Category / Research themes

Care at home in the time of covid.

Covid-19 lockdowns and social distancing have socially and spatially reorganised the reproductive labour entailed in supporting, maintaining and sustaining people in everyday life. The closure of schools, day centres, shops and non-essential services, alongside prohibitions on household mixing, have meant that caring work has been much more spatially concentrated and contained within households than in normal times. For reasons of health, age or physical frailty, a large number of adults have come to depend more than usual on others to support and care for them at home.

Over the past year, I’ve been carrying out a British Academy-funded study exploring the experiences of people who provide home-based care and support. I’ve examined three areas, or what I call infrastructures of provision; family carers, home (domiciliary) care services and voluntary and community sector initiatives which support people at home. Focusing on Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole (BCP) and Dorset local authority areas, I’ve been examining the challenges these infrastructures faced during the pandemic. I’ve carried out semi-structured interviews with carers, volunteers and volunteer coordinators, as well as home (domiciliary) care workers and their managers, to learn about their experiences.

Social care, the voluntary and community sector and the family are usually studied separately. Why does this study bring them together?

Firstly, despite differences between them, there are some basic similarities between what volunteers, care workers and carers do in looking after people in their own homes during the pandemic. All have been directly engaged in the vitally important work of sustaining people through the crisis, keeping them safe at home by ensuring some of their essential needs (for food, medicines) were met. Many were also providing company and comfort for people isolated at home. They did this in different ways depending on their role – in person, with PPE, over the phone, or at a safe two meters distance from the front door.

Another feature shared across the three infrastructures is the low levels of public investment each receives. The social care system has always been highly residual in the UK (Lewis 2001), but is becoming even more so. In recent years, the numbers of people entitled to public support with social care costs has been in overall decline, particularly amongst adults of retirement age (Bottery 2020). Home care workers in social care are also amongst the lowest paid workers in the UK, at a median hourly rate of £8.50 (Skills for care 2021).
Similarly, state financial support for carers is one of the lowest paid amongst all state benefits, at £67.25 per week, and many carers are in financial hardship (Carers UK 2021). The voluntary and community sector has been significantly impacted by government austerity measures over the last decade, albeit unevenly (Kay 2020). Many voluntary organisations rely on support from local authorities, which have absorbed massive cuts to public finances.

Thus, despite its high social value and the fact that it has been indispensible to the welfare and wellbeing of large numbers of people during the pandemic, the work carried out by carers, care workers and volunteers receives shockingly meagre levels of public funding. That this contradiction is both unsustainable and deeply unjust has long been recognised by policy makers, campaigning groups, academics, trade unions and some politicians (see further Bear et al 2020, Dowling 2021, Wood and Skeggs 2020).

Taking a broader historical perspective, some feminist scholars argue that this contradiction is a systemic feature of capitalism. Capitalist accumulation depends on activities that recreate and sustain people, thereby enabling workers, consumers, markets, production and productivity to exist at all. But it also relies on offloading the costs of these activities (eg., onto families) such that they do not overly impede the creation and expansion of wealth, but instead appear to be separate and external to it (Ferguson 2020). Nonetheless, political demands that a greater share of this wealth be redistributed to enable people to better sustain themselves and each other can be and have been made, in different historical contexts, and with mixed successes. The outcomes of this core tension are not given, but are constantly being worked out in social and political life.

In the present moment in the UK, the pandemic has made starker than ever the contradiction between the vital importance of home care on the one hand, and its underinvestment and public neglect on the other. As large parts of the productive economy were shut down, a new appreciation of essential workers crystallized, and our collective dependence on their contribution was publicly ritualised in the weekly ‘clap for our carers’ event. Public support for greater care justice appears to be growing (Wood and Skeggs, 2020). This makes now a key moment to capture and compare the experiences of people who sustained others during the pandemic, and consider how these could inform the creation of a new, fairer care settlement in the UK.

