Earlier this year, the Endocrine Society and the Endocrine Society of Australia published a paper titled ‘Career advancement: Meeting the challenges confronting the next generation of endocrinologists and endocrine scientists‘. Endocrinologists are facing challenges in reduced… More
At 18.30 on Monday 7 November Professor Jeremy Tomlinson is chairing a debate on the treatment of adrenal insufficiency at SfE BES 2016. Ahead of the debate, we asked Professors Stafford Lightman and Karim Meeran to give you a little taste of their stance on this hot topic in endocrinology.
Professor Jeremy Tomlinson, University of Oxford – Chair
The optimal strategy for glucocorticoid replacement in patients with adrenal insufficiency remains a contentious issue. In the majority of cases, hydrocortisone is used, but there are issues relating to the need for three times a day administration alongside the high costs of treatment. Are there alternatives?
Prednisolone is significantly cheaper, has a longer duration of action and therefore can be administered twice daily. However, it is a synthetic glucocorticoid that does not act in an identical way to hydrocortisone.
Head-to-head comparisons with meaningful clinical end points are lacking, and in the modern NHS, treatment costs play an increasingly important role.
Let the debate begin!
Professor Stafford Lightman, University of Bristol – AGAINST
The evolution of Homo sapiens from early mammals has taken about 200,000,000 years. During this time we have developed many highly specialised physiological systems –including the key homeostatic system we call the Hypothalamo-Pituitary-Adrenal axis. This system maintains key cognitive, metabolic and immunological systems in optimal state and is also a rapid response system to protect us against stress. The hormone that has evolved to do this is cortisol.
In the absence of endogenous cortisol no-one would disagree that the gold standard therapeutic hormone replacement should be the closest we can get to normal physiology, so if we have to go second-best and provide a different steroid or pattern of plasma steroids it is incumbent on us to prove that this alternative treatment is as good as the best possible therapy available with the native compound.
Prednisolone differs from cortisol in many ways. Not only does it have different characteristics of glucocorticoid mediated gene transcription with no simple dose response comparison to cortisol, but its plasma half-life and metabolism are also unphysiological.
During the debate, I shall demonstrate why these aspects of prednisolone replacement are potentially disadvantageous at cognitive, metabolic and immunological levels. I will explain why I feel it would be dangerous to submit patients to such long duration therapy unless appropriate long term studies are able to show non-inferiority of this regime.
Professor Karim Meeran, Imperial College London – For
Patients with endocrine deficiency need replacement therapy.
We are getting better at making new analogues of replacement hormones that are more patient friendly and improve compliance by lasting longer. Thus for insulin, we have moved away from normal human insulin to analogues of insulin that have variable half-lives, but are a totally different molecule. There is no evidence that the new analogues are any better than native insulin, but production of some preparations of native human insulins have ceased and many of us use these new insulin analogues. Vasopressin is replaced with a modified molecule, 1-desamino-8-D-arginine vasopressin; the D-enantiomer is used (which never occurs in nature) because it lasts longer. The argument in some quarters that “natural” cortisol would be better thus has no basis.
Similarly, rather than give hydrocortisone several times a day, we need to modify the molecule slightly by inserting a double bond, which increases its half-life and potency, and enables once daily administration. A slow release preparation has been developed and costs £400 per month, but it is far better to use a drug that has an appropriate half-life.
We don’t need to develop one because, remarkably, prednisolone has a half-life that is perfect for a once-daily administration. It happens to be extremely cheap, but that should not deter us from using it!
We now have an assay available for prednisolone, and present data at a number of posters at the BES in November confirming that a once-daily dose of prednisolone 3mg is equivalent to hydrocortisone 10mg plus 5mg plus 5mg. I have converted several patients, who regularly report how well they feel on prednisolone 3mg, and how much easier it is to take.
The main reason that patients should take once-daily prednisolone is its convenience. Added benefits for those in the UK are the low price of prednisolone compared to hydrocortisone, which is substantially more expensive in the UK than in other countries because of a peculiar licensing issue, and the fact that the NHS is not allowed to import it.
We have a serious problem in the UK with the cost of hydrocortisone, and every patient who is switched to prednisolone will save over £100 per month.
On the 5th of September 2016, news broke of a study which showed that taking Vitamin D supplements in addition to asthma medication cuts the risk of severe asthma attacks and the number of people needing steroid treatment. BBC World News contacted the Society for Endocrinology for expert comment on the story – here Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Warwick Rosemary Bland describes what she learned from the experience and leaves her top tips for dealing with the media.
