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

£60m to unravel genes and disease

29 Aug 2012

The MRC has awarded £60m over five years to the MRC Human Genetics Unit and the MRC Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine (IGMM) at the University of Edinburgh. This video, produced by the University of Edinburgh, explains how researchers will use this funding to look at the genetics that underlie diseases such as melanoma and heart disease, and incorporate what they learn into diagnosing and treating patients. [...]

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Profile: Qing-Jun Meng

21 Aug 2012

Qing-Jun Meng

Qing-Jun Meng

Qing-Jun Meng is an MRC fellow at the University of Manchester. He told Katherine Nightingale about his research into biological clocks, their role in age-associated conditions, and how they offer a whole new way of looking at disease.

How does a Chinese flight surgeon end up researching biological clocks in Manchester? In the early 2000s, Qing-Jun Meng was advising pilots and medical officers for astronauts in China’s burgeoning space programme. Now he’s halfway through an MRC fellowship researching how changes in the body’s circadian rhythm during ageing cause disease.

The two fields aren’t actually so different, says Qing-Jun. “It sounds like discipline hopping but some of the lectures I gave to pilots were about body clocks and jet lag. That was when I first got interested in the field.”

Frustrated by the lack of opportunity to do cutting edge research, particularly that which would benefit people, Qing-Jun began applying for postdoc jobs abroad. His acceptance to work in vascular tissue engineering at Manchester Royal Infirmary was the first step; a second step just down the road to the University of Manchester landed him in biological clocks, where he’s remained ever since. [...]

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Profile: Amy Foulkes

16 Aug 2012

Amy Foulkes

Amy Foulkes (Image copyright: Amy Foulkes)

Amy Foulkes is a dermatologist and MRC fellow based at the University of Manchester. She told Katherine Nightingale why she is passionate about personalising treatments for the skin disease psoriasis.

Amy Foulkes never wanted to do science for the sake of it. When she was younger, she wanted to work in disease control. “I thought I wanted to work with dangerous infectious diseases in a lab,” she says.

She chose to intercalate immunology into her medicine degree at the University of Nottingham, but a few months of investigating immune cells in the lab without a clear sight of how this would help people made her reconsider her plans to go into research. Then during her house officer rotation in Edinburgh, she spent time in various hospital units that had a research focus. [...]

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Inside Westminster

14 Aug 2012

Theresa Dahm

Theresa Dahm outside the Houses of Parliament (Image copyright: Theresa Dahm)

Theresa Dahm, a PhD student at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, recently spent three months as an intern with the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. So just how different were the halls of Westminster from life in the lab?

This summer I traded my life as a PhD student in Cambridge for life as an intern with the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee. And what a trade it was! I may be used to criticising research papers, but scrutinising government was a whole new challenge.

The world of policy-making seemed at first to contrast sharply with the research environment I was so used to. I went from managing my own long research project, with its looming but fairly intangible deadline, to working closely with members of a tight-knit committee and meeting deadlines every week. I also left behind the comfort of being a specialist in my research area (how depression affects self-control) to work in an area I had little knowledge of: an inquiry into the regulation of medical implants. Armed with a licence to ask questions and the need to learn a lot and fast, I set to work. [...]

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Profile: Rodrigo Moreno-Serra

9 Aug 2012

Rodrigo Moreno-Serra

Rodrigo Moreno-Serra

Rodrigo Moreno-Serra is an MRC fellow studying the use of ‘out-of-pocket’ payments for healthcare at Imperial College London’s Centre for Health Policy. He told Katherine Nightingale about why he wants to use economics to improve healthcare, and why that means putting up with more rain than he’s used to.  

No one could accuse Rodrigo Moreno-Serra of hiding himself away in an ivory tower. The health economics researcher is clear about his aim to make sure that the fruits of his research make it to decision-makers — and eventually to the public that needs it.

Having grown up in the emerging economy of Brazil, Rodrigo has seen the impact of an underdeveloped health system, and is keen to make sure that his economics expertise is used to improve the way that health systems are run.

