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Insight blog

Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.

MRC strategic review of mouse genetics

26 Jun 2019

As we undertake our Strategic Review of mouse genetics, our Executive Chair Professor Fiona Watt sets out the MRC position in the light of recent press activity regarding the MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit (MGU).

MRC Harwell Institute, directed by Professor Steve Brown, encompasses the Mammalian Genetics Unit and the Mary Lyon Centre. The MGU carries out academic research while the Mary Lyon Centre has world-class expertise in genetically modified mice. [...]

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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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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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Working life: technology specialist Mark Skehel

4 Apr 2019

A technology specialist at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB), Mark Skehel helps fellow scientists use powerful techniques to study proteins, alongside his own biomedical research. He describes his career spanning industry and academia, and how he’s benefited from embracing change.

Mark in his lab at the MRC LMB, holding a sample vial in front of a mass spectrometer – an instrument used to identify and measure molecules based on their mass-to-charge ratio. [...]

Career in brief

  • Laboratory technician at Smith, Kline & French
  • Degree in chemistry with biochemistry at King’s College London
  • Higher scientific officer at the MRC LMB and PhD in chemistry
  • Investigator scientist at SmithKline Beecham and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)
  • Head of Protein Analysis and Proteomics at Cancer Research UK
  • Head of Biological Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics at the MRC LMB

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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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Transitioning to research independence

21 Mar 2019

We understand that for many researchers, making the leap to independent research can be a challenging time. That’s why we’ve been working to ensure we can provide our researchers with the support they need to navigate this process. Professor Moira Whyte,  Head of the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine at the University of Edinburgh and Chair of the MRC’s Training and Careers Group, guides us through what we can offer to help early-career researchers in the transition.Moira Whyte

Making the move from postdoc in someone else’s group to making your mark as an independent researcher can be a tough career stage. As noted in a recent article – The life of P.I. Transitions to Independence in Academia – early-career researchers (ECRs) face numerous barriers to securing posts, staff, time and funding. This comes at a time when they are trying to make their mark scientifically and generate the outputs that will get them recognised as leaders in their field, and we’ve heard from our own fellows, from both basic scientific and clinical backgrounds, about what a critical career stage this is. [...]

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