Liam vs Conro; the lab challenge round 1

Liam and Conro started their PhD studies in the Hamill lab in October, Liam on a BBSRC DTP and Conro supported by the IACD managed Crossley Barnes endowment. Unsurprisingly, both are working on laminin related projects but asking different questions in different contexts. Additionally , and also unsurprisingly, there is a bit of competition between them so it seemed only appropriate that we would welcome them to the lab with a series of games with the two guys being team captain in every game but with different other lab mates to support them.

First up; a lllama themed game! A mixture of charades, articulate and Pair matching game. Great fun. Conro’s team, despite some amazing acting by JohnJohn (in video he is acting out Nicolas Cage falling off a stage), lost comprehensively. Some might think a key example of how his team was let down was lee struggling to guess otter from a description of the “best animal that holds hands as it floats away” but really it was that Liam had the advantage of having Karen and myself in his team.

Next, a super quick game of beer pong while waiting for a taxi. how this game went is summed up by the video above… Liam , lee and JohnJohn were off their game and conro ultimately won easily. 2 games down , score 1 – 1.

Next, a couple of games of pool. Both captains won one each principally driven by whichever team had lee on it! 2 – 2

And then, the main event; Shuffleboard. On the sandiest table I’ve ever played on. Here you could tell that the presssure was beginning to get to the boys as stones were flying off in all directions. However, as a team game, Liam streaked into an early lead only for conro to pull it back so it was close going into the final ends.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Conro took the win and the championship (or at least round 1!) with the shot below… what a way to win. At this point I would mention the staff vs students game but I don’t feel that it is necessary to point out how much better Valentina Karen and I were…

All in all. Awesome fun, I’ve assembled a great team. It’s been awhile since we’ve been out together but I’m really glad this somewhat spontaneous night was arranged. Many thanks to all involved.


They grow up so fast – JohnJohn’s 1st year talk

Today JohnJohn Knox had his end of 1st year of PhD talk (upgrade seminar). JohnJohnJohn is working on trying to develop a new molecular therapeutic for glaucoma on a project sponsored by UK charity Fight for Sight. He has three supervisors; Colin Willoughby, George Bou Gharios and myself and while Colin is the real driver behind this project (it is his grand plan), George and I contribute our expertise to guidance. and are likely to take a bigger role as he enters the next phase of his project.

JohnJohnJohnJohn did really well in his talk, presenting to a packed seminar room with most of the faculty from IACD in attendance. He did particularly well in dealing with some tricky questions in a really confident and effective way. He got some nice comments and suggestions for future work too so should be off designing new experiments as I write this!

There is some cool stuff coming here so expect more news about JohnJohnJohnJohnJohn’s progress in the near future.



JohnJohn adopting the “intense stare at supervisor” approach to presentation giving


If anyone is wondering where they have seen JohnJohn before… he was the face of the sunscreen trial! Famous throughout the land after featuring in most major newspapers and on ITV!

Pratt Figure 1c


Sunscreen challenge; article in press

Today the primary research that led to the sunscreen challenge, and all the posts (and TV shows) that you have must seen by now, was published.

The link to the paper at the PLOS one site is here. Have a look, download the paper, make a comment, tweet directly from the site (rather than retweeting this). Will all boost our altmetrics and help the article get some attention. If you prefer a the press release version, check out this link to the University of Liverpool website from when we were promoting this work in relation to the British Association of Dermatologists meeting. camera

Want to see more about our public engagement events related to this work? Check out these posts here, here (filming for ITV), here and here


You can see a lot by looking – TIRF

Time for a new series. “You can see a lot by looking” basicaly cool images from our research + a little explanation. Microscopy in its various forms has always been one of my favourite things to do, especially when trying out new modalities that open up opportunities to ask new/deeper questions, so I figured we might as well show off some of our pretty images.

#1 in the series is from today; Lee and I used the new Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence (TIRF) microscope at the University of Liverpool’s Centre for cell imaging. This was the first time we have used this microscope and these are just a couple of a set of really nice images, acquired thanks to the expert help of Dave Mason (@dn_mason).

Why is it cool? Well, TIRF is pretty awesome. Basically, whereas normal microscopy involves illuminating the sample directly and then collecting either the transmitted light or the reflected light depending what you are looking for, TIRF involves illuminating the sample at a shallow angle and collecting the light that is internally reflected  (the same principle that fibre optics work by). The practical upshot of this is that when you image at the critical angle, you effectively limit the illumination to near the cell substrate boundary, the bottom ~75nm (1/750,000 of a mm!). You can see the difference this makes in the images below; left = TIRF, right = conventional imaging. Without the TIRF it is much harder to see the fine organisation of the protein at the bottom of the cell.

