Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.
28 Feb 2018
The main goal of the Pichaud lab at the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology at University College London is to understand how fly eye cells get their shape. But why do fly eyes matter? And how can studying fruit fly eyes help us fight cancer in humans? Franck Pichaud and Rhian Walther explain all.
Image: Fruit fly photoreceptors imaged with confocal microscope. Copyright : Franck Pichaud Lab [...]
Continue reading: Behind the picture: How fly eye cells get their shape
13 Sep 2017
The MRC has joined forces with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to create this picture of the dementia research ‘landscape’ in the UK, made up of people working together for a better future for people with dementia. Catherine Moody, MRC Programme Manager for Dementias initiatives, explains what we can see.
The dementias research landscape in the UK can look pretty complicated to those not directly involved in dementias research. It can even look bewildering to those who are!
But as our new picture shows, the jigsaw pieces do fit together. And without any one of the pieces, the picture isn’t complete. [...]
Continue reading: Behind the picture: Dementia research in the UK
26 May 2017
Nowadays few people would dispute that it’s important for people to know about medical matters, but that wasn’t always the case. While our Max Perutz Science Writing Award is open to MRC-funded PhD students, Katherine Nightingale looks back at Charles Fletcher, MRC researcher and physician, whose strong belief in medical communication led him to become the first ‘TV doctor’ in the 1950s.
You don’t notice it at first – your eye is drawn instead to the strangely bandaged faces of the people to the left of the image. But there, together with the IV stand, scissors and scrubs, is not a piece of surgical equipment but a 1950s television camera and lights.
What’s it doing there? Filming a medical drama? Broadcasting the television news live from a hospital? Not quite. Instead it’s the filming of Your Life in Their Hands, a controversial medical documentary which began in 1958. [...]
Continue reading: Behind the picture: Charles Fletcher as the first TV doctor
3 Mar 2017
Frustrated by the lack of images to illustrate the mind, Dr Rhys Bevan-Jones, Clinical Research Fellow at the MRC Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics, decided to create his own. Here he describes the story behind this picture, where the worlds of psychiatry and art collide.
Copyright: Rhys Bevan-Jones
One of my friends once told me that he saw the mind as a senate. He described it as a place where the issues of the day are discussed by lots of little people and organised by the main debater in the middle. So that’s what I drew (see middle-right of the picture).
This gave me the idea of asking more people how they saw their mind, or different aspects of the mind. I received a variety of responses. My hairdresser, for example, sees the mind as a series of little post boxes (middle-bottom). There’s a little person who receives the messages – visual and auditory – inside the head. They post and categorise each of the messages into different post boxes, based on the emotional content. [...]
Continue reading: Behind the picture: Metaphors of the mind
22 Sep 2016
The first UK Regenerative Medicine Conference took place in London this week. Professor Fergal O’Brien, who heads the Tissue Engineering Research Group at the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland, tells us about his work to help the body to fix itself.
Sponge-like scaffold made from collagen with nanoparticles inserted in. Credit: Dr Rosanne Raftery
Although our bodies have an amazing capacity to repair themselves, some damage is too big or too difficult for us to fix.
Fergal’s team have found a way to boost that capacity by developing a sponge-like implant that reprograms our cells to supercharge the healing process. [...]
Continue reading: Behind the picture: The sponge that turns cells into bone-fixing factories
9 Aug 2016
Dr Jacqui Shields and Dr Angela Riedel at the MRC Cancer Unit explain the science behind these brightly-coloured blobs that show us how cancer cells prepare their road ahead so they can spread around the body.
Breaking down your defences: cancer cells send signals to a healthy lymph node (left) that distort its shape and damage its function (right) making it easier for a tumour to take hold.
One of cancer’s deadliest features is its ability to move through your immune system’s ready-made network of vessels and nodes.
Often, we don’t know a cancer has spread through the immune system until it’s too late, but now we may have found something that could help us predict when that’s going to happen: our findings suggest that before cancer cells even begin to move, they emit signals which send the new area into chaos. [...]
Continue reading: Preparing to move – how cancer can use your immune system as a highway
1 Jul 2016
Today, Professor Tim Bliss will be awarded The Brain Prize alongside Graham Collingridge and Richard Morris. Bliss worked at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) from 1967 to 2015 and is now a visiting worker at The Crick. Archivist Emma Anthony found this photo of the young Bliss in the NIMR records and Sylvie Kruiniger finds out more.
The work on ‘long term potentiation’ (LTP) by Bliss, Collingridge and Morris has demonstrated how our brains change as we build memories. Bliss and Terje Lømo were the first to detail how LTP worked back in 1973 when they published the results of their studies conducted in anaesthetised rabbits. [...]
