborne transmission of SARS-CoV2, led by Professor Jonathan Reid and colleagues from the Bristol Aerosol Research Centre.
The purchase of a state-of-the art microscope, which will enable the rapid imaging and screening of cells, providing critical data for researchers working on COVID-19 at Bristol and much further afield.
The purchase of an ELIspot Reader, a highly sensitive instrument for measuring immune responses to infection and vaccination. This instrument can extract large amounts of data from very small numbers of cell samples, so it is key for developing new vaccines and treatments for the virus at speed.
The acquisition of an RNA extraction instrument, which prepares cell samples for COVID-19 diagnostic testing. The University will now be ideally placed to test and validate new approaches to the diagnosis of the virus, while also being ready to contribute to the national capability for COVID-19 testing.
Critical funds for the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute, which is supporting researchers across the University who are applying their expertise to the pandemic.
Bristol’s researchers in the fields of immunology, infectious diseases and public health continue to contribute to the world’s understanding and control of this shocking epidemic. It is truly an interdisciplinary project and there’s real momentum behind the work. Bristol is incredibly well-placed to take advantage of this and to use our expertise to help the world through this pandemic. You can read about everything we’re doing as it happens on our web page dedicated to the University’s COVID-19 research and on this blog.
Bristol is one of the few centres in the UK with such specialist expertise in the study of coronaviruses. This appeal is a great opportunity to make a difference in the race to unlock valuable new information about the COVID-19 virus, which we believe can result from Bristol’s expertise.
– Dr Jonathan de Pass (MBChB 1979) and Mrs Georgina de Pass, COVID-19 Research Appeal donors
As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread around the world, a group of researchers at the University of Bristol has united to collaborate on finding ways to overcome the disease. An appeal for funding to support this work has been met with fantastic support from alumni.
The University’s COVID-19 Emergency Research Group (UNCOVER) are addressing a wide range of areas as a priority, which are explained in great detail on our main website.
In particular, Dr David Matthews and Dr Andrew Davidson, who have been working on the human coronavirus since 2002, have mobilised their teams to scale up their research. Their work on SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is focused on understanding the pathogenesis of the virus. Their work is taking place in Bristol in one of only two specialist university labs in the whole of the UK and is critical to the development of diagnostic tools, drugs and vaccines to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
To date, alumni donations have procured critical equipment and resources, including a new incubator for Drs Matthews and Davidson’s laboratory. Additionally, donations have funded the preparation of another high-security laboratory, suitable for handling SARS-CoV-2, to allow the expansion of this fundamental research. And alumni have matched the funding offered by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute, enabling research into testing and vaccines to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
Researchers around the University are now looking to quickly scale up our research on COVID-19, which includes: growing the capacity of our secure laboratories and providing our researchers with the equipment they need; early tests on vaccines that could be capable of combatting the virus; and tapping into our unique ‘Children of the 90s’ cohort to track the factors that impact susceptibility to infection and understand the true frequency of infection.
So far hundreds of alumni have donated to this vital research and for this we say a resounding thank you. We know that unfortunately many of our alumni are facing financial hardship as a result of this pandemic, but for anyone who may be able to support the research you can read more and donate online.
Professor Hugh Brady, Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Bristol, has a message for all our alumni and friends.
The impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt profoundly around the world. Today, I would like to update you on how Bristol is protecting its global community of staff, students and alumni. I also want to share with you how, with the support of our alumni community, our researchers are working to understand COVID-19, and combat this pandemic.
Caring for students and staff
Last week, in common with many UK universities, we took the difficult decision to end our Easter term early. This should play a part in reducing the speed of COVID-19 transmission, and it gives our academic community time to prepare for a full transition to online learning and assessment for our students from the start of next term.
We are acutely aware that for many students, this decision poses significant challenges. For some, returning home or leaving campus is not an option, while for others, learning online next term will only be possible with access to the University’s computers and internet. As many of you will already know, a lack of regular contact with friends, colleagues and classmates can quickly lead to feelings of isolation and anxiety.
The University remains open, with core facilities, staff support and regular communications available to students and staff who need them. Our Student Hardship Fund, to which alumni have generously given in the past, will be used to provide financial support to all students that need it in these unprecedented times.
