Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.
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1 Aug 2012
London 2012 Anti-Doping Science Centre (Image copyright: GlaxoSmithKline)
Today Prime Minister David Cameron announces that the London 2012 Anti-Doping Science Centre in Harlow will live on after the Olympic Games as the MRC-NIHR Phenome Centre. Katherine Nightingale spoke to Frank Kelly, one of the principal investigators at the new centre and Director of the Analytical & Environmental Sciences Division at King’s College London, to find out what phenomes can teach us about disease.
Let’s start with the basics, what exactly is a phenome?
Well, lots of people have heard of the genome — it collectively describes an individual’s genetic material. The phenome describes all the other chemistry of our body; all the molecules in our body. This mixture of molecules changes every minute of every day and depends on the way we lead our lives, the environment in which we live and how our bodies respond.
How does studying phenomes help researchers understand disease?
When genomic science began we all thought that once we’d figured out human genomes we’d understand why some people get disease and some people don’t. But it turns out that our genomes only explain the causes of a fifth of chronic diseases like heart disease — in fact, environmental factors are behind the vast majority of chronic diseases.
By environment I mean the totality of environmental exposure, from the type of food we eat to where we live, the type of job we have, the level of stress we experience, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the chemicals we use to clean our homes. All of these in combination will lead to some people developing chronic disease at some point in their lives. [...]
Continue reading: The power of the phenome
26 Jul 2012
(Credit: Flickr/Ville Misaki)
At an MRC-sponsored session at the Cheltenham Science Festival in June, women who have experienced postpartum psychosis recounted their experiences. MRC External Communications Officer Stacy-Ann Ashley was there, and reflects on this little-mentioned condition.
I had never heard about postpartum psychosis before, and I’m sure I’m not alone. The condition, in which new mothers experience psychotic symptoms in the days or weeks after having a baby, is not often talked about and women often hide their symptoms.
All the more impressive then that two women who have experienced this form of psychosis were willing to share their experiences on a rainy, windy evening at the Cheltenham Science Festival. [...]
Continue reading: More than the ‘baby blues’
24 Jul 2012
Mark Prescott (Credit: DCS Studios, Copyright: NC3Rs)
Earlier this month the Home Office released its annual statistics on using animals in research, showing that the number of procedures increased by two per cent in 2011. But does this mean that efforts to implement the 3Rs (the replacement, reduction and refinement of animal use) are failing? Not at all, says Dr Mark Prescott, Head of Research Management and Communications at the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs).
Many areas of biomedical research are dependent upon the use of animals. The NC3Rs is leading UK efforts to develop new ways of reducing this dependence on animals which can also bring wider benefits to biomedicine. Improved models, whether animal or non-animal, can lead to better research, the results of which can be translated into benefits for people such as more effective drugs.
Over the past eight years NC3Rs has committed more than £25 million in grants to scientists in universities and other research institutions. Research we’ve funded has reduced by many thousands the number of mice used to study diabetes and motor neuron disease, while providing insights into these conditions. Other work has refined procedures on rodents used as animal models of pulmonary embolism, systemic amyloidosis, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. We have many more examples of how our research investment has improved the use of animals in research. [...]
Continue reading: Getting the measure of animal use in research
10 Jul 2012
Heather Bailey (Copyright: Heather Bailey)
What exactly is medical science policy? And how can researchers influence it? Heather Bailey is a PhD student at the MRC Centre of Epidemiology for Child Health at University College London. She took three months out of her studies to delve into science policy by participating in an internship programme run by the Academy of Medical Sciences and the MRC.
Policy can be something of a black box to scientists so the most remarkable aspect of my internship experience was the opportunity to become familiar with the variety of people and organisations involved in shaping medical policy in the UK.
From patients to professors, from trade unions to charities, I had no idea of the breadth of roles and approaches for getting medical issues onto the political agenda. I particularly valued the opportunity to be involved with the policy work of the Academy of Medical Sciences, a focal point for leading scientists to influence UK government decision-making on both current issues and in anticipation of future priorities.
For my PhD I am studying HIV in women in Ukraine. To learn about influencing medical policy in Ukraine, I spent a week with ECOHOST, a research group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. This group’s work has shown that out-of-pocket payments to see a doctor in Ukraine are common and often unaffordable to those who most need care. As with so many medical policy problems, this has complex economic, social and political roots — an understanding of which is essential for effective medical policy reform. [...]
