Breast Cancer Research Poster

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. It is the main cause of death in women aged 40 to 59 and about 1 in 10 women will develop breast cancer. Risk factors such as age, first live birth, family history and menopause account for nearly 50% of the risk with environmental factors also playing an important part. These are scary statistics.

This is why research in this field plays a crucial role. The Breast Cancer Research Group within the University of Malta was setup around five years ago as a cooperation between various Departments at University and Mater Dei Hospital, all with the aim to study and solve breast cancer issues in Malta.

To discuss this subject, Malta Café Scientifique and the Research Trust of the University of Malta (RIDT) are organising the event Surviving & Thriving: Breast cancer research in Malta on Monday 25th May, at 7.30pm, at The Palace, Valletta.  The talk is being held under the auspices of the President of Malta, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca.

Prof. Christian Scerri, Dr. Godfrey Grech and Mr Shawn Baldacchino will be talking about the latest breast cancer research to the public.

The Breast Cancer Research Group recently identified a marker in cells that controls the growth of blood cells. This marker is important in blood cancer disorder and the group is now looking to see its role in breast cancer. This research is being supported by two  NGOs  namely Action For Breast Cancer Foundation (;  the Alive Charity Foundation (; and the EU-funded Imagenx project (

For seat reservation please contact Entrance is free.  Questions to the speakers are welcomed throughout this event. The Breast Cancer Research Group is made up of the Department of Physiology and Biochemistry, the Department of Pathology and the Department of Surgery of the University of Malta, with the Department of Pathology and Surgery of Mater Dei Hospital. 


Brain linked machine poster

Less than a hundred years ago electrical activity from a human brain was first recorded. Today, with our improved understanding of brain function and the technological advances that have taken place, we are developing devices, known as brain-computer interfaces, that allow us to control equipment around us just with the use of electrical activity from our brains.

In this presentation we will see how brain-computer interfaces work and how these systems can provide an alternative means of control and communication for individuals with severe mobility impairment. We will also have a look at brain-computer interface applications for healthy individuals and how this technology may become part of our everyday life in the near future.

Come and listen to Dr Owen Falzon on Friday the 15th of May in the Cinema Room at St James Cavalier. Dr Owen Falzon also forms part of the new and approved Malta Neuroscience network. A brain awareness week will be held later on this year in December.

Malta Café Scientifique can be found on Facebook and online. You can now view events and subscribe to our mailing list from the website.

Poster thanks to Toni Gialanze

We would like to thank our sponsors: University of Malta, St. James Cavallier, Sammy’s by Culinary Forward Malta, Inspirations Café, Malta Chamber of Scientists.

The next science talk in Malta on the boggling brain.

Brain Boggling

The Malta Neuroscience Network has been founded to help the study of  the human brain, the most complex organ on Earth.  This complexity means it can go wrong easily. A lot of research is trying to understand this mind-boggling behaviour and what factors or triggers can make it go haywire. Professor John Stein (Oxford University) has dedicated his life to neuroscience trying to understand how the brain works and what makes it tick.

Date: Tuesday 21st April
Time: At 7.30pm (doors open at 7.15pm)
Venue: Cinema Room, St James Cavalier, Valletta

He will talk about modern techniques that help us understand the brain, the brain’s plasticity and the genetics which affect day to day activities. Dr Stein will also talk about deep brain stimulation to identify tremors, dyskinesias (involuntary movements) and pain, as well as to discussing how the cerebellum controls our motor functions.

Poster thanks to Toni Gialanze

Share the event on:

If you haven’t joined our Facebook group, feel free to do so on and be updated on events.

We would like to thank our sponsors: the Department of Counseling, the University of Malta, St. James Cavallier, Sammy’s by Culinary Forward Malta, Inspirations Café, Malta Chamber of Scientists.

For information about the event, email

For further information and any queries on Malta Neuroscience Network, you may call our offices on 2340 3518/2340 3515 or else email the Coordinator Prof Giuseppe Di Giovanni:

Think magazine Issue 12

Artificial Intelligence is here but it is not taking over. Prof. Georgios Yannakakis from the Institute of Digital Games brings a fresh view to how computers can be creative. He imagines a new social network of computers that can make new playable games on their own. Think as well how you might act like a computer. Yannakakis’s ideas have helped create games that help children with dyslexia, soldiers with PTSD, and many other problems, as published in the latest issue of Think Magazine available now.

Researchers at University are redesigning hip joints. A team of engineers and biomedicial scientists are testing new alloys that will make hip replacements safer and cheaper. In Malta during 2014, 145 people needed their hips replaced.