My Tuesday started off pretty normally. It was around 10.30 in the morning and I had just returned from B&Q with a car full of compost and wood when my mobile rang. It was the press office at the Society for Endocrinology, wanting to know if I could do an interview for the BBC.
“Phone or radio?” I asked.
“Live TV,” they responded.
My instant reaction was to try and get out of it, thinking about my appearance as I was decorating the house. I gave some names for other experts in the field but I‘d barely had time to consider my lucky escape when a BBC producer rang. I guess they couldn’t contact my scapegoat!
It was exactly 10.41AM and I was asked if I could make it down to the London studio for 12.15PM. This is where the speedy nature of journalism and my first lesson really sunk in – what would be a stressful, logistical nightmare for most is just a regular request from the BBC.
London was out of the question. Luckily, Coventry has a BBC studio and a taxi was booked to pick me up at 11.45. The producer asked me a few questions to give the interviewer some background on the subject and she asked who I was and what I did so they could introduce me. Easy enough? Actually I found it difficult to decide.
I know a lot about vitamin D, but what did I know about this asthma study? Not much more than I’d seen on breakfast TV that morning. After a quick Google, I found all 71 pages of it. Here was the second lesson: you will not have time to do any homework in detail.
After absorbing what I could, I began to think about how the only thing I had to sort out now was myself (no hair and makeup in regional studios). However, remember the quote from Alien “in space, no one can hear you scream” well when on BBC World News ‘no one in the UK can see you’, so that was strangely comforting.
The third lesson was on how to dress. The microphone clips on, but the wires go inside your clothes. A blouse was easy; a dress would have been more difficult. In regional studios the camera only grabs your head and shoulders, so shoes don’t matter, but the white blouse was too pale (I’m wearing a coloured top next time). The cameraman kept in touch with London, but it’s weird not being able to see the interviewer. Try not to glance at yourself on the adjacent TV – it doesn’t help.
The next thing I knew, Philippa Thomas in London was introducing me to the hundreds of millions of viewers watching BBC World News around the world.
Like a politician might do, I had thought of three main points I wanted to get across, so I found myself answering her questions that way. Is that a good idea? I don’t know, but it gave me something to focus on and I found that helpful. Here is one of the most important lessons – think about what you want to say, don’t rely on the interviewer’s questions. This is especially important for public health messages where caution needs to be urged. Just try and remember that you are the expert. As it was World News, I also had to remember not to be UK specific – so not ‘the NHS’, but ‘health services’.
Whether it was the producer (get a phone number for your BBC contact just in case and text them afterwards to ask for the clip), Coventry staff, or the VERY calm man in London who talked into my ear, everyone at the BBC was efficient and helpful. Remember that they do this every day, and so if they have forgotten the little things that might be worrying you; just ask.
When I rang the press office to tell them I was doing it they asked if I was excited. At the time it didn’t feel like it, but after it was all over I think I was. Would I do it again? Probably, but I hope I get the call when I’m not decorating.
Peer Review Week 2016 is taking place from September 19-26. The global event celebrates the essential role that peer review plays in maintaining scientific quality. The central message is that good peer review is critical to scholarly communications.
This year, the theme is ‘Recognition for Review’, so we have asked some of our members to tell us about how they first got involved in peer review, why it’s important to them, and why is it essential for the continuation of high-quality science and clinical research.
Li Chan is a clinical scientist in paediatric endocrinology at Queen Mary’s University London. She discusses why peer review is important to her – and you.
Remember that peer review isn’t just about the journals and funding bodies; it’s also important to the author and the reviewer. The author receives constructive feedback to ensure that their work is presented in the best way and backed up by necessary experimental data. Reading other reviewers’ comments and alternative views on a given set of data may allow you to consider your work from another point of view – and that could make the difference between published and unpublished.
On the other hand, the reviewer gains career development and insight. The reviews you write for others will only aid your own future submissions. Over the years I have learnt an immense amount from both writing reviews and receiving them – and I believe this understanding of both sides of the process is necessary for it to work really effectively.
But how did I get into peer review? During my PhD years, my supervisor would ask me if I wanted to review a submission. I always said yes – working with my supervisor at the start was a useful way of learning the process as I could discuss my final report with someone more experienced. Gradually, I developed my own style and expertise.
