Vania Almeida: Coming home for Christmas

Coming home for Christmas

It has been almost four months since started my Marie Curie Fellowship at Aston University. It has been an amazing adventure for me and I feel that I am learning too much (new posts coming soon)!

I came home for Christmas to be with my family. Every time I return home I feel lucky to live in a special place located in the Paiva valley (Portugal).
The Paiva River is considered one of the least polluted rivers in Europe. It is known by its natural beauty, biodiversity and green and dense vegetation.
It is a lovely place for a walk surrounded by unique landscapes or for a rafting journey!

Make us a visit! – 2015-08-22 12.48.01 P1030251en

Dominick Burton: Cellular Senescence Research Overview

My research is focused on understanding the interaction between senescent cells and cells of the immune system, with particular emphasis on cardiovascular disease.  Senescent cells are not “old” or “aged” cells as the name confusingly suggests, but rather represent a change in cell state, much in the same way the cancer cells are not “young” cells because they can proliferate indefinitely.

The senescent state is commonly induced by persistent DNA damage within cells, consequently leading to permanent proliferative arrest.  When cells activate this senescent state, they also become immunogenic-meaning they can signal, activate, and be recognised by immune cells.  As such, it  appears that the senescent state functions to eliminate damaged cells via immunogenic cell death.

Despite the ability of the immune system to destroy senescent cells, they appear to accumulate with age.  This accumulation is thought to be due to an age-related decline in immune function leading to inefficient elimination of senescent cells.  This means that senescent cells persist in our bodies, constantly secreting proteins that try to communicate with an impaired immune system.  However, some of these secreted proteins include pro-inflammatory factors that can damage the surrounding tissues.  As such, the accumulation of senescent cells with ageing is thought to promote many age-related pro-inflammatory diseases, including cardiovascular disease.  Therefore, the ability to target and eliminate senescent cells through therapeutic strategies (similar to targeting cancer cells) has the potential to alleviate age-related disease and increase health-span- the period of healthy life.

Whilst one way of targeting senescent cells (senotherapeutics) is through the use of drugs,  another approach could involve directed elimination of senescent cells by boosting an immune response or preventing its decline.  However, very little is known about how senescent cells and immune cells interact with each other, an understanding of which would be greatly beneficial for future research focused on targeting senescent cells.

As such, part of my Marie Curie Fellowship involves investigating the mechanisms by which senescent cells and immune cells interact with each to facilitate immune clearance of senescent cells.  My initial focus is on monocytes/macrophages, but as I learn more about immunology and as new findings present themselves, I will likely investigate other immune cells types such as T-cells and Neutrophils.  I will keep you updated on my progress.

To learn more about my research subject, check out my review article HERE

Dominick Burton: First impressions

It has now been four months since I started my Marie Curie Fellowship at Aston University.  So what are my impressions and what have I undertaken so far?  First off, it was great to see such a culturally diverse number of students studying at Aston University despite many being stressed due to the exam period. Within the Griffiths lab there were students from Portugal, Egypt and Nigeria.  I personally believe that a culturally diverse working environment makes life more interesting and provides the opportunity to learn more about people from all walks of life.  Life would be so boring if we were all the same.

As for the science, I found Aston University to be well equipped for me to fulfil all my experimental goals.  I am also taking advantage of the expertise of some the researchers here to investigate aspects of my work I would not have even thought possible if I were not exposed to it during my time here so far.  In addition, I also discovered that there are labs here at Aston University that I was initially unaware of before my arrival that have particular expertise in aspects of my project proposal and as such have generated some interesting preliminary data for ongoing collaborate endeavours.  I am also learning a lot more about immunology which was a particular goal of mine during this Fellowship.   In addition I will be undertaking a phlebotomy course so that I can withdrawal blood in order to isolate primary immune cells.

Whilst my research was initially off to a slow start, it is now beginning to pick up and I hope to generate some interesting data over the coming months.  Along with my lab research I was invited to write a book chapter on cellular senescence, ageing and metabolic disease, so I will have plenty to keep me busy.  Luckily I have a research scholar (Badr Ibrahim) volunteering in the lab to help with aspects of my work whilst he looks for a postdoctoral position.  In my next blog I will discuss more specifically about my research area, so please check back.






Vania Almeida: IPSIBiM project

My research project entitled “Improved Patient Safety through Intensive Biosignal Monitoring” project targets the monitoring of post-operative patients, an area where hospitals are facing difficult experiences in targeting early signs of patient deterioration,  leading to late intensive care referrals, excess mortality and morbidity, and increased hospital costs.

Nowadays, there is an increasing interest to improve patient safety during hospitalizations. So, it is fundamental to detect clinical deterioration early so that clinicians may intervene before a life-threatening event occurs.

The major limitation of early warning systems is that they are based on manual checks performed by nursing staff, and that the observations only occur intermittently.

This projects consists of the implementation of a system based on wireless recording of real-time vital signs and analytical algorithms capable of providing guidance to clinicians of early signs of deterioration.

It aims to be specific to post-operative orthopaedic patients. Typically, caring for the orthopaedic patient includes a multidisciplinary team and treatment that includes: acute pain control, monitoring for post-operative complications and rehabilitation.

The potential health benefits are evident to the patients, avoiding serious patient safety incidents attributed to lack of systematic vital sign observations and providing a better decision-support system for the interpretation of vital signs. However, the economic impact of such systems (reducing the time allocated to bedside monitoring and also, reducing the hospital stay) is of great importance to our society.

