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Insight blog

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

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. [...]

Continue reading: Profile: Rodrigo Moreno-Serra

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. [...]

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

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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Getting the measure of animal use in research

24 Jul 2012

Mark Prescott (Credit DCS Studios, Copyright NC3Rs)

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. [...]

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Life-saving data

20 Jul 2012

The APPG on Medical Research Summer Reception (Copyright: Wellcome Images)

(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. [...]

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Science reading

18 Jul 2012

Max Perutz Award logoThe 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

Exciting times for open access

16 Jul 2012

Research papers (credit: flickr/quinn.anya)

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? [...]

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Profile: Alex Brand

13 Jul 2012

Alex Brand

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