If you are a young researcher wanting to get into peer review, I would recommend you speak to senior members of staff. They will only view your enthusiasm with positivity. And don’t think for a moment you’re underqualified; science is such a broad subject – we need reviewers with expertise in all areas, and that includes yours!
Karen Chapman is the Society General Secretary, as well as a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Endocrinology and Journal of Molecular Endocrinology. She discusses the importance of peer review in career development.
Publications are the main criterion we are judged on – and I believe the quality of our outputs is dependent upon a thorough review process. With this in mind, I believe we all must do our part to get involved in peer review. We depend on others to review our own papers, and so we all need to reciprocate.
After over 30 years as a research scientist (and not far off 30 years as an Editorial Board member of one sort or another), I have plenty of experience of peer review – from both sides. Yes, it is tough to read the rejection letters and to have your research critically appraised by someone whose identity you can only guess at, but most of the time the reviewers have a fair point, and often their comments substantially improve a manuscript.
Many of us (me included) get into peer review by appraising a manuscript passed to us by a co-worker or lab head. My first one took me forever. I think I read all the references! However, I soon learned to speed up, and concentrate on the data and how they are interpreted. This process also taught me what to look for in my own research and how to evaluate my data through a reviewer’s eyes. I believe reviews work best when a writer suggests a mechanistic experiment that can really nail the conclusions presented. It does happen; and this could be the sign of a great reviewer!
You stand to gain an awful lot from getting involved with peer review, but if you still aren’t convinced, remember that reviewing is also beneficial for keeping up with what is new. It’s a great way to stay ahead of the game!
We’ll be on Twitter all week showing our support for the campaign using the official hashtag #RecognizeReview – and we’d love to hear your experiences of peer review! Also, check out some of our online talks for even more advice on getting into the peer review game:
You can also sign up for free webinars and talks through the Peer Review Week 2016 official website.
Did you know that the thyroid gland, which regulates metabolism, “is often an area out of balance, and that [yoga] poses that stimulate the gland, such as shoulder stands, can help redress this”? Or that testosterone is the new botox? Neither did consultant endocrinologist Professor Maralyn Druce. Having had enough of the extraordinary claims echoed in the tabloids, she pens an open letter to the public in response.
Dear reader of newspapers, magazines and websites
Like you I am often interested in the latest developments in health and beauty; the many new things on the horizon that promise me happiness, youth or energy. Recently I have noticed a trend in the press for thinking about our hormones – our endocrine systems – as a route to improving our health and wellbeing.
I am a clinical endocrinologist, a doctor for people with health problems relating to the malfunctioning of hormone glands, and I can tell you that the many hormonal systems in the body are fascinating and complex. The complexity arises because these systems control and support functions for many different body functions, and they must be able to produce the correct amounts of the right hormones in response to the internal and external environment.
When you read some of these articles’ claims, you might be forgiven for thinking that your hormone glands are very fragile and that all sorts of measures need to be taken to ‘boost’ the production of certain hormones and support the limited supply of others. This is not true. Your thyroid gland in your neck produces thyroxine to control your metabolism, and it does so in response to another hormone called TSH. It does not need extra ‘boosting’ by complex poses in specially designed and costly yoga classes.
While yoga in general may be very positive for your health, mood, wellbeing or flexibility, there is no evidence that stretching the thyroid gland will change the amount of hormone it makes. Nor indeed is there any evidence, even if this were the case, that the proposed hormone boost would benefit you. Likewise, I’ve seen a lot of myths in the press concerning adrenal glands, which sit at the top of the kidneys and produce the hormone cortisol in response to both emotional and physical stress – helping the body to adjust and cope. Contrary to what you may read, your adrenal glands are not delicate bowls containing a small amount of precious cortisol that might run out. Different types of exercise will not cause your adrenal glands to ‘fatigue’ and run out of hormones – the adrenal glands are factories that make just the right amount of hormone to meet your body’s needs. There is also no evidence that you will benefit from special and often expensive supplements that are marketed to ‘support’ your hormones or your glands – a sensible diet and a healthy lifestyle are the only things that you need to do this, unless you have a specific illness that requires treatment.
We are also told that growth hormone is important for stronger bones and muscle growth, but there is no evidence that doing particular types of exercise to ‘boost’ levels has special benefits on bone strength or fitness over and above any other kind of fitness regime. In fact people with excessive levels of growth hormone actually suffer from a condition called acromegaly, which leads to a number of negative health effects. More is not always better.
