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Insight blog: Posts from the "Behind the MRC scenes" Category

Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.

Clinical trials: from policy to participation

19 May 2015

After years funding, overseeing and monitoring clinical trials, our Director of Corporate Affairs Dr Tony Peatfield has found himself on the other side of a trial ― as a participant. Here he reflects on how his medical care has benefited from clinical trials, and why the opportunity to sign up to one was not to be missed.

Tony Peatfield

Tony Peatfield

Life is full of surprises, some more welcome than others. My most recent was to find myself in A&E with a heart attack. I consider(ed) myself generally healthy – I have a good diet, drink moderately, have never smoked, and do a reasonable amount of exercise (though I admit nothing too vigorous). Indeed until now, during my 30 years working for the MRC, I had taken only one day off sick.

I had excellent treatment and care in hospital, and having to spend a lot of time on my back with tubes and wires attached to me gave me some time to reflect on what was happening to me! [...]

Continue reading: Clinical trials: from policy to participation

What do we mean by experimental medicine?

15 Apr 2015

Earlier this month we launched the call for our third round of Experimental Medicine Challenge Grants. But what exactly do we mean by experimental medicine, and why is now a good time to be doing such research? Professor Stephen Holgate, Chair of our Translational Research Group, explains.  

A researcher analysing fMRI data

(Image: NIMH on Wikimedia Commons in the public domain)

 

Medical research would be very different without models of health and disease. We use cells, tissues and animals to determine what healthy biological processes look like, how they change with disease, and to test new interventions.

Traditionally, we made discoveries in models and then, once it was appropriate, tested potential interventions in people. All kinds of models are used, from cells in dishes to macaque monkeys.

Cell and animal models will continue to be a cornerstone of medical research, but it’s time to start experimenting in another important model organism: humans. What could teach us more about human health than the human body itself? [...]

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Science doesn’t only need sprinters

18 Mar 2015

At the moment, researchers have a certain number of years after their PhD to apply for MRC fellowships, after which point they’re ineligible. But is a ticking clock the best way for scientists to flourish? Here Simone Bryan, Programme Manager for Strategic Projects here at the MRC, explains why we’re removing time-bound criteria from our fellowship applications to help give people the time they need.  

A hurdler seen through a row of hurdles

(Image: Robert Voors on Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

One of the best things about my job is getting the chance to meet so many brilliant and talented researchers who are doing jobs they love. But, for all its wonder, pursuing a research career is competitive and challenging.

In particular, moving from being a postdoc to an independent investigator in your own right is hugely challenging. It’s usually done by securing a personal fellowship which pays your salary and research costs. [...]

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Actually, we do fund studies of illicit drugs

5 Mar 2015

A cannabis plant

(Image: Drome on Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Whatever you might have heard in the media, we do fund research into illicit psychoactive drugs. Here Dr Kathryn Adcock, Head of Neurosciences and Mental Health at the MRC, explains.

You might have seen in the news today that Professor David Nutt, Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, has said that UK funders are unwilling to fund research that uses illicit drugs.

But we agree that recreational drugs may have therapeutic benefits, and we encourage research in this area. That’s why in 2012 we funded Professor Nutt to the tune of over £500,000 for his research into whether psilocybin – the active ingredient in magic mushrooms – can treat major depression. In 2013 we funded his £250,000 project to use psilocybin in schizophrenia research. [...]

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Getting the best out of biological samples

12 Feb 2015

Tissue samples stored in microscope slides

Tissue samples (Image: euthman on Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Hundreds of thousands of biological samples such as blood, urine and tissue blocks are kept in research institutions and hospitals across the UK. Within them may lie the answers to some of the biggest questions in medical research. Getting the best out of samples relies on donors understanding what they may be used for and researchers feeling confident about when they can use and share them. Here Professor James Ironside, Professor of Clinical Neuropathology at the University of Edinburgh, tells us about new MRC guidance on the practicalities and ethics of using biological samples.

“It’s better not to restrict the possible use of the sample because by restricting it you’re increasing the chance that it’ll go to waste. You want the highest probability that something good will come from it.”

Those are the words of a patient surveyed about the public’s views on the use of biological samples in medical research [1]. So how do we go about increasing the chances that samples will be useful?

Samples of human biological material have always been crucial to medical research, but as we move into an era in which huge amounts of data can be analysed easily, getting the best out of each and every sample is becoming more important than ever. [...]

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The history of animal research at the NIMR

4 Dec 2014

Three members of staff with dogs at Rhodes Farm in 1928

Staff with dogs at Rhodes Farm in 1928

Today’s research animals live in high-tech environments designed with welfare in mind. The contrast with the situation in the early 20th century when the MRC National Institute for Medical Research was founded is marked, and the institute itself has made a huge contribution to this progress. Here we look at just some of their contributions, extracted from a book telling the story of the research institute’s 100-year history.