Along the project multidisciplinary technical and scientific training will be required, namely:

(to be continued…)

Amos Martinez: Returning to Aston – First Impressions

My name is Amos, I have recently joined the Aston Institute of Photonic Technology as a Marie Curie Fellow and I have been given the opportunity to share my experiences in this blog. I am looking forward to explore and exploit this platform. I will share my thoughts, my hits and my misses. So, thank you for reading this blog, I am looking forward to your comments!

My experience as a Marie Curie Fellow, at least on these early days, will probably be different to that of other fellows since I am already very familiar with the city of Birmingham and Aston University. In fact, I completed my PhD in Aston in 2006 and by joining my old research group, the Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies (AIPT), I am joining many old friends and colleagues that have already been helping me enormously and have made me feel at home from the very first day.

But, since I left the UK in 2006, the Aston Institute of Photonics Technology has not only changed its name (it used to be known as the Photonics Research Group) but it has also aggressively expanded, attracting a number of world-class scientists over the last few years. These new additions are contributing to expanding the breadth of expertise of the group and cementing its position as one of the leading photonic research centres in the UK.

I must express my gratitude to all those newer members of the AIPT, since, without exception, they have been opened to hear my ideas, plans and thoughts and have opened their labs to me on these first few weeks.


Picture: Friendly basketball match between the Vinča Institute (Belgrade) and the Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies. During Photonica 2015, we lost, perhaps expectedly, 54-30!

I will use this blog to talk about me, my research project, scientific interests and my thoughts about returning to academic research, but this is a great year to celebrate light, optics and photonics after the United Nations have proclaimed the year 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies.  So I will also use this blog to introduce outreach activities such as the upcoming Lightfest that will take place on the Library of Birmingham on 25th September 2015.


It will be great event, Do not miss it!

Vania Almeida: On my way to Birmingham

2015-08-28 15.58.08

My name is Vania. I was born and raised in a small town north of Portugal. I studied Biomedical Engineering in the University of Coimbra, Portugal,  where I graduated in 2009. Also in 2009, I started my PhD project under the supervision of Prof. Joao Manuel R Cardoso, I had the opportunity to develop an electronic platform dedicated to arterial stiffness assessment. Since then I have investigated a broad range of topics, which necessitated interdisciplinary scientific knowledge since fields such as electronics, medical data acquisition to computer science.

I was awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship at Aston University. My research project entitled Improved Patient Safety through Intensive Biosignal Monitoring (IPSIBiM) targets the development of a system based on wireless recording of real-time vital signs and analytical algorithms capable of providing guidance to clinicians of early signs of deterioration.

The project will be developed mainly in the Aston University under the supervision of Professor Ian Nabney. Additionally, it will be carried out in collaboration with Research and Development department of the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital (ROH), under the supervision of Mr Edward Davis, expert in hip and knee replacement surgery and in the development and use of computer navigation-assisted surgery.

This is the first post of this adventure that will probably have a big effect on my life. I will share with you both my scientific achievements and my personal experience in this unknown city.

You will get to know more about the IPISBiM  project  on the next posts…

Dominick Burton: Introduction

My research interests for the past twelve years have been focused on various aspects of cellular senescence, with particular emphasis on ageing and age-related disease.  I undertook my PhD at the University of Brighton (UK) where I published the first data suggesting that senescent vascular smooth muscle cells adopt a pro-calcificatory phenotype that could play a role in cardiovascular disease.  During this time I developed an interest in the possible role of the immune system in eliminating senescent cells, an area of research that is now beginning to emerge.  After my PhD I undertook a Postdoctoral position at the University of Miami (USA) to investigate the potential role of cellular senescence in prostate cancer progression following therapy.  Following this two year position I got the opportunity to move to the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel) to not only attempt to identify potential molecular targets for specifically killing senescent cells, but also to pursue my long-term interests concerning the interaction of senescent cells with components of the immune system.

Since my scientific background is mainly focused on molecular cell biology, I wanted to expand my skill set into the field of immunology so that I would be more effective at bridging the divide between research on cellular senescence and that of immunology.  To this end, I contacted Prof Helen Griffiths at the Aston University (Birmingham, UK) to co-write a Marie Curie Fellowship grant based on various ideas I have accumulated over the years.  What made the Marie Curie Fellowship particular pertinent to myself was the emphasis on developing new skills in other research areas, immunology in my case, in addition to providing training that would enable me to become a more effective independent research leader in the future.  I was confident that if I was awarded the Marie Curie Fellowship, Aston University would be more than capable of helping me achieve my end goals.

So of course I was ecstatic when I found out earlier this year that I was awarded a Marie Curie Research Fellowship for my project entitled “The interaction and clearance of senescent vascular cells by the innate immune system” (more on this in a later blog) which I have now started as of 1st June 2015.  It is now coming up to three months at the Aston University, so what are my thoughts so far?  You will have to wait for my next blog.

Aston University profile page:


Welcome! The purpose of this blog is to communicate the scientific journey that newly awarded Marie Curie Fellows at Aston University (Birmingham, UK) will embark on over the coming years. Please feel free to ask questions or leave comments.

For more more information on Marie Curie Research Fellowships visit:

If you yourself would like to like to apply for a  Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship at Aston University ( then please contact a member of staff in your chosen research topic- Good Luck