Continue reading: To the Crick! Part four: Think long and hard
28 Apr 2016
This image has been created by a team at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC LMB) in collaboration with the University of Exeter and Birkbeck College and, for the first time, shows a detailed structure of a ‘lysenin pore’. Dr Christos Savva, an Electron Microscopy Facility scientist at the MRC LMB spoke to Sylvie Kruiniger about why understanding these structures could be the key to treating many different diseases.
It may look like some kind of technicolour mushroom but this teeny structure is actually a cell-attacking pore made of just nine proteins. [...]
Continue reading: Behind the picture: a tiny cell-killing drill
11 Mar 2016
Who knew we had such pretty guts? Dr Nicola Fawcett, medic and researcher at the University of Oxford, produced these images in collaboration with photographer Chris Wood to show the importance of bacteria for our health and the issue of antimicrobial resistance. The botanical images are made from common bacteria taken from the gut and stamped in decorative patterns onto agar jelly before leaving them to grow overnight. The photographs are on display at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford until 14 May 2016.
Only one left… There is a lot in the news about drug-resistant bacteria. Here you can see discs containing nine commonly-used antibiotics in hospitals. The dark-blue coloured bacteria can grow quite happily in the presence of eight of them – the antibiotics do not kill them. The bacteria are ‘resistant’ to all but one of the antibiotics we have available.
The Serendipidous Flower: Bacteria all behave differently. Some are able to produce a slime and spread out onto the nutrient jelly, looking a bit like a flower. I’d love to say this was intentional -in fact it would be incredibly difficult to get just one colony growing where you wanted. They way this turned out was just luck!
Vine leaf tip: The bacteria are stamped or painted onto the jelly, then left to grow overnight. Each dot is a single colony of bacteria, each containing millions of bacteria. There are dyes in the jelly that are only activated by the enzymes of specific bacteria; in this case, it was Escherichia coli (purple), Citrobacter (turquoise), and Klebsiella(dark blue). These dyes dissolve into the bacterial colonies, turning them different colours.
Wild vines of the gut: Growing on the surface of this nutrient jelly are three common bacteria that helpfully inhabit your gut. The plates also contain paper discs infused with antibiotics, which dissolve into the agar, and alter how the bacteria grow.
Our guts and us: Recent advances in scientific research have enabled us to study bacteria in new ways. This is showing us that we wouldn’t be able to survive in this world without bacteria – we live together, and often help one another, living together in balance.
Resistance is hard: The bacteria living near the antibiotic disc here have to work hard to try and stay alive. They are producing a lot of the enzymes that create the colour, hence the ‘rainbow’ appearance.
Competition is healthy: The tree is created out of a mix of bacteria, mostly competing for space and nutrients, so colonies can’t grow larger than pinpricks. This is similar to what happens in the gut, where ‘beneficial’ bacteria can out-compete more harmful ones and keep them under control. Towards the edges, the antibiotics are killing many bacteria, removing the competition. This means the ‘antibiotic resistant’ bacterial colonies can grow larger. By killing the sensitive bacteria with antibiotics, we have allowed the resistant ones to ‘take over’.
This work tells me to remember that the antibiotics I prescribe can sometimes cause unintended harm to the gut bacteria that are helping to keep my patient healthy. It tells me I should be careful not to use antibiotics where they’re not needed.
These pictures and captions were originally published on the University of Oxford’s Modernising Medical Microbiology site. Copyright: Chris Wood and Nicola Fawcett, Modernising Medical Microbiology under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
We often talk about bacteria as harmful things. Images in the media, advertising, even doctors and scientists, portray a healthy, desirable world as one free of bacteria: sterile, washed and scrubbed clean. It’s becoming increasingly clear that this isn’t true. [...]
Continue reading: Behind the picture: our gorgeous gut flora
15 Jan 2016
This week Mr John Scott, a member of the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936, was able to meet his grey and his white matter in models made by the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE) and the National Museum of Scotland which are due to form part of a new gallery opening in summer 2016. Sylvie Kruiniger talks to CCACE’s Dr Simon Cox about the project.
(Image copyright: National Museums of Scotland)
How many people can say that they have held their own brain in their hands? In this picture, Mr Scott is doing just that. Its size, shape and folds perfectly match those housed inside his head. The 3D print of his brain’s outer surface will sit alongside a strikingly beautiful image of his white matter etched in glass at the National Museums of Scotland from summer 2016.
Mr Scott’s brain has been imaged numerous times over the past decade as part of studies of the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 (LBC1936). The team, led by Professor Ian Deary (whose office we have visited in a previous post), used different types of MRI scan generated by the University of Edinburgh’s Brain Research Imaging Centre to generate the two objects for the museum’s collection. His white matter was mapped by a diffusion tensor MRI and, for the 3D print, his cortical surface was mapped by a standard structural scan. [...]
Continue reading: Behind the picture: When Mr Scott met his brain