References

Bear, L., James, D., Simpson, N., Alexander, E., Bhogal, J., Bowers, R., Cannell, F., Lohiya, A., Koch, I., Laws, M., Lenhard, J., Long, N., Pearson, A., Samanani, F., Vicol, D., Vieira, J., Watt, C., Wuerth, M., Whittle, C., Bărbulescu, T., 2020. The right to care. The social foundations of recovery from Covid-19 [online]. Covid and care research group: London school of economics. Available from: https://www.lse.ac.uk/anthropology/assets/documents/research/Covid-and-Care/ARighttoCare-CovidandCare-Final-2310.pdf (Accessed 13.7.2021)

Bottery, S., 2020. Social care services. Funding cuts are biting hard. The Kings Fund [online]. 9th January. Available from: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/blog/2020/01/social-care-funding-cuts-are-biting-hard (Accessed 13.7.2021).

Carers UK, 2021. Fairer for carers – background information [online]. Carers UK. Available from: https://www.carersuk.org/news-and-campaigns/campaigns/fairer-for-carers-background (Accessed 13.7.2021).

Dowling, E., 2021. The care crisis. What caused it and how do we end it? London: Verso.

Ferguson, S., 2020. Women and work. Feminism, labour and social reproduction. London: Pluto Press

Kay, L., 2020. Ten years of cuts have ‘damaged health and widened regional inequality’ [online]. Third sector, 20th February 2020. Available from: https://www.thirdsector.co.uk/ten-years-cuts-have-damaged-health-widened-regional-inequality/policy-and-politics/article/1674970 (Accessed 13.7.2021).

Lewis, J., 2001. Older people and the health-social care boundary in the UK: Half a century of hidden policy conflict. Social policy & administration. 35 (4), 343-359.

Skills for Care, 2021. Pay in the adult social care sector [online]. Available from: https://www.skillsforcare.org.uk/adult-social-care-workforce-data/Workforce-intelligence/documents/Pay-in-ASC-sector-2020.pdf (Accessed 13.7.2021)

Wood, H and Skeggs, B., 2021. Clap for carers? From care gratitude to care justice. European journal of cultural studies, 23 (4), 641-647.

Participants wanted for Self-awareness research project

Participants wanted for Self-awareness research project

In addition to our snapshots of friends and family, holidays and special events, some of us also take pictures of things just because they caught our interest. We were thinking about something else, when suddenly – as if with a tap on the shoulder – our attention was drawn to the sight of two children playing in a park, an old house, or a bicycle lying by the side of the road. But we don’t know those children, or the people who lived in that house – and that’s not our bicycle.

This project explores the possibility that, when our attention is attracted to images and scenes with which we have no logical or personal connection, it may be because we intuitively recognised the scene (or the elements within it) as an symbolic description of the way we see the world – or perhaps as an allegorical self-portrait of the person we have become.

This project will encourage participants to reflect on the possible significance of their apparently ‘random’ snapshots – and to consider them as potentially valuable sources of personal insight.

Over the course of (approximately) two months, participants will be asked to:

  1. Meet three times (online) for approximately one hour each time (twice with the researcher and the other participants – and once one-on-one with the researcher)
  2. Take photographs of scenes to which your attention is intuitively attracted
  3. Describe and discuss your thoughts and reactions to the things you have photographed

Full anonymity is guaranteed.

The following are regrettably excluded from participation:

  • Those under 18 years of age
  • Undergraduates

If you are interested in taking part in this project, please contact Rutherford@bournemouth.ac.uk

 

Participants wanted for Self-awareness research project

In addition to our snapshots of friends and family, holidays and special events, some of us also take pictures of things just because they caught our interest. We were thinking about something else, when suddenly – as if with a tap on the shoulder – our attention was drawn to the sight of… two children playing in a park, an old house, or a bicycle lying by the side of the road.

But we don’t know those children, or the people who lived in that house – and that’s not our bicycle.

