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Insight blog

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

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

Continue reading: Working life: Professor Daniel Freeman

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. [...]

Continue reading: Virtual reality in research

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. [...]

Continue reading: How can we help drinkers make healthier choices?

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. [...]

Continue reading: Sharing the science of gene therapy

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. [...]

Continue reading: Connecting urban psychiatry with rural India

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 [...]

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. [...]

Continue reading: Keep calm and carry to term

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? [...]

Continue reading: Stopping the conveyor belt – cancer and fertility

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