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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.

Shining a light on brain development

2 Oct 2018

Clare Elwell with infant taking part in the study: Image credit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Clare Elwell with infant taking part in the BRIGHT study: Image credit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Since recording the first brain images of babies in Africa, Professor Clare Elwell (Department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering, UCL) has been leading a pioneering study to increase our understanding of early brain development. Here Clare tells us about bringing a new imaging technology to a remote Gambian village, and how it could help babies suffering from malnutrition reach their full potential.

Before they reach five years of age, one in four children across the globe are malnourished. There’s a lot of research showing the detrimental impact this has on their development. But we know very little about what’s going on inside their brains. [...]

Continue reading: Shining a light on brain development

Regenerative medicine: from the lab to the clinic, and back

27 Sep 2018

Regenerative medicine is a fast-moving, interdisciplinary field, looking for ways to repair or replace parts of the body that are diseased or damaged. Now there’s an established and growing UK research community, we’re changing the way we fund this type of research. Two researchers explain why our continued support for this field – from the early discovery stage to translation into the clinic – will help deliver life-changing treatments for currently incurable conditions. [...]

Adult stem cells from the tissue lining the human knee joint, grown in a dish. These cells can repair
damaged cartilage and are being trialled in the clinic. Individual stem cells are labelled with different fluorescent colours. Image credit: Nathan White, University of Aberdeen.

Continue reading: Regenerative medicine: from the lab to the clinic, and back

Cryo-electron microscopy: big kit solving life’s smallest puzzles

11 Sep 2018

Since its invention in the 1980s, the UK has led developments in cryo-electron microscopy – a technique allowing scientists to zoom in on the inner-workings of tiny molecules. A new imaging centre at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research is now expanding the UK’s powerful microscope offering. Director Professor David Bhella shares his grand plans.

So what exactly is cryo-electron microscopy?

David Bhella with imaging computer

Cryo-electron microscopy, or cryo-EM for short, is a powerful microscope technique. It’s different from imaging with normal microscopes as it uses beams of electrons, instead of light. Structural biologists use this technique to take pictures of biological samples at near-atomic scale, frozen in their natural state. It’s a faster and more effective way of looking deep inside molecules compared to other structural biology tools. [...]

Continue reading: Cryo-electron microscopy: big kit solving life’s smallest puzzles

How do we help people living with mental health conditions live longer, healthier lives?

6 Sep 2018

Psychiatrist and Population Scientist Professor Simon Gilbody of the University of York, has just been awarded £1 million to build his new “Closing the gap network”. With 20 years’ experience in healthcare, Simon has seen how lives can be transformed if the same emphasis is placed on both physical and mental health. Starting this year, the special network of experts from the sciences to the arts will try to understand and tackle the root causes of why the health and life expectancy of people with severe mental ill health is so poor.

Simon Gilbody

Image credit: University of York

What is the ‘mortality gap’ and what are we doing to tackle it?

People who use mental health services experience the poorest physical health and most profound health inequalities of any section of the UK population.

Diabetes, heart disease and chronic respiratory illness, are two to three times more common in this group of people than for people with good mental health. Life expectancy is reduced by 20 to 25 years, and a person developing schizophrenia in their 20s can only expect, on average, to live into their 50s. [...]

Continue reading: How do we help people living with mental health conditions live longer, healthier lives?

How secure data sharing can help us treat dementia

29 Aug 2018

Dementias Platform UK is a world-leading digital treasure trove, holding health data from millions of people, to help understand and treat dementia. Their one-stop shop gives researchers access to health data for dementia research and recognises contributions from researchers across the pay grade. Director Professor John Gallacher explains why it’s good for science and scientists.

Professor John Gallacher, Director of the Dementias Platform UK

Professor John Gallacher, Director of the Dementias Platform UK

In the UK, we’re fortunate to have a growing, rich resource of data from people that take part in studies which follow their health and lifestyle choices over time, known as cohort studies.

But there isn’t a single standardised way of storing and analysing this information. Without the right tools to search, interrogate and analyse this information, the data can seem impenetrable.

At Dementias Platform UK (DPUK) we have a solution – a place for researchers to access all the data they need to answer some of the toughest questions about dementia. We want the best minds to access the best data, regardless of their location.  [...]

Continue reading: How secure data sharing can help us treat dementia

MRC Festival: Bringing research to life

15 Aug 2018

Are you interested in coming along or taking part in next year’s MRC Festival of Medical ResearchDeborah Barber explores some 2018 highlights and shares tips learnt along the way for making public engagement a success.

For the last three years we’ve kicked off our summer with the MRC Festival of Medical Research. This year, over 10 days in June, 43 events were held by MRC institutes, units and centres, and teams of MRC grant holders. [...]

Continue reading: MRC Festival: Bringing research to life

Popping the bubble

9 Aug 2018

A recent report from innovation foundation NESTA suggested the existence of a ‘biomedical bubble’ that had caused research expenditure in this area to grow disproportionately. Our executive chair Professor Fiona Watt takes a closer look at the claims.

Professor Fiona Watt - MRC Executive Chair

Professor Fiona Watt – MRC Executive Chair

I enjoyed reading The Biomedical Bubble. The authors observe that in common with most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, UK Government funding for research with the objective of improving health has grown over the past decade. Many countries have identified human health as the area they most want to address, for the reasons set out in the report. However, I think we should look more carefully at the claim that our share of the research councils’ expenditure has seen “a 75 per cent increase in real terms”.  [...]

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Antimicrobial resistance in Thailand: taking a holistic approach

1 Aug 2018

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the most serious global threats to human health in the 21st century. One of the researchers taking on this challenge is Professor Matthew Avison of the University of Bristol who is leading the ‘One Health Drivers of Antibacterial Resistance in Thailand’ consortium project. Here, he tells us about the benefits of working together across borders and disciplines, and how the consortium’s approach can help inform AMR research worldwide.

In Thailand, AMR is estimated to have led to 38,000 deaths in 2010 and cost the economy $1.2 billion. Since then, the problem has continued to grow.

The Thai authorities are monitoring the situation closely and the World Health Organisation recognises their surveillance as an exemplary model for other low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). But the research to date has been in discrete areas.

Ta Chin River

Ta Chin River [...]

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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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I’m a Scientist…Get me out of here!

19 Jul 2018

Last month, 25 MRC-funded researchers and support staff connected with over 1,400 UK school students online, in the first ever ‘I’m a Scientist MRC Festival Zone’. Over four weeks, our plucky scientists responded to thousands of questions from students, who then voted for their favourite answers. Here our winner Liza Selley, from the MRC Toxicology Unit, tells her tale.

“If a car travels at infinite speed, what evidence can you use to prove it was there?”

I'm a Scientist Logo

There stands my favourite question from the MRC Festival’s I’m a Scientist competition. A prime example of the imagination and inquisitiveness with which children explore the world around them. Of how commonplace thoughts mix with the abstract, and how no question appears unanswerable. [...]

Continue reading: I’m a Scientist…Get me out of here!