This week, we also made the decision to postpone our programme of alumni events for the remainder of the academic year. Again, this decision was not easy for the University: our alumni events are some of the highlights of our calendar. But as with the decisions we have made to protect the wellbeing of our students and staff, so with these and other University events we are following the latest advice from the UK Government to reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
During these times, when many of us will be using digital tools to communicate and interact more than ever before, I would encourage you to join us on Bristol Connects. If you haven’t yet set up your account for this online Bristol community, it’s quick and simple to do so. Within the space, you can connect with other Bristol graduates and current students, either to offer or benefit from careers advice; find old friends; and make new connections in your professional sector or area of the world.
Bristol’s fundamental research into COVID-19
I’d like to close by highlighting some of the critical research into COVID-19 that is taking place at the University of Bristol, and the impact that your generous support is already having on this work.
Dr David Matthews and Dr Andrew Davidson of the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine are one of just two University research teams in the UK who are working with Public Health England to grow SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. You may have seen the work of their team covered recently by the BBC on Newsnight on 5 March. Their work to understand the pathogenesis of the virus – how it causes disease, and how it interacts with our bodies – is critical to the development of diagnostic tools, drugs and vaccines to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thanks to gifts from Bristol’s alumni community, we have been able to provide immediate funding for a new incubator for Drs Matthews and Davidson’s research. In addition, your generosity has enabled the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research, based at Bristol, to act rapidly in providing funding for new research into COVID-19 that is taking place across the University.
Supporting our research and students
We are so grateful to count on the support of our alumni for this critical work. If you would like to donate to our research on COVID-19, or indeed to help students experiencing the financial impact of the pandemic, you can do so by donating online, or by contacting Rob Grimes in the Development and Alumni Relations Office.
Here at Bristol, we are thinking of you all as you and your families face this unprecedented challenge. I know that you will also be thinking of the friends that you made during your time here at the University. Please keep in touch with us and with each other, and I look forward very much to seeing you in the future.
Alumni and friends of the University of Bristol continue to inspire us with their generous donations. Many of our supporters give to specific projects that are close to their hearts, but today we’d like to say a particular thanks to the unsung heroes who donate to our ‘unrestricted funds’, amounting to £1.4m in the latest round of funding.
Donors who choose to give to ‘unrestricted funds’ trust the University to support the projects we consider to be the most deserving and impactful. These gifts therefore support a wide range of Bristol work and for this we’d like to say a huge thank you, and share with you just some of the wonderful projects your money is supporting.
The Science of Happiness
Run by Professor Bruce Hood in the School of Psychological Science, the Science of Happiness course has introduced 400 students to scientifically validated strategies for living a more satisfying, happier life in its first year alone. The donation from unrestricted funds will allow the team to explore potential mobile app technology which would help the University to keep in contact with students during their time here and after graduation. The Science of Happiness course has led to a significant improvement in student wellbeing and the University wants to investigate ways to sustain this once the course is completed, as well as reach out to others who are unable to take the unit.
Special Collections Outreach Project
Donations from alumni and friends have funded a 2-year part time Exhibitions and Engagement Officer post which will enable the University to build on the momentum of previous activity designed to bring our unique archives to a wider local and national audience. This includes projects such as the recent Oliver Messel archive project, Sharing the Messel Magic, which reached 47,000 people and help us share our treasures with the wider world. It will also help us find innovative ways of bringing together material drawn from both Special Collections and our Theatre Collection, which take up over 10km of shelving! As part of this outreach project we hope to curate 6 new exhibitions, which may be exhibited in our new University library in the future.
The Student Living Room
Based in Senate House, funds allocated to expand the Student Living Room will help to support the student experience at Bristol. These Bristol Students’ Union spaces give students somewhere to relax, unwind and connect with others. In 2018, a research project carried out jointly by Bristol SU and other Students Unions found that 35% of students say that they rarely or never feel relaxed and 1 in 4 of are regularly stressed about isolation. The Living Rooms provide students with space on campus to combat isolation and facilitate positive wellbeing. Last year over 63% of Bristol students used the Living Rooms, and they drank over 13,000 cups of tea!
To date the Sanctuary Scholarships programme has assisted 37 students from 14 different countries and has made an incredible difference to the lives of these Bristol students. Jon Lightfoot, the Student Funding Officer who supports the programme, had this to say:
The support from our alumni and friends allows us to open a door to academically gifted students from forced migration backgrounds who are beginning their higher education academic journey with us. It also enables our students to achieve postgraduate taught level study, giving our Scholars the best chance to stand out and shine in the competitive world of graduate employment.
