My Journey to Salford: Charles

My journey to Salford brings you inspiring stories each issue from students who have overcome adversity to reach their current destination at the University of Salford. This issue, Charles Middleton shares his experience with autism.

My journey to Salford brings you inspiring stories each issue from students who have overcome adversity to reach their current destination at the University of Salford


My journey to Salford has not been an easy ride. There have been many challenges I have had to overcome, am yet to overcome and still face in everyday life. As we know, life is tough and struggles are a part of daily life. Maybe for some more than others. 

So, I am a student on the autistic spectrum. Autism, for me, means that some things can bother me, even the littlest of things, that maybe others do not think about often. It can be hard to socialise, particularly when I do not always pick up on body language and facial expressions. This has been tough during online lectures, but I am gaining confidence with getting opportunities to take part in extracurricular activities, such as the Biomed Society. Societies are a great way of socialising and practicing understanding social cues. Sensory processing can also be a challenge for me, such as with loud noises and food textures. Because of this, my journey to Salford has been a never-ending mountain of obstacles that I have had to tackle. Kind of like when you first learn to ride a bicycle and you fall off and get back up and try again, but continuously. It can be hard, trying to fit in, trying to succeed, trying to get to your destination. 

Throughout my school years I found it difficult to make friends and mostly preferred being on my own. I wasn’t like everyone else – I didn’t use much technology, I didn’t do fashion trends, or have an interest in being part of a friendship group What I did do was have a routine, do extra studying at home and even a paper round job. These things helped me and still do. 

Being on the autistic spectrum can have some advantages too. For me, I am determined, I pay attention to close details and I am good at identifying patterns. In fact, autistic individuals have great attributes and qualities which can contribute to unique talents, ideas, and innovations. I tend to think outside the box, then outside again, and then further outside; I like to solve a problem when it arises, and I ensure that I am always prepared to.

One thing I do enjoy is learning. However, I process things differently to some of my peers and see the world as something perhaps I do not understand, yet information processing is a a part of daily life and vital to academia. I did not think I would get into college, or even get onto the course I am doing at Salford. 

Throughout this year, I have had even more challenges throughout the pandemic. Not only with becoming a new student at Salford, but socialising. It can become lonely, stressful and tiring at times. Changes that I am not used to or are not part of my pre-planned routines have been a struggle. What helps is discussing these with my lecturers and support staff and doing my best to plan for any changes that will occur further along in the course. 

What I am grateful for is how different my experience at Salford has been: I have been supported throughout my time here so far, have made some great friends who are understanding and patient, and most of all, I feel like I am part of a community. 

Charles Middleton is a first year undergraduate student of BSc Human Biology and Infectious Diseases.

Want to share your inspiring story of overcoming adversity in your journey to Salford? Visit our contributions page.

Biomedicine Careers Hub Launched on Blackboard for Salford Students

Dr David Greensmith announces the launch of the brand-new Careers hub for Salford University students studying biomedicine courses and how this will benefit students.

By Dr David  Greensmith 

I’m sure that for most of you, to enter a career related to your degree — and thus realise your ambitions — is of the upmost importance. Indeed, it’s probably why you chose your particular degree in the first place! In an increasingly competitive employment landscape, choosing a career path that is right for you, then making yourself as employable as possible, has never been as important. 

To facilitate this, the Biomedicine leadership team has launched a brand new “Biomedicine Careers Hub” located within the communities section of Blackboard. It’s important to stress that the hub does not replace existing dedicated and personal mentorship schemes such as Biomed Soc, the Research Careers Working Group and GEMMS/PA. Rather, it will support and expand those schemes by providing a permanent and centralised repository for resources related to careers and employability 

At the top of the hub’s landing page, you will see a video (see “Welcome to the Biomedicine Careers Hub”) that provides more general information but briefly, you can use the hub in two ways: 

(1) To research career options

On the hub, you will see activity spaces for fundamental career groups. We have kept those groups relatively high level (representing a considerable breadth of distinct pathways in some cases) and the list certainly isn’t exhaustive. Indeed, if you feel a certain career group isn’t represented, let us know. Nonetheless, you can casually browse the hub to get an idea of the sort of careers that are aligned to your degree. If you decide you wish to pursue a given career, the associated space will provide specific information that intends to help with your own endeavours. For example; career-specific job advert sites, CV-enhancing opportunities and application / entry routes. 

(2)  To make yourself more employable

To facilitate entry into any career, the richer your CV the better; you must stand out from the crowd.  To this end, we will also place CV-enhancing opportunities on the hub. If you engage with as many opportunities as you can, your CV will improve consequently. As most opportunities have wide scope (i.e. will support many degree-related careers), they will appear in the “CV-enhancing opportunities (for all careers)” space. If an opportunity is career-specific, you will find it in the related career space. Remember, many opportunities are transient so you should check the hub frequently. 

The hub is a highly dynamic resource. It will constantly grow and develop with new content so do access it on a regular basis to see what’s new. And remember that while we created this resource to help you research careers, enhance your CV then go for the jobs, all we can do is provide the opportunities. It is up to you to engage with as many of those as you can to make yourself as employable as possible!  Enjoy the hub. Your programme team has invested a lot of effort in creating this for you, so we really hope you find it a useful resource. Feel free to send constructive feedback to

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine Explained


With a variety of questions following its approval by regulatory bodies in the UK and US, many are focussed on communicating the precise mechanisms of the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine to protect against COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2. This piece aims to explore the contents of the vaccine and its exact effects upon injection into the muscle of the upper arm. 

The vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech is different from other pre-existing vaccines: rather than using weakened or inactivated forms of the pathogen (disease-causing particle), it contains genetic information in the form of mRNA. To account for the effects of this, it’s important to acknowledge the body’s cellular machinery and the effects that the invading virus has: 

All cells contain  DNA. This is a very compact molecule that contains massive amounts of information encoded into its molecular structure. It contains instructions for your body on pretty much everything, from your eye or hair colour, to the exact details of chemical processes that take place in your digestive system. 

In order to mobilise (read and use) instructions in DNA, the cells convert DNA into  messenger RNA [mRNA] in a process called  transcription

This requires existing cell machinery called  ribosomes  to read the instructions in the  mRNA  molecules in a process called translation and use them to make proteins which are vital for all day-to-day function. 

The virus takes advantage of the cells’ existing processes, hijacking the structures to reproduce its own genetic information (also in the form of mRNA) rather than that of the original, functional cell.

Viruses hijack healthy cells’ existing machinery to produce  their own viral proteins  which then go on to help produce more of the virus. This is what disrupts regular function and causes disease¹.

Figure 1: Creative rendition of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles. Note: not to scale. Credit: NIAID 

The vaccine particles interact with the body’s cells, fuse with them and release the spike mRNA into the cells. The cell then uses its own ribosomes to construct the spike proteins which, on their own, are relatively harmless. (Figure 2, below) The inserted mRNA is eventually destroyed by the cell, leaving no permanent trace. 

What’s the effect of having SARS-Cov-2 spike proteins in the body’s cells? 

Once they are constructed, spike proteins (and fragments of spike proteins) migrate to the surface of the cell and stick out tips. This is recognised by the body, specifically the body’s immune system, and generates an immune response⁴. 


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Figure 2: Creative rendition of interactions between vaccine particles and vaccinated cell. Shows how cellular machinery is used to synthesise spike proteins. 

How does the immune system react once recognising the foreign protein fragments following vaccination? 

Once the cell is recognised as foreign and infected, it is destroyed by the immune system, releasing its contents into its surroundings. The released spike proteins and their fragments are then collected by and displayed on the surface of an immune cell called an antigen-presenting cell. This can have several effects (Figure 3): 


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Figure 3: Creative rendition of communications between immune cells involving antigen-presenting cells. 

The antigen-presenting cell activates a type of immune cell called the helper T-cell. Helper T-cells detect the fragments of proteins presented by the antigen-presenting cell and communicate with the rest of the body’s immune system to help fight the infection. 

Antigen-presenting cells also activate a type of immune cell called killer T-cells. These then seek out and destroy infected cells displaying spike protein fragments on their surfaces. 

Immune cells called B-cells then synthesise and secrete antibodies. These are protein molecules that the body produces in response to disease and uses to fight infections. Antibodies produced in response to the vaccine also have the ability to help fight SARS-CoV-2; they latch onto SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins, flagging them to the rest of the immune system to be destroyed. They also prevent further infection of other healthy cells by blocking the spikes from attaching to them (Figure 4). 

Figure 4: Transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, causing COVID-19, isolated from a patient. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus  give coronaviruses their name (corona = crown). The spikes act as a target for both immune response in disease and potential therapies. Source: NIAID-RML

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two injections, given 21 days apart. It’s possible that in the months after vaccination, the number of antibodies and killer T-cells in the body will decrease, as researchers still aren’t sure exactly how long protection will last. However, the instructions to construct the disease-fighting antibodies are stored in the body’s bespoke ‘disease database’ managed by immune cells called memory B-cells and memory T-cells¹. 

The production of antibodies in response to vaccination gives the body’s immune system a much-needed ‘headstart’ in fighting a potential SARS-CoV-2 infection. This means that the body can recognise and fight the virus by producing antibodies much more quickly than if the vaccine was not given. On 18th November 2020, Pfizer and BioNTech reported that primary efficacy analysis of the BNT162b2 vaccine demonstrates 95% effectiveness against COVID-19 beginning 28 days after the first dose⁵.  

Whilst the exact logistics of its use within healthcare systems are still being determined, it is certain that the use of an effective and safe vaccine will prove invaluable in the first stage of global recovery from the pandemic. 


1.  Sadava, David, et al.Life: The science of Biology. 11th. Sunderland, MA : Sinauer Associates, 2016. 
2. mRNA vaccine delivery using lipid nanoparticles.Reichmuth AM, Oberli MA, Jaklenec A, Langer R, Blankschtein D. 5, 2016, Vol. 7. 
3.  Developing mRNA-vaccine technologies. Schlake T, Thess A, Fotin-Mleczek M, Kallen KJ. 11, 2012, Vol. 9. 
4.  Pierce, Benjamin A. Genetics: A Conceptual Approach. 6th. New York, NY : W. H. Freeman and Company, 2017. 
5.  Pfizer and BioNTech. Pfizer. [Online] 2020. [Cited: November 29, 2020.]