Life Sciences research

The majority of research within the Centre for Life Sciences reflects broad strength in biomedical science and there are strong links with the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. These relationships provide opportunities to interact with clinicians and translational research at the University Hospitals of North Midlands (UHNM).

The four research themes host a range of specialities including:

  • Molecular biology and ecology of parasites and vectors in tropical diseases
  • Sustainability in crops and control of crop pests
  • Gycobiology and immunology
  • Structural biology
  • Molecular cell biology of apoptosis and its dysregulation
  • Cancer
  • Autoimmune disease
  • X-ray crystallography
  • Neurobiology and neuroplasticity
  • Neurodegeneration and regeneration
  • Auditory neuroscience and deafness

Other staff in Life Sciences have research interactions involving the Centre for Chemical Sciences (ecotoxicology of aluminium and biological silicification) and the Centre for Geography, Geology and Environment (tree and plant ecology, tree-insect interactions), and Animal Ecology and Conservation (urban wildlife project).

The last Research Excellence Framework (REF, 2014) confirmed Keele's position as a leading university for research of world-class quality and international excellence. Staff in the centre for Life Sciences were submitted in three areas, namely A5 (Biological Sciences), A3 (Allied Health Professions) and B15 (General Engineering).

All three submissions did very well, with A3 and B15 being particularly outstanding. As a direct result, research funding into Life Sciences for 2015-16 increased by 111% compared to the previous year. The results also showed that research in the Centre for Life Sciences is having a genuine impact, with world-leading examples where society has benefited from our research.

Research Themes

The Centre for Applied Entomology and Parasitology (CAEP) was established in the early nineties to bring together a unique group of interdisciplinary scientists with interests in insects, parasites and their interactions. CAEP is based within the School of Life Sciences but includes collaborative work with staff in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

We conduct fundamental and applied research on parasites of medical importance, insect vectors of human diseases, insect agricultural pests, and fish diseases and immunology. Particular areas of specialism include Malaria, Mosquitoes and Man; Sandflies: Chemical Ecology and Control; Molecular Biology of Leishmania and Trypanosoma Parasites; Thrips: Ecology and Control; and Fish Immunology and Parasitology.

The Cell and Molecular Medicine theme brings together scientists from the School of Life Sciences and the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. It exploits state of the art basic science and health service research methodologies to answer important, clinically driven research questions. Our basic science expertise includes genetics and epigenetics, structural biology, cell biology, including apoptosis and the control of cell growth and a wide range of analytical techniques such as proteomics, electromagnetic imaging and selected ion flow tube mass spectrometry (SIFT-MS).

The clinical areas to which these translational approaches are applied include in utero fetal wellbeing, the development of novel anti-cancer drugs, e.g. treatment of ovarian cancer, leukaemia and breast cancer and a wide range of chronic diseases with underlying common mechanisms of tissue injury such as diabetes, renal failure, coronary heart disease, lung disease, rheumatoid arthritis and childhood asthma. Innovative approaches to improved management of these conditions through diagnosis and therapeutic monitoring of these frequently multimorbid patients include epigenetic screening, identification of useful prognostic biomarkers, imaging and breath analysis. Evaluation of best care includes health service research into perineal trauma, menstrual disorders, medicines for children, dialysis modality decision aids and the best use of the pathology service in patient management.

The Neuroscience theme brings together scientists from the School of Life Sciences and the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. It specialises in several related basic, translational and clinical areas and applies state-of-the art approaches to the study of normal processes and disease mechanisms.  There is basic research into neuroanatomy, cell physiology and pathology, development of new stem cell and other therapies for treatment of human disorders, and some of our research culminates in clinical trials and treatments in neurological diseases. Our work is based on multidisciplinary approaches to discover and treat the causes of disease and includes a wide range of approaches using different technologies such as single cell recording and systems physiology, nanoscale devices and nanoparticles, confocal and electron microscopy, and genetic studies.

In basic neuroscience, we conduct research into the molecular changes in the brain during development and pathology and the functioning of the auditory system at the organ, cellular and molecular level, along with the mechanisms of cortical and hippocampal plasticity. Development of in vitro models of neurological injury is also a major goal. Multidisciplinary studies investigate the application of nanotechnology and nanoscale devices for neural repair and neural circuit formation. There is also work on the functional variability of neurons in response to neuromodulation, the resulting changes in the functional neural circuits, and the computational modelling of these.

Some of our research is potentially translational, for example stem cell therapy to promote neural regeneration to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and prevent hearing loss, along with the development of implantable materials to promote repair following spinal cord injury. In the clinical area, we are researching genetics in multiple sclerosis (MS) and the range of neuropsychological deficits following stroke, including clinical trials towards their treatment.

Research within the Molecular and Structural Biosciences theme is unified in a quest to elucidate the functional and mechanistic complexities of how biologically relevant molecules within a given system interact and afford activity. This highly interdisciplinary theme draws upon complimentary experience within the fields of biochemistry, biophysics, biotechnology, molecular biology, cell biology, chemistry and medicine to understand the structure:function relationships that occur throughout all the major classes of biological macromolecules (proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates and lipids).

Much of the underpinning, fundamental research carried out within the theme, finds future application and exploitation within the more applied fields of therapeutic development, rational drug design, pharmaceutical production and quality control, neurobiology, cancer research, infectious disease, regenerative medicine, tissue engineering, materials science and instrumentation development.

Major groupings and capacities, within and across themes, includes structural biology, systems biology, bioinformatics, glycoscience and glycomics and proteomics.