Left: white blood cells (coloured green and blue) isolated from human blood that have been fed with human myelin (red) to mimic myelin breakdown seen in MS. Arrows point to some cells which have ‘eaten’ the myelin.  Right:  the same cells after treatment

Left: white blood cells (coloured green and blue) isolated from human blood that have been fed with human myelin (red) - the coating around nerves - to mimic myelin breakdown seen in MS. Arrows point to some cells which have ‘eaten’ the myelin.  Right:  the same cells after treatment with a drug which may have an effect on oxysterols. Fewer of the drug treated cells contain myelin, suggesting that the drug is helping cells to remove it. 

Welsh research on multiple sclerosis has been strengthened by a visit to the Welsh Tissue Bank by a Swansea expert, made possible by the scholarship she was awarded by the Worshipful Livery Company of Wales.

Kristen Hawkins is a researcher in Swansea University Medical School. Her research, which is funded by MS Society Cymru, aims to get a better insight into the biology underpinning multiple sclerosis (MS).

MS affects approximately 5600 people in Wales and 2.3 million worldwide. Currently there is no cure and the effect of available treatments is limited.

Kristen’s project aims to understand the role of oxysterols in MS. Oxysterols are involved in the normal functioning of our bodies. They are made when the body breaks down cholesterol (which we all have and need in our bodies), however it’s possible that some oxysterols may malfunction in MS.

Kristen was awarded a Travel Scholarship by the Worshipful Livery Company of Wales, following a competition open to Swansea University researchers who are in the early stages of their career.

The scholarship enabled her to spend three days at the Welsh Neuroscience Research Tissue Bank at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. This stores thousands of biological samples donated by patients and healthy volunteers to enable researchers to gain a deeper understanding of diseases and how to diagnose and treat them.

During her visit to the Tissue Bank, Kristen met the team of researchers, clinicians and support staff and was given a tour of the facility. She also gave them a presentation about her research in Swansea.

Kristen highlighted two concrete examples of how the visit will benefit her research:

“The Tissue Bank holds samples of cerebrospinal fluid that I need for my research, so the team have kindly arranged for these so be made available to me.

In addition, I learned that the Tissue Bank contains a stock of a specific type of white blood cell that I have been isolating and analysing. I already have samples from healthy donors but will also need them from people with MS, so hopefully in the future I will be able to use the samples already stored in Cardiff, speeding up our research.”

Commenting on the visit overall, Kristen added:

“The visit to the Tissue Bank was extremely beneficial. I have learned more about human tissue processing and storage, governance, and been immersed in a different style of research laboratory. I have made valuable connections with other researchers and medics working on MS.

I would like to thank Dr Sam Loveless for hosting me during my visit and The Worshipful Livery Company of Wales for facilitating it with the award – I am truly grateful.”

Sylvia Robert-Sargeant of the Worshipful Livery Company of Wales said:

“One of The Company's aims is to encourage and support students to progress with a specific project. We raise funds through various charitable events and also by reaching out, not only to our Liverymen for financial support, but also to the wider community in Wales by inviting Welsh business circles, foundations and other organisations interested in promoting education, science, technology and the arts in Wales, to support our activities.

Kristen’s project illustrates how such cutting-edge work can make a vital contribution to medical research in Wales. We are delighted to be able to support Kristen in her efforts to build and develop links with fellow experts in her field.”

Swansea University Medical School

Find out more about the Worshipful Livery Company of Wales

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