We are creating a unified UKRI website that brings together the existing research council, Innovate UK and Research England websites.
If you would like to be involved in its development let us know.

Site search
News

Back to blog

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

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

Celebrating a century of international collaboration

8 Jan 2014

Medical research benefits people worldwide, and science is an increasingly global endeavour. But how much do we know about how scientists work together across countries? Here we look at some of the key international collaborations that MRC scientists have been involved in the past 100 years, from the 1940s trial of streptomycin for tuberculosis to testing a smartphone app that tests eye health in Kenya.

[Video link for access] [...]

Continue reading: Celebrating a century of international collaboration

Celebrating a century of international collaboration

11 Dec 2013

Medical research benefits people worldwide, but how many of us are aware of the corresponding worldwide effort that goes into achieving research breakthroughs and translating them into benefits for patients? MRC External Communications Officer, Stacy-Ann Ashley, found out more at the MRC’s celebration of 100 years of international collaboration.

Caption: MRC international collaboration poster competition shortlisted entrants with MRC Chief Executive, Sir John Savill; MRC Deputy Chief Executive and Chief of Strategy, Dr Wendy Ewart; and MRC Director of International Strategy, Dr Mark Palmer.

Caption: MRC international collaboration poster competition shortlisted entrants with MRC Chief Executive, Sir John Savill; MRC Deputy Chief Executive and Chief of Strategy, Dr Wendy Ewart; and MRC Director of International Strategy, Dr Mark Palmer.

The world can sometimes feel small, and never more so than when we look at what connects people and places. Often these connections are good, but not always: ill-health affects people wherever they are, anddiseases don’t recognise country borders. Consequently, improving human health around the world requires a global approach.

At the final event in the MRC Centenary programme, we showcased some key achievements in international collaborative research to invited guests, including the heads of many research organisations from around the world, eminent scientists and parliamentarians. These collaborations between scientists in every corner of the globe have enabled us to achieve breakthroughs in genetics, virus and bacterial infection and improved public health, to name just a few. The MRC plays an important role in devising and supporting strategic international collaboration, and a key aim of Research Changes Lives 2014–2019, the MRC’s refreshed strategic plan launched yesterday at the event, is to enable researchers to form partnerships across the globe. [...]

Continue reading: Celebrating a century of international collaboration

Centenary correspondence

5 Dec 2013

As we approach the end of our Centenary year we’re starting to look back at all the ways in which we marked turning 100. One of our Centenary highlights was the official opening of the new MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology building by Her Majesty the Queen. Our Chief Executive John Savill was particularly pleased to receive this feedback from a pupil at Great and Little Shelford Primary School, whose choir sang to welcome the Queen to the building. We hope she remembers “the Queen’s lovely feathery hat and missing a bit of school” for a long time to come.

[...]

Continue reading: Centenary correspondence

Above board: musings on being an MRC board member

31 Oct 2013

Kim Graham

Kim Graham (Image copyright: Kim Graham)

What’s it like to hold the purse strings for science funding? Professor Kim Graham, a member of the MRC Neuroscience and Mental Health Board (NMHB) and researcher at Cardiff University, gives us an insight into what being an MRC board member involves, from the seemingly endless reviewing of grants to the biscuit-laden meetings.

After four years, I’ll be finishing my stint on the NMHB board in March 2014. I’m looking forward to vacating the hot seat for someone else, but also sad to be saying goodbye to the wonderful colleagues that have made the past few years so enjoyable.

Reflecting on these experiences I realised how little information is available about this mysterious process to which UK researchers submit their scientific works of art.  [...]

Continue reading: Above board: musings on being an MRC board member

Last of the ‘lab-boys’

15 Oct 2013

Len Ward's colleague Vic Wright in the NIMR chemistry lab in 1934. Len had to remove and clean all these bottles once a week (please see copyright disclaimer below.)

Len Ward’s colleague Vic Wright in the NIMR chemistry lab in 1934. Len had to remove and clean all these bottles once a week (please see copyright disclaimer below.)

The vital work of laboratory technicians is often missing from accounts of modern medical research. Medical historian Professor Tilli Tansey studied practices at the MRC’s National Institute of Medical Research to explore changing attitudes to lab technicians over the past century.

