Saturday, April 5, 2014

The dreaming spires of Oxford

The ARUK Conference 24th-26th March

I'm still playing catch-up with my posts (yep, same as usual!) but in my defence this time I had to write a blog post just for ARUK to use on their website before I did my own blog. OK, I've got my excuses out of the way so here I go.

Before I departed there was some guilt-baking to do! I know Mike's perfectly capable of cooking for himself but I like to leave things that have been prepared with love whilst I go swanning off, yet again, to talk about dementia or run a marathon.

Here we have a poppy-seed knot loaf made with half white flour, half spelt which makes it really tasty.

I headed off for Oxford on the Monday afternoon because it's a long drive and the proceedings started early the next day.

As a lay Champion for ARUK I was delighted to have the opportunity to attend their annual  conference amidst the dreaming spires of Oxford.  There is a park-and-ride scheme, to reduce the amount of traffic, whereby you leave your car in one of several enormous carparks outside the city and then catch a bus into the city centre. The one I'd chosen was just off the motorway and was very easy to find. 

Then I had to catch the bus and I knew the number of the stop where I should alight but when I asked the driver he didn't know where it was; even worse, when I told him it was was quite near too Balliol College (one of the famous Oxford colleges) he said he'd never heard of it! I trusted my instincts and got off on the High Street and ended up about 200 metres from my hotel. This was a relief because my bags were quite heavy even though I'd tried to travel light and had worn my running kit under my jeans!

Here's the view from my hotel room; I love the mellow colour of cotswold stone.

Once I'd phoned Mike and settled myself in I went off for a walk and to find something to eat before it got dark.

I enjoyed wandering the streets and looking at the wonderful buildings but I couldn't help noticing how much like any other High Street it had become. Same old chains of clothes shops, fast food outlets etc. The other thing that started to annoy me was the unsympathetic signage used in such beautiful old buildings.

I hate the way Pret have plasticised the ground floor with that hideous frontage and excess of signs hanging on the 1st floor 
Whereas the signage for this Beefeater Inn is unobtrusive and blends in well

I walked over to see the entrance to Balliol College and had a peek inside. Then I headed off for something to eat and had an early night.

The next morning I was up bright and early to go for my run. It was raining and dreary but it was still nice to run somewhere different.

Such beautiful buildings.

First of all I checked out route to the Said Business School where the conference was being held. Then I headed back towards the hotel to work out my route to Keble College where I was going to attend a banquet that evening. Just look at the magnificent brickwork.

On my way back I ran past Hertford Bridge which is often referred to as the Bridge of Sighs because it looks like the Bridge of Sighs in Venice!

Next it was time to freshen up and head down for brekkie. Here's my bathroom selfie showing my frock and cardigan combo for the day. I chose to wear black lace-up shoes with a bit of a heel - please will someone remind me not to do that again if I'm going to be on my feet most of the day together with 1.5 miles walking there and back?! (***see below)

As I approached the conference centre I was greeted by a giant poster with the faces of 2 fellow supporters, Patrick and Carol Franklin-Adams, so I felt at home immediately. 

As I entered the building I felt a wave of excitement as I met the ARUK team and the first thing I did was to grab a coffee and immerse myself in the crowd of researchers milling around.

But surely a conference full of researcher talking about science would be boring for anyone other than fellow Scientists, I hear you cry?! Well, I’ve been a fund-raiser and campaigner for ARUK for over 9 years now as I firmly believe that science and innovation hold the key to defeating dementia and this gave me a chance to mingle with the people whose work I help to fund and I hope will lead to treatments and cures for dementia.

The ID tag was a very clever design. It had 3 parts with your name, a list of the programme for each day, a map and layout of the conference centre and a map showing the various conference venues.

I wanted to use the occasion to learn as much as I could about the various types of research projects underway at the moment. The only way to do that was to walk up to someone, confess that my only scientific credentials consist of my O levels in Chemistry, Physics and Biology and a life-long fascination with the workings of the human brain, and ask them to tell me about their specific area of research. 

So that’s exactly what I did! 

I heard about the relationship between tau tangles and fyn, amyloid beta aggregation, looking at the disease at the sub-atomic level, dyslipidemia (aka high cholesterol) which was of particular interest to me as I have high cholesterol despite a healthy lifestyle and diet, the effect of inflammation on the development of dementia and many more interesting subjects. It was wonderful to meet so many young and enthusiastic researchers.

For the first lecture I sneaked into the main lecture theatre and settled at the back as I needed to get out quickly to do a few interviews. It was packed to the rafters and when Rebecca Wood gave the opening address she recalled the very first conference they held when there was only a handful of people! It just shows how far ARUK has come as a charity and I felt proud to be a part of that.

