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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.

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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The gene editing workshops tackling invisible diseases

3 May 2019

Recently, an international group of researchers met in Kolkata, India, for a workshop ran by the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases. Here, Project Officer Mags Leighton explains how the network – and revolutionary gene editing technology – is creating new ways to tackle two neglected diseases.

Kolkata workshop attendees. Image copyright: Prof Nahid Ali.

Millions of people worldwide are infected by neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). The Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 revealed that just two of these – Chagas disease and leishmaniasis – together infect over 10 million people, causing an estimated 16,000 deaths and 321,000 ‘years lost to disability’. [...]

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Running for the Dementia Revolution

26 Apr 2019

This Sunday, thousands of marathon runners will be pounding the streets of London, raising vital money for charities across the UK. Many will be powering ground-breaking dementia research by fundraising for the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI) through the Dementia Revolution campaign. The UK DRI is the single biggest investment in dementia research ever launched in the UK, set up by the MRC and charity founders Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK. Here, two runners with a very special connection to tackling dementia tell their story about what research means to them.

Carli Pirie – Study participant – UK DRI

Carli Study Participant

I started taking part in research because my family have a genetic mutation that results in early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. We lost my nan very young and then started noticing signs in my mum.

When she was being diagnosed, I felt a little helpless and like I was out of control, so I signed up to the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Network (DIAN) study. I felt that by taking part, I could give something towards the future. [...]

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Beyond the sprint: stories from the marathon runners of science

28 Mar 2019

First, we removed the time-bound criteria from our fellowship applications, to give people more time to apply after completing their PhD. Then we did the same for our New Investigator Research Grants (NIRG). Other funders have followed suit (including Wellcome and Cancer Research UK), and we know that many researchers have benefited from these changes. Here four new investigators and fellows describe the different paths they’ve followed to become independent researchers, and how broadening access to our schemes has helped them along the route. [...]

Marathon runners

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Using music as a force for change

14 Mar 2019

Could combining medical research with the arts help develop effective health interventions? Dr Cressida Bowyer, Senior Research Fellow in the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries at the University of Portsmouth, is figuring out how to combat harmful air pollution in a community in Sub-Saharan Africa using wonderfully creative means.

Mukuru river, Nairobi (Image copyright: Air Network).

Mukuru river, Nairobi (Image copyright: Air Network).

Air pollution is a global issue, contributing to the ill health and premature death of millions of people. Health impacts are vast, including chronic lung disease in adults and pneumonia in children. Those living in poor urban environments are especially likely to be exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution, with nine out of 10 related deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries. [...]

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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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Sharing the science of gene therapy

9 Jan 2019

This festive season, stem cell scientist Professor Bobby Gaspar, from the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, appeared as a special guest on the BBC Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. Here he shares the thrill of healing patients using gene therapy – and why it’s so important to communicate the science behind new medicines to the world.

Professor Aoife McLysaght, gene therapy patient Rhys & Professor Bobby Gaspar. Image: Paul Wilkinson Photography

Professor Aoife McLysaght, gene therapy patient Rhys & Professor Bobby Gaspar. Image: Paul Wilkinson Photography

To be a part of the Christmas Lectures alongside Rhys, the first patient to be successfully treated at Great Ormond Street Hospital with gene therapy back in 2001, was very special. [...]

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