For men who are healthy, the sex hormone testosterone varies across the day. Regular sleep results in regular cycles of hormonal change – and you don’t need special sleep products or sleep apps to help this happen, just some insight into how to live healthily.
If you are a woman trying to decide whether or not to use hormone replacement, for example when you reach the menopause, you should be able to weigh up the possible benefits against measured risks. Should you decide to opt for hormone replacement, this always needs to be discussed with your doctor. As yet there is no evidence that so-called ‘bioidentical’ or ‘natural’ hormone replacements are better for you, despite claims made to the contrary where potential profits are at stake. You should be very careful when you consider taking hormones that have not been properly safety-tested in clinical trials and whose long term side effects have not been measured or monitored. The risks are totally unknown.
Your hormones are doing a great job supporting the functions of your body, responding to your environment and coping with the effects of what is going on around and inside you. Our glands have been doing this for millennia. As yet there has been no evidence that the purchase of extra and expensive support systems – be they yoga poses, supplements or other interventions – will truly boost your hormone health.
Got an axe to grind with sensationalism about hormones in the media? Get in touch with your Society for Endocrinology press office and find out how we can support you.
Following the recent media coverage of Caster Semenya competing at the Rio Olympics 2016, we have republished an abridged version of Harriet Nerva’s essay on disorders of sexual development, which won the Society for Endocrinology Undergraduate Essay Prize in 2010. You can read the full version here.
Gender verification and sport are two terms which when put together provide a bang louder than any starting pistol. In August 2009, Caster Semenya an 18 year old South African female athlete won the 800m sprint in the World Championship in Athletics in a world-record time. Her muscular build and fast time fuelled rumours of hermaphroditism and levels of testosterone three times that of ‘normal’. She was ordered to take a gender verification test. The worldwide controversy that followed has forced athletic organisations to create new guidelines for intersexed athletes, also known as those with a disorder of sexual differentiation (DSD). These are still being decided as this essay is written.
So are you female or male? The answer may seem simple enough – except that is for the 1.7% of the population who are born intersexed, and, for any young budding intersexed athlete out there, the consequences may be far reaching.
Introduced in 1936, and used to catch male imposters in female sporting events, compulsory gender testing of female athletes was abolished in 1992, with organisations retaining the right to test anyone thought of as ‘suspicious’. Males and females have traditionally been separated in elite sport because of the competitive advantage that men are argued to possess. The advantage stems from biologically determined sex differences in physical characteristics such as height, body composition, muscle mass, endurance and cardiovascular capacity.
However gender testing was never meant to address the issue of intersexed athletes. There is no evidence that female athletes with DSDs have displayed any sport-relevant physical attributes which have not been seen in biologically normal female athletes. Why is Semenya being tested? The grounds for her testing and the test itself have not been clarified.
DSD or ‘intersex’ refers to the atypical appearance of the external genitalia at birth where they differ from the usual development of either sex and create difficulty in sex assignment. The DSDs can broadly be split into 3 groups. Firstly, disorders of chromosomal sex occur when there is nondisjunction of sex chromosomes during meiosis. Secondly in disorders of gonadal sex, chromosomal sex is normal but the differentiation of the gonads is abnormal.
Thirdly there are the disorders of phenotypic sex. Here the phenotypic sex is ambiguous or is completely in disagreement with chromosomal and gonadal sex. Female pseudohermaphrodites (virilised females) have a 46, XX karyotype and female gonads, but ambiguous or male external genetalia. Male pseuodohermaphrodites (undervirlised males) have a 46 XY karyotype and male gonads, but ambiguous or female external genetalia. A true hermaphrodite has both ovarian and testicular tissue, irrespective of karyotype. Internal genetalia may also be mixed and external genetalia may be male, female or ambiguous.
Methods of defining gender in sport have been notoriously controversial. In essence what gender verification tries to do is find a cut-off point between females and males. This is harder than it sounds – sex is not defined by one parameter, it is a complicated combination of many, but athletics bodies have broadly used chromosomal sex for differentiation. Do DSDs always result in competitive advantage and do they always affect chromosomal sex test results? What about all this testosterone rumoured to be flying around?
