Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.
1 Aug 2012
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. [...]
Continue reading: The power of the phenome
26 Jul 2012
(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. [...]
Continue reading: More than the ‘baby blues’
24 Jul 2012
Mark Prescott (Credit: DCS Studios, Copyright: NC3Rs)
Earlier this month the Home Office released its annual statistics on using animals in research, showing that the number of procedures increased by two per cent in 2011. But does this mean that efforts to implement the 3Rs (the replacement, reduction and refinement of animal use) are failing? Not at all, says Dr Mark Prescott, Head of Research Management and Communications at the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs).
Many areas of biomedical research are dependent upon the use of animals. The NC3Rs is leading UK efforts to develop new ways of reducing this dependence on animals which can also bring wider benefits to biomedicine. Improved models, whether animal or non-animal, can lead to better research, the results of which can be translated into benefits for people such as more effective drugs.
Over the past eight years NC3Rs has committed more than £25 million in grants to scientists in universities and other research institutions. Research we’ve funded has reduced by many thousands the number of mice used to study diabetes and motor neuron disease, while providing insights into these conditions. Other work has refined procedures on rodents used as animal models of pulmonary embolism, systemic amyloidosis, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. We have many more examples of how our research investment has improved the use of animals in research. [...]
Continue reading: Getting the measure of animal use in research
20 Jul 2012
(Copyright: Wellcome Images)
Last week, the MRC took part in the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Medical Research Summer Reception in the House of Commons. The focus of the event was unlocking the potential of data for medical research. So just how does data save lives? MRC Public Affairs Officer Louise Wren explains.
NHS patient records are a globally unique resource for research. Accessing this information safely and securely helps scientists to see disease patterns at a population level, look at the safety of drugs over long periods of time and uncover clues to predict who will develop a disease in the future. The aim of last week’s APPG event was to give MPs and peers more information about this type of research, and enable them to meet some of the scientists working in the area. [...]
Continue reading: Life-saving data
18 Jul 2012
The MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award for early-career researchers is now in its 15th year. As we announce the shortlist for the 2012 competition, one shortlister reflects on the process.
A few weeks ago, I briefly swapped my job as a science writer to become a science reader, reading all 119 entries for the Max Perutz Award, which this year asked the entrants to answer the question ‘Why does my research matter?
For 10 days I carried a bundle of articles around with me, delving into them on park benches, at my desk, over coffee and on the bus.
Some entrants, those that have made it on to the shortlist that we’re announcing today, made their research leap off the page, combining arguments about the necessity of their research with lively prose and a great use of imagery. As my buses trundled through London, I imagined proteins whizzing around cells, viruses coursing around bodies, the tragic slide of minds and bodies into disease. Some people focused solely on their research, while others brought themselves into the stories, describing their thoughts and feelings about their work. [...]
Continue reading: Science reading
16 Jul 2012
Research papers (Credit: flickr/quinn.anya)
Open access publishing has barely left the headlines in the past few months. Today our umbrella body, Research Councils UK, announces its new policy on open access. MRC Knowledge and Information Manager Geraldine Clement-Stoneham explains the policy and why it matters.
Research Councils UK has today announced its new Policy on Access to Research Outputs. Open access to scientific research results is widely perceived as an essential part of a modern society, in which the internet facilitates rapid exchange of ideas. Open access publishing can help accelerate the process of scientific discovery, inform citizens and create economic growth.
The research councils have supported the wide diffusion of research results for many years, so why does this latest announcement matter? [...]
Continue reading: Exciting times for open access
13 Jul 2012
Alex Brand (copyright: Alex Brand)
Alex Brand of the University of Aberdeen studies how a fungus called Candida albicans navigates around the body. She told Katherine Nightingale about how her interest in science was piqued down on the farm and — for her, at least — scientific life began at 40.
Some people get into science because of an inspiring teacher, others due to an insatiable curiosity to find out how the world works. Alex Brand got into science because she bought a small farm.
The farm was in Scotland, where Alex and her husband were posted with his job in the oil industry. It was the latest in a string of placements that had taken them all over the world — and Alex through a series of jobs from announcing the sports news in Indonesia to running a poster agency in Qatar.
“I’d left school with secretarial qualifications in the days when very few people went to university, but I still had a really enjoyable and varied career in lots of different fields,” says Alex.
Running a farm requires a surprising amount of science, from checking the water supply for nitrates and other pollutants to diagnosing disease in livestock. [...]
Continue reading: Profile: Alex Brand
10 Jul 2012
Heather Bailey (Copyright: Heather Bailey)
What exactly is medical science policy? And how can researchers influence it? Heather Bailey is a PhD student at the MRC Centre of Epidemiology for Child Health at University College London. She took three months out of her studies to delve into science policy by participating in an internship programme run by the Academy of Medical Sciences and the MRC.
Policy can be something of a black box to scientists so the most remarkable aspect of my internship experience was the opportunity to become familiar with the variety of people and organisations involved in shaping medical policy in the UK.
From patients to professors, from trade unions to charities, I had no idea of the breadth of roles and approaches for getting medical issues onto the political agenda. I particularly valued the opportunity to be involved with the policy work of the Academy of Medical Sciences, a focal point for leading scientists to influence UK government decision-making on both current issues and in anticipation of future priorities.
For my PhD I am studying HIV in women in Ukraine. To learn about influencing medical policy in Ukraine, I spent a week with ECOHOST, a research group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. This group’s work has shown that out-of-pocket payments to see a doctor in Ukraine are common and often unaffordable to those who most need care. As with so many medical policy problems, this has complex economic, social and political roots — an understanding of which is essential for effective medical policy reform. [...]
Continue reading: Getting to the bottom of medical science policy
5 Jul 2012
Heather Blackmore (Copyright: Heather Blackmore)
PhD student Heather Blackmore attended a Standing up for Science media workshop in June. Here she tells us why she’ll now be looking at the science news headlines with new eyes.
Have you ever read a newspaper article and felt the need to challenge the journalism or scientific content? Whether a scientist or not, I’m sure that you too come across articles that seem exaggerated in their claims or inaccurate in the way they explain research.
As a second year PhD student, I had become increasingly aware of how little I understood about how scientists and the media interact, particularly how scientists can handle media interest after publishing in well-known journals. That’s why I attended the media workshop, run by Sense about Science, in London on the 15 June.
Speakers included scientists, journalists and representatives from learned societies and Sense about Science. Discussions centred on topics such as what journalists want, why media portrayal of research goes wrong and what you can do if you spot bad science. [...]
Continue reading: Making sense of the media
4 Jul 2012
John Gyapong (left in patterned shirt) and colleagues in Ghana
The MRC/UK Department for International Development African Research Leaders (ARL) scheme currently supports three exceptional scientists, mentored by a UK researcher, to undertake high quality research and develop a strong research group in Africa. Samia Majid, Operations Manager for Global Infections at the MRC, was part of a team that visited all three African research leaders to see how they are getting along.
Nine months in the planning and my first trip to Africa, I thought I’d imagined every eventuality for our 10-day trip to Burkina Faso, Ghana and South Africa, the countries where the three African research leaders are based.
But when we met Professor John Gyapong at the School of Public Health at University of Ghana on a bright, blue-skied Friday morning I hadn’t envisaged he’d be sporting a traditional shirt boldly patterned with the logo of his university department. Many employers in West Africa, apparently, have cloth printed especially to promote their organisation or company. [...]
Continue reading: Dropping in on African research leaders