This project explores the possibility that, when our attention is attracted to scenes with which we have no logical or personal connection, it is because we recognised something about the scene or the elements within it as an symbolic description of the way we see the world – or perhaps as an allegorical self-portrait.

This project will encourage participants to reflect on the possible significance of their apparently ‘random’ snapshots – and to consider them as potentially valuable sources of personal insight.

Over the course of (approximately) two months, participants will be asked to:

  1. Take photographs of scenes to which your attention is intuitively attracted
  2. Meet three times (online) for approximately one hour each time (twice with the researcher and the other participants – and once one-on-one with the researcher)
  3. Describe and discuss your thoughts and reactions to the things you have photographed

Full anonymity is guaranteed.

The following are regrettably excluded from participation:

  • Those with prior training or expertise in photography
  • Those with prior training or expertise in psychology/psychotherapy
  • Those under 18 years of age
  • Undergraduates

If interested in taking part in this project, please contact Rutherford@bournemouth.ac.uk

Can technology help to address the shocking health statistics of our homeless population?

Bournemouth University is investigating potential technological solutions to assist those sleeping rough to access healthcare services and self-manage complex healthcare needs

Homelessness in the UK is on the increase (Open Government 2018). Health outcomes for those that are homeless are far poorer than of the general population with an mean age of death of 45 years (men) and 43 years (women) compared to 76 ( men) and 81 years (women) for those living in homes (Office for National Statistics 2019). The South West region had the third highest number of rough sleepers in 2018 (Homeless link 2017) and this project will take place in Bournemouth and the surrounding area.

Using technology to access healthcare is nothing new; accessing virtual consultations with your GP or using one of the wide range of apps to access information and advice on is increasingly common, particularly during the current pandemic. However, this does require access to appropriate technology and internet along with the knowledge of how to use it.

Although there is a growing use of technologies amongst homeless people (McInnes et al 2015) to connect with their peers, there is no current research exploring the role of technology in assisting people who sleep rough in locating and accessing appropriate local services.

In partnership with colleagues from the Providence surgery, Dorset Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, the Big Issue and Streetwise; Staff at Bournemouth University are conducting a research project with the aim of developing a freely available app enabling navigation and access to resources to self-manage complex health and social care needs.

The Research Team

Dr Vanessa Heaslip
Vanessa is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nursing Science at Bournemouth University and is the Principle Investigator for this project. Her research interests are in the field of vulnerability and vulnerable groups in society whose voices are not traditionally heard in the academic and professional discourse.

Dr Sue Green
A Registered Nurse with experience in acute and continuing care environments, Sue has been at the forefront of the development of clinical academic careers for nurses. Sue’s research programme focuses on aspects of clinical nutrition. She has a long standing interest in the process of nutritional screening and its effect on care.

Dr Huseyin Dogan
A Principal Lecturer in Computing at Bournemouth University (BU). Dr Dogan’s research focuses on Human Factors, Assistive Technology, Digital Health and Systems Engineering. He is the Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the Human Computer Interaction (HCI) research group.

Dr Bibha Simkhada
Bibha works at Huddersfield University in the School of Health and Human Sciences. Her research interest includes Technology in Healthcare, Ageing research mainly in Dementia, Health and Wellbeing of BAME population and women’s health. She has methodological expertise on narrative and systematic review and qualitative research.

Stephen Richer
Stephen is a part time PhD student and working part time as the project research assistant. His background is in Mental Health Nursing and he has worked in numerous roles within the NHS and for various mental health charities.

Rachel Bailey
Rachel is a Research Administrator at Bournemouth University. She also works as a Youth Advisor for a local charity and previously worked in FE delivering Careers Advice.

As the research project progresses, this blog will be updated on our methods, progress and results.

We are keen to hear from any local organisations working with the homeless that could assist with research. Please contact Stephen Richer sricher@bournemouth.ac.uk

 

 

 

Kidneys are calciyummy!