How are we using it? Well in the magenta and green image, we have imaged live corneal epithelial cells where we have induced expression of the LaNt alpha31 protein with a green fluorescent tag and laminin beta3 with a mCherry tag (shown in magenta) and while the whole cell expresses these proteins, we have limited what we are looking at to just the point where the cell is touching the glass. So here, where we see codistribution of signal i.e white, it’s showing the LaNt and the laminin are close together at the bottom of the cell. The green only signal, e.g. on the left middle, is where there is lant but limited laminin or vice versa for the magenta. In the image below, I have split one of our other images into its component parts (left=LaNt, right=laminin), in this cell there is a much closer match up in the patterns of the two proteins. Proximity alone doesn’t mean interaction but these data add to the other pieces of the story that we are building about how these two proteins influence each other. FYI the scale bar in the image below is 10 micrometers, 1/100th of a mm, you are looking at just a small part of one cell)

This ‘scope itself pretty amazing, not only can you do TIRF but also Atomic force microscopy at the same time. Looking forward to the next set of experiments…

Sunscreen challenge filming for ITV

Yesterday the TV cameras were in IACD filming a programme about summer sun for which our little piece about sunscreen will form a part. Here are some pics of Austin McCormick, eyelid cancer specialist and co author of the forthcoming paper, being filmed for his contribution. As my wife said, “Austin has the better face for TV!” Watch out for the show sometime in August.

Kareem trying to convince Austin that he knows what he is talking about!

Austin in action

Discussing the images

Thankfully (for the story) the kids did miss their eye area and especially the medial canthus

Austin on the monitor

Dr Iorio! 

They grow up so fast – PhD viva edition!

On Thursday my first PhD student Valentina Iorio defended her thesis at her viva voce examination. An incredibly proud day for her and for her supervisor (I,e. Me!)

 It was a thoroughly unusual day; due to a clash in commitments of her external examiner, Vale, myself and the internal examiner Dr Simon Tew traveled up to the university of Dundee on thurs morning. In essence, a reverse viva then took place with the “external” examiner Prof Irwin McLean hosting us in his dept. Valentina gave a seminar to Irwin’s lab and that plus her thesis clearly impressed as the rest of the exam felt like a foregone conclusion and more of a discussion of what to do next rather than a defence of what she did. 

In a circle of life type thing, Prof McLean was my PhD supervisor and so Valentina is not only my first sci “child” but also Irwin’s first “grandchild”. Valentina was also the first person to join my lab and has been instrumental in all that we have done. She read all my first grants and taught everyone who followed how to do things. In the last few months since leaving the lab to write up and go on her honeymoon it’s been really apparent how much she is missed!

I’ve posted a bunch of other things about Valentina’s work here here here and here so for now it’s just time to say congratulations Dr Iorio!

Valentina en route to viva!!!

Hello readers!

It’s Valentina here, the first PhD student to have joined the Hamill’s lab. I am writing my first article on a very special day…on my way to Dundee to defend my thesis! It’s been a really cool adventure, full of incredible discoveries. 

When I have started, the only available data on LaNts were related to the skin; after three years and many exciting experiments we now know the effects of LaNt a31 in the cornea…which may seem only a little organ of the body, but how amazing is it to be able to see the world?! We have loads of beautiful videos of live laminin’s deposition from corneal epithelial cells and we have established a LaNt a31 overexpression animal model, the first one ever! 

Working in this lab has been fantastic and hopefully today I will be able to transmit my excitement to the examiners 🙂 If my work could open at least one more door to future projects and ideas, then I’ll be doubly proud. 

Going on, the Hamill lab, laminins and LaNts are waiting to be completely undercovered 🙂  much more to follow on this exciting topic…

Soon to be (hopefully) Dr. Vale 

Sunscreen Challenge at the World Museum

On Saturday the University of Liverpool ran another “Meet the Scientists” events at the World Museum in Liverpool. These days are massive fun; 700+ adults and children (5-12 ish) year olds get to experience a whole range of cool interactive science based exhibits. For this one, we tied our sunscreen application (UV imaging) event to the stand run by North West Cancer Research stand which included a microscope to view ocular melanoma histology slides with Prof Sarah Coupland and making DNA bracelets. Attaching the public health message of sun protection to the cancer outcomes worked really well.

This was the second time we have run the sunscreen challenge event, last time was way more hectic but we refined the set up and this time it ran really smoothly all day. Kids and adults all enjoyed seeing the cool pics and the message of the importance of appropriate sunscreen application was well received.

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We are also getting much better at taking the pics and getting the lighting and camera rigs set up. Above is a slideshow of a few of our favourites from Sat. We also had enough time at the end to grab a few pics of the team (below) including our attempt at a UV homage to Bohemian Rhapsody.

They grow up so fast – MRes project 3


Holly Smith

Yesterday was the poster and talk day for the third project of the 2016-17 MRes Clinical Sciences class. This time round I had the pleasure of three students in my lab; each pushing forward new and different aspects of the LaNstory.


The last couple of days have been hectic with the UV story in press so this post has been delayed but it’s nice to be able to catch up now and post about some of our cell, molecular and histopatholgy data.