The National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) was established in Hampstead in 1919. Initially, four departments were formed: Applied Physiology; Bacteriology; Biochemistry & Pharmacology; and Statistics. Each departmental head employed a lab assistant, and negotiated directly with the MRC about their technician’s salary and conditions. However by 1920, with nine scientists and approximately 15 assistants (including technical, animal house and maintenance staff) this system became unworkable. Consequently, formal pay and pension scales for all staff were created and a limited number of higher ‘A’ technical grades. [...]

Continue reading: Last of the ‘lab-boys’

Fishing for results

30 Sep 2013

It’s the time of year when we ask MRC-funded researchers to sit down at their keyboards and fill out their submissions to our Researchfish data-gathering system. But why are we asking for the number of patents researchers have filed, or how many times they’ve given a public lecture? Ellen Charman from our evaluation team explains.

Evaluating the impact of our research has never been more important. The Government’s spending review of 2010 protected the MRC budget in real terms and provided a ring-fenced budget for science, a move which was welcomed by research councils, universities, learned societies, charities and the private sector. This was the hard-fought-for result of a united campaign that demonstrated that investment in medical research is critical not only for society, but the UK economy too.

However, as we approach a further four-year spending review, there is continued pressure on the MRC and all of the research councils to provide better estimates of our return on investment. We intend to build on our existing evidence with the numbers on how MRC-funded research is making an impact, as well as telling persuasive stories about where our research is making a difference. [...]

Continue reading: Fishing for results

Q&A: research using patient data

3 Sep 2013

(Image credit: Flickr/jfcherry)

(Image credit: Wikipedia/jfcherry)

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the huge benefits that could come from research using patient data, but what does that actually mean? How is the data used, and what’s in it for the patients? We asked Dr Janet Valentine, Head of Public Health and Ageing at the MRC.

What is research using patient data?

You might have heard it described as e-health, big data, health informatics or health record linkage. They all mean more or less the same thing: research using the information held in NHS health records captured every time we visit a doctor or go to hospital. By using these health records, researchers can help identify more effective treatments, monitor drug safety, assess services provided in the NHS and better understand the causes of diseases.

What types of patient data are used?

GP data, such as routine vaccinations, lifestyle information, and the types of illnesses we have had; hospital stays or A&E visits; prenatal data; information on issued prescriptions; results of scans and screens; and registries of diseases like cancer and heart disease. [...]

Continue reading: Q&A: research using patient data

Writing women: a Wikipedia edit-a-thon

1 Aug 2013

Last week, the MRC National Institute for Medical Research hosted the first of our Wikipedia edit-a-thons aiming to raise the profile of women in science. More than 20 editors took part, creating and improving the Wikipedia articles for female scientists from the pioneering geneticist Florence Margaret Durham to modern-day researchers such as Uta Frith. Watch the audio slideshow below for a flavour of the event.

(Photos courtesy of Katie Chan (Wikimedia UK) and the MRC National Institute for Medical Research. Image credit for Uta Frith: Anne-Katrin Purkiss, Wellcome Images.) [...]

Continue reading: Writing women: a Wikipedia edit-a-thon

Understanding industry

17 Jul 2013

How can we develop new drugs and get them to people more quickly? At the MRC’s Open Council meeting last week, a lot of the discussion focused on how the changing environment for the pharmaceutical industry means we need new models for drug discovery, and much closer working between academic and industry researchers. Katherine Nightingale rounds up the discussion.

There was a time when pharmaceutical companies produced new drugs at a steady rate. They invested in the research and development (R&D) of drugs, occasionally producing ‘blockbusters’ which could treat many people, and making enough profit to inject back into R&D. It took around 10–15 years to develop a drug and, while potential drugs often failed to jump the hurdles of clinical trials, there were enough in the pipeline to keep things going.

But, as we heard at the Open Council meeting last week, now that’s simply not the case: fewer and fewer new drugs are being developed, and it’s taking longer and getting more expensive to produce them. The patents have run out on many blockbuster drugs, meaning that pharma companies generate less revenue to plough back into R&D. And as we learn more about disease, the treatments that are produced are more specific to particular groups of patients, meaning that the markets for individual drugs are smaller. [...]

Continue reading: Understanding industry

In pictures: the MRC Centenary Festival

25 Jun 2013

Last weekend we kicked off our Centenary Open Week with a festival at London’s Science Museum. Scientists from 10 MRC-funded units and centres took part in ‘Life: A healthy game of chance and choice’, an activity taking visitors through MRC research related to healthy lives. Here’s Stacy-Ann Ashley with a photo round-up.

(Image copyright: Science Museum/Jennie Hills) [...]

Continue reading: In pictures: the MRC Centenary Festival