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Crowdfunding tips – the perspective of a donor behaviour researcher

We were sent the below insights from a dutch researcher who has an interest in the drivers of donor behaviour for crowdfunding, below are her insights…

Keep it simple

I noticed that the titles of the projects are really specific and scientific, which is fine for publishing articles, but it might be less effective in terms of attracting donors. Maybe simplify them a bit? Even if your target crowd is the scientific community ( is it?), research shows that individuals are more likely to donate if the process is as easy as possible: so keep it simple. You can always give the specifics in the text, but I would keep everything really simple and argue from a practical viewpoint.

Also, it is always helpful and important to know your crowd: who is it I’m aiming for? For example, scientists are not particularly wealthy, so it would make sense to go beyond this group and reach out to ‘the crowd’ (i.e. general public). Are you aiming for a specific crowd?

Getting a project started

In general, the first 33% of the donors consist mainly out of friends and family of the project initiator. This group is especially important, since they provide you with the first couple of donations and show others that they support this project. Donors are more likely to make a donation if others have done so as well (i.e. follow the crowd). Thus, family and friends are essential to get a project going. If the project creator has a limited network, maybe they can donate the first 100euros? I know of several crowdfunding platforms who use this approach.

After the group of family and friends has been exhausted many projects struggle to assemble the remaining amount as it requires serious networking. Now is the time to really crowdfund: use social media (e.g. provide regular project updates, inform them about new donations etc.), ask previous donors to become ambassadors of the project (e.g. ask them to reach out to their family and friends), reach out as much as possible (solicitation: in order to make a donation, individuals have to be informed there is a project). In terms of the project updates, informing them about the behavior of other donors (i.e. tweeting: ‘wow today someone donated 50euros, will you join the crowd?’) is more effective than throwing around numbers (i.e. tweeting: ‘cheetahs are in trouble!, less than … exist in the wild’).

Another thing that might help is to give the crowd some control: crowdfunding is about democracy, donors no longer just want to make a donation they want to be included. So, they want (and need) to be informed through regular project updates (not asking for money, but informing them). Also, more than ever donors want to make a difference. Ask them for advice, ideas anything. Make them feel included and part of something special. You could also implement this into your rewards.

After you have assembled about 66% of the amount, family and friends are again likely to make a donation: they invested in the beginning of the campaign, others are donating, let’s bring in the money and make sure the project is successful. It would make sense to inform the group of family and friends that the project is getting their but not quite safe yet and that they could make it happen (thus giving them a sense of importance).

Rewards

Donors these days are more critical and perceive their donation more as an investment than a moral responsibility. Thus, sensible rewards are important. We would advise a simple reward structure of: 10, 20, 35, 50, 75, 100 and a couple of numbers above 100. The rewards connected to these amounts have to make sense. For example, you are currently hosting a project researching the impact of yoga on the wellbeing of women with infertility treatment-led pregnancy (really interesting project btw!!), could give coupons for free yoga lessons or yoga mats. The project leader could contact a yoga company, inform them about their research and ask if the company wants to collaborate with them. I know this is a lot of work, but crowdfunding is time invasive.

Also, maybe mention that if you want to make a donation without receiving a reward you can. There are still donors who donate from an altruistic viewpoint and forcing them to pick a reward might result in them not donating. Crowd.Science facilitates donating any amount.  

WWF found that a personal message was a particularly popular reward. What they did: the park ranger protecting elephants would thank donors personally (i.e. by name) through a video message. This works not just because it is fun to hear the ranger pronounce your name (in the WWF case Dutch names), but also because it makes donors feel specia and appreciatedl. This kind of rewards could be used by the wildlife projects at you platform.

Motives/incentives

Here is a link to a literature review of Bekkers and Wiepking, 2011. This article is a really good overview of the eight basic motives behind donating:

Awareness of need: use understandable words to describe why this project is important

Solicitation: donors have to know there is a project

Cost and benefits: this mainly applies to the rewards, they have to be in line with the cost (i.e. donation amount)

Altruism: those who donate purely to help the project

Reputation: for example appearing generous or wealthy, so publishing the donation amounts could help.

Psychological benefits: a feeling of warm flow, which means that people feel good about themselves after donating.

