Students are celebrating the chance to develop their lab skills after successfully winning summer research funds from a prestigious national body.
Long after their peers have left for a summer break, students from the Faculty of Health and Society will experience the rigours of scientific research, working alongside University of Northampton lecturers, in turn informing the academics’ own over-arching research.
The funds that accommodate this chance to flex the research muscles are awarded by the Wellcome Trust’s Summer Vacation Scholarship, which provides undergraduate students from disciplines such as health and science to have a go at carrying out their own research, with a view to encouraging them to consider careers in research.
MaryJane Okpala is a Human Biosciences student (pictured top right): “My research will look into blood glucose levels and blood pressure in older people and how these alter when people undertake light activities and when they sit for intervals in between.
“I am investigating into what is the lowest possible level of intense activity an older person can take that will help reduce blood glucose and blood pressure, factors associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
“I am really excited to have the Wellcome Trust grant as it will give me so much valuable experience of carrying out real research.”
Stepan Tkadlec is a Sport & Exercise Science student (pictured bottom right): “My research will involve two separate groups of people who are over the age of 60. The first will take part in once a week exercises for six weeks (after a two- week period where they familiarise themselves with what they will be required to do) and the second will take part in twice weekly periods of ‘eccentric’ exercise.
“I want to see whether and how we can delay the natural loss of muscle as we age, looking into activities that make the muscle lengthen, very important considering the ageing population in the UK.
“I’m already working closely with lecturers at the University with their research and I really enjoy that part of my course, but the Wellcome Trust’s scholarship will be invaluable as I consider whether sports research is something I should seriously pursue as a profession.”
Janea Bernabe is an Occupational Therapy student (pictured top left): “I will be looking into how isometric resistance training – activities that involve muscles being contracted – can help lower people’s blood pressure. This will be carried out for six weeks over the summer but the exercises I’m using will be light, so no one should be concerned!
“You might not think occupational therapy involves research, but it’s a very evidence-based profession. I feel great to have been awarded the scholarship fund, really surprised in fact as I didn’t know schemes like this existed. It’s wonderful that Wellcome Trust fund something like this.
“I am already interested in research as a possible career option and having this scholarship fund is only increasing that.”
Ben Folland is a Sport & Exercise Science student: “My research will examine the effects of a six week eccentric exercise programme performed at the ankle in older adults on fall risk characteristics.
“I want to see whether we can reverse functional losses in balance and strength to improve the health of older adults.
“The Wellcome Trust’s scholarship is a fantastic opportunity to provide further knowledge on whether a research career is right for me to pursue as a profession.”
Gemma Dawson is also studying for the degree in Human Biosciences (pictured bottom left): “The research I’ll be working on this summer ties-in very neatly with what I want to pursue for my dissertation next year. There are many similarities so the Wellcome scholarship has come at just the right time as it will give me extra preparation for my final year.
“One of the lecturers on my course – Dr Karen Anthony – leads on a number of research initiatives to better understand and develop better treatments for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). My research will concentrate on a variant of a protein called dystrophin, something people with DMD have smaller amounts of. The hope is that better understanding of the role of this type of dystrophin will also lead to better DMD treatments.
“I really enjoy the processes and structure of laboratory work and this summer scholarship will give me my first research ‘job’ and just before I start the ‘big’, final year work so the funding really is Wellcome.”
Overseeing the Wellcome scholarship students is Tony Kay – Professor of Biomechanics at the University of Northampton – and whose specialist area is research into what exercises can make older people stronger and help reduce the likelihood of falls.
These summer projects complement other research taking place, with Tony himself embarking on his own study and PhD student Brett Baxter following up an earlier pilot project.
Tony, his team and the Wellcome scholarship students are asking Northamptonshire people who are over the age of 65 to take part as research volunteers: “Alongside the normal day-to-day learning activities for students we also introduce them to scientific research. For those considering this as a possible future career schemes such as the Wellcome Trust’s scholarship are important ways to nurture the fledgling researcher.
“Due to healthcare and lifestyle improvements, people are living to older ages than ever before, so maintaining good health and mobility in our later years is hugely important. Having the support of our local community as volunteers in these projects is an integral part of that.”
If you are interested in taking part in any of these studies, or Tony and Brett’s research, email Tony.Kay@northamptonshire.ac.uk or call 01604 892577.