Throughout the programme of lectures I attended I was worried that I wouldn’t understand what was being said. What I found though was that even if I didn’t understand exactly what some of the scientific terms meant, I could see the process that the researcher had gone through in their work, including dead-ends, and that was fascinating in itself.

After the first coffee break I went into the 'quiet room' to listen to proceedings. This was where journalists could sit and write and come and go as they pleased. On the left of the picture is Tim who wanted to do some photos and stuff for Twitter with me during the morning.

There was a massive screen so we could watch the lectures too.

Tim and I headed off to see Oli and Josh from the media team. Oli filmed several interviews with me about why I was excited to be at the conference etc. Lots of supporters had asked about texting to make a donation so Oli took loads of photos of me holding this board - we did happy smiling face, sombre face (I'm not very good at that!) and neutral face. I have no idea which face this is!

At the end of the first day there was a debate entitled ‘Genetics versus the Environment’ in which each side presented their case for investment in their area and the audience voted at the end. In the case for the Geneticists, Prof Kevin Morgan presented a strong case in which there was much talk about the genome and drug development whilst the case for Environment, presented by Prof John Gallacher focused on health aspects, eg diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, depression and obesity. I was surprised when the Environment won as I didn’t fully understand how someone could reduce their chances of developing dementia if they were genetically predisposed to the disease. I reasoned that the answer lies somewhere inbetween the two disciplines.

***That evening I changed into my dress for the evening and went to put my shoes on when I got the most almightily cramp in my right calf. I've having a few problems with this for a while and it makes me scream with pain sometimes. This time Mike wasn't around to help me and so I had to try and stretch it out. After about 5 minutes the pain subsided and I tried again to put on my shoe. Same thing happened. So I just gave up and put my running shoes on which looked ridiculous with my frock and so I had to change into a shirt and blouse combo which didn't look much better. I reckoned it wouldn't matter that much as I'd be sitting down at the table all the time.

There are lots of photos of Keble College and the banqueting suite here. In my photo it looks like a scene from Harry Potter and we all commented that we expected to see owls flying around!

I loved the place name with my chosen meal on the reverse and the service was brilliant. The food was excellent too.

During dinner I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Jo Rushworth (University of Leeds), Dr Sebastian Crutch (University College London) and  Prof Peter Lantos (a Trustee of ARUK).  I was fascinated to learn about their areas of research: Jo explained how having identified the process in which clumps of a harmful protein attach themselves to brain cells causing them to die, they were able to stop this by using extracts from green tea and red wine. Although I realised this was still in the early stages of research it was good news for me as I enjoy both those drinks! 

Sebastian is a leading expert on rare forms of dementia such as posterior cortical atrophy and frontotemporal dementia. I was impressed by how well he was able to explain his work in a way that I could understand. I told them about how I try to attract attention to ARUK by running marathons, sometimes knitting or crocheting at the same time, and we had a lively discussion about other possible fund-raising activities!

The next day the weather was much brighter so I took more photos on my run. Here's a selection:

Part of the High Street just waking up at 6:30am 
The entrance to the Oxford Botanic Gardens, sadly not open 
Punts on the River Cherwell which joins the Thames in Oxford
Glorious stone 

It certainly was a long wall!

The museum of the History of Science
The next images were taken around 8:30am as I headed off to the conference centre.
The High Street a bit later in the morning

Day 2 was a short one for me as I wasn't staying for the whole day. I met up with some of the ARUK team and then headed off for an interview with Hannah who does the Naked Scientist podcast.

Spot the running shoes - there was no way I was wearing heels again!
Me and Dr Laura Phipps from ARUK 
Then is was just a case of heading back to the hotel to collect my things and catching the bus back to  my car. I've never liked buses much but I have to confess that I thought these buses were lovely. When they pulled up at the bus stop they used some sort of hydraulic wizardry to lower themselves so that it was easy to step on and off then rose up again when they set off. Very clever and excellent for the elderly and less able-bodied.

Attending the conference made me realise just how important this sort of event is for researchers to meet up and exchange ideas. I came away feeling excited for the future, knowing that the money raised by myself and fellow supporters of ARUK is being put to good use by our researchers.


Jacquie said...

Thank you for sharing these gorgeous photos Susie. I would love to visit one day and you got to see it looking so quiet and peaceful :0)
I'm glad the conference was such a's to progress in this important field of medicine.
Jacquie x

Susie Hewer said...

Thanks Jacquie. It is a beautiful city and you'd feel safe on your bike there - there were loads of cyclists.

Susie Hewer said...
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