Doubling up on Valentinas

At the beginning of August Dr Valentina Barrera (@Barrera_LVP) joined my team to work on the BBSRC funded project into the LaNt proteins and their roles in basement membrane formation.

Valentina comes to me with a postdoctoral background in vascular biology including malarial retinopathy research following on from her PhD studies into the immune response to malarial pigment hemozoin. From this she has lots of cool relevant skills that will really help with pushing this project forward particularly the vascular and ocular biology aspects.

the image below is her recent cover image from the journal of infectious disease

With new mAb to human LaNt a31, Valentina has already begun putting those skills in practice and in just a couple of weeks is getting some really impressive results. More to follow here shortly!

By a strange coincidence, Dr Barrera is not only my second Italian but also  my second Valentina! This has potential more much confusion and potential hilarity. not least if they end up with a shared first author paper down the line…


Journal club – season 4 champion

SInce starting in EVS I have established a student journal club. Initially this was  purely as a way to critically evaluate one new publication per week as chosen by the students. The goal was, by being hypercrtical of other, published, work, the students’ own experimental design and figure presentation would improve.

Since then, its evolved quite a lot and sometimes is a bit more like small group teaching (including special sessions on RNAseq, protein biochemisty, image analysis, stats and eye biology) some of which involve some of the other faculty in the department.

I’ve also introduced the “contribution cup”.  A silly game with arbitrary points system where students are assigned points based on their involvement in all aspects of EVS affairs (includingfor example points for asking questions in seminars as well as for winning the amino acid card game). Each week I provide a graphical update of the scores with the graphs selected based on their relative difficulty to interpret.DSC_0020

Season 4 has just ended and Valentina won.  The trophy, I am sure you agree is awesome!

The silly hat is a prerequisite of the photo; somehow Vale still manages to look good!

Sports day

Yesterday was the first, annual (hopefully), Dept of Eye and Vision Science (EVS) Sports day held at the beautiful Sefton Park in Liverpool. We had 5 teams of 5 participants + family and friends for post work picnic and old school sports.

Throughout the evening, the multinational basis of our students and staff was apparent with the representatives from Spain, Portugal, Italy, USA, Taiwan, China, Belgium, Slovenia, Sri Lanka at a disadvantage to the UK and Ireland people who had done these crazy games before!

Anticipation was high, and got even higher when the teams were announced. For context; I share an office with Dr Sajjad Ahmad, a clinical senior lecturer who, like me, joined EVS in 2013. We both have two PhD students that we are the primary supervisor for; Deb and Tiago with Saj, Lee and Valentina with me. Lee and Valentina were assigned to Saj for sports day, Tiago and Deb were with me. 1 more point of context; Saj is super competitive and had spent the preceding two weeks practicing his skills in egg and spoon, sack and wellie tossing, while also suggesting that he, lee and vale trained at the gym together… So, the stage was set for an intraoffice as well as department-wide competition. For my team, winning would be good but beating Saj’s team was more important!

First up; 3 legged race and while team Hamill celebrated their success it became apparent that the rules were (ahem) not clearly communicated and we had missed the final leg. Luckily (ahem) only the organizers knew about this rule so the first round was declared void. Next; wellie tossing. Top entertainment was  Saj  throwing straight in the air for a 2 yard gain. (trying to find the movie to post here,..). Third event on the first round, Sack race in yellow waste bags. Saj quickly got overly his confusion (he thought you wore the bag on your head), but lost all the potential gains from his weeks of practice. Massively impressive efforts from team Hamill members, particularly Karen and Tiago, meant we won this event and took an early lead.

The second set of events began with the bean bag on the head obstacle course. Tiago seemed like he was born with a beanbag bag on his head, navigating leg one with ease and building an unassailable lead, further aided by Karen making use of her gymnastic skills in the cartwheel round! Egg and spoon next and courtesy of a Dr Victoria Kearns special tea spoon it was clear that we were in luck – our egg sat perfectly between the curve and we could go as fast as we wanted without fear. This came into full effect on the anchor leg of the relay by which time Lee had established a healthy lead for team Saj only to see Saj lose it all as I was able to storm past at full pace. Awesome,. 5 events down and 3 wins for team Hamill, looking good!

Next was the wheel barrow race and many rugby training sessions had taught me the value of good technique. The result a big lead then an even bigger win for team Hamill as Deb and Jan also stormed their legs.

Things suddenly got dangerous. Egg catching and despite some solid effort we broke ours early. However, that left us free to enjoy the spectacle of Saj launching his team’s egg full pace at MRes student Kerri (one of his teammates). Splat  and suddenly infighting in team Ahmad. Kerri got her own back (see photos bottom right and left!). However, despite the entertainment value, we had lost ground in the race to the title.

Two events left – water transfer and 5x50m race. The water transfer was tight and took a 27 person discussion to decide the winner. Valentina suffered for her team with a big fall (top right pic) as did Becky (middle left) as the competition was hotting up. Our team struggled probably due to our cup having a bigger hole. Interestingly, it took Steph multiple runs to even realize her cup had a hole so we must have been at a disadvantage!

FInally, the relay. Lee and Saj were impressive and took the race for the team. We scraped in second, lots of training from Jan and Deb ensuring we kept it close. We knew the standings would be close but had we done enough?

The big reveal; yes, just, the team on Kevin Hamill, Tiago Ramos, Deb Scott, Karen Lester (Colin WIlloughby’s PhD Student) and Jan Harrison had taken the title by 1 point over team Ahmad.

The rest of the night involved some rounders, lots of eating and a skipping competition won by Victoria Kearns.

Great times were had by all and we will eagerly anticipate the next event and defending our title next year.