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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.

MRC peer review explained

10 May 2016

The MRC funds research across the biomedical spectrum in all major disease areas. But do you know what happens to your MRC grant application when you press ‘submit’? Familiarising yourself with MRC peer review will not only help you navigate the selection process but also learn more about what reviewers are looking for. We invite you to go behind the MRC scenes in our short animation explaining how the MRC peer review process works.

Find out more about peer review on our website [...]

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Why peer review needs you – and you need peer review

10 May 2016

Engaging in peer review of grant applications means helping ensure public money is spent as wisely as possible. The decision-making process is difficult, but with over 20 years of peer review experience Eleanor Riley, Deputy Chair of the MRC Infections and Immunity Board and Professor of Infectious Disease Immunology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), explains what makes a good review and how everybody gains if everybody takes part.

Eleanor Riley. Credit: Anne Koerber, LSHTM

Eleanor Riley. Credit: Anne Koerber, LSHTM

To be sure we fund important research questions, high-quality research and well-designed studies we need to ask for the opinions of people who best understand that research area. It is a long, difficult and sometimes imperfect process but it is the only way to ensure we allocate finite funds to the very best projects. [...]

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Reproducibility in science — where the MRC comes in

29 Oct 2015

The MRC and a group of partner organisations have today published a report and joint statement  about the reproducibility and reliability of research, and what can be done to improve them. Here, Jim Smith, MRC Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Strategy, thinks about how discussions of reproducibility offer us the opportunity to improve the way science is done.

Jim Smith

Jim Smith

From basic discovery science to clinical studies, medical research works. When a new drug saves or extends lives, a new screen permits early detection of disease, or we find a new use for an old treatment, we can be confident in the long research journey that got us to that point.

But things aren’t perfect. For some years there have been rumblings in the scientific community and beyond that all is not well. In 2005, John Ioannidis published a paper in PLoS Medicine [1] provocatively titled Why most published research findings are false. In it he argued that most study designs will lead to conclusions that are more likely to be false than true.

And sure enough, a report [2] by the Open Science Foundation, published in Science this year, described the replication of 100 papers in psychological research journals: 97 of the original studies reported significant results, but this was true of only 36 of the replications. [...]

Continue reading: Reproducibility in science — where the MRC comes in

12 top tips for writing a grant application

5 Oct 2015

Sitting down to write a grant application? Recently submitted a proposal or been successful in the last MRC board round? Building grant writing skills is a great way to help secure funding. With experience of working with various MRC boards and panels, Dr David Crosby, Programme Manager for Methodology and Experimental Medicine, has a pretty good idea of what they’re looking for. Here he describes how to master the application process and make your grant stand out from the rest.

A woman typing at a laptop

1. Allow plenty of time

Everything takes longer than you think it will. No matter how simple it may seem to pull together a project there are lot of different steps, some more time-consuming than others, involved in submitting a proposal.

2. Choose your funder and scheme carefully

It’s good to talk! Speak to the funders – we’re here to help. Ask us questions to get an insight into what we’re interested in. Sign up for information feeds, find out what kind of research is in a funder’s remit and read through guidance and eligibility criteria carefully. We don’t want you wasting your time – or ours – applying for an inappropriate scheme. [...]

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We must keep using CRISPR-Cas9 technology

2 Sep 2015

Today we released a joint statement with other medical research funders in support of research using gene editing techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9 to advance our understanding of disease in preclinical research and to explore their potential for future therapeutic use. Here our Director of Science Programmes Dr Rob Buckle discusses the huge potential of gene editing, and why any attempt to use it in a therapeutic context must be the subject of the kind of intense and rigorous debate that the scientific community and UK regulatory system has demonstrated in the past.

Wooden blocks with DNA letters on them

(Image: Duncan Hull on Flickr under CC BY 2.0)


Being able to edit the human genome is not a new idea or capability. For decades researchers have been developing potential gene therapy techniques to correct missing or faulty DNA and restore healthy gene expression in cells.

More recently, techniques have been developed that can edit the genome in a much more efficient and targeted fashion, and one such example, CRISPR-Cas9, has accelerated the field to such an extent that researchers can now make precise edits to the genome in a relatively easy, speedy, precise and error-free way. [...]

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People power: the volunteers behind dementia research

14 Aug 2015

New figures from the National Institute of Health and Development released today shine a light on dementia research and the growing number of everyday people committing their time and biological information to help tackle the disease. MRC Director of Science Programmes Dr Rob Buckle looks at why cohort studies are so important in getting underneath the skin of the disease.

Group of people waving at the camera

The number of people taking in part in dementia research is up by at least 60% in the past year, according to figures released today by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Champagne corks will be popping in labs across the country. There’s so much about dementia that we still don’t understand: who is at risk of developing dementia and why the progression of the disease varies from person to person; the anatomy of the disease itself; how we can develop new medicines to treat its progression and improve symptoms; and how we can make accurate diagnosis easier. [...]

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Molecular pathology – what’s that all about then?

27 Jul 2015

Today we announced that, along with the EPSRC, we’re putting £16m into six molecular pathology ‘nodes’ across the country. But you’re not alone if you’re wondering exactly what molecular pathology – or a molecular pathology node – is. Here MRC Programme Manager Dr Jonathan Pearce explains that the aim is to get new diagnostics into the NHS so that we can better spot and treat disease.

Molecular pathology seeks to describe and understand disease at the level of macromolecules (Image: ynse on Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Molecular pathology seeks to describe and understand disease at the level of macromolecules (Image: ynse on Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Pathology… Isn’t that doing autopsies?

Forensic pathology is just one part of pathology. Pathology actually means the study of disease, and most pathologists spend their time analysing clinical samples such as blood, urine and tissue to either diagnose disease or to understand how diseases develop and progress.

So, what exactly do you mean by molecular pathology?

Historically, pathology has sought to understand disease by looking for differences at the level of tissues and cells.

Molecular pathology is different in that it seeks to describe and understand disease at the level of macromolecules (for example DNA, RNA and protein) and in some cases at an even smaller scale. [...]

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Research impact: A rising tide lifts all boats

9 Jul 2015

How to measure the impact of research is a big issue at the moment for researchers and funders alike. As HEFCE’s The Metric Tide review of the use of metrics in research assessment and management is published, our Director of Strategic Evaluation and Impact Dr Ian Viney explains why funders like the MRC are interested in understanding how research leads to positive effects on health, wealth, culture and society — and that metrics are only a small part of this.

Dictionary entry for 'impact'

(Image: Nick Southall on Flickr under CC BY-NC 2.0)


The report out today, The Metric Tide, is so called to capture the view that like tides, the pressure to use metrics — quantitative aspects of research outputs and impact — to simplify evaluation is powerful and growing.  

However tides may of course be useful, as in the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats”, which has been coined to refer to the spill-over benefit across the whole economy if leading industry sectors secure the support they need. [1]

The Metric Tide seeks to alleviate the pressure to measure research impact using inappropriate and over-simplified metrics, by setting out principles for the responsible use of such information. However there is of course still the requirement to efficiently tell the story of research progress, productivity and quality. [...]

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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! [...]

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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? [...]

Continue reading: What do we mean by experimental medicine?