Whereas in men a testosterone dose-response relationship has been shown to exist in sport, in women this relationship has only been found in relation to ‘explosive performance’. This measurement of height and power output involves performing the lowering portion of a lift at normal speed while the lifting portion is performed as rapidly and forcefully as possible. The dose-response relationship found was weaker in women than in men. It has been argued that this is because of gender differences in skeletal muscle sensitivity to testosterone, but this has not been substantiated. Whether women show a dose response relationship across all sporting attributes (for example endurance) is unknown, possibly because there is a lack of data on the relationship between resting testosterone levels in elite competitors and neuromuscular performance. In 2006 Cardinal and Stone found that testosterone levels varied significantly in different athletic groups, with sprinters having the highest values for both men and women.
And what of Caster Semenya? If judged ineligible to compete as a woman, she would also be ineligible to compete as a man, and if she refuses to consent to treatment (and is not taking anabolic steroids), must she be allowed to compete as an intersexed athlete based in moral obligation of athletic organisations? Finally as these organisations move to open “centres of excellence” around the world that would be equipped to treat intersexed athletes with anything from hormone therapy to surgery (Handley, 2010), what is the role of endocrinologists? Torn between controlling athletic prowess and the best interest of the client, we have to ask how level the playing field can, and should, ever be.
This month, the Society for Endocrinology’s open-access journal, Endocrine Connections, is marking four years since the publication of its first issue.
To celebrate Endocrine Connections’s achievements, as well as the fourth anniversary of the first issue, you are invited to vote for your favourite article from the shortlist below. This list has been produced based on scientific quality, originality and level of interest among the wider scientific audience – as well as download numbers to date.
But what’s in it for you? As well as supporting your colleagues’ research, by voting for your favourite, you will be entered into a draw to win an endocrinology-themed plushie; a new mascot, perhaps, for you laboratory or office!
- Research paper: Efficacy of increased resistant starch consumption in human type 2 diabetes C L Bodinham et al.
- Research paper: Effect of lifestyle intervention on the reproductive endocrine profile in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis Liza Haqq et al.
- Review: The heart as an endocrine organ Tsuneo Ogawa and Adolfo J de Bold.
- Review: The appraisal of chronic stress and the development of the metabolic syndrome: a systematic review of prospective cohort studies N Bergmann et al.
- Review: Heroes in endocrinology: Nobel Prizes Wouter W de Herder.
- Research paper: Variation in the biochemical response to L-thyroxine therapy and relationship with peripheral thyroid hormone conversion John E M Midgley et al.
- Review: Mitochondrial dysfunction and insulin resistance: an updateby Magdalene K Montgomery and Nigel Turner.
- Review: Update on strategies limiting iatrogenic hypoglycemia Aldo Bonaventura et al.
- Research paper: Bone metastases and skeletal-related events from neuroendocrine tumours Katherine Van Loon et al.
- Review: Cardiac natriuretic peptides and obesity: perspectives from an endocrinologist and a cardiologist Hugo R Ramos et al.
This year, I was lucky enough to attend my first parliamentary links day. The largest science event in the Houses of Parliament, this day is held to promote dialogue between parliament and the scientific community. Given the vote to leave the EU less than a week earlier, it couldn’t have been a more interesting time to attend!
The scientific community directly benefit from the EU in terms of funding, collaboration and free movement of people. It was therefore no surprise that this year’s event saw the biggest attendance in history. The event, opened by John Bercow MP (Speaker of the House of Commons), involved opening remarks from Jo Johnson (Minister for Universities and Science) and Nicola Blackwood (Chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee). Two panels then followed, and then final speeches were given by Lord O’Neill of Gately, Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, and Stephen Metcalfe MP. Bewildered scientists filled the room, all anxious about their now uncertain future, and all speakers tried their best to reassure us.
‘Nothing has changed overnight in legal terms’ said Jo Johnson. MPs agreed that we have a strong country with a resilient history, and are able to pull through. Our science in particular they say is world class, and this can be used to help in our recovery. Many speakers told of reassurance from abroad, recognising the work we do and that they want to continue collaborating. These academic networks can therefore provide an alternative to the political networks, and help to smooth waters. So the message was one of hope and determination, despite the disappointment.
All emphasised that we now need to shout loud to ensure that science is prominent in the negotiations and in particular that the government maintain our overall investment in science. MPs assured us that they will do their best to fight for these things, and they said that we also need to send out the message to connections and networks across the world, that despite this decision Britain is a willing collaborator and welcoming society. Finally, they asked us to think about what we can learn. Although leaving the EU would clearly be bad for science, half of the public still responded with the leave vote. This suggests that science is not important to them, so what can we do now to convince people that science is worth investing in?
I will always remember this day at such an important time in British history. After all the hope given I look forward to seeing what the future holds for UK science!
Amber Abernethie is in the second year of her PhD in Cardiovascular Biology. She is based at the Queens Medical Research Centre (University of Edinburgh) but is originally from Cleethorpes, England.
Following the referendum result on the UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) the Society for Endocrinology urges the UK government to ensure that free movement of students, researchers and clinicians between the UK and other EU countries and full access to, and participation in, the EU research infrastructure is preserved. We strongly believe that the free movement of labour is essential to the delivery of care within the National Health Service (NHS) and to ensure that the UK continues to be a world leader in international scientific research. The full statement is available on our website.
The Society for Endocrinology provides early-career grants to support its members in a number of ways. In this article, Kerry McLaughlin explains how the grant helped her search for an elusive autoantigen, which made a splash on the BBC news page earlier this year.
People who have type-1 diabetes lose the ability to control blood sugar levels because of the destruction of insulin-producing cells in their Islets of Langerhans. We know this is because the immune response targets four specific proteins (known as autoantigens), and while the fifth major autoantigen has been known to exist for over 20 years its identity was unknown.
Technical limitations at the time made it impossible to identify the fifth autoantigen, but we used a combination of biochemical techniques alongside high-tech mass spectrometry to discover that this fifth major autoantigen was tetraspanin-7, at last providing a complete picture of the immune targets in type-1 diabetes.
This discovery can now be used to help identify those at risk of future disease development through the detection of antibodies to tetraspanin-7, and to further research into strategies aimed at blocking the immune response to the major autoantigens in order to prevent the disease altogether.
This research came about as a result of work we were doing with a separate autoantigen (IA-2). My postdoctoral supervisor, Dr Michael Christie, was involved in earlier efforts to identify the fifth major autoantigen, and we realised that we could apply the technology developed for IA-2 for this purpose.
This was where the Early Career Grant from the Society for Endocrinology came in and provided some much needed resource to kick-start the project. While it took a little bit more time and effort to finally identify tetraspanin-7 as our elusive fifth autoantigen, this early funding was instrumental to the project’s successful completion.
I have since been awarded a 3-year fellowship by JDRF to continue my research into tetraspanin-7 in the laboratory of Professor Patrik Rorsman FRS, FMedSci at the University of Oxford. We published our study in Diabetes, and it was covered in the mainstream media by the BBC, at one point trending in the top 10 news articles, as well as by the Huffington Post. It was great to have the opportunity to share our research with the wider public, and I was very motivated to see how interested people were in hearing about scientific advances.
For young researchers, getting enough preliminary data to put together a competitive grant application for a major funding body can be tricky. The Early Career Grant from the Society for Endocrinology provides postdocs with the opportunity to explore a new avenue of research and can be used to provide that all-important first proof-of-concept.
The second advantage to this scheme is that it gives early-stage researchers a chance to go through the process of preparing an application for funding as well as managing an award, but on a much smaller scale and without the heavy administrative burden of larger grants. I would certainly recommend the scheme to those keen to take the first step towards an independent career in research.
Kerry McLaughlin, originally from Cape Town, South Africa, was awarded her PhD in Immunology from King’s College London in collaboration with The Pirbright Institute. She then spent six years as a postdoc in the laboratory of Dr Michael Christie at King’s College London before taking up a JDRF fellowship at the University of Oxford in 2016.
For details on how to apply for our Early Career Grant, visit our website. The next deadline for applications is 27 November 2016.
Next Tuesday, Liverpool John Moores University will host a public awareness day on anti-doping in sport, aimed predominantly at high school students, their teachers and practising coaches. In this post, Professor Graeme Close explains why it’s important to get an anti-doping message out to schools. The event is supported by a Society for Endocrinology public engagement grant.
Athletes who dope fall into two broad categories. Firstly, those who believe that it is not possible to be successful in their sport without using performance enhancing drugs and secondly those who accidentally take contaminated supplements or over-the-counter medication that contains prohibited substances. Without doubt, the best way to tackle both of these mistakes is by effectively educating athletes in schools before mistakes are made. In wake of recent doping scandals, this Society for Endocrinology sponsored event is not only timely but essential to promote clean sport.