Values: personal values. We know little about this, because personal values can only be measured and not manipulated.

Efficacy: this one is really important for crowdfunders: they want to feel as if they make a difference. Thus, donating to a project that is unlikely to assemble the money in time is not in line with this reasoning. Again showing the importance of using your family and friends to fund the first part of the project. Also, specify what their amount can do: e.g. ‘if you donate 50£ you can enable me to test one more subject on how yoga can help with anxiety during pregnancy!’.  ‘if you donate 5 euros we can pay for …’. So, telling donors specifically what is done with their money is a real strength of crowdfunding (but keep the description simple).

It’s great to find ways to focus on social motives: thus informing individuals about the donation behaviour of other donors. I argue some individuals donate because they want to belong to a certain group, attain a specific reputation or simply like to follow (i.e. conforming). This would mean that it is important to target the right group: the cheetah project is most likely to attract donors who care about animals and identify as animal lovers. Thus, reach out to a group of animal lovers, maybe contact a local zoo and ask if they can help out to reach the right crowd. From a reputation perspective, I am less likely to donate if others are reframing from giving to a specific project: ‘if they are not making a donation, me donating might be perceived as foolish’ or ‘if they are not donating, me not donating won’t damage my reputation because others are also reframing’. From a conforming viewpoint, we use information to help those who are uncertain ‘should I make donation?, is this a good project?’, by informing them that others think this is a good project: ‘if others are donating to this project, it is probably a good investment (i.e. my money won’t be wasted).

Key in all these motives is that in order to attract ‘the crowd’, the project has to have at least a couple of donations. We talked about this before: a project initiator should ask their friends and family to make the first donations and therefore signal that they think this is a good project.

In sum, know your crowd, keep it simple, connect connect connect, specify what the amount donated can do in your reward system, provide regular updates (not asking for money, this could exhaust your crowd).

Visit the Crowd.Science home page to browse projects to support.

Fraudulent Websites targeting scientists and patients – Be wary out there!

It still continues to surprise me the way in which crowdfunding ventures are successful. Complete strangers supporting each other with a big leap of faith. The importance is not lost on me, I am eternally grateful that I jumped in the deep end and took on the adventure of funding my own research in this way – and even more so for the support that I received. But I thought I’d write this blogpost with a sense of warning about the possible dangers than one can come across in this age of the internet of things.

Since publishing in easily accessible open access journals online (which is highly encouraged nowadays to enable the visibility and sharing of research), I have been bombarded with a plethora of emails from editors of journals requesting that I publish with them because of my ‘esteemed knowledge and expertise’ on such-and-such a topic. There have been many instances of fraud and dodgy journals acting in despicable manners on the interwebs, and whilst I haven’t fallen victim to any (as yet), I think it’s important to point out the possibility and the variety of ways they can act with a few examples.

I was recently requested to participate as a speaker in a conference in the US. While this is an enormous honour for an early stage researcher, I was a little wary because of almost falling for an earlier trap to write a comment article on our recently published works that turned out to be a predatory journal (they take your paper, make you pay for it to be published, then don’t submit it to peer-review, and sometimes don’t even publish it! The catch being that you cannot then re-publish it anywhere else). So I did a bit of background research – they had a legitimate website set up, with a couple of well-known speakers, and it in all honesty looked pretty sound. But one last check I thought I’d try. I noticed a highly esteemed Professor listed as a speaker on the website. So I emailed him and asked whether he was due to talk at this conference. He responded that he was not at all involved (alarmingly he didn’t respond when I said that this website has him listed as a speaker and is probably using his name on some level of fraud to convince others to join). So the whole thing was a ruse to get researchers to sign up, pay registration fees (usually quite large sums), and probably hotel fees through the site’s own hotel booking system. A scam.

