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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.

Getting on your nerves

16 Oct 2019

Congratulations to PhD student Akira Wiberg of the University of Oxford, the 2019 champion of our Max Perutz Science Writing Award! In his winning article, he describes how looking at our genes could help surgeons predict who is most likely to benefit from surgery for a painful condition of the hand – carpal tunnel syndrome.

Akira receiving his prize from MRC Executive Chair Professor Fiona Watt

“Does this feel sharp?”, I ask my patient, as I use my forceps to pinch the skin of her hand. She says no, so I proceed to make a 2-inch incision in her palm. I dissect through the layers of fatty tissue to expose a greyish-white structure called the transverse carpal ligament. [...]

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Mental health audio tour makes young people’s voices heard

9 Oct 2019

This month, a new audio tour has launched at the National Gallery to dispel myths surrounding mental health. Tour project lead, Dr Helen Fisher from King’s College London, tells us why she thinks that getting people thinking about mental health is so important. The tour is funded by the MRC, part of UK Research & Innovation.

Image credit: The National Gallery, London [...]

My research work focuses on why young people develop mental health problems. A lot of the benefits from the work I do are quite far in the future – it might take 20 or 30 years for outcomes of our research to trickle through to actual practice. That’s a long time to wait to make a difference. There’s an element of frustration that it takes such a long time, while knowing that right now, out there in the world there is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health, which is preventing many young people from getting the help they need.

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Running datathons for dementia

23 Sep 2019

What’s a datathon – and why should you care? Professor John Gallacher, the Director of Dementias Platform UK, reveals the inspiration behind their popular data-tastic events and the benefits they offer.

We started the datathon events to help equip scientists with the skills that they need to use our secure online environment, which contains health data for dementia research. In a nutshell, for three days up to 50 data scientists work together in small teams to begin tackling a research question using our data resource. [...]

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Bridging the translation research gap

11 Sep 2019

Taking ideas from bench to bedside is complicated. So, what’s the best way to progress exciting new ideas emerging in academia? Professor Simon Hollingsworth, Vice President and Global Medicine Leader at AstraZeneca, and Visiting Professor at Kings College London, chaired the advisory group of a report looking back over a decade of MRC translation funding. He shares what they found.

Author Professor Simon Hollingsworth

Professor Simon Hollingsworth. Image credit: AstraZeneca.

It’s well documented in the pharmaceutical sector that the path from discovery to clinical adoption and use of a new commercial product is long and perilous. It can take many years (sometimes more than 20 years) to bring a new product to market where it can benefit patients. [...]

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Taking science from the bench to policy change

17 Jul 2019

The UKRI Policy Internships Scheme gives doctoral students the opportunity to work for three months in one of a selected group of highly influential policy organisations. With applications now open for 2020, we spoke to PhD student Jonida Tafilaku from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology about her time spent at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST).

Jonida Tafilaku in her lab at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology [...]

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Thank you from your winner – Deepak!

10 Jul 2019

Throughout June, 25 MRC-funded researchers and support staff connected with 1,200 students across the UK, from Stranraer to Southampton. After posing hundreds of insightful questions to our scientists in the ‘I’m a Scientist MRC Festival Zone’ the students crowned Deepak Chandrasekharan, Clinical Research Training Fellow at MRC Harwell, our 2019 champion. Here he shares his competition experience.


The past four weeks has been one of the most rewarding, fulfilling and thought-provoking periods I have had in science. In research, we are very lucky to get funding for our work, often from the generosity of the public via organisations like the MRC and similar charities and governmental departments. Yet, usually, the majority of our findings are communicated not to the public, but to a limited group of colleagues at a conference or in a publication. [...]

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Using ‘One Health’ to tackle AMR

26 Jun 2019

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the greatest threats to human health. That’s why, today in the House of Commons, the UKRI Cross Council AMR Initiative is speaking face to face with MPs and decision makers about their ‘One Health’ approach to the problem. But what is this approach? And what does it mean for researchers? Ruth Zadoks, Professor in Molecular Epidemiology at the University of Glasgow, tells us about this important interdisciplinary area of research.

SNAP-AMR team photo

Ruth (middle, front row) with the interdisciplinary team of UK and Tanzanian investigators working to support the national action plan on AMR in Tanzania.

Ever since Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, there have been concerns about the over-reliance on antibiotics to treat diseases. Even Fleming himself cautioned against their over-use.  Training as a vet in the Netherlands in the late 80s and early 90s, I was taught that a lack of indication is a contraindication – in other words, if you don’t have a specific reason to use antibiotics, then don’t use them. But veterinarians and medics didn’t necessarily practice what they preached. [...]

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From Max P winner to award-winning journalist

20 Jun 2019

Kirstin Leslie, MRC PhD student at the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, won our 2017 Max Perutz Science Writing Award for her article “Can big data mend a broken heart?”. More recently, she was crowned the Association of British Science Writers Student Science Journalist of the Year. We caught up with Kirstin, who tells us how taking part in our competition sparked her science writing success.

Kirstin being awarded the Association of British Science Writers Student Science Journalist of the Year Award 2019. Image credit: Trevor Aston Photograph

Kirstin being awarded the Association of British Science Writers Student Science Journalist of the Year Award 2019. Image credit: Trevor Aston Photography

Winning the Max Perutz prize at the beginning of my PhD research ignited a passion for writing that’s been going strong ever since. I’ve written multiple articles for theGIST (The Glasgow Insight into Science and Technology – a local student science magazine) about events like Pint of Science, Glasgow Skeptics, and Glasgow Science Festival, and topics ranging from competition in academia to contraception.

Last month, the Association of British Science Writers awarded me the prize for Student Science Journalist of the Year – something I don’t think I could have achieved without that first gentle nudge toward writing about science. [...]

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Lego-powered biomedical research

12 Jun 2019

State-of-the-art technologies often come at a cost – they’re complex, expensive and inaccessible to many researchers. So, cell biologist Dr Ricardo Henriques and neuroscientist Dr Christophe Leterrier went back to basics. They’ve joined forces to create a new generation of simple but effective scientific devices – using a popular children’s building material.

'Pumpy' Lego microscopy setup. Image credit: MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology

‘Pumpy’ Lego microscopy setup. Image credit: MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology

Many of us played with Lego as children, becoming young inventors of houses, cars and spaceships. It’s an incredibly flexible material and can easily extend beyond building toys. The breadth of mechanical parts available, their low cost and their robustness – combined with their easily customisable motors – make Lego a prime material for building moving mechanical devices. [...]

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Improving the life chances of children in deprived areas

9 May 2019

The communities and neighbourhoods we grow up in have a lifelong influence on the illnesses we get and how long we live. Professor John Wright, of Bradford Institute for Health Research, is one of eight UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP) grant winners investigating wider factors, beyond the control of the individual, that impact our health. He tells us how he plans to improve the health and wellbeing of children in some of the most deprived areas across the UK.

Health is about much more than avoiding disease and living long lives – it’s about feeling well in mind and body, feeling safe, being part of a community and having things to look forward to.

The homes we live in, the design of our roads and high streets, the availability and quality of parks and green spaces and of recreational opportunities – these all have a bearing on our health and wellbeing. As do the types of shops and businesses that we’re exposed to, pollution levels and opportunities to mix with others. [...]

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