World’s biggest study of left-handedness

From Leonardo da Vinci to Oprah Winfrey, and from Napoleon Bonaparte to Jimi Hendrix the talents of left-handers have been celebrated across the generations.

However, the prevalence of people who favour their left hand over their right has always been a rough estimate – until now.

In the biggest ever global study of handedness researchers from across Europe, led by the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and in the UK by the University of St Andrews, have concluded that 10.6% of the world’s population are left handed.

Details of the study of more than two million people by researchers at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, University of Oxford, University of Bristol, Ruhr University Bochum and St Andrews are published in Psychological Bulletin today (Thursday 2 April 2020).

Frequency of left-handedness has shaped and underpinned different fields of research, from cognitive neuroscience to human evolution. While hundreds of empirical studies have assessed handedness, there has never been a large-scale, comprehensive review of the prevalence of handedness and the factors which moderate it.

For the study researchers examined five meta-analyses involving 2,396,170 individuals on hand preference for different manual tasks. They showed that left-handedness prevalence lies between 9.34% using the most stringent criterion of left-handedness, to 18.1% using the most lenient criterion of non-right-handedness, with the best overall estimate being 10.6%.

Typically handedness is measured by which hand is used to write with. However, for this study researchers allowed for the fact that about 9% of people use different hands for different tasks which further improved the accuracy for their findings.

Understanding handedness contributes to our understanding of human evolution. For example, it has been claimed that right-handedness, along with the capacity to make and use tools, to use language, and to show functional and anatomical cerebral specialisation, are characteristics specific to humans, and that they are intimately tied together in the divergent evolution of man from apes.

The lead UK author of the study, Dr Silvia Paracchini, of the School of Medicine at St Andrews, said: “This study will provide a useful reference for different areas of handedness research. In addition to providing reliable figures, the study highlights variability across studies depending on the different criteria used to measure handedness. While we intuitively classify handedness as a left/right category, these data show that the proportion of people using different hands for different tasks is almost as big as the proportion of the left-handers.”

‘Human handedness: A meta-analysis’ is published in Psychological Bulletin.

Please use the paper’s DOI (10.1037/bul0000229) in all references and social media posts.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

Molecular Approaches to Malaria Conference

From the 23rd-27th February 2020, Damilola Oresegun, PhD student with Dr Janet Cox Singh attended the Molecular Approaches to Malaria (MAM) conference in Lorne, Australia.  Taking place every 4 years, MAM aims to present the latest molecular advances in malaria research and provide opportunities for new collaborations within the discipline.  Dami presented a poster based on his PhD, detailing the generation of new reference genomes for the malaria parasite Plasmodium knowlesi using clinical isolates.


Damilola Oresegun pictured with his poster at the MAM Conference
Dami pictured with his poster at the MAM Conference

PhD opportunity

Determinants of childhood and early adolescence sleep behaviours and risk of overweight and obesity


Project description

Sleep is an involuntary behaviour, biologically fundamental to survival and wellbeing. In our current society, however, sleep is increasingly neglected with significant implications for health. Inadequate sleep has been associated with reduced cognitive function, increased risk of dementia, development of certain cancers and all-cause mortality. Recent research has also identified associations between sleep duration, quality, timing and risk of overweight and obesity in children and adults. Outside the field of health, sleep is also an important determinant of educational and social outcomes, thus, sleep has become an intervention target in childhood and adolescence. In order to develop best practice interventions to alter sleep and improve sleep related outcomes, a better understanding of the determinants of sleep is warranted.

Early adolescence is a time of many transitions and young people often adopt behaviours (e.g. reduced physical activity, poor diet, smoking) that are associated with unhealthy consequences. To date, evidence has identified poor sleep in childhood leading to poor health outcomes, but less is known about the determinants of poorer sleep in the adolescent age group, especially targets for intervention. This studentship will employ quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate the modifiable behavioural, social and environmental determinants of sleep up to early adolescence (approximately 10-15 years olds) and the interactions between the identified determinants and risk of overweight and obesity, in order to inform the development of interventions.

The studentship will include the analysis of secondary data as well as primary data collection. The student will gain skills and experience in systematic evidence synthesis, epidemiology, secondary data analysis (longitudinal data), primary data collection including subjective and objective measures, qualitative methods, public involvement and intervention development.