A more lighthearted experience I had was when I was requested to write a paper for a journal called the “Annals of Surgery and Perioperative Care”. Due to my experience in the field, I was requested to write a manuscript to submit for a “Special Issue on Autopsy” dealing with “recent advancements and challenges in treating Autopsy.” Yes, you read that right, apparently there’s treatments for death out there…

But there are more sinister acting individuals out there. I can’t remember how I came across this one, but surfing the web one day I came across a site for Memory Repair Protocol. Considering I walk in the field of Alzheimer’s and dementia, to suddenly come across a site claiming cures for these diseases, my alarm bells were clanging already before I was quarter of the way down the page (it’s a very long page). But I read on, because I thought perhaps they had some solid arguments for their theories. I will admit I used about half an hour to read through the site and do a little hunting further to determine the legitimacy of their supposed cure of dementia. What worried me was that many, many people had not. Reading through the comments on their website and also reviews on other websites, I was alarmed at the number of people that bought (paid actual money!) for something that they didn’t really know much about, save the legit-looking website. Only a few people (presumably the site moderators had deleted the majority of these ‘questionable’ messages) commented that in their hunt for actual published articles from the supposed professional attached to the studies they had found none! Another scam, but a much more serious one considering they prey on those in desperate need of a cure from a horrible disease.

So a word of warning to all out there – be wary of the danger of internet scams no matter how legit they may seem! Until next time!

New research: Just how common are Human Herpes Viruses?

Some of you may have read about my previous research into the Herpes simplex virus and its possible involvement in Alzheimer’s disease. Further from this, my collaborators in Umeå Sweden and I recently had our latest paper published, so I thought I’d share our findings with you.

It is important to know the incidence, or numbers of infected individuals, of any infection-causing agent (bacteria, viruses etc.) for the purpose of understanding whether certain behaviours or actions increase or decrease numbers, and how these infections can be prevented or treated.

For viruses such as the Herpes simplex virus (HSV), which is relatively harmless, generally causing only blisters on the face, usually around the lips, this might seem rather unnecessary. But HSV can also cause genital herpes (usually HSV type 2, but not unheard of for type 1), be harmful to immune-compromised individuals such as the very young or old, and may sometimes result in a severe disease known as Herpesviral encephalitis, which can be fatal. Most surprising about this virus is that fairly often people may not even know they are infected, showing no symptoms at all, but still capable of passing on the disease.

We chose to look at the group of Human Herpes Viruses (HHV) that follow a cycle of primary infection, then a latency period, which is interrupted by reactivation periods. This group of viruses include Herpes simplex viruses type 1 (cold sores) and 2 (genital herpes), Varicella zoster virus (VZV, which causes chicken pox), Cytomegalovirus (CMV), and Human herpesvirus 6 (HHV6, which causes sixth disease – named so because it is the sixth of a number of rash-causing diseases usually developing in childhood). It is not known what causes the reactivation of these diseases, although certain immune system stressors can cause these. I myself had a reactivated case of Varicella (Shingles) during pregnancy with my second child.

So what did we find? If you read the results section of the abstract, you’ll find we found the following: 79.4% had antibodies (proving infection had occurred at some time) against HSV1, 12.9% for HSV2, 97.9% for VZV, 83.2% against CMV, and 97.5% had antibodies against HHV6 in the studied population (which were Swedes from Umeå). This means that generally the results were in line with similar population studies around the world. There was a higher chance of women having had infections than men, and the occurrence of HSV has dropped compared to earlier, possibly by reduced risks of contracting the disease, through awareness or effective treatments reducing exposure of contaminated bodily fluids (think of all the cold sore drugs on the market nowadays).

Whilst our paper doesn’t offer any radical new theories or propose new treatment methods or therapies, it is important to investigate and share this data of numbers of infected individuals of various diseases. Whether the Herpes simplex virus and Alzheimer’s disease connection is a real one is still under debate, however it is interesting to note that the incidence of both have been declining.

The paper has been published as an open access article, which means you can download and read it for free (see the link above). Enjoy!

Why crowdfunding is a good option for my research

About the author: Eloise specialises in utilising immunohistochemical, genotyping techniques and statistics to identify associative risks for Alzheimer’s disease neuropathology from a large population-based brain cohort. Eloise crowdfunded her research on Crowd.Science

Product vs Knowledge

Last month I attended a seminar for researchers in Finland to find new sources of funding. One thing that struck me as worrying is that the majority of the options heavily suggested you should have a product, or a service to offer, as a means to an end for justifying your research goal. Now I didn’t become a scientist to make money, or for fame and glory, I did it because it’s something I love, and I have a passion for trying to understand how life works around us.