First up, Holly who joined the lab having never previously done any cell biology research before. So, we threw her in at the deep end (as you do). 10 weeks to learn how to grow squamous cell carcinoma cells, modify expression levels of LaNt and laminin proteins, perform and analyse call viability, proliferation, cell migration, wound healing assays, learn how to process slides for indirect immunofluorescence microscopy and image them on the confocal microscope as well as study the distribution of fluorescently tagged proteins. Holly took it all in stride and generated a load of data that will underpin the next steps of this project. In fact, you might just say her “gangsta” attitude carried her through!

Next, Conro Sugden who returned for another 10 weeks having been with the Hamill lab for project 2. This time round,


Conro “Conor” Sugden

Conro was tasked with putting into action some of the findings of his previous research to influence the splicing events that control LaNt production. Like all discovery science, we started with a solid hypothesis but had to work through a bunch of unexpected technical challenges before we were really able to test it. However, again, Conro came through in the end and we now have some pretty nice proof of concept data that our potential therapeutic intervention could work, and which likely will go into our next grant applications. Conro also won the prize for “cheesiest “they grow up so fast” picture taken to date”. Well played sir.


Conro isn’t finished with the Hamill lab, we have invited him back to pursue a PhD starting in October so expect lots more cheese in the future.
Last, but not least, Kareem returned for project 3 having previously performed the sunscreen study in project 1 and studies the

distribution of LaNt in mouse tissue in project 2. This time, Kareem turned his attention to analysing changes in LaNt expression in tongue squamous cell carcinoma tissue; imaging and analysing staining intensity and distribution in ~300 tissue cores. The numbers from the final data set are still being crunched from our parallel scorers but things are looking encouraging and coupled with Holly and Conro’s data our three students have laid the groundwork of quite an exciting “LaNt in cancer” story.


As always, the students couldn’t have done so much without lots of help/training from the team. Big shout out to Lee  Valentina and Thanos for all your help.

Watch this space for the next developments, also for an update on Liam Shaw’s MRes project…




Misapplication of sunscreen leaves people vulnerable to skin cancer

When applying sunscreen people miss on average 10 per cent of their face, the most common site for skin cancer, according to University of Liverpool research presented at the British Association of Dermatologists’ Annual Conference in Liverpool this week.

More than 90 per cent of basal cell carcinomas, the most common cancer in the UK, occur on the head or neck, and between five and 10 per cent of all skin cancers occur on the eyelids specifically.

Revealing images

57 participants, male and female, were asked to apply sunscreen to their face with no further information or instructions given by the researchers. Photos were taken of each of the participants with a UV-sensitive camera before and after the application of sunscreen, with areas covered with sunscreen appearing black due to the UV camera. These images were then segmented and analysed by a custom-designed program to judge how successful each person was at covering their whole face.

On average people missed 9.5 per cent of the whole face, with the most commonly missed areas being the eyelids (13.5 per cent) and the area between the inner corner of the eye and the bridge of the nose (77 per cent).

The researchers then asked the participants back to repeat the experiment, this time giving extra information about skin cancers of the eyelid region. Armed with this information there was a slight improvement in the level of sunscreen coverage with 7.7% per cent of the face left unprotected.

As applying sunscreen in these areas is not necessarily practical due to manufacturers’ warnings to keep products out of the eye, it is important to use other forms of protection such as sunglasses.

Don’t forget your sunglasses

Dr Kevin Hamill, from the University’s Department of Eye and Vision Science, said: “It’s worrying that people find it so hard to sufficiently apply sunscreen to their face, an area which is particularly at risk of skin cancer due to the amount of sun exposure it receives. Our research shows that simple health messaging can help improve this problem, and we hope that industry groups and public health campaigners can take this on board.”

“Perhaps the most important thing to take away from this research is the importance of sunglasses. Most people consider the point of sunglasses is to protect the eyes, specifically corneas, from UV damage, and to make it easier to see in bright sunlight. However, they do more than that, they protect the highly cancer prone eyelid skin as well.”

Matthew Gass of the British Association of Dermatologists said: “As sunscreen is one of the main protections against UV damage and skin cancer it is vital that people understand how to apply it. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK, and numbers continue to rise at a worryingly fast rate.

“We still want people to enjoy themselves outdoors, but to go back to the basics of sun protection, especially those with fair skin that burns easily, and during periods of strong sunshine either in the UK or abroad. These are to thoroughly apply and reapply sunscreen with a minimum of factor 30 and good UVA protection, to wear protective clothing such as a t-shirt or a hat, to wear sunglasses that show the CE mark and British Standard (BSEN1836), and to spend time in the shade when the sun is at its hottest between 11am and 3pm.”

Meet the Scientists

Join Dr Hamill and colleagues at Liverpool World Museum this weekend to find out how effective your sun tan lotion application skills are. Using a UV sensitive camera, the team is offering visitors the chance to have photographs taken before and after sun cream application, to highlight any areas that have been missed. Visitors can also get a print out of the photo to take home.

‘Meet the Scientists’ takes place 10am-4pm on Saturday, 8 July at World Museum, William Brown Street, Liverpool, L3 8EN. For more information please 


Read about the last time we ran the Sunscreen challenge