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Insight blog

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

Getting on your nerves

16 Oct 2019

Congratulations to PhD student Akira Wiberg of the University of Oxford, the 2019 champion of our Max Perutz Science Writing Award! In his winning article, he describes how looking at our genes could help surgeons predict who is most likely to benefit from surgery for a painful condition of the hand – carpal tunnel syndrome.

Akira receiving his prize from MRC Executive Chair Professor Fiona Watt

“Does this feel sharp?”, I ask my patient, as I use my forceps to pinch the skin of her hand. She says no, so I proceed to make a 2-inch incision in her palm. I dissect through the layers of fatty tissue to expose a greyish-white structure called the transverse carpal ligament. [...]

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Mental health audio tour makes young people’s voices heard

9 Oct 2019

This month, a new audio tour has launched at the National Gallery to dispel myths surrounding mental health. Tour project lead, Dr Helen Fisher from King’s College London, tells us why she thinks that getting people thinking about mental health is so important. The tour is funded by the MRC, part of UK Research & Innovation.

Image credit: The National Gallery, London [...]

My research work focuses on why young people develop mental health problems. A lot of the benefits from the work I do are quite far in the future – it might take 20 or 30 years for outcomes of our research to trickle through to actual practice. That’s a long time to wait to make a difference. There’s an element of frustration that it takes such a long time, while knowing that right now, out there in the world there is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health, which is preventing many young people from getting the help they need.

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Running datathons for dementia

23 Sep 2019

What’s a datathon – and why should you care? Professor John Gallacher, the Director of Dementias Platform UK, reveals the inspiration behind their popular data-tastic events and the benefits they offer.

We started the datathon events to help equip scientists with the skills that they need to use our secure online environment, which contains health data for dementia research. In a nutshell, for three days up to 50 data scientists work together in small teams to begin tackling a research question using our data resource. [...]

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Bridging the translation research gap

11 Sep 2019

Taking ideas from bench to bedside is complicated. So, what’s the best way to progress exciting new ideas emerging in academia? Professor Simon Hollingsworth, Vice President and Global Medicine Leader at AstraZeneca, and Visiting Professor at Kings College London, chaired the advisory group of a report looking back over a decade of MRC translation funding. He shares what they found.

Author Professor Simon Hollingsworth

Professor Simon Hollingsworth. Image credit: AstraZeneca.

It’s well documented in the pharmaceutical sector that the path from discovery to clinical adoption and use of a new commercial product is long and perilous. It can take many years (sometimes more than 20 years) to bring a new product to market where it can benefit patients. [...]

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The life of an MRC Programme Manager

8 Aug 2019

Martin Broadstock

Dr Martin Broadstock, Programme Manager for Immunology and Vaccines, joined the MRC in early 2017 after 10 years as a postdoc. Here he gives an insight into what he enjoys about this wide-ranging role.

A front-row seat to cutting-edge science

As a Programme Manager, I’m privileged to be at the forefront of cutting-edge research. I’m no longer doing my own science, but by regularly speaking to researchers and reading through their applications, I learn about areas of research which could revolutionise medical science. I don’t miss being at the bench, as I’m exposed to more varied research ideas as a Programme Manager than when I was a postdoc focusing on a few projects. [...]

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Taking science from the bench to policy change

17 Jul 2019

The UKRI Policy Internships Scheme gives doctoral students the opportunity to work for three months in one of a selected group of highly influential policy organisations. With applications now open for 2020, we spoke to PhD student Jonida Tafilaku from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology about her time spent at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST).

Jonida Tafilaku in her lab at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology [...]

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Thank you from your winner – Deepak!

10 Jul 2019

Throughout June, 25 MRC-funded researchers and support staff connected with 1,200 students across the UK, from Stranraer to Southampton. After posing hundreds of insightful questions to our scientists in the ‘I’m a Scientist MRC Festival Zone’ the students crowned Deepak Chandrasekharan, Clinical Research Training Fellow at MRC Harwell, our 2019 champion. Here he shares his competition experience.


The past four weeks has been one of the most rewarding, fulfilling and thought-provoking periods I have had in science. In research, we are very lucky to get funding for our work, often from the generosity of the public via organisations like the MRC and similar charities and governmental departments. Yet, usually, the majority of our findings are communicated not to the public, but to a limited group of colleagues at a conference or in a publication. [...]

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Recognising the mouse as an important experimental model

5 Jul 2019

Fiona Watt

Last week we published a statement about the reasons why we’re conducting a strategic review of mouse genetics. Here our Executive Chair Professor Fiona Watt provides some more information about the process.

The review is looking at long-term needs in mouse genetics that reflect the changing environment and the role of the MRC Harwell Institute. In September 2018 a face-to-face meeting of a panel of scientists with broad-ranging expertise considered the landscape, including written perspectives from a number of national and international leaders in mouse and human genetics. [...]

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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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