To attend a Researchers seminar and be told that we need to offer a service or product as part of our initial goal in research is a bit bonkers in my opinion! I mean, I would love to one day be able to cure Alzheimer’s disease, but in reality I’d just be happy to be part of the bigger picture that leads to understanding the disease. Given these options, I was a bit disillusioned about my future funding prospects, and have spent many moments over the past year thinking about changing my methods in acquiring funding.

Grant Writing Takes Time

As I’ve already mentioned, grant writing takes up a lot of time. Funding agencies tend to give out a few pots of really big amounts, which has left a rather skewed system for the average researcher. Not only do you have to know exactly how to sum up your research in a precise way specific for a given funding organisation, you have to think about things like are your collaborators impressive enough, what techniques do you use, are they modern enough? Is your boss high enough in the field that you will get support no matter what crap you write? Your research may very well be an important stepping stone in its field, but if you can’t tick all these additional target boxes, you may as well forget about your career/research. And without feedback, you can’t possibly know where it is you’re going wrong. I published two papers last year – one as a first author, which usually means you did most of the work, and one as last author, which generally suggests you were the main director of the research. I got no funding from that. Let me just clarify, writing papers is a lot of work! Now of course there are issues of impact factor and article metrics (which I’ll need another blog post to discuss in detail), but wouldn’t it be more logical to reduce the amounts given to researchers, and share it between more individuals?

Research doesn’t have to be expensive

Some research is expensive, but most of what I currently do is manageable on just my monthly salary or funding. I believe it could be much more logical to provide standard salaries to researchers, shared across more researchers, and a larger separate pot for funding the expensive reagents and services that some research requires. Don’t get me wrong, spending so much time on an application, it would be nice to get a big payout, but I think it’s the wrong way to go about it and the poor success rate of funding applications really highlights that changes need to be made.

Modest amounts frequently is enough

These problems are in part why I chose to try crowdfunding my research. I don’t need much, I just want to do what I love and enjoy. This is part of my re-thinking how to fund my research. Smaller amounts, more frequently. Of course this has to depend on your success rate, for which crowdfunding can become very personal.

The emotional side of a disease like Alzheimer’s is therefore a beneficial element when it comes to people understanding the implications of what you do. Writing all these (approximately 20 a year) applications and not having any feedback or success is enough to make anyone want to give up their career in science. But convincing the general public that my research is necessary, that was something I was willing to try.

I’ve discussed in a previous post about how much work running a crowdfunding campaign actually is, but it is also a lot of fun, and as an added bonus, it was a lot more successful than the majority of my grant applications have been!

A year on – recap & meeting my crowdfunders

Eloise specialises in utilising immunohistochemical, genotyping techniques and statistics to identify associative risks for Alzheimer’s disease neuropathology from a large population-based brain cohort.

Almost a year ago I released my crowdfunding campaign to collect funds to carry out my research into Alzheimer’s disease. 66 backers from 8 different countries supported me to continue my research for two months. That got me through some tough times last year, and I’m proud to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I am no longer wary about talking with everyday people regarding my research.

What was especially encouraging was meeting some of my crowdfunders. I gave a seminar late last year, which was attended mostly by family members, and friends and family have inquired how much my research is progressing through normal discussions about daily life. Surprisingly, the majority of my backers did not want anything for their support, apart from the knowledge that they were helping me out. This was quite a shock to me, but has led me to believe I should make the effort to be open about what I do, because to the general public what I do might seem daunting.

I had the very special experience in early Autumn last year to meet some of my crowdfunders in person, and show them around the laboratories. We sat down for almost 2 hours in total and enjoyed a discussion of my research, their queries about Alzheimer’s disease, and some common problems with research on Alzheimer’s disease. It was a pleasant meeting and I was humbled by their interest and encouragement, and at how my campaign had appealed to them.

One year on from my campaign, I have released two publications, below are the links to the abstracts:

  1. Beer Drinking Associates with Lower Burden of Amyloid Beta Aggregation in the Brain: Helsinki Sudden Death Series.
  2. HSV presence in brains of individuals without dementia: the TASTY brain series

I also have a further one under review with my collaborators in Sweden.

