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Insight blog

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

Connecting urban psychiatry with rural India

11 Dec 2018

Alison Garber - Author

Alison Garber

In India, more than 75% of people experiencing mental illness have no access to mental healthcare. Working with the Sangath organisation in Goa, Alison Garber explains how she’s hoping to provide healthcare from a distance for people in rural communities.

Meet Priya*, a 25-year-old woman who lives in a remote village in Goa, India. Ever since her adolescence, she’s been experiencing severe mental health issues that deeply affect her family. She breaks objects at home and hurts herself by hitting her hands and legs repeatedly. The family have travelled great distances seeking help, but with no success. They are growing increasingly desperate.

Connecting with remote patients

My aim is to help people like Priya by bringing mental healthcare to inaccessible settings. I’m part of a team implementing a project that aims to use technology, primarily video conferencing, to connect patients in rural areas of Goa to psychiatrists practising in urban areas. India’s remarkably wide network of connectivity makes this intervention promising, with great potential.

Unfortunately, Priya’s story is one of many. One of the main obstacles between patients and the care they need is geographical: while 70% of mental health professionals work in cities, 70% of the Indian population lives in rural areas. [...]

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Hidden suffering

7 Dec 2018

A team in Edinburgh is conducting vital research into how to improve the lives of more than 170 million women globally affected by endometriosis, a debilitating condition that often goes undiagnosed. Here, project co-director and principal investigator at the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, Professor Andrew Horne, explains how a £100,000 donation from the Wolfson Charitable Trust will support their vital research into the condition. 

While 80 per cent of adults are familiar with diabetes, fewer than 20 per cent have heard of endometriosis. That startling figure, provided by Endometriosis.org, emphasises one of the reasons why it is such a difficult condition to research, and why developing better management and treatment remains a challenge.

Andrew Horne and his research team are conducting vital research into endometriosis, part funded by a £100,000 donation from the Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust

Andrew Horne and his research team are conducting vital research into endometriosis, part funded by a
£100,000 donation from the Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust [...]

Continue reading: Hidden suffering

Keep calm and carry to term

28 Nov 2018

Fraser Shearer, MRC PhD student at the Centre for Cardiovascular Science, The University of Edinburgh was commended in this year’s Max Perutz Science Writing Award. He describes how understanding the impact of stress hormones during pregnancy on a child’s lifelong mental health, could help us treat poor mental health more effectively in future.Fraser Shearer & Fiona Watt

In just a few weeks my first child is due. I have unbuilt furniture sitting in a wholly unprepared ‘nursery’ which is also my partner’s office, a pram that I am still unsure about, sleep sacks that are apparently a thing babies use and, for someone who does not have breasts, I have a wealth of knowledge about breast pumps. This, however, pales in comparison to the list of things I do not have and the window for fulfilling that list is rapidly shrinking. Suffice it to say, my stress hormone levels are elevated. [...]

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Stopping the conveyor belt – cancer and fertility

20 Nov 2018

Our runner-up in this year’s Max Perutz Science Writing Award was Briet Bjarkadottir, an MRC PhD student at the University of Oxford. By understanding how chemotherapy drugs can cause infertility she’s hoping to find a less invasive way to protect fertility in girls and women with a cancer diagnosis.

Briet Bjarkadottir & Fiona Watt

Briet Bjarkadottir & Fiona Watt

Jane is experiencing the worst day of her life. Her six-year-old daughter, Lily, has just been diagnosed with cancer. The doctor is describing the treatment plan for the next few months: several rounds of chemotherapy to hopefully kill off the cancer cells. He even mentions the possibility of a bone marrow transfer. All of this is way too much to take in – how can a little girl, who was happily playing on holiday a few weeks ago, be so sick? [...]

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From deep-sea sponges to dragonfly wings: Superbug research from unexpected places

12 Nov 2018

From the Atlantic Ocean to our own backyards, our researchers have been hunting high and low for inspiration to help better understand and tackle superbugs. For World Antibiotic Awareness Week Jonathan Pearce, MRC’s Head of Infections and Immunity, highlights some of the remarkable interdisciplinary teams carrying out this fascinating research.