Bristol Illustrious Visiting Professorships
This new scheme aims to establish two visiting professorships each year, bringing eminent global research leaders to the University to give a series of lectures and to engage with our academic community. Lectures will be recorded and shared online, ensuring that academics around the world – and the Bristol alumni community – can access cutting-edge research and education at the University. One of the Professorships is expected to be linked to our Cabot Institute for the Environment.
Sustainability Opportunities Fund
Thanks to your generosity, we’ve been able to support a new Sustainability Opportunities Fund which will help the University on its mission to become carbon neutral by 2030. Martin Wiles, Head of Sustainability, explains what this new project is all about:
This fund is one of a number of initiatives the University is developing to help pump prime sustainability and carbon reduction activities. The fund is overseen by the University’s new Sustainability Council, who are particularly keen to hear ideas that will have longer term impact at any level within the University. We are on a long journey to carbon neutrality in 2030 and this is one of the first steps in that journey.
Thank you to our alumni and friends whose generosity helps support so many great initiatives across the University.
Today is International Women and Girls in Science day and we’re celebrating the work of one of our cardiovascular researchers, 21-year-old Ffion Jones from Swansea, who is studying on the University’s British Heart Foundation PhD programme.
During her time at Bristol, Ffion has worked on several outreach projects and even won the Biochemistry Good Citizen award in 2019. We caught up with her to talk about her research and why she’s proud to be a woman in science.
Throughout my life I’ve seen the impact that cardiovascular diseases have had on my friends and family, so when we learnt about hearts at school the subject really resonated with me. After studying physiology in my second year I was even more drawn towards choosing cardiovascular science for my postgraduate study.
Currently, I’m on the first year of my PhD and am working as part of a team conducting research into atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory condition involving the build-up and retention of lipid. In this condition, fatty deposits in the arteries form a plaque, causing them to harden and narrow.
Everyone has some buildup of lipid in their arteries, but this can become unstable as a result of immune activation – when white blood cells called macrophages infiltrate into the atheroma (or plaque). This process can cause the plaque to rupture, which can lead to blood clots forming. These blood clots can restrict blood flow and cause serious, or even fatal, cardiac events. Currently, there’s no way to detect when the plaque has become unstable, which is problematic as people often only find out after they’ve had a heart attack or a stroke.
We are investigating whether small molecules, called micro-RNAs, could be used as biomarkers to indicate the kind of atherosclerotic lesion you have in your body. This would hopefully allow us to identify patients who may be at risk before they experience a cardiac event. By identifying which micro-RNAs are associated with stable plaques, it is possible that scientists in the future might even be able to use them to create new treatments for people living with heart disease.
The thing that drew me to this PhD is that even though you may be focusing on an incredibly specific area, you’re always referring to how your work could be used in a clinical setting.
It can be frustrating when your research doesn’t provide you with the results you’d hoped for, or the answers are harder to find than you’d expected. But at the end of your day, you remember that your work might go on to help someone else in the future, and that’s what keeps you going. It would be amazing if the work we’re doing now could contribute to further discoveries in years to come.
British Heart Foundation PhD studentships like mine are fully funded places, so they help to open up the course to a wider variety of students. Having people from all walks of life taking part in scientific research is invaluable, which is why I’ve always tried to get involved in outreach projects in Bristol. On one of my favourite projects I got to teach primary school children about the science behind DNA. There’s nothing like watching children have that ‘eureka’ moment when they suddenly learnt something new!
I’m passionate about making science more accessible. I was lucky enough to have some brilliant teachers at my school who encouraged me to push for a career in science. But not everyone has a science teacher or role model that they can look up to. That’s why it’s so important that there are fantastic initiatives like Stemettes, and the WISE campaign which are dedicated to getting more women and girls into STEM subjects.
Something I love about studying at Bristol is that I get to work alongside inspiring female colleagues and supervisors every day.
At the Bristol Heart Institute (BHI) for example, for every male supervisor overseeing a mini project there’s an equivalent female supervisor. It’s great to know that I work in a department that is so committed to achieving equal representation.
When I’m not running experiments, I’m either doing yoga, playing the violin or dancing. I’ve done ballet since I was two and a half years old and I’d never be able to give it up now – I’d miss it too much! I feel like sometimes people have a pre-conceived idea of the type of person you need to be if you want to work in research, but there’s no such thing as a typical scientist. It should be a career that’s open to absolutely everyone.
