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Insight blog

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

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.  [...]

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To stop AIDS we must reach the ‘mobile population’

23 Aug 2018

Janet Seeley

For the past three decades, Janet Seeley, Professor of Anthropology and Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, has been engaged in HIV research across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. For the last 10 years, she has led the Social Aspects of Health Across the Lifecourse programme in the MRC/UVRI and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit. Here she tells us about some of the challenges in getting HIV testing and treatment to everyone in need.

 If everyone living with HIV takes an HIV test and knows their status, and if everyone with an HIV-positive test begins antiretroviral therapy (ART) HIV treatment rapidly, this enhances their chance of living a healthy life into old age. That treatment can also reduce the amount of virus in a person’s body to such a low level that they will not pass the virus on to others.

This is universal test and treat, a strategy aimed at getting everyone who is living with HIV on to treatment and thus significantly increasing the proportion of people who are aware of their HIV status and receiving that treatment. [...]

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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. [...]

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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. [...]

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How drones are helping in the fight against malaria

11 Jul 2018

By combining high-tech drones with low-tech methods, researchers are embarking on an MRC-funded project to map out where mosquitoes breed in Malawi. But how could this help with fighting malaria? MRC Fellow Michelle Stanton of Lancaster University and Christopher Jones of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, currently based at the Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Trust (MLW) Clinical Research Programme in Blantyre, Malawi, are leading the way.

High tech plus ‘bucket and spade’ employed in the fight against malaria. Michelle Stanton, Author provided [...]

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The power of big data

26 Jun 2018

Patient data has the power to revolutionise our approach to medical research and help improve human health. We’re funding scientists to use big data to tackle some of the biggest health challenges, including neurodegeneration. Here Ed Pinches, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, tells us why access to large data sets is so important in our fight against dementia.

It’s the hot topic, the subject dominating much of the latest news. Data. Your data. How it is used, how it is stored, who gets to access it, and for what purpose?

[...]

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Meal timings: do they matter?

19 Jun 2018

Could something as simple as when we eat influence our body weight and health? That’s what Professors Alexandra Johnstone and Peter Morgan, of the Rowett Institute at the University of Aberdeen, are investigating. In the aptly named MRC-funded Big Breakfast Study, they’re aiming to distinguish whether meal timings are important – and if so, why.

Professors Peter Morgan and Alexandra Johnstone. Image credit: The Rowett Institute

Do you eat breakfast or usually skip this meal to rush to work, or to sleep for longer? If you don’t eat breakfast is it because you don’t feel hungry and can’t face food first thing? Not feeling hungry in the morning might be because you consumed a lot of calories before sleeping.

If you prefer to hit the snooze button, or eat much later in the day, you’re not alone. The most common pattern of eating in the UK is to consume most of our daily calories in the evening – roughly 40% of our daily energy intake – and fewer calories in the morning. [...]

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