We want attendees to think about why athletes do not need to dope in sport. We will cover the science of muscle mass and strength increases, which is very poorly understood. Many junior athletes believe that the only way to increase lean mass is to use sports supplements and/or take prohibited substances. In reality, this goal can be achieved through correct nutrition and optimisation of training plans. The problem is that many people do not understand how to eat and how to train to gain muscle mass and as such their training is often ineffective.
It is important to tell the truth about sports supplementation. There is currently a trend that you either have to join a “no-supplement” or “pro-supplement” team and there is no place for a balanced opinion. The reality is that there are a handful of supplements that may be beneficial if taken at the right time. If we are truthful with our education, athletes will come to qualified people for advice, such as nutritionists on the Sport and Exercise Nutrition register (SENr). In contrast, if we have a blanket no-supplement policy the danger is that athletes may take the matter into their own hands and take supplements that not only do not work but more worryingly have not been tested for contaminants.
As sport scientists, it is our moral and ethical duty to educate athletes on doping. It is crucial that respected practitioners and academics provide appropriate education with regards to anti-doping. As well as facing a potential lifetime ban from sport, there are many dangerous consequences of taking performance enhancing drugs such as cardiac damage and mental health problems. There are even fatalities following the misuse of drugs in sport.
The event we are hosting at LJMU will include highly experienced researchers and practitioners who support some of the world’s greatest athletes, as well as top level athletes themselves. In addition, the Rugby Football Union and UK Anti-Doping will be present to help us reach out to kids more effectively.
We hope that this is the first of many such educational days and that the students, teachers and coaches will leave the event feeling inspired and motivated to commit to a future of clean sport.
Public engagement grants have been developed to help Society members and public engagement professionals (non-members) organise and deliver outreach activities, aimed at school children and/or the general public, to communicate the science of endocrinology. Find out how to apply for a public engagement grant on the Grants page of our website.
The annual Society conference, SfE BES, takes place this year in Brighton on 7-9 November 2016. It’s a great chance to network with colleagues, showcase your work and explore new research in your area of endocrinology. Our programme of events is varied yet specific – bringing together the best of basic science, clinical investigation and clinical practice, you have the chance to expand your horizons into other parts of the field whilst also attending those lectures which are really specific to you.
The submission system for abstracts is open until midnight on Wednesday 22nd June – so you have more than enough time to polish your final abstract and send it along. It’s not just a chance to show your colleagues across the whole field of endocrinology what you’ve been working on – it’s a chance to tell them why what you’ve been working on is important.
Last year at SfE BES, a great programme highlight was a session entitled ‘Evolving model systems for complex tissues’, which was chaired by Kevin Doherty and Shareen Forbes. In the ’90s, manipulation of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) was something of a new thing. It was anticipated that the ability to grow human tissues in culture using hESCs would provide incredible model systems for drug development, toxicity testing and cell therapy.
However, it wasn’t until 2005 that reliable markers had been developed and a significant number of important signalling pathways had been elucidated in the path to differentiation. By this point, some ten years later, finally a tool box existed for nearly every tissue type. This lead to some of the first clinical trials, using pluripotent cells to treat age-related macular degeneration. However, liver disease, diabetes and neurodegeneration were still elusive and challenging goals.
By 2014, fully functional human beta cells has been generated, and they took only 45 days and 7 stages in culture. This was a hugely exciting moment for diabetologists and researchers across the world. But then, of course, the question sprang up: could they be used as a source of islet cells for replantation? Or would they merely serve as an invaluable model?
At Kevin and Shareen’s BES session, they gave a detailed overview of both the background to the field of complex tissue model systems, and the current state of basic science and clinical research, highlighting very recent advances, and discussing the potential future.
The stem cell field continues to expand rapidly. 2016 has already been the year that Chinese scientists grew functioning mouse spermatozoa from skin cells – these went on to fertilise egg which developed into embryos and grew to successful progeny. What will the second half of 2016 bring?
With over 1000 delegates, 100 abstract lectures, 10 plenary lectures, and an evening of awards and prizes, SfE BES is the best place for you to spread the word on your research, and meet the colleagues that you want to work with in future. Your lecture might be the one were talking about all the way into June 2017.
So submit your abstract now through our submission system. Submissions close on Wednesday 22nd June at midnight.
See you in November!