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Southampton invention to ease pain for amputees

A new device that was partially created by researchers at Southampton University will help relieve pain for amputees.

The device is the first prosthetic liner with pressure sensors to ease pain for poorly fitting replacement limbs.

The device is thought to be available to NHS patients in as soon as three years.

The sensors for the device were developed by Dr Liudi Jinag and his team at the University of Southampton, where they measured the pressure and pulling forces that patients face on their prosthetic limbs.

There are 50,000 lower-limb amputees in the UK and many use artificial limbs that are attached to their limb through a socket.

This means no two stumps are the same shape and size and even an individual’s stump can change shape over the course of a single day.

Socket fit is the single biggest factor determining whether prosthesis will be successful for a patient. If we had a simple way to accurately measure the load at the socket-stump interface and determine the best possible fit for that limb, it would completely transform the socket fit experience for amputees. We’re hoping that the development of the intelligent liner will be the first step leading to the ‘holy grail’ in prosthetics – a fully automatic, self-adjusting smart socket interface for amputees.”

– Dr Liudi Jiang

Seasonal changes in vegetation key to findings

University of Southampton research suggests that the end of Autumn is taking place later in the year and Spring is starting earlier. Researchers examined satellite imagery covering the northern hemisphere over a 25 year period (1982 - 2006).

They then looked for any seasonal changes in vegetation by making a measure of its ‘greenness’. They examined in detail, at daily intervals, the growth cycle of the vegetation – identifying physical changes such as leaf cover, colour and growth.

This delay in the signs of Autumn was generally more pronounced than any evidence for an earlier onset of Spring, although there is evidence across the groups that Spring is arriving slightly earlier.

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Blood test could predict obesity levels in children

Scientists at the University of Southampton have found that a simple blood test, which can read DNA, could be used to predict obesity levels in children.

Researchers used the test to assess the levels of epigenetic switches in the PGC1a gene – a gene that regulates fat storage in the body.

The Southampton team found that the test, when carried out on children at five years old, differentiates between children with a high body fat and those with a low body fat when they were older.

Results showed that a rise in DNA methylation levels of 10 per cent at five years was associated with up to 12 per cent more body fat at 14 years. Results were independent of the child’s gender, their amount of physical activity and their timing of puberty.

It can be difficult to predict when children are very young, which children will put on weight or become obese. It is important to know which children are at risk because help, such as suggestions about their diet, can be offered early and before they start to gain weight. The results of our study provide further evidence that being overweight or obese in childhood is not just due to lifestyle, but may also involve important basic processes that control our genes. However, our findings now need to be tested in larger groups of children.”

– Dr Graham Burdge, of the University of Southampton

Promising results for trials treating inherited blindness

Patients suffering from an inherited form of blindness have, for the first time, had their vision dramatically improved by gene therapy.

The first six people given experimental injections at the Oxford Eye Hospital were able to see better.

Researchers at the city's university and also at Southampton University say trials have shown promising results for the treatment of Choroideremia.

The Phase I clinical trial is funded by the Health Innovation Challenge Fund, a partnership between the Wellcome Trust and the Department of Health.

Children have strong muscles if mothers have Vitamin D

Researchers at the University of Southampton have discovered that more vitamin D during pregnancy gives children stronger muscles.

Low vitamin D status has been linked to reduced muscle strength in adults and children, but little is known about how variation in a mother’s status during pregnancy affects her child.

Vitamin D levels were measured in 678 mothers in the later stages of pregnancy. When the children were four years old, grip strength and muscle mass were measured. Results showed that the higher the levels of vitamin D in the mother, the higher the grip strength of the child.

Lead researcher Dr Nicholas Harvey, Senior Lecturer at the Medical Research Council Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton said, “These associations between maternal vitamin D and offspring muscle strength may well have consequences for later health.

"Muscle strength peaks in young adulthood before declining in older age and low grip strength in adulthood has been associated with poor health outcomes including diabetes, falls and fractures."

Children are more likely to have stronger muscles if their mothers had more Vitamin D Credit: Press Association

£18m funding for Southampton food waste project

The University of Southampton is to receive part of £18m funding to turn food waste into renewable energy.

The unique project will get a share of the money with 12 other new industrial networks in bioenergy and biotechnology.

The funding by Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council aims to boost the relationship between academic research and promoting the benefits for the UK.

Universities Minister David Willetts, who also represents Havant, said:

To get ahead in the global race we need to turn our world-beating science and research into world-beating products and services, as set out in our Industrial Strategy. These networks will unlock the huge potential of biotechnology and bioenergy, such as finding innovative ways to use leftover food, and creating chemicals from plant cells.”

– David Willetts, Universities Minister, who also represents Havant

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Ibuprofen has no benefit for colds

A study by the University of Southampton has shown that paracetamol and ibuprofen provide no overall advantage for patients with colds or sore throats.

It also found that steam inhalation had no clear benefit and two per cent of people had received mild scalding from the steam.

Paracetemol, ibuprofen or a combination of both are the most common courses of treatment for respiratory tract infections. Clinicians should probably not advise patients to use steam inhalation in daily practice as it does not provide symptomatic benefit for acute respiratory infections and a few individuals are likely to experience mild thermal injury. Similarly, routinely advising ibuprofen or ibuprofen and paracetemol together than just paracetemol is also not likely to be effective. However our research has shown that ibuprofen is likely to help children, and those with chest infections.

– Prof Paul Little, who led the study

The research also showed that patients were more likely to come back within a month with worsening or new symptoms if they were prescribed with ibuprofen or paracetamol.

Between 50 per cent and 70 per cent of participants in the study who were prescribed ibuprofen or paracetamol came back.

Engineering research receives £10m

£10m has been awarded to the University of Southampton to develop new world-class engineering research facilities. Outdated equipment will be replaced, with much of the money spent on marine and maritime sciences.

There will be major investment in the new buildings at the university's new Boldrewood Campus as part of government moves to inject funding into the technologies of the future.

The UK’s world-class universities are at the forefront of our economic recovery. It’s vital we do everything we can to encourage collaboration with the private sector and boost funding for research.

– David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science

Shift workers at high risk of fertility problems

A Southampton University study found that working shift patterns made it harder for women to conceive.

The study compares the impact of working non-standard working schedules with that in women not working shifts.

Led by Dr Yin Cheong, a senior lecturer at Southampton University, and Dr Stocker included data on 119,345 women and found that those working shifts had a 33 per cent higher rate of menstrual disruption than those working regular hours.

Whilst we have demonstrated an association between shift work and negative early reproductive outcomes, we have not proven causation. However, if our results are confirmed by other studies, there may be implications for shift workers and their reproductive plans. Our findings may have implications for women attempting to become pregnant as well as employers."

– Dr Stocker, University of Southampton clinical researcher

Southampton student named canoe champion

Canoe race
Hannah Brown on a canoe race in 2013 Credit: Southampton university

University of Southampton student Hannah Brown has won an international canoeing competition.

The 23-year-old from Bradford-on-Avon came first in the Women's Wildwater Canoeing Sprint World Championship in Solkan, Slovenia.

Hannah has just completed a Marine Biology with Oceanography degree getting a first-class honours and took the win by more than half a second, which is a big margin in water sports.

She originally came through the ranks at Southampton through the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme and then as a Sports Bursary Scholarship athlete.

Hannah said: "The world championships are the pinnacle of a sporting season and to be able to win on an individual level is unbelievable.

"I think this success is a combination of so many pieces coming together within the University and my training life. It shows that with dedication and skill it is possible to combine academic life and sporting excellence."

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