Every cell controls its function by regulating intracellular calcium levels. Neuronal transmission, cardiac contractions, white blood cell movement, insulin secretion…all these events happen because calcium floods into the cytoplasm, binds proteins that trigger cell-specific effects. Studying calcium dynamics is important and provides insights that guide our understanding of human physiology and our ability to control disease.

We know that calcium dynamics regulate human kidney function but we’re not clear how or why. Studying human kidneys is, as you’d imagine, extremely challenging, so models are used instead. Here at BU we use the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster to model aspects of human cardiac and kidney function – paying particular attention to how genes control cell biology.

Recent work being presented this week at the British Society for Cell Biology’s ‘Dynamic Cell’ conference demonstrates how the fly’s kidney like cells (called nephrocytes) have regular ‘calcium waves’ lasting about twenty seconds. Using a combination of transgenic flies and pharmacology, this is the first time we’ve appreciated that nephrocytes have a rapid and ever-changing calcium biology. They are a window into what’s going in our own kidneys. The image above shows a calcium wave rising and falling in a single nephrocyte – imaged within a living larval fly.

What’s particularly tantalizing is the likelihood that these calcium waves are controlled by mechanisms of direct relevance to human physiology – so the hunt is now on to identify these mechanisms!

 

BU academics contribute to initial findings from Covid-19 expert database

In March, POST launched the Covid-19 outbreak expert database, inviting anyone who wanted to support Parliament in its work, and had expertise in COVID-19 and/or its impacts to sign up. In April, more than 1,100 experts on this database responded to a survey put out by POST, asking them to share their immediate, short, medium and long term concerns relating to COVID-19 and its impacts. Having analysed the responses, and determined there to be 15 broad areas of concern, POST is now publishing syntheses in these 15 areas.

 

The 15 areas of concern are listed here, along with the methodology for both conducting the survey and synthesising the insights. The 15 syntheses are being published on POST’s Horizon Scanning pages.

Those respondents who said they would be happy to be publicly acknowledged are listed in full here and the list includes the following BU academics:

  • Professor Katherine Appleton – Psychology
  • Dr Emily Arden-Close – Psychology
  • Professor Christopher Hartwell – Financial Systems Resilience
  • Professor Ann Hemingway – Public Health and Wellbeing
  • Dr Sarah Hodge – Psychology
  • Dr John Oliver – Media Management
  • Dr Karen Thompson – Leadership Strategy and Organisations
  • Dr John McAlaney – Psychology
  • Professor Lee Miles – Crisis and Disaster Management
  • Dr Andy Pulman – Digital Health and User Experience
  • Professor Barry Richards – Political Psychology

You can still sign up to the expert database here.

 

How the C-19 lockdown has affected the work-life balance of BU academics (Part 2)

Our blog Part 1 (posted on Friday May 15th) provided a very crude overview of the preliminary results from the survey we have launched to collate data on the impact of C-19 lockdown on the work-life balance of academics. This Part 2 focuses on differences between groups of respondents and identifying whether particular groups have been more negatively affected. We are yet to do any statistical tests on these data, so please consider differences between groups with care.

We have received 170 responses to date, 70 we could identify as being from BU staff (63 from female colleagues). If you have not yet contributed to this survey, you can still to do so here: https://bournemouth.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/impact-of-lockdown-on-academics, and please do share with your networks, as the survey is open to all academics. If you want us to be able to identify that you are BU staff, you will need to mention BU in one of the open questions. This research is a cross-faculty collaboration conducted by Sara Ashencaen Crabtree (FHSS), Ann Hemingway (FHSS) and myself (FST).

Work-life balance during lockdown got worse for the majority of respondents (59%) and improved for 37%. The most common reason for worsening or improving work-life balance were ‘workload increased’ (31%) and ‘I could do what was needed and be at home/with family’ (24%), respectively (Figure 1a). Although there are differences across gender (Figure 1b), any differences between male and female respondents should not be considered representative of the wider community due to the small number of male respondents.