I was also requested to write a special piece for a Finnish journal, and currently my funding situation is comfortable until after the summer. I am waiting to hear back on my personal funding applications over the next couple of months, but it’s inspiring to know that I have my colleagues, collaborators, funders, friends, and family around to support me if things get bad again in the future.

I have many new topics that have become interesting to me, and hopefully I will be able to get started on these and share some insight on them in the coming months as I take more confident steps into my career as an academic researcher. One of the topics is the (much neglected) connection between cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s and I will be continuing investigations into Herpes simplex as a pathogenic agent in AD.

Once again, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my crowdfunding supporters for their belief in my research, and me as a researcher.

Until next time!

Other blogs from Eloise:

Could getting a cold sore increase risk of Alzheimer’s?

Painful Science – getting published is tough!

Should scientists learn to pitch?

Surprising findings for beer and Alzheimer’s related brain lesion

My science crowdfunding experience

Working to Reverse an Alarming Trend on Landmines

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We need to clear more landmines every year, not fewer. 

So the latest report from the Landmine Monitor makes for depressing reading: deaths from landmines are at a 10-year high, while funding for clearing landmines is at a 10-year low, and there was a decrease in the amount of land being cleared every year – from 210 km2 in 2014 to 171 km2 in 2015 [1].

With the USA being the single largest financial supporter of humanitarian mine action [2], the latest developments on the political scene there may indicate that funding will continue to decline, perhaps at an accelerated rate [3] with who-knows what impact on clearance rates.

So, we have to do more with less; and that means we need to speed up the process of clearing landmines itself.

As part of this global effort [4], a team of engineers in the Department of Informatics at King’s College London are developing an explosives detector that will help speed up the process of clearing landmines by reducing the number of false alarms.  This is the problem with metal detectors: most modern landmines are what’s called “minimum metal landmines” – their casings aren’t metal, but plastic or wood; so in order to be able to detect the small amount of metal they contain, the sensitivity of the metal detector has to be turned up to the point where it detects not just landmines, but also any other metal that might be present in or on the ground – discarded nails, cans, broken-off bits of machinery or vehicle parts etc.  These are “false alarms” and make the process of clearing landmines very slow indeed, as every one of them has to be investigated as if it is a landmine.  That’s what makes an explosives detector such an attractive prospect, especially one sensitive to the presence of bulk, rather than just traces of, explosive; it will definitively say if a metal-detection response is due to the presence of a landmine or not.

The KCL explosives detection technology uses pulses of radio-waves to excite responses in explosives at characteristic frequencies.  That’s what gives the technology its discrimination: as the frequency of the response and the way it evolves in time are characteristic of a given chemical compound, the system never confuses an explosive for anything else (or indeed one explosive for another).

So what’s the catch?  The signals are weak, the system needs several tens of seconds to accumulate enough signal to make a decision as to whether there is anything there or not.   That’s why this technology has never found an application in military circles, where speed of operation is a key factor.  This is much less of an issue in the humanitarian (post-conflict) environment, where the over-riding requirement is to find every landmine – it’s still quicker than digging up every bit of metal the metal detector alarms on.  But this creates an additional complication: with no military market, there’s no rush of companies willing to invest in the technology’s development as they could never hope to recoup their development costs through big-ticket, high-volume sales.  So funding for development needs to come from other sources – governments, NGOs and the public.  Finding that funding is a challenge in the current climate, but it’s a challenge the King’s team are ready to meet.

Jamie Barras is leading a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to test the explosives detector. You can find out more here: https://crowd.science/campaigns/landmines/

If you have questions about the detector email jamie.barras@kcl.ac.uk

[1] http://www.the-monitor.org/en-gb/reports/2016/landmine-monitor-2016.aspx
[2] http://www.state.gov/t/pm/wra/
[3] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/nov/13/will-trump-presidency-honour-pledge-stop-sending-foreign-aid-to-countries-that-hate-us-usaid
[4] http://www.findabetterway.org.uk/project/

 

 

 

Sussex cliffs erosion rates are ten-fold in the past 200 years

 

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Coastal erosion study could hold valuable lessons for climate change mitigation.  New research on how the Sussex coast has eroded over the last seven millennia could help provide an insight into how climate change might affect UK cliffs in the future.

