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Cell Membrane Training to Advance Industrial Processes

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MemTrain (Cell Membrane Training to Advance Industrial Processes)

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2021-04-30

MemTrain aims to train a cohort of Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) to work in the growing field of cell membrane research. Cell membranes surround all cells and are responsible for separating them from their external environment. As such, they play fundamental roles in a host of biological processes that enable drug discovery and industrial biotechnology. Traditionally, research in the area of cell membranes has been extremely challenging, partially due to technical limitations which are being overcome; this is an area in which Aston are international experts.

Due to the challenging nature of this research, there is a lack of experts in this field compared to its future importance and size. Furthermore, to maximise the benefit of this research, it is important that scientists work at the interface of academia and industry. This allows fundamental research to be applied but, importantly, develops future researchers with the confidence and ability to work across traditional boundaries that will put Europe at the forefront of this research area. Consequently, each ESR on the MemTrain programme has a project that has been developed in conjunction with an industrial partner to maximise its real-world benefit.

The overall objectives of the MemTrain project are to:

• Train the next generation of intersectoral, internationally-focused researchers.
• Build a community of membrane-focused scientists
• Enhance the potential and future career prospects of researchers; strengthening human resources on regional, national or international level
• Upon graduation, put the ESRs in a position to continue their research career within either academia or industry
• Develop management, leadership, communication and outreach skills
• Developing long-term research networks
Twelve ESRs have been recruited (in two cohorts of five and seven, respectively) with a good gender balance of five males to seven females, from diverse backgrounds and nationalities such as France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Greece and Romania. Each ESR is registered for a PhD at Aston University and are progressing through the formal evaluation sections of this as required.

The ESRs have engaged with a comprehensive training programme consisting of core training provided to all Aston University PhD students, bespoke training delivered by the MemTrain team and external training opportunities identified as beneficial to individual ESRs.

The Project Manager and ESRs have ensured that our MemTrain website and social media accounts are updated regularly and have undertaken a range of outreach and dissemination activities including school visits, University events, podcasts and seminar series.

The MemTrain team have been involved in the publication of six papers to date with another one accepted and four more submitted. These publications describe the scientific findings of their projects but also, importantly, detail the methodological advances made in the field of membrane research, keeping Aston University at the cutting edge of this field.
Research undertaken by the ESRs is still at a relatively early stage and, as such, we would not expect significant impact to have occurred to date. However, we have made advances on the state-of-the-art in a number of areas including optimisation of membrane protein expression and purification and isolation of extracellular vesicles from cell culture media. 2 of the ESRs have contributed to a review of the latest concepts on lipoxidation of membrane-associated and signalling proteins, which is an assessment of the state-of the art.
Team Breakfast
Team Outing