Continue reading: Getting to the bottom of medical science policy
5 Jul 2012
Heather Blackmore (Copyright: Heather Blackmore)
PhD student Heather Blackmore attended a Standing up for Science media workshop in June. Here she tells us why she’ll now be looking at the science news headlines with new eyes.
Have you ever read a newspaper article and felt the need to challenge the journalism or scientific content? Whether a scientist or not, I’m sure that you too come across articles that seem exaggerated in their claims or inaccurate in the way they explain research.
As a second year PhD student, I had become increasingly aware of how little I understood about how scientists and the media interact, particularly how scientists can handle media interest after publishing in well-known journals. That’s why I attended the media workshop, run by Sense about Science, in London on the 15 June.
Speakers included scientists, journalists and representatives from learned societies and Sense about Science. Discussions centred on topics such as what journalists want, why media portrayal of research goes wrong and what you can do if you spot bad science. [...]
Continue reading: Making sense of the media
28 Jun 2012
Zebrafish can repair their own hearts (Copyright: Novartis AG)
At an MRC-sponsored session at the Cheltenham Science Festival in June, researchers discussed why scientists are taking lessons from the humble zebrafish when it comes to helping the body heal itself.
Scientists are pretty good at growing cells. They can take stem cells, a kind of cell that has the potential to develop into many — and sometimes any — cell types, and coax them into developing into heart cells, liver cells, retinal cells, nerve cells … the list is long.
The idea is that transplanting these healthy cells into damaged organs could cure disease. There are even attempts to grow entire organs; a new heart grown from a patient’s own cells wouldn’t be rejected so they wouldn’t need immune-suppressing drugs.
But growing heart cells in the lab is a million miles from building an entirely new heart, with its specific and complex structure of muscle and blood vessels. Wouldn’t it be better to fix the old one? [...]
Continue reading: Taking tips from zebrafish
19 Jun 2012
This article first appeared in the Summer 2012 edition of our magazine Network. [...]
Continue reading: Forty years of tropical science
12 Jun 2012
LMB scientist Michael Neuberger cuts the 50th birthday cake
The 28th May was 50 years since the Queen officially opened the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge. LMB researcher Andy Holding tells us what it’s like to work at such an historic institution as it prepares to move to a new home.
Sitting opposite the outpatient clinic on the ‘New’ Addenbrooke’s site, the LMB draws little attention from the public as they pass by. It is The Eagle pub in the centre of Cambridge, where Watson and Crick spent their Friday lunchtimes, that draws more attention for the discovery of the structure of DNA than their institution.
Despite its modest appearance, the LMB is a place with a remarkable history. Two things from my first week here two and a half years ago stand out. The first is a reluctance to venture out of my own lab and into the warren of corridors that have organically spread across multiple buildings over the past 50 years, for fear that I would be unable to find my way back. [...]
Continue reading: The LMB at 50
6 Jun 2012
The team behind the FEAST paper (Copyright: BMJ Group)
FEAST, a clinical trial that assessed how to treat children in Africa for shock, has won the BMJ paper of the year for 2012. Lead researcher Kath Maitland and research uptake coordinator Annabelle South discuss the surprising results of the research.
Many children admitted to hospital in Africa with infections are also found to be suffering from shock, a condition where blood is not being pumped around the body properly. This can be caused by diseases such as malaria and sepsis and up to a fifth of children with shock die within hours of arriving.
We designed FEAST, which stands for ‘Fluid Expansion As Supportive Therapy’,to test whether giving children fluid rapidly (boluses) via a drip could restore their normal circulation. This is done as standard in higher income countries but because it’s not generally used in Africa, it was important for us to test it in a controlled trial — where children were randomly assigned to receive boluses or to receive fluid slowly. [...]
Continue reading: BMJ win for a surprising trial
31 May 2012
In 1991 and 1992, 14,000 pregnant women in Avon in the West of England signed up to be part of the Children of the 90s study. Over 21 years information about their children — from their first steps to variations in their DNA — has been collected and studied, providing one of the richest resources about child development in the world.
This kind of public participation is essential for the success and future of medical research. Without volunteers to donate time and biological samples, scientists can’t fully understand how we stay healthy and how disease develops.
Part-funded by the MRC, the study has gone from strength to strength. As the young people started to turn 21, we caught up with the scientists who curate and work on this vital collection to find out what the future holds.
Video link for access [...]
Continue reading: The Children of the 90s at 21