There has been a lot of major changes to our world in the last 50 years, most of them coming from historical scholars, inventors, scientists and governments. However, there may be some things in this world that you did not know where invented by universities.
The first full-body MRI scanner
It is called the Mark 1 Machine and was co-created by Professor James Hutchison (1941-2018) from the University of Aberdeen and Dr William Edelstein. The machine treated its first patient in 1980 and is still used in many healthcare centres across the globe. Another member of his team was Professor David Lurie, who had just finished his PhD at the time, told the University of Aberdeen that the spin-warp: “dramatically improved the images overnight and they immediately became of diagnostic quality.” One of Hutchison’s students at the time, Professor Tom Redpath, revealed in the same article that the whole team’s work was doubted by researchers from across the globe. The spin-warp technique is how the MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanner is able to take 3D images of the body. It works by a magnetic force causing the body’s protons to align with its magnetic field. A radioactive current through the body disrupts the protons and their state of rest. When the radioactivity is stopped, the protons align themselves with the magnetic field again and the MRI sensors pick up on the energy the protons give off whilst doing so.
A new way to sequence DNA
What started as a conversation in the pub between Cambridge scientists in the ’90s has since become a new way that scientists sequence our DNA. Dr Balasubramanian and Dr Klenerman did their research in Cambridge’s Chemistry Department and created Solexa. In 2005, the team sequenced their first genome, the Bacteriophage phiX-174 Genome, which was first sequenced in 1977 by Fred Sanger, a Noble Prize-winning Biochemist, and his team. A year later, the Genome Analyser was released and enabled scientists to: “sequence 1 gigabase of data in a single run.” Solexa was later bought by Illumina in 2007 for £600 million. In 2015, the technology started being used for genetic counselling, in which a families DNA is sequenced and making it easier to understand genetic disorders.
A new enzyme to break down plastic
Last year, a team lead by the University of Portsmouth’s Professor John McGeehan and Dr Gregg Beckham created ‘MHETase’ which is six times faster at breaking down plastic than techniques at the time. This was the same team that re-engineered PETase, another plastic-digesting enzyme. PET stands for Polyethylene Terephthalate, which is a strong and resistant polymer made from ethylene acid and terephthalic acid. This new enzyme has been engineered with PETase and the connection between the two has resulted in its increased digestion speed. To engineer an enzyme means to enhance its effectiveness. Discoveries similar to these will help with the global pollution issues we face.
The Rotavirus vaccine
The University of Liverpool has been running a programme which researches Rotavirus. Rotavirus is a highly infectious virus that primarily impacts young children and babies causing illness and sometimes death. Symptoms of Rotavirus include vomiting, diarrhoea, in some cases, drastic dehydration. Professor Nigel Cunliffe has been conducting this research in Malawi and executed the first Rotavirus vaccine trial in Africa. In 2018, Professor Nigel Cunliffe found out that: “children who had received the vaccine had a 34% lower risk of dying from diarrhoea.” The findings of Cunliffe and his team have supported global Rotavirus vaccine schedules. The vaccine was introduced to the UK in 2013, a year after Malawi’s Childhood Immunisation schedule began. Across the globe, 95 countries use the vaccine but there are still some that do not have access to it and the effectiveness of the vaccine depends on a variety of factors within a country. The vaccine works by a nonpathogenic strain (which is still alive) entering the body orally. This will trigger the primary immune response where it will take a few days for the body to begin producing complementary antibodies. The body also creates memory white blood cells, so when someone gets the virus again the white blood cells will know which antibody fits the antigen.
The first pregnancy ultrasound
In 1956, Professor Ian Donald (1910-1987), from the University of Glasgow, and Tom Brown, an engineer for Kelvin & Hughes, innovated the first ultrasound prototype. However, it was not like the ultrasound equipment we are used to seeing today. It was built similarly to the equipment that was used to expose weaknesses in ships. It was not until the end of the ’50s that their equipment was being used in Glasgow’s hospitals. 20 years later in the ’70s, British and American hospitals began using this ultrasound equipment. Professor Ian Donald was also involved with the creation of a respirator for babies that had breathing problems. His invention kept developing from a stationary scanner fastened to the ceiling, to the use of a joystick that could be used on the patient. The Professor and his team then developed a Diasonograph, a device that would hang over the patient. It does not end there, he also helped design the Queen Mother’s Hospital. Without Donald’s research and inventions, doctors in the 20th Century would not have been able to detect potential fatalities, as well as the development of the foetus.
Advancement in cancer treatment
A better understanding of cancer has been achievable with the help of the following scientist’s research into cell division. The first being Leland Hartwell, an American scientist. Cell division can be one of two processes, mitosis or meiosis. Meiosis is the process of giving each generation the same number of chromosomes. This means 23 chromosomes go into each egg cell and each sperm cell. So when both of these cells, the number of chromosomes they have will equal 46. Where Meiosis can produce four daughter cells, Mitosis can only produce two. Mitosis is when creates body cells, so a parent cell divides into two daughter cells with them both being identical. However, when Mitosis goes wrong health issues can arise, such as cancer. Hartwell discovered what controlled cell division in genes in yeast, it was not until this moment that anyone knew what did control it. His research led to the discovery of the cell cycle. In this cycle, Hartwell also found out that there are stages that cells have to pass through and they can only go into the next stage if everything is ok. Although, there were some holes to his research and that is where Paul Nurse comes in.
In addition to Hartwell’s research Paul Nurse, who was a professor at the University of Oxford, made another discovery. When the cell cycle did not process properly it was because the cdc2 gene, now known as CDK-1, had a fault. However, that was in yeast and when they added a human gene into the yeast cell cycle, they found that the cell cycle worked with no problems. This shows that near enough all species go through the same cell cycle. Then in comes Timothy Hunt, a British scientist and Cambridge University Biochemist, who discovered that an unknown protein exuded from the cell when it was splitting, he called this protein cyclin. After thorough research, Hunt discovered that the cyclin protein could aid cell division across different species, he used frogs and sea urchins as an example.
All of the components, the CDK and the cyclin, work in harmony within the cell division process. Remember, if the process does not go correctly, this is when health problems like cancer can occur. Their research into different species can help shed light on cell division in humans and is helping scientists find a cure.
To conclude, these are only a fraction of all the marvellous discoveries into science, the environment and society (and many more) that universities have made. This world is constantly changing and with discoveries like these, we can adapt too.