In a new paper published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the Universities of Glasgow and Colorado, Imperial College London, the British Geological Survey and the Environment Agency describe how they have used a process known as cosmogenic dating to learn how the chalk cliffs at Beachy Head and Seaford Head have eroded.

Cosmogenic dating allows scientists to use the build-up of a specific isotope of beryllium found in rocks at the surface as a kind of rock clock.

As rocks are uncovered on shore platforms by natural processes such as erosion and landslides, these beryllium isotopes begin to accumulate due to exposure to cosmic radiation (the same radiation that causes the Aurora).

Since the rates of accumulation are relatively constant, scientists can measure the rocks, current levels of beryllium to estimate how long they have been exposed near the surface. Measuring rock samples from across the shore platforms allows them to build a record of how coastal erosion has proceeded over the last 7000 years or so.

Their results show that, after thousands of years of relatively steady erosion of between two and six centimetres per year, the rate has increased dramatically over the last 200-600 years to between 22 and 32 centimetres each year.

The researchers speculate in the paper that the increase in erosion could be down to the beaches being gradually thinned out over the last few hundred years at both sites. While sandy beaches can act as a protective barrier between the sea and cliffsides, when they are thinned by alongshore transport, protection is lost and the remaining loose beach material can wear away the cliffs faster, increasing the rate of erosion.

Dr Martin Hurst of the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences said: “One of the challenges of monitoring coastal erosion is that useful historical record only stretches back 150 years or so. Cosmogenic dating gives us the opportunity to roll back the clock much further to make more informed observations about the past.

“What we’ve seen in this case is that the rate of erosion has taken a big leap in the last few hundred years, which we think could well be due to the thinning of beaches.

“As the effects of climate change are increasingly felt through rising sea levels and increasingly regular severe storms, it’s likely that similar thinning could well take place elsewhere in the UK and abroad, quickening the pace of coastal erosion.

“What we’re hoping to do now is use our observations to help underpin a more accurate model of how climate change will affect coastal erosion in the future, which could help authorities make more informed decisions about coastal management.”

Dr. Dylan Rood, co-author from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, states:

“The coast is clearly eroding, and Britain has retreated fast. Our study on British coasts leaves no question that coastal cliff retreat accelerated in the recent past. A nearly ten-fold increase in retreat rates over a very short timescale, in geological terms, is remarkable. The UK cannot leave the issue of cliff erosion unresolved in the face of a warming world and rising sea levels.”

“Cosmogenic isotopes are advancing the science of retreating coastlines in Great Britain and worldwide. These new tools provide a rare insight into how dramatically environmental change and human impact are affecting sensitive coastal landscapes. We still need to better understand how other rocky coastlines have responded to similar changes in the past.”

The team’s paper, titled Recent acceleration in coastal cliff retreat rates on the south coast of Great Britain”, is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and is available online.

Could getting a cold sore increase risk of Alzheimer’s?

close up. beautiful lips virus infected herpes

Herpes in the brain?

On the back of a very successful (at least on the scientific side of things) year in research, I’ve recently had another article published. Not as fanciful as beer staving off Alzheimer’s disease, but something that has been popping up on news sites all over the world over the past couple of years. That is, an infectious agent causing Alzheimer’s disease – namely the Herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV1 (type 1) generally causes the common coldsore that appears on your face, most often your lips. Another type of the same virus (HSV2) is known to cause genital herpes. Approximately 80-90% of the population are affected with HSV1, and once you get it, it doesn’t go away (it just hides in your nerve cells).

I got interested in this topic a few years back when I came across a paper that showed amyloid beta (Aβ) aggregations (the sticky clumps of protein known as senile plaques that are thought to be a major cause of Alzheimer’s disease) were clumped together at the same location in brain tissue as HSV. Now this doesn’t really answer the question of cause or effect, so I thought I could look at this virus in my brain tissue samples and perhaps be able to see what would come first – virus or brain lesions.

After teaming up with some researchers at Umeå University in Sweden, who have a good detection system set up for analysing HSV, we moved ahead and analysed whether we could find HSV in the TASTY series (one of the brain collections I use). We had 584 individuals’ brain tissue for analysis and found 11 (1.9%) that were positive for HSV in the brain. Of those 11, 6 had Aβ aggregations (~55%). There were also a large proportion of individuals that didn’t have HSV in the brain, but did have brain lesions (160 cases, ~30%).

