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Insight blog

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

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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Sharing the science of gene therapy

9 Jan 2019

This festive season, stem cell scientist Professor Bobby Gaspar, from the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, appeared as a special guest on the BBC Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. Here he shares the thrill of healing patients using gene therapy – and why it’s so important to communicate the science behind new medicines to the world.

Professor Aoife McLysaght, gene therapy patient Rhys & Professor Bobby Gaspar. Image: Paul Wilkinson Photography

Professor Aoife McLysaght, gene therapy patient Rhys & Professor Bobby Gaspar. Image: Paul Wilkinson Photography

To be a part of the Christmas Lectures alongside Rhys, the first patient to be successfully treated at Great Ormond Street Hospital with gene therapy back in 2001, was very special. [...]

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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, Research Assistant 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. [...]

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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 Charles 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 [...]

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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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