Prescription drugs are abused worldwide. Apart from illicit substances, legal drugs used off-prescription is a dangerous problem Europe-wide. In the US its use is second only to marijuana. The University of Malta is part of an EU-wide project studying the problem in order to tackle it.

The recent solar eclipse had everyone looking up to the skies. ISSA (Institute of Space Science & Astronomy) researcher Ian Fenech Conti writes about the Universe and how it was made. His work measures the most elusive matter in the universe.

Another elusive find was of black coral around the Maltese Islands by a team of marine researchers that includes Prof. Alan Deidun. They used underwater robots, ROVs, to map a new underwater forest just off the coast of Filfla. Fishing gear was found to have damaged this coral, in a different article JD Farrugia talks about overfishing and the need to change our fishing and eating habits to save our seas.

Alumni in Malta are finally getting the recognition they deserve. The University has just launched a new Outstanding Alumni Achievement award. If you know someone who has excelled after studying at the University of Malta then nominate them on:

The magazine is full of other stories from students and alumni on fish, lighter planes, hereditary disease, research funds, green chemistry, and robots. The fun section covers a range of reviews, with a comic strip by Gorg Mallia and a 100 word idea to change Malta—Think everyone.


Think, the University of Malta’s magazine, may be picked up for free in newsagents around Malta and Gozo and in Agenda bookstores, it is now available online at, available on Issuu, followed on Twitter @ThinkUoM  or liked on Facebook.


Cocaine, Heroin, Cannabis, Amphetamine, LSD, the contraceptive pill, The Doors and Rolling Stones are children of the 60s. Chemistry fuelled the rise of free love, drug use, and a new ever-resonant culture. But, this culture also has a dark side: sexually transmitted infections, lost potential, and lives.

The Poster

Interested? Professor Richard Muscat (University of Malta – Pro-Rector for Research) will be talking about ‘Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll’ on the 10th May at 7.15pm, Music Room, St. James Cavalier. The talk will be followed by an open discussion. Free entrance, no special science background is required, and all are welcome.

For over 20 years, Professor Richard Muscat has researched the effects of drugs of abuse on the brain. His research has focused on brain pleasure pathways and their relation to moods. In turn, how drugs affect the way people behave both in the short and long term. The brain chemical dopamine plays a critical role in influencing how people respond to pleasurable situations and unfortunately as a consequence relapse following repeated drug use. Another three important links are the predisposition to drug use, age of first drug use, and anxiety/depression.

The speaker Chairs the Research Platform of the Pompidou Group, Council of Europe, a group that combats drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking. Malta Cafe Scientifique is supported by The Malta Chamber of Scientists and the Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector, and aided by the University of Malta. Email or find us on Facebook for further information.

Administering neural progenitor cells (NPC) is one of the most promising ways to treat multiple sclerosis. Jingwu Zhang and co-workers1 now report in Cell how these cells release the cytokine leukaemia inhibitory factor (LIF) that reduces disease progression.

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system causing inflammation, loss of myelin sheets, and the eventual degeneration of neurons. These symptoms are linked to specialised cells of the immune system called helper T cells. A subset of helper T cells, T helper 17 (Th17), release interleukin-17 (IL-17), a key inflammatory factor in the development of multiple sclerosis.

Neural Progenitor Cells (NPC) help to reduce disease progression of MS. The researchers found that NPCs secrete a factor which inhibits specific cells in the immune system. The picture shows spinal cord sections, on the left untreated diseased tissue, on the right treatment with NPCs. © Cell.

The role of IL-17 in disease progression was cleared observed in several studies performed using mice with chemically induced multiple sclerosis (experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis; EAE). Removal of IL-17 delayed disease onset and reduced its severity. On the other hand, the disease was worsened by the increased expression of IL-17 or a greater number of Th17 cells.

So, how do NPCs reduce multiple sclerosis? Currently, they are thought to migrate to damaged neurons and differentiate into myelin sheets that protect the neurons. However, only 5–10% of NPCs form myelin sheets. To discover any additional mechanisms, the researchers injected NPC cells into diseased mice. The cells migrated to the spleen and reduced symptoms by inhibiting Th17 cell formation, which suggested that the NPC cells must release a secreted factor. This was confirmed by treating the mice with irradiated NPC cells and an NPC cell supernatant, which also inhibited the disease.