HSV first infection is usually in childhood, and the youngest age of the cases with HSV in the brain was 43, so this suggests that it happens later on. At least it’s after the initial plaques that appear in the brain (around 30 years). It doesn’t completely discredit the idea that HSV could cause AD, but the fact that so many individuals (160) had brain lesions but no HSV in the brain, suggests something else causes the brain lesions. Although HSV could potentially make things worse. Because we had so few cases with HSV in brain, we can’t really make any assessments on when it is likely to enter the brain – that’s something for our future research! Of course our previous work has shown that the brain lesions already appear around age 30, suggesting that if these are the cause of the disease, it’s starting quite a lot earlier than previously thought. This then strongly suggests that the development of brain lesions is caused by something else, not HSV.

The most significant finding of our study was that there were individuals that had HSV in their brains. That they weren’t suffering from the rare deadly brain infection known as Herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE). They had no symptoms that would suggest HSV was present in their brain tissue. This study was the largest of its kind showing HSV can get into the brain without showing symptoms. Our next step will be to identify exactly which brain region it is found in, and map the potential route for entrance by HSV. It will also be important to identify what triggers the ability of HSV to gain access to the brain of some people, but not others?

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As age increases, you can see a decrease in the percentage of those without brain lesions (No neuropathology, clear bars), and a corresponding increase in those with senile plaques (Aβ aggregations, light grey shaded bars), tangles (NFT, darker grey shaded bars), both combined brain lesions (Aβ & NFT, darker patterned grey bars), Alzheimer’s disease (AD, solid line) and HSV in the brain (HSV DNA positivity, dashed line).

Compared to other studies investigating Alzheimer’s disease patients and controls, which numbered generally under 50 individuals, our study found a very low incidence of HSV in brain tissue. Other studies suggest anywhere from 20 up to 100% of controls (that is non-demented people) have HSV in the brain. It might be that our study criteria was too strict, but even if we included all slightly positive cases, that only equates to a 6% incidence. It is perhaps more likely that our samples are quite old, and were not ‘fresh frozen’ tissues, so we will also perform a similar study on a newer autopsy cohort collected here at the University of Tampere.

So at least for now, you can rest easy that HSV probably isn’t going to cause you to get Alzheimer’s disease. At least that makes me feel better considering during the study and preparation of this manuscript I had about 6 outbreaks of coldsores!!! The paper was published as open access, meaning you can read the whole pdf of the article here: http://dmm.biologists.org/content/9/11/1349

Enjoy!

Painful Science – getting published is tough!

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Eloise tweets @DrEllaOfScience

I thought it would be important to point out a few of the struggles related to being a researcher, and how exhausting some aspects can be. I’m pretty sure many have written about the pains of writing grant applications and how the majority of your submissions are rejected (the national Academy of Finland had just 11% funded from last year’s postdoctoral researcher call). It’s a sad state in reality, but that’s not even the worst of it.

If you are successfully funded, or still trying to publish without funding, there’s an aspect behind it all that is unknown to most of the general population. Publishing your work. It’s not simply a matter of finalising the experiments, analysing the results, writing up your work and bam! New publication added to your list. Noooooooo. Far from it. At least in my experience anyway. I’ve had 7 publications in total. That’s not really a lot compared to many, but 5 of them I’ve been the corresponding author, which means I have the responsibility of checking everything before sending it off to the editors of various journals.

It all starts with thinking about where you want to publish. Go for a high impact factor journal? Impressive on the CV, but can be a lot of work. Open access? Can cost THOUSANDS of euros (at least in the realm of €2000-€3000). Then there’s the topic and scope of the article and journal itself to consider. Lots of things to think about. This is followed by formatting the manuscript text to the chosen journal’s guidelines and then filling in all the forms in the online submission regarding what the article encompasses, and topics covered, suggested reviewers (and reviewers you don’t want to see your work – for various reasons such as they are competitors or you know they have a disagreement with your work), as well as mundane things such as word count and picture files (which need to be of a certain high quality, but not too high initially that they take forever for the reviewers to download).

