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Insight blog: Posts from the "From the community" Category

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

Making Parkinson’s disease research personal

15 Feb 2019

Last month, MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit scientists hosted a lab tour for people affected by Parkinson’s disease. Clinical Programme Leader Dr Esther Sammler, also an honorary consultant neurologist at NHS Tayside, explains why listening to the experiences of people living with the disease is so important for research.

MRC scientists with Dundee Research Interest Group steering committee members

MRC scientists (front row: author Dr Esther Sammler fifth from left, Professor Miratul Muqit third from left; back row: Director Professor Dario Alessi left, Paul Davies right) with Dundee Research Interest Group steering committee members (front row: Group Chair Marc van Grieken far left, Secretary Werner Remmele fourth from left).

Parkinson’s disease is a common condition in which parts of the brain become progressively damaged over many years. Most people are familiar with the physical signs of the disease, such as slowness of movement, stiffness and limb shaking. But other symptoms – that are just as troubling – include sleep and mood problems, loss of smell, and declining memory skills. In Scotland alone, there are 12,000 people living with the condition. [...]

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Virtual reality in research

24 Jan 2019

Computational scientist Stephen Taylor and his team at the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (MRC WIMM) are helping scientists and surgeons explore biological structures up closer than ever before. He takes us on a tour of his virtual reality vision. 

Person wearing VR headset

Credit: Martin Phelps

If you’re an engineer looking to fix a problem in the network of tunnels in the London Underground, you wouldn’t find the standard 2D London Tube map much use. [...]

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How can we help drinkers make healthier choices?

17 Jan 2019

Pouring beerMany of us enjoy raising a glass when we celebrate, socialise or relax after work. But do you know, or even think, about what’s inside? According to Senior Research Associate Dr Anna Blackwell, probably not. Now that alcohol misuse is the biggest risk factor for ill health, disability and early death for 15 to 49-year-olds in England, Anna tells us why this needs to change.

There are carefully crafted cues all around you that influence your behaviour. Many of these come from industry, like the two-for-one deals or pretty bottles that make you more likely to choose one drink over another. Or the nice sofas and cosy atmosphere that might encourage you to stay longer in a bar then you’d planned. [...]

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Blood donation: the lifeblood of the NHS

26 Jul 2018

As the NHS turns 70, Petra Kiviniemi delves into the MRC archive to reveal a history of blood donation closely intertwined with the birth of the NHS.

Still from the wartime public information film Blood Transfusion Service*

Still from the wartime public information film Blood Transfusion Service*

Every two seconds, someone needs blood. Blood donations help millions of people, and many would not be alive today if it wasn’t for the generosity of donors and care by our NHS.

The experience of being a volunteer blood donor was a very different picture back in the 1920s. Back then, nearly a century ago, and more than 20 years before the birth of the NHS, donations needed to be directly transferred from one person to another. [...]

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Five reasons why we study fungal disease

9 Oct 2017

To improve the outlook for patients with life-threatening fungal disease, we need a coordinated approach to tackle the infections. That’s why we set up the MRC Centre for Medical Mycology (MRC CMM) with the University of Aberdeen last year. Here Masters students Joanne Calley, Emily Speakman, Catherine Mark and Alexander Currie share five reasons why they chose to study fungi and are excited to be working at the forefront of fungal diseases research.

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Eight tiny organs grown by scientists

20 Jul 2015

Today researchers at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine announced that they have regrown damaged livers in mice. It’s just one example of scientists growing tiny versions of organs in animals and in the lab to study development and disease, and test potential treatments. Many of these organs also represent the first steps towards growing whole organs – or parts of organs – for transplant. MRC Science Writer Cara Steger rounds up progress.

Why might you want to grow a tiny organ? Small organs, or parts of them, are useful for studying both development and disease, and for toxicity testing or testing new treatments. In some cases, mini organs will be able to replace research using animals.

But they also offer a tantalising glimpse of a world in which we can grow complex solid organs for transplant. These tiny organs – often more like proto-organs with just some of an organ’s functions – are quite literally ‘starting small’, first seeing if it’s even possible.

Here we list eight tiny organs that have been grown so far.

Little livers

Transplanted liver cells

Transplanted hepatic progenitor cells can self-renew (yellow) and differentiate into hepatocytes (green) to repair the damaged liver (Image: Wei-Yu Lu, MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, The University of Edinburgh’)

The MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine researchers used liver stem cells, called hepatic progenitor cells, to regrow damaged livers in mice. After extracting the stem cells from healthy adult mice and maturing them in the lab, the researchers transplanted the cells into mice with liver failure.

In three months the cells had grown enough to partly restore the structure and function of the animals’ livers, providing hope that this technique could one day replace the need for liver transplants in humans. [1] [...]

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Sharing science

2 May 2013

Andrew Bastawrous, an eye surgeon at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, won last year’s Max Perutz Science Writing Award with an article explaining the importance of his research developing smartphone apps for checking eye health. As we launch this year’s competition, Andrew explains what winning the award did for him, and provides a few tips for budding writers.  

Andrew with his wife Madeleine and son Lucas, and the whole research team

Andrew with his wife Madeleine and son Lucas (left), and the whole research team (Image copyright: Andrew Bastawrous)

Why did you enter the Max Perutz Science Writing Award?

A fellow PhD student at the university sent me the link and suggested I should apply. It made sense to write an article explaining the project in non-scientific terms as I was always being asked by friends and family what it was that I was doing. This was the perfect opportunity to distill my thoughts into a form that could be understood by everyone and that I could direct people to if they were interested. I never expected to end up winning the competition.

How did taking part in the competition and winning the award change your thoughts about science communication?

Having to sit down and write something without jargon made me look at my work in a different light. Trying to see something you are deeply involved in from a more distant and very different perspective can be quite challenging, but very refreshing. The question set to us was, “Why does your research matter?” Getting to the heart of that question meant engaging with the emotion that drives the work in the first place.

The whole process has made me appreciate good writers and their ability to present complex information in an engaging way. It has also encouraged me to write about the everyday scientific work I’m doing in Kenya in a manner that can be understood by friends and family. [...]

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