“If you are a researcher it is very exciting to see that the results of your research are being taken into account. I don’t want to only be publishing in nice journals that stay on a shelf, I want to influence policy,” he says. [...]

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Wallpaper, wax and paper DNA: the tools of a mini scientist

7 Aug 2012

Mini Scientists at the Edinburgh Science Festival

Mini Scientists at the Edinburgh Science Festival

MRC Regional Communications Manager Hazel Lambert reveals a little of what goes into preparing research for curious ‘mini scientists’, just one of the activities in which MRC researchers share their expertise with thousands of people at UK science festivals every year.

Edinburgh and Glasgow are flooded with rain so wellies are essential for walking in Scotland’s cities today. I leave mine at reception in the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit where I’ve come to meet researchers who’ve been developing a game they call Health and the City. I’m looking for new ideas for Mini Scientists, the MRC lab at the Edinburgh International Science Festival where MRC-funded researchers help kids aged seven and over explore stem cells, DNA and even cell-signalling with the help of play-doh and cuddly brain cells.

PhD student Gillian Fergie shows me a tower block and tenement she has improvised out of wooden blocks and laminated paper to represent Glasgow’s housing. Using a blank roll of wallpaper liner as our city backdrop, and interlocking sections of toy road, cars and trees, we think about how we can share public health research with festival-goers. [...]

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Why I can’t wait for the Olympics to end

3 Aug 2012

London 2012 Athletes' Village

Aerial view of the London 2012 Athletes’ Village (Image copyright: LOCOG)

St George’s University of London researcher Chris Owen explains how once the Olympics is over, the hard work on his physical activity study – part funded by the MRC – begins.

As someone who studies at a population level how much physical activity people do, I’m intrigued to see whether the sporting prowess on display at this year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games will inspire the country to move around a little more.

However, I can’t wait for the Olympics to end. That’s because once the athletes have gone home, and the Athletes’ Village changes its name to East Village, my work begins. [...]

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The power of the phenome

1 Aug 2012

London 2012 Anti-Doping Science Centre

London 2012 Anti-Doping Science Centre (Image copyright: GlaxoSmithKline)

Today Prime Minister David Cameron announces that the London 2012 Anti-Doping Science Centre in Harlow will live on after the Olympic Games as the MRC-NIHR Phenome Centre. Katherine Nightingale spoke to Frank Kelly, one of the principal investigators at the new centre and Director of the Analytical & Environmental Sciences Division at King’s College London, to find out what phenomes can teach us about disease.

Let’s start with the basics, what exactly is a phenome?

Well, lots of people have heard of the genome — it collectively describes an individual’s genetic material. The phenome describes all the other chemistry of our body; all the molecules in our body. This mixture of molecules changes every minute of every day and depends on the way we lead our lives, the environment in which we live and how our bodies respond.

How does studying phenomes help researchers understand disease?

When genomic science began we all thought that once we’d figured out human genomes we’d understand why some people get disease and some people don’t. But it turns out that our genomes only explain the causes of a fifth of chronic diseases like heart disease — in fact, environmental factors are behind the vast majority of chronic diseases.

By environment I mean the totality of environmental exposure, from the type of food we eat to where we live, the type of job we have, the level of stress we experience, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the chemicals we use to clean our homes. All of these in combination will lead to some people developing chronic disease at some point in their lives. [...]

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More than the ‘baby blues’

26 Jul 2012

(Credit: Flickr/Ville Misaki)

(Credit: Flickr/Ville Misaki)

At an MRC-sponsored session at the Cheltenham Science Festival in June, women who have experienced postpartum psychosis recounted their experiences. MRC External Communications Officer Stacy-Ann Ashley was there, and reflects on this little-mentioned condition.

I had never heard about postpartum psychosis before, and I’m sure I’m not alone. The condition, in which new mothers experience psychotic symptoms in the days or weeks after having a baby, is not often talked about and women often hide their symptoms.

All the more impressive then that two women who have experienced this form of psychosis were willing to share their experiences on a rainy, windy evening at the Cheltenham Science Festival. [...]

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