To identify the factor responsible, the researchers tested several NPC secreted proteins on Th17 cell differentiation, identifying LIF. Recombinant LIF was then injected into diseased mice that suppressed disease progression. These mice had lower levels of Th17 cells, but normal levels of other immune cells. Conversely, inhibiting LIF with a neutralising antibody reserved this recovery.

Further studies showed that LIF works by binding to CD4+ T cells and preventing their differentiation into Th17 cells. Upon binding to the LIF receptor, LIF triggers the extracellular signal-regulated MAP kinase (ERK) signalling pathway that increases the level of suppressor of cytokine signaling 3 (SOCS3). SOCS3 prevents the phosphorylation of Janus kinase-2 (JAK-2) and signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3) inhibiting differentiation of the Th17 cells.

Finally, the researchers tested whether LIF has the same role in humans. They first purified healthy CD4+ T cells and then added either recombinant human LIF or NPC supernatant. Similarly to the mouse, these treatments prevented Th17 cell differentiation, which was negated by adding a LIF-neutralising antibody. These results were repeated in cells from 18 subjects with multiple sclerosis, confirming their relevance to human disease.

This important work shows how LIF inhibits Th17 differentiation in both mice and human models. The advantage of LIF is its selectivity — it specifically inhibits Th17 cells and does not affect other immune cells. Other studies specify how LIF can stimulate a neural repair mechanism, which also improves neuronal survival. The researchers suggest that this dual action makes LIF a strong candidate to develop a better therapy to treat multiple sclerosis.

Cao, W. et al. Leukemia inhibitory factor inhibits T helper 17 cell differentiation and confers treatment effects of neural progenitor cell therapy in autoimmune disease. Immunity 35, 273–284 (2011).

doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2011.06.011

These are placental mammals (Wisconsin Historical Images;

Biologists obsessed with mammalian evolution have been having a debate that sometimes gets nasty. They’re fighting over when placental mammals, that includes you and I, diverged from the marsupials, those cute and cuddly kangaroos, koalas and Tasmanian devils. But a new fossil unearthed in China [] by Zhe-Xi Luo in the USA and researchers in Beijing might force them to put their gloves down.

This debate has been raging on for quite a while, in March 2002 a small, 125 million year old, tree-climbing mammalian fossil was found. This pushed back mammalian evolution by around 50 years. Placental mammals were much older than anyone expected.

By 2007, even this date was being challenged. DNA sequences from several different placental mammals, marsupials, monotremes (platypus and short-beaked echidna) were compared to each other, which pushed back the marsupial-placental split another 20 million years.

This challenged the dogma that marsupials and placentals diverged recently and that the death of the dinosaurs allowed them to flourish. It’s a logical conclusion, but this is another case of truth being stranger than fiction.

This is a marsupial mammal (OZinOH;

The recent find by Zhe-Xi Luo and co-workers puts the nail in the coffin on this idea. They unearthed a fossil called Juramaia sinensis (Pictured), a tiny tree-climbing mammal that weighs in at around 12 to 15 g. It’s really tiny. Its teeth, jaw and heel bones are similar enough to ours to be grouped with us. On the other hand, it is different enough from other placental fossils to be stamped an ancestor. With enough fossils evolution can become very clear. Remarkably its also 160 million years old.

Juramaia Sinensis a 160 million year old placental mammal (from:

Such an old time frame matches the molecular data perfectly, and it also pushes back our own ancestors by another 35 million years. Placental mammals diverged from marsupials in the Middle to Late Jurassic before flowering plants existed; when Allosaurus roamed, the big meat-eating daddy preceding T. rex; when the 40 ton long-necked giant sauropod Supersaurus roamed America; and, when Archaeopteryx was testing its wings (As a side note: Archeropteryx is no longer the ancestor of all birds, just closely related — instead other vegetarian dinosaurs are their ancestors). J. sinensis must had had a tough time competing with these dinosaurs and was even smaller than some of the insects they might have been trying to eat. But, was a mammals life really that tough?

The evidence suggests differently. It seems that in the early and middle Jurassic, a few million years leading up to J. sinensis, mammalian evolution was exploding. Several different mammalian forms developed, though in true Darwinian fashion, only a few survived. By around 100 million years ago, they were petered down into three classes: the monotremes, placentals and marsupials. After 100 million years ago, the dominance of mammals might just have been inevitable. The asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs was simply a lucky break.


A Jurassic eutherian mammal and divergence of marsupials and placentals

The delayed rise of present-day mammals

Robust Time Estimation Reconciles Views of the Antiquity of Placental Mammals

Evolution of birds: Digging up the roots

%d bloggers like this: