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Insight blog

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

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 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.

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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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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Working life: stem cell scientist Professor Fiona Watt

6 Mar 2019

Professor Fiona Watt is Director of the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at King’s College London and last year became Executive Chair of the MRC. Here she explains the excitement of studying stem cells, her vision for a healthier nation and why there’s no shame in failing.

Professor Fiona Watt in her office at the Centre for Stem Cells & Regenerative Medicine at King’s College London, at the top of Guy’s Hospital tower. [...]

Career in brief

  • PhD in cell biology, University of Oxford
  • Postdoc at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA
  • Set up first lab at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, London
  • Laboratory Head at Imperial Cancer Research London, now part of the Francis Crick Institute
  • Deputy Director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute and the Wellcome-MRC Centre for Stem Cell Research, University of Cambridge
  • Established the Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at King’s College London

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Building momentum in mental health research

27 Feb 2019

Today’s latest report from the charity MQ raises important questions about how much is spent on mental health research in the UK. So we asked Dr Jo Latimer, MRC Head of Neurosciences and Mental Health, to talk us through the funding we dedicate to this area – and why it’s a top priority for us.

Research looking across the life course, from childhood to adulthood, will help us to address gaps in our knowledge about mental health conditions. Image credit: cherylholt on Pixabay.

This year, in the UK, about a quarter of us will be affected by mental health problems that are serious enough to need treatment, support and care. At least 75% of us know someone in our friend or family circle who has experienced problems with their mental health and we’re seeing a worrying rise in the number of children and adolescents experiencing a mental health disorder. [...]

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Why we need to work together to support team science

22 Feb 2019

The follow-up meeting report by the Academy of Medical Sciences highlights good progress in supporting the careers of team scientists over the past two years. But there’s more to do. Here our Executive Chair Professor Fiona Watt, also a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, shares how we’re working to encourage the uptake of team science models of research.

An important step in supporting team science is keeping track of the current roles and projects of the researchers we fund. Alongside other funders, we’ve adopted platforms such as ORCID to capture research outputs and allow the evaluation of contributions to grants. ORCID enables researchers to take ownership of their data to construct multipurpose portfolios of outputs and impacts. [...]

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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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Working life: Nutrition scientist Nita Forouhi

6 Feb 2019

Professor Nita Gandhi Forouhi, of the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, studies food and nutrition, and how this affects our health. Here she reveals some dietary home truths, the importance of good, solid evidence and her passion for championing equality in science.

Nutrition scientist Professor Nita Forouhi

Professor Nita Forouhi in the clinical testing area of the MRC Epidemiology Unit, used for taking measurements from participants who attend research studies. [...]

Career in brief

  • Medical degree with BSc degree in immunology, Newcastle University
  • Junior doctor jobs in Newcastle and Edinburgh
  • Four-year Wellcome fellowship in clinical epidemiology, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Specialised in public health in London and Cambridge
  • From postdoc to programme leader and professor at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge; honorary consultant public health physician with Public Health England

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Working life: Professor Daniel Freeman

30 Jan 2019

Daniel Freeman, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford, is pioneering virtual reality (VR) as a treatment for people with severe mental health problems. He tells us about his working life, the inspiration behind his ideas and the large potential for VR beyond gaming.

Professor Daniel Freeman holding a virtual reality headset

  [...]

Career in brief:

  • BA Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge
  • PhD in psychology and a DClinPsy in clinical psychology at King’s College London
  • Wellcome Trust Fellow at King’s College London
  • MRC Senior Clinical Fellow at the University of Oxford
  • NIHR Research Professor at the University of Oxford

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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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