Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.
2 Jul 2015
Being able to grow rudimentary brain tissue in the lab means that researchers can study organ development and disease. But how do you go from stem cells to a ‘mini-brain’? Ben Martynoga reports for the Long + Short.
A cross-section of a cerebral organoid or ‘mini-brain’ (Image copyright: IMBA/ Madeline A. Lancaster)
It sounds like witchcraft. Scientists take a sample of your skin, transform the skin cells into stem cells, and from these grow pea-sized blobs of brain. Living, human brain, built from your cells.
Back in 2010, Madeline Lancaster, the inventor of this powerful new procedure, was fresh from her PhD in California, and learning the ropes in a new lab in Vienna. She set out to grow brain cells on the flat bottom of the Petri dish. But many cells refused to stay put: they floated up and massed into small balls. This was a familiar problem, but it piqued Lancaster’s interest.
How big could the balls grow? She encased them in protective jelly and agitated her broth, so nutrients and oxygen could penetrate deeper. Eventually, in 2013, she coaxed them into growing up to several millimetres across.  This was new. [...]
Continue reading: How to grow a ‘brain’
5 Sep 2013
Scientists at the MRC Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh won the British Heart Foundation’s Reflections of Research image competition last month. MRC Science Writer Isabel Baker looks at the picture, created with a technique invented by an MRC scientist.
(Image copyright: Dr Gillian Gray, Megan Swim and Harris Morrison/University of Edinburgh/The British Heart Foundation)
It looks more like something that you might find hanging in a modern art gallery than an image produced by one of the most advanced scientific imaging techniques.
But rather than a paintbrush, Dr Gillian Gray and Megan Swim from the Queen’s Medical Research Institute*, and Harris Morrison from the MRC Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh, created this stunningly detailed image of a mouse heart using a technique called Optical Projection Tomography (OPT). [...]
Continue reading: The art of hearts
28 Aug 2013
A cross-section of a cerebral organoid (Image copyright: IMBA/ Madeline A. Lancaster)
Some brain diseases, such as microcephaly, can’t be studied in animals. Now researchers have developed a technique to grow early-stage brain tissue in the lab, opening up possibilities from studying diseases to testing drugs. MRC Senior Press Officer Hannah Isom reports.
As a science press officer, I’m in the privileged position of getting my mitts on some of the most exciting research papers before they are seen by the world’s media, and even by other scientists in the field. Sometimes I worry I’m so awash with impressive discoveries that I’ll become complacent. And then every once in a while a paper lands in my inbox that is so exciting — even to a non-scientist like me — that I know I don’t need to be concerned.
This week in Nature scientists led by the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Austria, in collaboration with the MRC Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh, have revealed that they have used stem cells to grow a three-dimensional structure in the lab that resembles primitive human brain tissue. [...]
Continue reading: Brain cell culture goes 3D
6 Jun 2013
(Image credit: Flickr/JenK)
Tea rooms and canteens have long been popular places for scientists to mingle and swap ideas. Katherine Nightingale explores how a chat over a coffee can lead to unexpected discoveries.
In the bright and airy canteen of the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology’s new building, Dr Richard Henderson is demonstrating his habit of drawing on saucers, taking a — water soluble — pen from his pocket and sketching a neat blue graph on a saucer’s rim.
He’s not doodling but rather trying to get across the idea that the canteen, while a place to get a cup of tea or coffee, is also a place to share ideas, sometimes on the very crockery provided.
It’s not a new concept. The tea room in the Physics Department at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge inspired Max Perutz to persuade the MRC to build a canteen open to everyone when the MRC unit moved to the ‘old’ LMB building in 1962. As the LMB’s chairman, he was keen to create a space where people from different disciplines and career stages could get together. [...]
Continue reading: The great coffee breakthrough
18 Apr 2013
When should we start talking to children about the use of animals in research? At the recent Edinburgh International Science Festival, MRC Regional Communications Manager Hazel Lambert added an encounter with two tanks of zebrafish into the Mini Scientists activity. The result? Lots of questions about spots and stripes.
Never underestimate your audience. Especially not when they are seven years old, dressed in a lab coat, with a pen poised over a clip board and ready to make a virus, remodel a city and extract some slimy-looking DNA from even slimier pea-juice.
The MRC’s Mini Scientists activity at the Edinburgh International Science Festival is usually booked out and feedback tells us that the kids, their parents and our dedicated volunteers all love taking part. But, after having run the activity for three years, I felt I wasn’t telling the audience the whole story. [...]
Continue reading: Can a zebrafish change its spots?
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. [...]
Continue reading: £60m to unravel genes and disease