This studentship will be supervised by Dr Andrew James Williams, Senior Lecturer in Public Health and Dr Jo Cecil, Lecturer in Behavioural Science from the Population and Behavioural Science Division of the School of Medicine at the University of St Andrews.  Dr Williams is an epidemiologist whose research focuses on the social and cultural determinants of positive child and adolescent health, especially obesity prevention.  Dr Cecil’s research focuses on the bio-psychological controls of appetite, eating behaviour and obesity in children and adults.  Population and Behavioural Science research in the School of Medicine is transforming the prevention, early detection and management of illness as well as health promotion and communication locally, nationally and globally. We are a multidisciplinary team of researchers with expertise in health data science, epidemiology, trials and the design, delivery, and evaluation of theory-based psychological interventions. We work in the primary care and community health domains, with specific interests in addiction medicine, child and adolescent health, long-term conditions, and health behaviours. We are committed to public and patient involvement throughout our research and host the Fife Community Patient Council who help guide the delivery and understanding of our research.

Further information on the School of Medicine’s research activities can be found on the School of Medicine website.



The candidate should possess skills in research methods, communication and scientific writing as well as the ability to work and learn from colleagues based in multiple disciplines. The candidate should have an interest and enthusiasm for the topic and methods of the studentship. Applicants for this project must have an Undergraduate degree (1st class Honours or 2:1) or Masters degree, or equivalent, in a relevant discipline e.g. public health, psychology, health psychology, child development, epidemiology.

Funding Notes

This is a 3 year funded PhD studentships comprising of tuition fees and stipend at current research council rates.

Start date

September 2020

How to apply

Applications should be submitted via the University application system

Closing date

Friday 17th April


For further details on the project or informal enquiries please contact Dr Andrew James Williams ( or Dr Jo Cecil (

Celebrating Scottish Apprentice Week 2020

Under the banner “Talent Without Limits”, 23 apprentices from across the University of St Andrews including the School of Medicine’s Business Administration apprentice, Rachel Horn enjoyed a fun day of team building exercises led by the 255 Scottish Medical Regiment from the Army Reserve on Thursday 5 March at the University Sports Centre.  Split into 3 teams, the apprentices tackled tasks requiring teamwork, problem solving and memory recall.  Rachel said:

I really enjoyed the apprentice day getting to meet all the other apprentices from the University.  The team building exercises with the Army Reserve was a fun way to get to know each other and to bring out our competitiveness in the challenges.

After lunch, the apprentices created some short videos about what they enjoy about their apprenticeship training and heard from former apprentices, who are now employed full time at the university.

Members of the winning team each received an Amazon gift voucher from QA apprenticeships, who generously sponsored the day.


Head of BHF Scotland visits St Andrews

James Joplin (back row, 3rd from the left) with researchers from the Stewart, Pitt and Varela research groups


On the 27th February James Joplin, the new Head of BHF Scotland visited the University of St Andrews to see the cutting edge medical and biomedical research carried out at the university. During the visit he met a number of key staff, including Prof Frank Sullivan (Director of Research) and Prof Colin McCowan (Head of Population and Behavioural Science Division). Within the School of Medicine he visited the BHF-funded Stewart, Pitt and Varela labs and met early career researchers from their respective groups. James was also given a tour of the research facilities within the Biomedical Sciences Research Complex and new Willie Russell Laboratories by Prof Terry Smith (Director of the BSRC).

PhD Opportunity

Improving the power of genetic studies for complex diseases with deep learning


Apply for this fully funded 4 years PhD scholarship to be part of new exciting collaboration between the University of St Andrews and Canon Medical Research Europe


The project
The field of genomics has made huge advances for a number of diseases for which extremely large sample sets (e.g hundreds of thousands) can be achieved. This is not the case for all conditions including language disorders (e.g. dyslexia, developmental language disorders and stuttering) because of the complexity around diagnosis and assessment. Through advanced computational approaches, we will develop novel methods to integrate this huge and valuable biological information into genomic studies. By making an intelligent use of pooled information, we will reduce the number of tests so that meaningful genetic studies can be carried out on relatively small samples, such as those currently available to study language disorders. However the tools that we will develop will be applicable to wider range of diseases.

The project builds on a three-way interdisciplinary partnership. Dr Silvia Paracchini (School of Medicine), Dr John Thomson (School of Computer Science) at the University of St Andrews are investigating the application of machine learning (ML) methods on genomics data. Dr Ian Poole, principal scientist at Canon Medical Research Europe with expertise in the development and application of ML approaches brings in the industry perspective.