Figure 1. Changes in work-life balance of respondents during Covid-19 lockdown and the selected reasons for identifying positive or negative change (a) and reported changes per gender of respondents (b). Blue shades indicate work-life balance improved and red shades indicate it worsened.

A higher proportion of academics under the age of 40 (82%) indicated that their work-life balance has worsened during lockdown when compared with other age groups (Figure 2a). Most of these academics reported that work-life balance worsened because they couldn’t work much. For academics in their 50s or older, the key reason for worsening of work-life balance was the increase in workload.

Figure 2. Changes in work-life balance of respondents during Covid-19 lockdown per age group (a); presence of children in the household (b) – the group ‘with children’ includes children ages 0-12 and teenagers; and household size (c).

Balancing work and childcare and/or homeschooling  was mentioned as a negative effect on work-life balance during lockdown by 18% and 7% respectively. However, this does not seem to be the main cause affecting respondents under the age of 40, when responses between groups with and without children are compared. In fact, 87% of respondents in their 40s live in a household with children 12 years old or younger and yet the proportion of this age group reporting worsened work-life balance was lower (55%) than the proportion of respondents with no children (60%). However, respondents who live in a household with younger children seem to be more negatively affected.

All respondents (N=8) who live with children under the age of 5 years have reported that their work-life balance have worsened (Figure 2b), the majority indicated an increase in workload as the main reason. However, no major differences were found when comparing groups of respondents who live with children (all ages under 19 included) and households without children. Interestingly, a lower proportion of respondents who live with children aged 5-12 years report worse work-life balance (50%) than respondents who do not have children in their household (60%) (Figure 2b). Further, work-life balance has improved for a higher proportion of respondents who live in a household of three people (45%) than in other household sizes (<40%) (Figure 2c).

In all faculties, a higher number of respondents reported work-life balance getting worse than improving, except FST (Figure 3a), where work-life balance has improved for 50% of respondents and worsened for 36%. Professors were the only group with more respondents indicating work-life balance improved (50%) than worsened (25%); in contrast, all associate professors reported worsened work-life balance (Figure 3b), but the small sample in both groups may not be representative.

Figure 3. Changes in work-life balance of respondents during Covid-19 lockdown per faculty (a) and position (b).

Switching to online teaching and not being able to meet with colleagues in person, socialise and engage with preferred leisure activity were the factors affecting negatively more than 50% of respondents (Figure 4).When lockdown restrictions are lifted, two of these factors (socialise and engage with preferred leisure activity) will have less effect on academics work-life balance, but more could be done to support colleagues negatively affected by the switch to online teaching and missing the contact with colleagues while working remotely.

More respondents have indicated a positive than negative impact from changes in the number of meetings and switching to online meetings emails (Figure 4). Fewer and more effective meetings were reported as the positive impacts. However, for some respondents, there are too many online meetings and they are getting tired of (avoidable) prolonged screen time (an effect that has been called Zoom fatigue). Therefore, guidance on how best to use, organise and participate in online meetings and how to manage and reduce screen time/tiredness may be useful.

Figure 4. The impact of selected factors on the work-life balance of respondents during lockdown.

A considerably higher proportion of respondents under 40 years of age report negative effect from switching to online teaching (75%), change in the number of emails (58%) and changes in the number of meetings (50%) in relation to other age groups (Figure 5). This age group also shows lower proportion of staff indicating positive effect from these three factors.

Figure 5. Reported impact per age group from (a) switching to online teaching; (b) changes in number of emails; and (c) changes in number of meetings.

FMC is the only faculty with more than 50% of respondents reporting negative effect from switching to online teaching (58%), change in the number of emails (58%) and changes in the number of meetings (67%). FST and FM are the faculties with 50% of respondents reporting positive impact from changes in the number of meetings.  FHSS has the largest proportion of respondents indicating negative effect from switching to online teaching (62%) and strong negative effect due to changes in the number of emails (54%). Increased number of emails from students has been reported, particularly by FHSS staff who support students who were asked to work for the NHS.