The British Heart Foundation has funded PhD studentships in Bristol since 2016, when they generously pledged £2.4 million to create 16 PhD places at the University. The programme also benefits from gifts from our incredible alumni and friend community. To find out more about how you can support the programme contact the Development and Alumni Relations team at email@example.com
In the last ten years I’ve explored how new and emerging technologies can support people with chronic health conditions. My research focuses on ageing and older adults, and I’m interested in promoting self-care and self-management to equip people with a better understanding
of their condition.
One year ago I started at the University of Bristol in a new Lecturer post within Digital Health Engineering, generously funded by The Anchor Society. Bristol is an incredible place to work because of the focus on digital health, and it is amazing to be a part of this health community, supporting older people to live healthy and happy lives.
Technology has enormous potential to support people in functional ways, with the speed of innovation, ease of use and capacity for automation and personalisation. I recently published on a trial for participants with Parkinson’s who wore a cuing device on their wrist to remind them to swallow more often. Regular swallowing prevented saliva management issues, which can be a common symptom of Parkinson’s, and many people said they consequently felt more comfortable eating and drinking in public, which inspired them to meet friends again and combat feelings of social isolation. This piece of technology had enormous impact in a very discreet and meaningful way.
‘Technology is the fastest moving opportunity for innovation we have. My work at Bristol has enabled me to design and develop technologies that make an incredible difference to people’s lives’
Much of my work at Bristol is done using SPHERE technology (Sensor Platform for Healthcare in a Residential Environment) to help monitor symptoms of Parkinson’s. Developed by the University of Bristol, SPHERE is a platform of supporting technologies which include a wearable wrist device, silhouette cameras and ambience sensors that are used in the home to help paint a picture of someone’s daily movements, behaviours and sleep and eating patterns. We are currently collecting data from over 50 homes across Bristol that have SPHERE technologies installed, allowing us to chart changes in an individual’s daily life which might indicate health deterioration.
The more we understand, the better equipped we are to put things in place to help people with chronic conditions, like Parkinson’s. The longitudinal studies we are running give us an expansive knowledge we wouldn’t otherwise have and allow us to collect data without needing much effort from the participant, providing us with valuable insight into the effectiveness of someone’s healthcare plan and any interventions or medications they might be taking.
This post has really enabled me to develop vital research, engage with innovative projects like SPHERE and, with invaluable support from alumni and friends, participate in a community of people invested in improving the quality of life for older adults.
The University is proud to partner with many local trusts in Bristol, including the Anchor Society. The Anchor Society was established in 1769 to support older adults in the Bristol area, and works with organisations, charities and individuals on projects that encourage wellbeing and alleviate loneliness
for older people in the region.
I first came to Bristol as an undergraduate to take a BSc course in Cellular and Molecular Pathology, and later returned to do my PhD in Social Policy Studies. Bristol had a great reputation for the work I wanted to undertake, as well as a reputation for being a great city to live in. It’s wonderful to be back here to take up the position as the new Perivoli Chair.
I received a scholarship to do my PhD at Bristol. This great opportunity allowed me to shape an agenda in a field that was only emergent at the time – and my research has already had an impact, changing perspectives and mindsets, in both policy and academic spheres. The narrative at the time
(in 2000) was that Africa was a ‘young’ continent and that issues of ageing didn’t matter. My PhD research looked at the social change and decline in family support for older people in Ghana, at a time when not many centres were considering ageing in Africa.
‘We need fairer intellectual endeavour between the Western world and the African continent.’
I enjoyed the openness and collaborative spirit at Bristol during my PhD and I look forward to more of the same in my new position. Why is this role important for Bristol? Well, there is already a large body of Africa research and engagement at the University, but it’s dispersed and lacks a platform for synergy, cross-fertilisation and joint, perhaps more focused, work. The Perivoli Chair and the Perivoli Africa Research Centre will offer such a platform. They will help to forge strategic partnerships and programmes of work that are both policy and scientifically relevant and that build on the areas of expertise that are already unique to Bristol.
The Centre’s approach will also seek to be mindful of, and challenge, the all-too-common unequal power dynamics in UK-Africa research partnerships. For example, who decides the research questions or theoretical frameworks to be used? We need to move toward more deliberate approaches to decolonise the collaborative research we do, opening up to critique and direction from the African continent and pursuing more comparative work.
We can build a coherent programme of work that speaks to core development aspirations in Sub-Saharan Africa and that engages the most relevant policy and civil society actors at regional and sub-regional levels as well as globally. There is much potential, I think, for Bristol to cement its place as a leader in this area of research.
Prior to taking up this position Dr Aboderin held a dual appointment as a Senior Research Scientist and Head of the Programme on Ageing and Development at the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC), Nairobi, and was Associate Professor of Gerontology at the University of Southampton.
