News

Insight blog

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

Shining a light on brain development

2 Oct 2018

Clare Elwell with infant taking part in the study: Image credit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Clare Elwell with infant taking part in the BRIGHT study: Image credit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Since recording the first brain images of babies in Africa, Professor Clare Elwell (Department of Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering, UCL) has been leading a pioneering study to increase our understanding of early brain development. Here Clare tells us about bringing a new imaging technology to a remote Gambian village, and how it could help babies suffering from malnutrition reach their full potential.

Before they reach five years of age, one in four children across the globe are malnourished. There’s a lot of research showing the detrimental impact this has on their development. But we know very little about what’s going on inside their brains. [...]

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Regenerative medicine: from the lab to the clinic, and back

27 Sep 2018

Regenerative medicine is a fast-moving, interdisciplinary field, looking for ways to repair or replace parts of the body that are diseased or damaged. Now there’s an established and growing UK research community, we’re changing the way we fund this type of research. Two researchers explain why our continued support for this field – from the early discovery stage to translation into the clinic – will help deliver life-changing treatments for currently incurable conditions. [...]

Adult stem cells from the tissue lining the human knee joint, grown in a dish. These cells can repair
damaged cartilage and are being trialled in the clinic. Individual stem cells are labelled with different fluorescent colours. Image credit: Nathan White, University of Aberdeen.

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Industry and academia – stronger together

21 Sep 2018

Derived from proteins made by the body’s immune system, monoclonal antibodies are successful drugs used to treat millions of patients. The MRC/UCB Antibody Discovery Initiative offers academic researchers access to UCB’s high-tech antibody discovery platform. Andrew Popplewell, Head of Antibody Discovery and Engineering at UCB Celltech, explains how the initiative is geared to help promote collaborative research.

Andrew Popplewell

Image credit: Andrew Popplewell.

In the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry today, collaboration and networking are all-important. And the value of tapping into academic knowledge, expertise, and talent is widely acknowledged. [...]

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Is there a crisis in student mental health?

13 Sep 2018

Starting university should be a time for having fun and making new friends. So why are we seeing record referral rates to student counselling services and reports of student suicides in the news? And what can universities do to help? Dr Nicola Byrom, Lecturer in Psychology at King’s College London, is using UK Research and Innovation ‘Network Plus’ funding to find out.Nicola Byron

Type ‘Student mental health’ into a search of UK news and you’ll be hit by headlines referring to: ‘The ticking time-bomb’, ‘Students being let down’, warnings that ‘problems are rising’. If you read these stories in isolation, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’re in the depths of a crisis in student mental health.

In reality the picture is much more complex. In June this year, the Office of National Statistics reported that the suicide rate among the general population is actually higher than the comparable age group of university students. [...]

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Cryo-electron microscopy: big kit solving life’s smallest puzzles

11 Sep 2018

Since its invention in the 1980s, the UK has led developments in cryo-electron microscopy – a technique allowing scientists to zoom in on the inner-workings of tiny molecules. A new imaging centre at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research is now expanding the UK’s powerful microscope offering. Director Professor David Bhella shares his grand plans.

So what exactly is cryo-electron microscopy?

David Bhella with imaging computer

Cryo-electron microscopy, or cryo-EM for short, is a powerful microscope technique. It’s different from imaging with normal microscopes as it uses beams of electrons, instead of light. Structural biologists use this technique to take pictures of biological samples at near-atomic scale, frozen in their natural state. It’s a faster and more effective way of looking deep inside molecules compared to other structural biology tools. [...]

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How do we help people living with mental health conditions live longer, healthier lives?

6 Sep 2018

Psychiatrist and Population Scientist Professor Simon Gilbody of the University of York, has just been awarded £1 million to build his new “Closing the gap network”. With 20 years’ experience in healthcare, Simon has seen how lives can be transformed if the same emphasis is placed on both physical and mental health. Starting this year, the special network of experts from the sciences to the arts will try to understand and tackle the root causes of why the health and life expectancy of people with severe mental ill health is so poor.

Simon Gilbody

Image credit: University of York

What is the ‘mortality gap’ and what are we doing to tackle it?

People who use mental health services experience the poorest physical health and most profound health inequalities of any section of the UK population.

Diabetes, heart disease and chronic respiratory illness, are two to three times more common in this group of people than for people with good mental health. Life expectancy is reduced by 20 to 25 years, and a person developing schizophrenia in their 20s can only expect, on average, to live into their 50s. [...]

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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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