No one does animal research for the sake of it, and those charged with looking after research animals are committed ― and held by law ― to ensuring that animals used in research are provided with the highest standards of care and welfare.

In the institute’s early days, animals were housed in individual labs, but in 1922 the MRC bought 39 acres of land at Mill Hill in north London to create field laboratories at Rhodes Farm. Within a year, there were specially designed facilities for breeding and keeping dogs and small animals, with local girls helping to care for and exercise the dogs. At the main institute site in Hampstead animals were kept in a new annex ― built in 1927 ― in “the highest possible standard of hygienic conditions for the keeping of experimental animals”. [...]

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Behind the scenes at an MRC Panel

6 Nov 2014

We’ve looked at what it’s like to be a member of an MRC board, but what actually happens at a meeting? Katherine Nightingale sat in on part of a Panel session to find out.

Scoring equipment

The scoring equipment used by the Panel

In a large, bright room on the 13th floor of a London office block, 25 people are deciding how to spend up to £10 million. They are the MRC’s Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme (DPFS) Panel, charged with making decisions on applications for funding the development and testing of new therapies, medical devices and diagnostics.

The task at hand is to consider a set of 15 full applications seeking just over £15m for funding. Each application has already been the subject of considerable work from the Panel during the outline stage, which does what it says on the tin, with the Panel feeding back on a brief description of the project. [...]

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Q&A: The ins and outs of the Clinical Research Capabilities and Technologies Initiative

23 Oct 2014

MRI scan of a human head

An MRI scan of a human head (Image credit: Wikipedia/everyone’s idle)

Today Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced the recipients of our Clinical Research Capabilities and Technologies Initiative, with 23 projects receiving a total of just over £170m. But what exactly are these ‘capabilities’, what do we hope to achieve, and where did all that money come from? Katherine Nightingale takes a closer look.

What do we mean by clinical research capabilities?

It’s about new technologies for clinical research. We’re all familiar with the idea of clinical research being about clinical trials to assess drugs, devices and diagnostics in people. Clinical research is often seen as the end of the ‘pipeline’ from making discoveries in the laboratory to helping patients, but that’s not the whole story.

We want to make clinical research in the UK also about studying disease at the molecular, cellular, organ and whole-body level ― and to do that researchers need new tools. This includes better body-imaging equipment, new technology for monitoring physiology, and ways of analysing the intricacies of disease in cells and tissues. Doing this needs big pieces of kit, as well as resources for building on the equipment in the future and using it in new ways.

Discoveries made in this way might then be fed back ‘into the lab’ or go on to influence further clinical research. The aim is that by funding these technologies, we’ll build on existing infrastructure, and speed up innovation by allowing researchers to explore new areas. [...]

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Q&A: What it takes to be on an MRC board

9 Sep 2014

Moira Whyte

Moira Whyte (Image: Academy of Medical Sciences)

It’s that time of year when we open up applications for new members of our boards and panels. Here Professor Moira Whyte, Head of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, talks to Katherine Nightingale about her experience being a member of an MRC board ― and the benefits it can have to researchers.

What has your involvement with MRC boards been?

I’ve been a member of Population and Systems Medicine Board (PSMB) for four years and I was Deputy Chair of the panel making decisions about the MRC-NIHR Efficacy and Mechanisms Evaluation Programme for five. Both of those commitments ended this year. As well as this, I’ve been involved in other activities such as evaluating stratified medicine funding calls.

How has being a board member affected your day-to-day work?

The obvious commitment is preparing for and attending the board meetings, which are held three times a year for PSMB. There is also a preliminary stage to each meeting where you read grant applications and comment on them online as part of the triage system. Some of these will be preliminary applications for large grants that the board helps shape, and others will be more standard grant applications.

The number of applications you read can vary, but it takes about a day to do the preliminary reading and then probably another day to prepare for the board meeting. [...]

Continue reading: Q&A: What it takes to be on an MRC board

Collaborating with compounds

4 Sep 2014

Chris Watkins

Chris Watkins

In July we unveiled a new partnership with seven pharmaceutical companies to share deprioritised compounds for research in new disease areas. Here Chris Watkins, the MRC’s Director of Translational Research and Industry, explains how the collaboration came about and the role it plays in the MRC’s strategy for collaborating with industry.

One of the big challenges in medical research is understanding the biology of human disease. But there’s a problem with that. It’s not surprising that the best way of understanding human disease is to study it in people, using molecules where you have an idea of how they will work and which you know are safe to give to study participants.

But these molecules are mainly developed by industry, once they’re pretty confident that they might become treatments. So how do you gain the evidence about the disease mechanism in the first place? You need access to the molecules. That’s exactly what the current drug discovery landscape needs, and what the partnership we announced is aiming to do. [...]

Continue reading: Collaborating with compounds