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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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…




Fundraising for my Funders!

Welcome to my first “LaNt and laminins” blog post!

I have been a member of Kevin’s team now for nearly 4 years. It all started during my MRes degree when I managed to survive two projects in the Hamill lab, although this was mostly down to the help of Valentina (Iorio). During this time I was introduced to the laminin family, and never looked back! (insert disclaimer here)

My work through my PhD years has been primarily around determining the function of the LaNts in skin cells. LaNts are basically small forms of laminins which we think evolved in order to further diversify the laminin protein family. These evolutionary events are common, and usually the ways in which higher organisms (like ourselves) have become more and more complex.

My project has specifically involved manipulating isolated skin cells in vitro, so that they either make no LaNt or too much LaNt, and then assessing what happens to key cellular functions such as; metabolism, proliferation, and migration etc…

Recently, we took this a bit further and started to look at the expression (and role) of LaNt in squamous cell carcinoma, and to our amazement we have found it is massively up-regulated in most patients samples we have screened. What this means in terms of how those cancer cells are able to uncontrollably divide and metastasize is unknown (for now), but do we hypothesize that the LaNts play a role in allowing them to “breach” through their surrounding matrix to invade and spread through the surrounding tissue.

I am currently planning experiments to test this hypothesis now, and will begin to gather data which helps us reveal what is happening soon!

As this is the first post I’ve written, I thought I’d better make it an important one!

charity-bsf-logoThe BSF are a fantastic charity that provide support for researchers like myself to try and dissect the mechanisms which allow horrible conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, and diseases such as cancer, to thrive. This kind of fundamental biology or “basic science” research is absolutely key to developing new therapeutic drugs and treatments for such conditions, and without charities like the BSF we wouldn’t have the medicines and treatments we do today.

Over the last 2 years I have taken on several personal challenges to try and raise money for the BSF…

What challenges? 

Picture 2

What are they?

They are basically long distance races with many, many muddy and challenging obstacles throughout. We are talking; high walls, barbed wire, river crossings, mud filled pits, monkey bars, fiery pits, electric wires, and my least favourite the ice plunge!

Total Warrior Pic 1
The “Ice Plunge”, my least favourite obstacle!

Last year I ran the Total Warrior Cumbria in August and Tough Mudder in September, raising around £500!

This year I want to try and raise that total to £1,000, by running Total Warrior Leeds (June just gone) and Cumbria in August. 

Visit to Donate now! 😀

Picture 3

Done, washed (mostly), time for a beer!

Thanks for reading,


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


Lee Fundraising

Just 3 days before the 1st of the 2 total warriors Lee is doing to raise money for the British Skin Foundation. The BSF are a great charity who have supported him through my PhD. They fund research into cures for skin cancer, eczema, psoriasis, and a host of horrible skin disorders and diseases.

Please donate if you can, every £££ helps in the fight against cancer!

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor

If you are able to donate click here

Read about last year’s efforts here

I am currently on a BSF funded PhD studentship, where I am conducting research into skin cancer. This charity do great work in order to invest in the future of people suffering from skin diseases such as; eczema and psoriasis, and a range of cancers.

I will be running (jumping, climbing, crawling, crying, getting electrocuted and probably crying some more) when I undergo the Total Warrior events in June and August.

I have paid for these myself, so ALL proceeds will go directly to charity! Please give what you can, every £££ helps!

Lee in teaching mode


Lee (second from right) in small group teaching mode.

Lee Troughton has been with my lab for almost 4 years now (MRes and PhD) and as the time has passed I have relied more and more heavily on him to know what is going on in the lab and helping everyone new get going. With each passing year as the number of people in my group and my teaching and administration commitments grow this is becoming more and more apparent; whenever I say to a new student that they should do XX experiment it is almost always immediately followed by “Lee was doing that recently, get him to show you his protocol ….etc”

A new level has been reached today where he is now teaching small groups of students. Not just from my lab, he’s the guy to go to for multiple departments within the institute! The image above has Lee teaching western blotting to people working on muscular skeletal biology, glaucoma, and aniridia at MRes and PhD level and at least three other MRes from two other PIs were out of shot when I took this.

The thing is, Lee is in his last 5 months in the lab and is frantically trying to submit two manuscripts and has the small matter of a thesis to write before his funding finishes in November! Obviously I should get him to focus on his own work but its just too valuable to the team and to the others in the institute.

This has been going on for ages, so why the blog post? Well, I was amused by an email that I was cc’d into last night where he set out his practical class to the 8 people in his western lesson… mostly for the final line which has really struck home how much above and beyond he really is going. Well played Lee.

Will be doing some blots tomorrow, from start to primary Ab incubation overnight @4*C.  I have sent the protocol I use out already, remember that this is by no means the best for you, but it has been optimized for my proteins of interest, using the equipment and reagents we have.

9am- making the acrylamide gels

11am- running the gels

12pm- setting up the transfer

2.30pm- imaging the membrane and blocking

4-pm- adding the primary Ab

Then on Thursday:

9am- washing the membrane

9.15am- adding the second Ab

10.30am- washing the membrane

11am- imaging the membrane


I have loads to do tomorrow, and have our journal club 10-11am, so will have to crack on from the times stated above.