The person
Applications are encouraged from graduates with backgrounds in bioinformatics, biology, statistics, mathematics, computer science and related disciplines. The ideal candidate will have an interest in the genomics of human diseases  and an aptitude for computational approaches. Some experience of working with genetic data would be desirable but not essential. A Masters degree in relevant disciplines would be an advantage.

Funding and training This projects provides a unique training opportunity for the student who, at the end of the PhD, will have the skills to work with large genomic datasets at the interface between medicine, bioinformatics and artificial intelligence (AI). The student will receive training for all scientific areas required by the project and in addition, through internship at Canon, will get exposed to different aspects of research commercialization.

The project is funded by Medical Research Scotland for four year, including a competitive scholarship and fees.

How to apply
For further details on the project and informal enquiries please contact to Dr. Silvia Paracchini with a CV and a covering letter.  Start date: September 2020 or as soon as possible after then.


John Bradley Clinical Research Programme – Endocrinology

Summer research experience with the John Bradley Clinical Research Programme


Over the past summer, Amanda Kung (3rd year BSc student) participated in the John Bradley Clinical Research Programme in Toronto, Ontario.

She was assigned to the Endocrinology department at Michael Garron Hospital, and worked under the supervision of Dr Zoe Lysy, Dr Rebecca Fine, and Dr Raymond Fung. Her research project focused on improving the management of diabetic pregnant patients during the hours of active labour. This involved analysing the data from over 100 patients in order to find areas for improvement in managing this specific cohort of patients.

The programme was six weeks long and consisted of weekly four-hour seminars at the University of Toronto’s Department of Family and Community Medicine. Each seminar focused on a different aspect of research, and students were asked to give one oral presentation to defend their project in the context of that seminar. At the end of the programme, students gave a poster presentation in front of another panel of judges summarising their research and produced a ‘one-minute wonder’, where they were allowed creative freedom to describe their project in a one-minute video.

Amanda recommends this programme to students interested in learning about the various aspects of research and for those wanting to broaden their exposure to clinical research prior to writing their dissertation. She also noted that the programme is the perfect opportunity for students to meet and collaborate with medical students from around the world and make long lasting connections with doctors, professors, and research scientists based in Canada.

International Society for Zinc Biology 2019 meeting and Kyoto Lab Visit

3rd year BHF-funded PhD student Amy Dorward (Pitt lab) and Dr Gavin Robertson (PDRA; Pitt lab) visited Prof Hiroshi Takeshima’s lab at the Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Science, Kyoto University, Japan between 9th August – 14th September 2019. During this time both Amy and Gavin carried out some exciting new experiments, which will contribute to an upcoming publication. They also presented posters at the International Society for Zinc Biology (ISZB) 2019 conference, also in Kyoto.  Gavin was awarded a Metallomics poster prize. Dr Samantha Pitt was invited to give an oral presentation.  Amy was awarded travel grants by Russell Trust, Biochemical Society, British Society for Cell Biology (BSCB) and the School of Medicine.  Gavin obtained funding from BSCB and the Physiological Society.


Dorothy Miller bursary presentations: Sharing experiences in Malawi

The three students who were awarded Dorothy Miller Bursaries this year, Sofia Garcia Agudo, Sarah Alvi and Sarah Eshkour, gave great presentations about their experiences in Malawi this summer to an audience of interested second year students and members of staff on Friday 4th October 2019. The session was hosted by Dr Derek Sloan, who gave a background to the Dorothy Miller bursaries, introduced the speakers and facilitated a brief discussion after each presentation.


All three students highlighted how much they benefitted from the experience and reflected on some of the challenges they faced. The Dorothy Miller Bursary award is made possible through the generosity of the Miller Family.


This year, there was a special guest presentation from Malawian ENT nurse Emily Kwenda. Emily is currently  a Visiting Scholar with the School and is in Fife undertaking training under the banner of the Ungweru Project. The Ungweru Project is a partnership between ENT doctors and nurses in NHS Fife and the School of Medicine. It aims to improve ENT care in Malawi by sharing expertise and knowledge through training.

left to right: Sarah Eshkour, Emily Kwenda, Sarah Alvi, Sofia Garcia Agudo