New review article – 3D culture of intestinal organoids

It is a relief to get the final product out to the World at large, and after a long incubation period a mini-review that we’ve been working on is now out (see the links below)…

Hollins, A. J. and Parry, L. 2016. Long-term culture of intestinal cell progenitors: an overview of their development, application, and associated technologiesCurrent Pathobiology Reports  (10.1007/s40139-016-0119-1)

The full article is available as ‘Online First’: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40139-016-0119-1

What I hope we have achieved is a broad overview of the world of intestinal cell cultures, from the history, through to the current state-of-the-art, and beyond. We tried to show where 3D culture of organoids (primary cultures that have never grown directly on plastic) fit within research whilst discussing the pros and cons of such an approach.

I hope that you find the review useful. If you do and want to know some more then please get in touch.

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Busy blogging

I have been busy blogging but just not here, after launching a Research Staff Group blog for the School of Biosciences, Cardiff University back in March. It took a long while to pull together permissions and assurances, and moreover make sure that we set off in the right editorial direction. The feedback that has come in has been extremely pleasing, and not just a little bit gratifying. Around the blog there is a growing buzz and the nucleus of a team of contributors that I hope will ensure continuity going forwards.

You can find the Research Staff Group blog at the following URL http://blogs.cardiff.ac.uk/biosciences-research-staff/

We are trying to represent the researchers here in Cardiff with an authentic voice, though not in doing so trying to shake the foundations of post-doctoral research working. If ‘all’ that we achieve is to show the vibrancy of the people here to the wider department then in many ways that is ‘job done’. The contributions are varied in their content though happily all have been very much ‘on topic’ – even a post I asked of a former colleague who is currently looking to become a goldsmith (an interview with Ali Baird). Indeed at the moment I write this our most popular post is one on public engagement contributed by Karen Reed.

Personally I have learned huge amounts from the process. Particularly I had not appreciated how much direction contributors would need, I first thought a deadline and a topic was all that would be needed. It turns out that everyone has requested a brief outline around the style of the post and its tone. This was the very much the editorial brief that I had considered when pitching the idea of the blog to the various School and University teams, but I hadn’t realised I would be repeating that same vision to all those getting involved. So here I am temporary (the idea is that it takes a life of its own through incoming colleagues) editor of a ‘serious’ blog.

Why do I call it a ‘serious’ blog? Well not simply because it is outward facing on the world wide web and carries the Universities name with it, but moreover because in its own small ways it is seems to be beginning to affect the culture around postdocs in the School. My biggest hope now going forwards is that it continues to blossom in this and every other way.

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Time for a blog refresh

With a catchy title like that why wouldn’t you read on? This is actually really just a statement of intent to express my desire to refresh this site / blog in the coming weeks. So perhaps my next blog post title will be a little more alluring.

The best place to get a flavour of what I am currently up to is twitter – @AJ_Hollins

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EDU-punk – an eye opening talk experience

I had the pleasure today of one of those rare moments – a good talk / seminar that took me outside of bench science in the best kind of way. Dr. Inger Mewburn (of @thesiswhisperer and blogging fame – see links at the bottom) presented the kind of talk that just plain made me think. It was about her journey to her own career niche, what it says about academic progression and progress, and had an eye firmly rooted on the future for PhDs.

The audience was from the Cardiff University Graduate College and so was comprised in the most part by PhD students from across the subject spectrum across the campus. They must have taken a great deal from the talk, I know I would have if I’d heard many of her sentiments some years ago. The emphasis on not just networking and social media but on taking control of career direction. I will be tuning into her blog for a read (despite not being involved directly in thesis writing any more) and looking for other words of wisdom.

Go take a look:
– http://thesiswhisperer.com
– https://twitter.com/thesiswhisperer

There is also a link to her slide stack from the talk she presented at:
https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B7pRkeECxjY3RndhTmIySzVMRmc/edit

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Conference buzz

It is not difficult, at least for me, to get inspired by a scientific conference and that inspiration can come in many forms. Conferences can be large so large you are in awe of the scale of involvement in your research community, they can be small indeed so small that you feel honoured to be engaged in a specialist field – better still is the one that is just right. A conference I attended last week was a ‘just right’ conference, busy enough to give a sense of the community, small enough to connect with everything going on. It is true that science conferences can often be dry and dull experiences with a feeling everyone is clutching the good new stuff to their chests in secrecy, not so this one where the atmosphere was welcome and sharing.

I am talking about the Targeting Cancer conference held at the Celtic Manor Resort (the one in Newport, South Wales that hosted a certain Rider Cup golf contest one year), and was among other things launching the new European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute (ECSCRI) within Cardiff University. The organisation was terrific, and the venue stunning – oh, and the science inspiring. The institute boasts a proud supporter in Sir Terry Matthews, who made a special effort to attend the ECSCRI launch gala dinner, an energetic and inspirational sponsor if ever I saw one.

It was my first conference in some while and in the end it ranked as one of the best I’ve been to. I spoke to some field leaders, I spoke to some industry people, I spoke to some company reps, I spoke to some old friends, I spoke to some new – I spoke so much I could feel my voice cracking. Perhaps that is my primary measure of a good conference, how much I chatted and how valuable that chat felt. I took a poster along to present that was not my best purely in a presentation sense but contained some good work and moreover some good promise. The feedback that I had from the poster session was generally good, the discussions it inspired were worth the effort alone.

So now it is back to the lab and on with all the promise my poster suggested with a renewed sense of context, purpose, and urgency.

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Begin at the beginning

From the outset of this blog I’ve not exhibited the most prolific approach, which frankly was not my intention, but I have realised I have neglected things somewhat. So to update, I now work on a new project in a new area for me, although it bares all the hallmarks of being very familiar having worked around the edges of the cancer field several times in my early career.

Why change? Wholly for pragmatic reasons in this case, these are hard economic times and for many reasons I could not turn down good offers. Happily as things are working out I have no complaints to throw at that pragmatism as things are going really very well. Exploring the commonalities and differences of working in a new research environment as been enlightening along with a little challenging (learning curves have been steep here and there).

From here who knows perhaps I will get around to blogging more and who knows what else…

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What is on your horizon?

It is very easy to get so engrossed in all that you do day-to-day so as not to see what might being coming or moreover not see where you are going. True of many careers / jobs is that how much, or how often, you look to the work horizon is lead by the culture of the particular work place. Students, graduates and post-graduates in my experience can be very good at ignoring the horizon in favour of the exam, dissertation, or work package in front of them. It is often true to say they leave their horizon to their adviser, which can be where many go wrong.

“Should those who counsel also judge? Should those who mentor also manage?” – pretty much everyone I would like to believe would agree that anyone providing counsel to an individual should not then be the one who sits in judgement of them – a huge conflict of interest. Why then in the towers academic do so many place their mentorship with those who ultimately seek to guide them with specific projects and depend perhaps upon the them for results above all else? At this point I have to say that within the spectrum of academic managers there are those who can divorce the development needs of the ‘team’ from the needs of an individual, but sadly these are not overly numerous and not often seen as the most dynamic leaders by their peers.

The advice that I end up giving the most often is that students look up and look ahead. Recently I have come to realise that they also need to look to find the best mentoring as part of this strategy to increase their awareness. The needs of balanced and constructive careers assessment / feedback are sadly all too often not met well in academic towers.

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