Figure 6. Reported impact per faculty from (a) switching to online teaching; (b) changes in number of emails; and (c) changes in number of meetings.

Figure 7 shows word clouds based on responses to the open questions asking for the two most important factors leading to negative and positive impacts on their work-life balance during lockdown. Increased demand for student support was the most cited negative factor (by 27% of respondents), followed by missing contact with colleagues and inadequate equipment (e.g. IT, desk, chair) and balancing childcare (19%). Less commuting or travel for work was the most cited factor affecting work-life balance positively (46% of respondents), followed by time with family (25%) and enjoying working from home (15%).

Figure 7. Word cloud showing how respondents expressed the negative (a) and positive (b) factors affecting their work-life balance during C-19 lockdown.

In responses to open questions, it is apparent that many negative aspects of the lockdown relate to aspects that are likely to subside when restrictions are lifted (e.g. reopening of schools, meeting with family and friends, enjoying leisure activities). Other negative aspects relate to the fast pace in which academic staff had to switch to online activities, sometimes without adequate workspace, equipment and/or training, leading to overwork. On the other hand, respondents report many substantial advantages of working from home, many wishing that this can continue (at least for part of the time) in the longer term. This is a summary of the advantages respondents have identified:

  • No travelling = more control over time + less exhaustion + less expense + better for the environment + spending more time with family
  • Healthier – nutritionally better, more physical rest, more exercise
  • Staying safe – better protected at home, avoiding traffic hazards
  • Gaining extra hours to work
  • Slower pace = more time to concentrate; a breathing space
  • Greater autonomy to manage time and priorities
  • Greater flexibility = ingenuity and novelty, new ways of teaching and supporting students remotely
  • Less stress and physical/mental wear-&-tear
  • Stripping back work dross – basic priorities reveals a lot of bureaucracy that can be avoided

 Who are the respondents?


Exposure to Covid-19

  • 7% of respondents (5 out of 68) had severe symptoms of Covid-19 or tested positive or live with someone who did. All are female respondents in their 20s, 30s and 50s. Two of these households had someone at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
  • 22% of respondents (15 out of 68) had close family members, friends or colleagues who had severe symptoms of Covid-19 or tested positive. All are female respondents in their 30s, 40s and 50s (the majority, 9 respondents).
  • 41% of respondents (28 out of 68) live in a household where there is at least one person at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Performative Social Science reaching wider audiences

A Chapter on Performative Social Science for the International Encyclopedia of Communication Research Methods by BU’s Dr Kip Jones has achieved 1500+ reads on ResearchGate.

Performative Social Science (PSS) is an arts-led method of research and dissemination developed by Jones at Bournemouth University over ten years and is recognised internationally. Recently lauded by Sage Publications, they described PSS as pioneering work that will ‘propel arts-led research forward’ and be a ‘valued resource for students and researchers for years to come’.  

Performative Social Science (PSS) is positioned within the current era of cross-pollination from discipline to discipline. Practitioners from the Arts and Humanities look to the Social Sciences for fresh frameworks, whist Social Science practitioners explore the Arts for potential new tools for enquiry and dissemination.

‘Kip Jones brings the genre of what he calls performative social sciences forward with wide-ranging theoretical, academic, and artistic products in a various media that takes up how social scientists can use art for investigation and dissemination.’ —“Embodied Methodologies, Participation, and the Art of Research” by Madeline Fox  

Dr Kip Jones, Reader in Qualitative Research and Performative Social Science retires from Bournemouth University at the end of February, but will continue with PhD supervision on a part-time basis. He has four potential publications in discussion with publishers, including a volume on PSS. 

Hear about NIHR Wessex Applied Research Collaboration – 13th January 09:30 to 12:00

Applied Health and Care research is essential in our region if we are to improve the care and operation of our health and care systems.

Professor Alison Richardson, Director of the NIHR Wessex Applied Research Collaboration (ARC), will be talking about the newly formed ARC Wessex, which is working across the region with its partner organisations to bring the best research into practice.

