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Brighton & Sussex Medical School

Research in action

BSMS > Undergraduate > What our students say > Research in action

Research in action

Two BSMS students discuss their own research interests, which they explored through their Individual Research Projects (IRPs) in Year 4.


Sam Owen


Health interventions in men who have sex with men (MSM): findings of a service evaluation

Online dating apps have become increasingly common over the past decade and have created a new and accessible way to meet local partners. I was curious to discover if there was an association between online dating app use and numbers of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The current academic literature is divided over this issue, with some finding that online dating apps lead to more candid conversations about sex generally and should therefore lead to safer sex. However, others argue that increased numbers of sexual partners, along with overlap may lead to increased numbers of STIs.

With this in mind, I wanted my IRP to quantify if there is a link between online dating app use and numbers of STIs in men who have sex with men. My project involved 1,186 participants and was one of the largest conducted in England so far. I found that use of certain online dating apps was significantly related to numbers of STIs, which also correlated to increased frequency of dating application use. These outcomes allowed me to present my findings as an oral presentation at the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV national conference
in Oxford.

My IRP also allowed me to undertake clinical work in sexual health, working in weekly testing clinics, and I really enjoyed this balance between research and clinical work. This project has been one of my best experiences at medical school and BSMS really encourages you to choose a project you can really get behind – if you have an idea you would like to pursue, you can and the right supervisor to support you through your project.


Fenella Prowse 


Carrying a genetic risk for dementia: cognitive and neural signatures of the APOE e4 gene in mid-age

It is predicted that by 2025,1million people in the UK will suffer from dementia, but we still have no cure or effective treatment. This is one of the reasons I became interested in this field. There has been a great deal of research into Alzheimer’s but an understanding of exactly what causes the disease has yet to be discovered.

Research has shown that carriers of a particular gene called APOE e4 (roughly 14% of the population) are 12 times more likely to develop the disease than non-carriers. The cognitive pro le of e4-carriers also changes across the lifespan, with younger e4 carriers showing cognitive advantage over their non-carrier peers, followed by a reversal in cognitive abilities later in life.

My IRP focused on a mid-aged population, as this is where there may be important changes to cognitive function, and a potential time where intervention could help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s.

I recruited healthy mid-aged people to the study; they were a mixture of e4 carriers
and non-carriers, but this was blinded to the participants and the researchers to reduce bias and maintain confidentiality. I scanned the participants’ brains using functional MRI while they performed memory tasks. The overall results showed reduced activity in areas of the brain involved in memory, such as the hippocampus, in e4 carriers. It is possible this represents the early effects of Alzheimer’s disease in certain parts of the brain, before any cognitive changes are noted. This has helped us understand the disease process, even before the onset of Alzheimer’s, and may assist in the future development of preventative treatment.

It was a great opportunity for me to further my interest in Alzheimer’s disease and
get some research experience, as well
as contribute to the expanding literature on the e4 gene.