The Perivoli Trust has funded the Perivoli Chair in Africa Research and Partnership, which is aimed at furthering interdisciplinary research into education, health, sustainable agriculture, social and governance issues in Africa as well as deepening relationships between the University and international agencies, governments and research institutions in the continent. It will build on and add value to the University’s existing strengths across a broad range of disciplines and play a key role in the establishment and leadership of the new Perivoli Africa Research Centre. The new research centre will be a UK hub for collaborative research in Africa, to share expertise and empower innovation to achieve real and impactful change.
Matthew Avison (BSc 1994, PhD 1998), Professor of Molecular Bacteriology and Director of the University of Bristol’s Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) Research Network, demonstrates the world-leading research underway, and how a legacy gift has been used to help prevent one of the greatest threats to global health.
My role over the last couple of years has been to work collaboratively across the University to develop the Bristol AMR Research Network and to lead a community to tackle this global crisis. Originally this work started as a collaboration between the different Science schools and has now grown to include important work in other varied disciplines, including the Social Sciences, Law and the Arts.
Antimicrobials (antibiotics) have underpinned global healthcare for decades. Their widespread use, however, has led to AMR which means they are increasingly ineffective in fighting infections. It is a complex and global problem. The University of Bristol’s AMR Network is an interdisciplinary research consortium designed to help fight the challenges posed by AMR, which severely threatens human quality of life and life expectancy across the world.
AMR involves many different factors – technological issues, environmental issues, poverty issues, regulatory issues – which are all underpinned by human behaviours and their social and cultural drivers. For this reason, the Bristol AMR Network works across all faculties of the University. We have physicists and engineers working together to develop machines to identify whether bacteria are resistant to antibiotics or not, we have biologists providing them with the materials to test their inventions, and we have social scientists to explain how this might influence the practices of the people who are using antibiotics in the first place. We have human geographers, medical anthropologists, chemists, medics, vets, people working in agriculture and experts in stakeholder engagement. AMR is an enormous problem that requires a multifaceted approach and funding this research is an ongoing, essential requirement.
With support from Ivan Way’s legacy gift, we were able to unlock matched funding from the Medical Research Foundation and support two AMR PhD studentships at Bristol this year. This legacy bequest was transformative, allowing us to recruit the very best people for two four-year research roles. This is now our second cohort of AMR PhD students, who are also involved in a wider national training programme led by Bristol AMR where 150 students from across the UK come to Bristol for an annual week-long residential course, enabling them to tackle AMR by working across disciplines.
It is Ivan Way’s legacy bequest that has enabled us to build on the success of this PhD programme, continue to support ground-breaking research, and train the AMR researchers of the future.
One of the PhD students supported by Ivan Way’s bequest who starts in September is a molecular microbiologist and computer scientist who will develop
methods to help clinicians better use antibiotics in hospital treatment. The other is a vet who will be researching how we can reduce AMR on dairy farms. This legacy gift not only presents a life-changing opportunity for these two students, but will also contribute to our understanding of one of the world’s biggest global health crises. It represents a significant impact for AMR research, for the wider interdisciplinary AMR Network, for the PhD students and those involved in the training programme and, indeed, for world health.
Legacy gifts to the University of Bristol help our students thrive, support ground-breaking research and ensure that the University remains at the forefront of academic excellence. Many of Bristol’s achievements throughout our history have been supported by gifts in Wills from our generous alumni and friends.
The University of Bristol has declared a climate emergency. We hear from just some of Bristol’s experts about what’s happening.
Professor Rich Pancost, Head of School for Earth Sciences considers the University’s role and its commitment to become carbon neutral in 2030.
‘Rather than ignore what’s happening we can, in our different areas of expertise, work together on sustainable solutions for all.’
Sir David Attenborough, broadcaster and naturalist talks about the scale of the problem and how we have the power to tackle it.
‘If we have an obligation to our children, our grandchildren and further generations then it is time we took that seriously.’
University of Bristol alumnus and Co-Founder and Operations Lead at LettUs Grow Jack Farmer is an expert in controlled environmental agriculture.
‘We want to enable new business models for local growers and play a key part in creating a non-wasteful food supply chain by supporting alternative, resilient food production’
Dr Alix Dietzel is a lecturer in Global Ethics at the University of Bristol, specialising in climate change and global justice.
‘We are at a critical crunch point with climate change and it can no longer be ignored’.