Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.
10 Dec 2019
Anna Beukenhorst, a PhD student at the University of Manchester, was commended in this year’s Max Perutz Science Writing Award. She sets out the challenges of studying the link between the weather and arthritis symptoms – and how collecting smartphone data from patients could help them better manage their pain.
Anna with MRC Executive Chair Professor Fiona Watt
When motorcycle legend Barry Sheene moved to Australia, it was not for another Grand Prix victory. It was for the weather. Sheene had retired from racing because of his arthritis. Like many arthritis patients he believed that the damp British weather worsened his arthritic pains. [...]
Continue reading: Smartphones for healthcare research: data at our fingertips
19 Nov 2019
PhD student Erin Attrill, of the Living Systems Institute at the University of Exeter, is the runner-up of our 2019 Max Perutz Science Writing Award. She explains how she’s aiming to harness the power of ‘viruses that infect bacteria’ to overcome antibacterial resistance.
Erin with MRC Executive Chair Professor Fiona Watt
The year is 2050, the stench of plague fills the air and 10 million people are dying from cuts and grazes due to an enemy that cannot be seen. You would be forgiven for believing that we had entered a dystopian, parallel future, but alas not. This is the current future of mankind if we do not address the ever-growing threat: antibiotic resistance. [...]
Continue reading: The enemy of my enemy is my friend
16 Oct 2019
Congratulations to PhD student Akira Wiberg of the University of Oxford, the 2019 champion of our Max Perutz Science Writing Award! In his winning article, he describes how looking at our genes could help surgeons predict who is most likely to benefit from surgery for a painful condition of the hand – carpal tunnel syndrome.
Akira receiving his prize from MRC Executive Chair Professor Fiona Watt
“Does this feel sharp?”, I ask my patient, as I use my forceps to pinch the skin of her hand. She says no, so I proceed to make a 2-inch incision in her palm. I dissect through the layers of fatty tissue to expose a greyish-white structure called the transverse carpal ligament. [...]
Continue reading: Getting on your nerves
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.
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
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
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
26 Oct 2018
Congratulations to MRC PhD student Natasha Clarke, from St George’s, University of London, winner of our 2018 Max Perutz Science Writing Award. In her award-winning article she describes how teaching machines to detect changes in language could help with early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Award-winner Natasha (centre) with other shortlisted entrants (behind), judge Andy Ridgway
(front row left), MRC Executive Chair Professor Fiona Watt who chaired the judging panel
(front row, second from right) and Professor Robin Perutz, son of Max Perutz (front row right).
I’d like to give you a quick task. How do you make a cup of tea? Describe it out loud. Whilst this could lead to some controversies (milk in first, or last?) it seems fairly simple. But what if I told you that this task could help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease? [...]
Continue reading: How artificial intelligence, and a cup of tea, could help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease
30 May 2018
Our Max Perutz Science Writing Award is now in its 21st year. To help 2018 entrants, Isabel Harding shares science writing tips from last year’s winner and runners-up, along with comments from the judges on why their articles made the cut. This year’s competition closes on 4 July.
Kirstin Leslie, from the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, was our 2017 winner. She recommends reading around to help with your science writing: “I feel like if you do read a lot and absorb a lot of material yourself you’ll be able to learn techniques from other writers.
“And without even releasing it I think you can gain a lot of skills through that. It’s just a really useful exercise to think about your research in a way that is relatable to people and is entertaining to people and I think it’s just a really good thing to do.” [...]
Continue reading: Max Perutz Award science writing tips
30 Nov 2017
As a runner-up in our 2017 Max Perutz Science Writing Award, PhD student Sophie Quick, of the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, explains why her research – focused on a condition called small vessel disease which can cause dementia – matters.
Strawberry picking might not seem like the place for scientific inspiration, but on a warm summers day just weeks into my PhD, I returned not just with a punnet of Scotland’s finest fruits but a new take on my research. Sheltered by a gently flapping plastic roof I bent to pluck a handful of ripe berries, spotted fine tubes running along the soil and was struck by an idea. [...]
Continue reading: Watering the strawberry fields of the mind
22 Nov 2017
A runner-up in our 2017 Max Perutz Science Writing Award, PhD student Lara Morley of the Leeds Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine describes how she’s looking for ways to treat a failing placenta, by increasing the blood supply to the baby in the womb.
With the emergency buzzer still ringing in my ears, I feel my adrenaline subside as I bring a much anticipated new life out into the world and into the arms of its anxious parents. After all, the outcome of a pregnancy has profound implications for the lives of us all; ourselves, partners, sisters and friends. But in all the excitement of welcoming a baby into the world, the vital job of the placenta is often overlooked. [...]
Continue reading: At the placenta of everything
7 Nov 2017
In her runner-up article for our 2017 Max Perutz Science Writing Award Nadine Mirza, a PhD student at the University of Manchester, explains why changes are needed to a routine test for diagnosing dementia, unbiased by language or culture, to prevent incorrect diagnoses.
Have you heard the saying “No ifs ands or buts”? Associated with grannies and teachers, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t. It’s also a saying used in the ACE, a test implemented across the UK to detect dementia. An individual has to read the saying out loud with correct pronunciation. When directly translated into Urdu it loses meaning and becomes gibberish and reading out gibberish isn’t a smooth task. Even a fluent Urdu speaker might fail. But would we attribute that to dementia? Apparently, yes. [...]
Continue reading: Avoiding gibberish when assessing for dementia