Today, more than ever, we’re aware of antibiotic resistance as a growing, global problem that desperately needs an answer. According to recent reports, by 2050 superbugs could kill more people than cancer and diabetes combined.

Petri dishes showing bacteria cultures.

Over the past five years alone, in partnership with the other UKRI councils, we’ve made huge efforts to better understand this threat and find solutions –  together investing £44 million in 78 UK projects and £41 million in projects worldwide. Collaboration helps fire up imagination, insight and innovation. That’s why we’ve brought together researchers with different skills and experiences across the sciences, engineering, arts and humanities. [...]

Continue reading: From deep-sea sponges to dragonfly wings: Superbug research from unexpected places

Increasing transparency in animal research numbers

8 Nov 2018

Each year the Home Office publishes figures on the number of animals used in scientific procedures in the UK. For the first time, additional statistics have today been published on all animals involved in research – a welcome milestone for animal research transparency. But what are these additional statistics? And why are some animals not counted in the statistics on procedures? Dr Sara Wells, Director of the MRC Mary Lyon Centre MRC Harwell, explains.

Mouse

The biology we share with animals makes them incredibly useful for studying how our bodies work when healthy and how they change when affected by a disease. Research using animals has helped us make great progress in our understanding and treatment of disease including high blood pressure and asthma. [...]

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How artificial intelligence, and a cup of tea, could help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease

26 Oct 2018

Congratulations to MRC PhD student Natasha Clarke, from St George’s, University of London, winner of our 2018 Max Perutz Science Writing Award. In her award-winning article she describes how teaching machines to detect changes in language could help with early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Award-winner Natasha (centre) with other shortlisted entrants (behind), judge Andy Ridgway
(front row left), MRC Executive Chair Professor Fiona Watt who chaired the judging panel
(front row, second from right) and Professor Robin Perutz, son of Max Perutz (front row right).

I’d like to give you a quick task. How do you make a cup of tea? Describe it out loud. Whilst this could lead to some controversies (milk in first, or last?) it seems fairly simple. But what if I told you that this task could help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease? [...]

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The serendipity of openness

25 Oct 2018

Freely available science papers enable research findings to be shared widely, helping to speed up the pace of science and advance research worldwide. That’s why we support open knowledge solutions like Europe PMC (Pub Med Central): a vast digital library of biomedical research articles, available for anyone to access. But that’s not the only perk, as Community Manager Maria Levchenko explains for Open Access Week 2018.

Image credit: Maria Levchenko

Every scientist hopes that their research will change the world. However, that change can only happen when science is shared with the wider community. Open access to research ensures that anyone, from fellow scientists to journalists and patients, can read the full story behind an important finding. [...]

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Could dairy products help prevent type 2 diabetes?

17 Oct 2018

Checking blood sugar levels

Checking blood sugar levels

Could we be getting it wrong when avoiding dairy products in a bid to be healthy? That’s what Dr Fumiaki Imamura and Dr Nita Forouhi from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge hope to find out. Here Fumiaki tells us about their latest research and why it may be time to question the link between high-fat dairy products and conditions like type 2 diabetes.

Many people believe that low-fat dairy products are healthier than high-fat dairy products. Indeed, many public health guidelines recommend low-fat dairy over high-fat dairy. However, our latest research, published in PLOS Medicine, found that people who had higher levels of biomarkers of dairy fat had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Biomarkers are tell-tale molecules in the body that can be measured accurately and consistently, and act as indicators of dietary consumption.  [...]

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Standing up to global mental health stigma

8 Oct 2018

We’ve recently funded Professor Sir Graham Thornicroft, a leading expert in research on mental health discrimination and stigma, to carry out a global study. On the day of the world’s first Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit, he sets out what stigma looks like across the globe and how his study will make a difference.

Graham Thornicroft

Around one in four people will experience mental ill health at some point in their lives, and this year alone around 450 million people worldwide have a mental health condition. Our research shows that in many countries 80 to 90% of them experience negative stigma and discrimination. [...]

It’s so important we carry out research on how to improve this situation globally. Over the last decade, in over a dozen countries including the UK, there have been national anti-stigma programmes and the evidence shows that these can be effective. But so far, all of these programmes have been in high-income countries.

Continue reading: Standing up to global mental health stigma