ARC Wessex aims to address the immediate issues facing the health and social care system. The research programme focuses on four areas:

  • Ageing & Dementia.
  • Healthy Communities.
  • Long Term Conditions
  • Workforce and Health Systems.

There are a number of initial projects underway – for further information see our website.

This event is open to everyone across Dorset, Hampshire, Isle of Wight and South Wiltshire – Our Wessex community. Please book your place: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/nihr-arc-wessex-skills-and-implementation-in-health-and-care-research-tickets-86901836733 

Powerless Responsibility: A feminist study exploring women’s experiences of caring for their late preterm babies

A new publication by Dr. Luisa Cescutti-Butler (FHSS) and her co-authors (Professor A Hemingway & Dr. J. Hewitt-Taylor) which explores women’s experiences of caring for a late preterm baby using feminism as a research methodology has just been published in the Australian Women and Birth Journal (October 2019). Her research found that women who become mothers’ of late preterm babies have a complex journey. It begins with separation, with babies being cared for in unfamiliar and highly technical environments where the perceived experts are healthcare professionals. Women’s needs are side-lined, and they are required to care for their babies within parameters determined by others. Institutional and professional barriers to mothering/caring are numerous. For example: some of the women who were separated from their babies immediately after birth had difficulties conceiving themselves as mothers, and others faced restrictions when trying to access their babies. Women described care that was centred on their babies. They were allowed and expected to care for their babies, but only with ‘powerless responsibility’. Many women appeared to be excluded from decisions and were not always provided with full information about their babies. The research concludes by recommending that women whose babies are born late preterm would benefit from greater consideration in relation to their needs, rather than the focus being almost exclusively on their babies.

Luisa is Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Midwifery, Maternal & Perinatal Health (CMMPH) and Lead for Examination of the Newborn in the Faculty of Health & Social Sciences. If you would like any further information please email Luisa on lcbutler@bournemouth.ac.uk

References: 

Cescutti-Butler, L.D. Hewitt-Taylor, J. and Hemingway, A., 2019. Powerless responsibility: A feminist study of women’s experiences of caring for their late preterm babies. Women and Birth, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2019.08.006

Cescutti-Butler, L.D., Hemingway, A., and Hewitt-Taylor, J., 2018. “His tummy’s only tiny” – Scientific feeding advice versus women’s knowledge. Women’s experiences of feeding their late preterm babies. Midwifery, DOI:  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2018.11.001

BU medical science in top immunology journal, ‘Immunity’.

 

Colleagues at Cornell University and I have used the fruit fly, Drosophila to tease apart the relationship between immunity and the gut microbiome. The work (which took six years to complete) is to be published in Immunity (impact factor 20 for the ‘metricists’ out there) and has major significance because it starts to explain how the human immune response ‘tolerates’ the billions of ‘good’ bacteria in our body.

Many animals carry billions of bacteria in their intestines which are critical for the digestion of ingested foods. This poses a problem for immune cells because signs of the bacteria regularly end up outside the gut and in circulation. Normally, bacterial signals would elicit a powerful immune system but it would be bad news if the gut microbiome was targeted for destruction by immune cells. How this cordial relationship is maintained is therefore of major interest to immunologists and medical science because it has implications for how we understand inflammatory diseases.

We show for the first time that cells called nephrocytes remove bacterial signals (proteoglycans that make bacterial cell walls) from circulation and that this dampens immune responses. Disruption of this removal system causes immune cells to be over-active – a state not unlike chronic inflammation.

I’m duty bound as a basic scientist to make the point that this work also impacts our understanding of insect ecology. Having an over-active immune system shortened the lifespan of Drosophila – an effect likely to be seen in ecologically and medically important species such as honeybees and mosquitoes. How immune responses are affected by the environment in these species is also a very hot topic of research – one that can also be modeled in Drosophila.

Best wishes,

Paul Hartley (Dept of Life and Environmental Sciences)