University of Reading Research Blog

Multiple Sclerosis in a time of Covid

We know that having a neurological illness such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) makes you more vulnerable to poor mental health. So, what happens when a global pandemic hits and reshapes the way we all live our lives?

As part of a wider study looking at mental health in neurological illness, we asked more than 300 MS patients around the world about their experiences of the pandemic. We received a wide-ranging responses, including:

“Disabled people are being abandonned, treatments suspended, psychological needs being ignored.”

“Stress is not the best for MS. I have had several relapses during this pandemic.”

“… I’ve been very isolated and feeling lonely a lot of the time. It’s also given me too much time to think about  where my MS is going.”



Science art helps climate change message hit home

Communicating climate change and its impacts is a key challenge we face as scientists. Although we need to practice robust research – and part of the way we do this is through the peer-review process – even when journal articles are open access they do not engage the general public on climate change.

There are many ways to communicate science and one way that I’ve seen gaining popularity here at the University of Reading is through art, or #SciArt. Examples include the climate stripes developed by Professor Ed Hawkins, flood poetry led by Professor Hannah Cloke and Water@ Reading, my fellow PhD researcher Nerea Ferrando Jorge using art to make her research on soil citizen science more accessible in the Department of Geography and Environmental Science and the AALERT project led by Dr Eirini Saratsi.



Trips waiver: there’s more to the story than vaccine patents

The US has announced its limited support for the “Trips waiver”, a proposal to suspend intellectual property protections for products and technologies needed for the fight against COVID-19, including vaccines, for the duration of the pandemic.

This would involve a temporary suspension of certain rules set out in the Trips agreement, the intellectual property treaty of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The waiver was first proposed by India and South Africa – two countries with robust generic pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity – in October 2020 as one important tool to address availability of COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostic tools and therapeutic treatments.



HortQFLNet: Ensuring continuity of research in horticultural crop quality and postharvest food loss

It is estimated that one third of food produced globally is wasted before it is consumed. In the UK, this equates to >15 million tonnes of food and drink annually; valued at over £20 billion. More than 50% is wasted in the supply chain before reaching the consumer’s home because products do not meet quality expectations. Horticultural crops (vegetables, fruit, potatoes) are major components of a healthy diet and the provision and consumption of a diet rich in these offers significant benefits to human health.

The UK is committed to reducing food losses and waste by half by 2030 (UN SDG 12.3). The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have identified significant opportunities for science to reduce food losses in horticultural crops through novel and enhanced connections between multi-disciplinary researchers and research end-users including industry and policy makers (BBSRC Strategic Priorities for AFS).



Why we can still recognise people in face masks

The average person knows about 5,000 faces – from family and friends to the cashier at the local store. Most people can recognise familiar faces with ease, even from low quality images, or from photos that are many years old. We often recognise familiar faces even if we can’t remember a person’s name or how we know them.

Most of us take this ability to recognise familiar faces for granted – but when public health issues require our friends to mask up, covering their chins, lips, cheeks and noses, are our facial recognition skills scrambled?



New archaeology finding shows how Muslim cuisine endured in secret despite policing by the Spanish Catholic regime

Granada, in southern Spain’s Andalusia region, was the final remnant of Islamic Iberia known as al-Andalus – a territory that once stretched across most of Spain and Portugal. In 1492, the city fell to the Catholic conquest.

In the aftermath, native Andalusians, who were Muslims, were permitted to continue practising their religion. But after a decade of increasingly hostile religious policing from the new Catholic regime, practising Islamic traditions and rituals was outlawed. Recent archaeological excavations in Granada, however, have uncovered evidence of Muslim food practices continuing in secret for decades after the conquest.


Building on 2020 EIT Food Projects

Facilitated by the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health (IFNH), the University has been engaged with EIT Food since its inception in 2018. EIT Food is Europe’s leading food innovation initiative, working to make the food system more sustainable, healthy and trusted. It is funded by EIT (European Institute of Innovation and Technology) which was developed by the EU to strength Europe’s ability to innovate. EIT Food is one of eight EIT innovation communities which facilitate partnerships between research, academia and industry to address key societal challenges.

From involvement in 16 collaborative, pan-European projects in 2018 to 40 projects in 2020, EIT Food funding has brought approximately 8 million euros to the University. The 2020 projects covered the wide breadth of EIT Food functional areas – education, innovation, entrepreneurship and public engagement. Earlier this month, IFNH organised an EIT Food special event to look back at this significant project portfolio, share outcomes, results and lessons learned and explore how these experiences could be used to develop future opportunities and collaborations.



India COVID crisis: four reasons it will derail the world economy

The second wave of the pandemic has struck India with a devastating impact. With over 300,000 new cases and 3,000 deaths across the country each day at present, the total number of deaths has just passed the 200,000 mark – that’s about one in 16 of all COVID deaths across the world. It is also evident that the India statistics are significant underestimates.

The virulence of the second wave in India seems to be related to a confluence of factors: government complacency, driven by poor data collection and being in denial about the reality of the data; a new variant with a hockey-stick shaped growth curve; and some very large and unregulated religious and political events.



Dragons’ Den: Funding for Early Career Researcher collaborations

Last month saw Early Career Researchers (ECRs) pitching collaborative research ideas to a panel of ‘Dragons’, with three projects securing funding from the panel. The event was jointly hosted by the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences (SPCLS) combined with the ECR-led interdisciplinary initiative CINNergies.

ECRs submitted a 500 word summary of their proposal and those who were selected went on to give an oral presentation of their pitches. Just like the real Dragons’ Den, the Dragons were sitting on piles of money (figuratively speaking) with a total of £5000 up for grabs for the ECRs who were able to convince the Dragons to invest in their collaborative and interdisciplinary research projects.



Shulie, and the place of the feminist past in the feminist present

‘Sex class is so deep as to be invisible.’

So begins American feminist Shulamith Firestone’s 1970 global blockbuster The Dialectic of Sex. I remember vividly the first time I read it as an undergraduate: I’d certainly encountered feminist texts before, but none like this. Who was this person who told us frankly that love ‘is the pivot of women’s oppression today’, that childbirth was like ‘shitting a pumpkin’, who declared that her ‘dream action for women’s liberation’ was ‘a smile boycott’? Who was this 25 year-old with the intellectual chutzpah to declare that ‘Really, Freud can be embarrassing?’ Shulie’s voice rang clear across the decades between her writing and my reading; her words – direct, authoritative, funny – seduced me and showed me a new way of being. Shulie tells the truth to you straight about the world, and men’s power over women, with no apologies. And if men don’t like it? Well then, good. Who wants to please men anyway?


From “The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution” by Shulamith Firestone, published by William Morrow and Company, 1970