Submit! And….wait. Reviewers can take anywhere between a couple of weeks and months. Depending on the journal, and the prestige behind reviewers who are well known in particular fields and chosen for their expertise, you can be waiting a long time. Or, as usually happens to me, you get a response from the editors a couple of days later announcing they aren’t interested in your work, or it isn’t broad/specific enough for their journal scope, or “we have so many submissions we can only accept a few,” bla bla bla.

Then, it starts again. Choose a new journal, reformat the entire thing for the new guidelines, which can involve redoing images, reformatting reference lists, reordering parts of the manuscript and different requirements for what should be included in the materials and methods etc… and then submit again. Phew! This can happen multiple times. At least it has for me. On average I send a paper through to about 4 journals before it gets reviewed. And even after being reviewed, it can still be rejected or require a heap of additional experiments before being accepted for publication. It can take in the least months to get a paper accepted for publication, or even years.

Talk about painful. But without sharing our work, we don’t get recognition, can’t develop collaborations, can’t get further funding… So, we persist and hopefully, eventually, we’ll succeed and receive the recognition that we deserve. Just thought you all should know it’s not that simple and get as excited as some of us early stage researchers do when we get things published! J

Good luck to all the other researchers getting their work published out there!

Insights from Animal Behaviour Researcher, Lauren Brent

Dr Lauren Brent from University of Exeter is a biologist interested in the evolution of sociality. Her research asks why social relationships are formed and how they are maintained. Lauren tweets @ljnbrent

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We asked Lauren about her research…

What made you decide to become an academic?

I became an academic because I love the process of independent thought and inquisition. As a young student, I was especially fascinated by the natural world and the behaviour of animals and so could think of nothing better than to spend my time asking questions about how and why the things we observe in nature came to be.

How does your currently research fit into your further research ambitions? 

My main research ambition is to gain a greater understanding of the evolution of social relationships. In particular, I am interested in why social bonds (“friendships”) evolved – i.e. what function do these relationships serve? – and why some individuals are more or less socially integrated than others. I am currently working on a few different but related projects; one on the evolutionary mechanisms that underpin cooperation, and the other on the consequences of social relationships for survival and reproductive success.

Both projects take place at the long-running rhesus macaque field site in Puerto Rico where I do much of my research, and fit nicely into my research ambitious by addressing some of the key unanswered questions in my field.

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This is a picture of two rhesus macaques relaxing at the field site in Puerto Rico where I do a lot of my research

If you had unlimited funding what would you do with it?

With unlimited funding I would initiate a series of field-based projects in species whose social lives are little understood. A key to understanding how and why friendship evolved is the ability to compare what “friends” look like in a range of different types of animals. But since the biology of friendship is a relatively recent area of research outside of humans and other primates, we are currently unable to ask this question.

Animals where data on friendship are missing and would be most useful include many types of mammal, such as the social carnivores, whales, rodents and ungulates, as well as many non-mammals such as schooling fish and colony-living birds.

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Friendships in whales is little understood, this is something that I would like to explore more about if I had unlimited funding.

Have you had any experiments that have been a bit disastrous?

I typically observe the naturally occurring behaviours in animals rather than running experiments. However, things can go very wrong doing this since wild animals almost never do what you want or expect them to do! Working with monkeys can be especially frustrating since they often live up to the cliché that monkeys are mischievous. While attempting to collect data I’ve been pooped on, peed on, shoved, hit, and had many pieces of equipment stolen and chewed beyond recognition.

What are your thoughts on crowdfunding research?

Crowdfunding of research is incredibly important. Research like mine often doesn’t require huge amounts of funding – just a bit of money for flights to field sites and for the few pieces of equipment needed to collect the data. Yet while low-cost research sounds ideal, it can be paradoxically excluded from traditional funding streams precisely because it is low-cost. Crowdfunding is therefore critical for this type of research.

Below is a TED talk by Lauren Brent…

Notes from Walacea:

Walacea’s first successful project was with Dr Andy Radford from University of Bristol, his research investigated friendships in dwarf mongooses, if you are interested in this area of research you can sign up to our newsletter on friendship. We also have a crowdfunding tips newsletter for scientists thinking about crowdfunding and a general newsletter where we share our favourite blogs about research and new projects raising funds that you can support.

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