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Insight blog

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

The gene editing workshops tackling invisible diseases

3 May 2019

Recently, an international group of researchers met in Kolkata, India, for a workshop ran by the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases. Here, Project Officer Mags Leighton explains how the network – and revolutionary gene editing technology – is creating new ways to tackle two neglected diseases.

Kolkata workshop attendees. Image copyright: Prof Nahid Ali.

Millions of people worldwide are infected by neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). The Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 revealed that just two of these – Chagas disease and leishmaniasis – together infect over 10 million people, causing an estimated 16,000 deaths and 321,000 ‘years lost to disability’. [...]

Continue reading: The gene editing workshops tackling invisible diseases

Running for the Dementia Revolution

26 Apr 2019

This Sunday, thousands of marathon runners will be pounding the streets of London, raising vital money for charities across the UK. Many will be powering ground-breaking dementia research by fundraising for the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI) through the Dementia Revolution campaign. The UK DRI is the single biggest investment in dementia research ever launched in the UK, set up by the MRC and charity founders Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK. Here, two runners with a very special connection to tackling dementia tell their story about what research means to them.

Carli Pirie – Study participant – UK DRI

Carli Study Participant

I started taking part in research because my family have a genetic mutation that results in early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. We lost my nan very young and then started noticing signs in my mum.

When she was being diagnosed, I felt a little helpless and like I was out of control, so I signed up to the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Network (DIAN) study. I felt that by taking part, I could give something towards the future. [...]

Continue reading: Running for the Dementia Revolution

Working life: technology specialist Mark Skehel

4 Apr 2019

A technology specialist at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB), Mark Skehel helps fellow scientists use powerful techniques to study proteins, alongside his own biomedical research. He describes his career spanning industry and academia, and how he’s benefited from embracing change.

Mark in his lab at the MRC LMB, holding a sample vial in front of a mass spectrometer – an instrument used to identify and measure molecules based on their mass-to-charge ratio. [...]

Career in brief

  • Laboratory technician at Smith, Kline & French
  • Degree in chemistry with biochemistry at King’s College London
  • Higher scientific officer at the MRC LMB and PhD in chemistry
  • Investigator scientist at SmithKline Beecham and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)
  • Head of Protein Analysis and Proteomics at Cancer Research UK
  • Head of Biological Mass Spectrometry and Proteomics at the MRC LMB

Continue reading: Working life: technology specialist Mark Skehel

Beyond the sprint: stories from the marathon runners of science

28 Mar 2019

First, we removed the time-bound criteria from our fellowship applications, to give people more time to apply after completing their PhD. Then we did the same for our New Investigator Research Grants (NIRG). Other funders have followed suit (including Wellcome and Cancer Research UK), and we know that many researchers have benefited from these changes. Here four new investigators and fellows describe the different paths they’ve followed to become independent researchers, and how broadening access to our schemes has helped them along the route. [...]

Marathon runners

Continue reading: Beyond the sprint: stories from the marathon runners of science

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 the 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.Moira Whyte

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

Continue reading: Working life: stem cell scientist Professor Fiona Watt

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. [...]

Continue reading: Making Parkinson’s disease research personal