Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.
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
20 Oct 2017
Kirstin Leslie, MRC PhD student at the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, is the 2017 winner of our Max Perutz Science Writing Award. In her award-winning article she explains how she’s trying to find out why people stop taking drugs prescribed for preventing heart disease, and why this matters.
“When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all”
That’s actually a quote from the TV show Futurama but it’s also a clear way of explaining why people are not always good at taking their medications. Imagine: you‘re taking a drug to prevent yourself from having a heart attack. But if you don’t feel any different after taking the drug, how can you know it’s even worked? Maybe you weren’t going to have a heart attack anyway? Maybe the drug you’re taking is giving you side-effects and besides, it isn’t worth it because you felt fine before. You don’t want to bother your doctor getting a new prescription and your blood pressure wasn’t that high anyway…So you stop taking your drugs and you hope for the best.
But heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. And it’s preventable. [...]
Continue reading: Can big data mend a broken heart?
26 May 2017
Nowadays few people would dispute that it’s important for people to know about medical matters, but that wasn’t always the case. While our Max Perutz Science Writing Award is open to MRC-funded PhD students, Katherine Nightingale looks back at Charles Fletcher, MRC researcher and physician, whose strong belief in medical communication led him to become the first ‘TV doctor’ in the 1950s.
You don’t notice it at first – your eye is drawn instead to the strangely bandaged faces of the people to the left of the image. But there, together with the IV stand, scissors and scrubs, is not a piece of surgical equipment but a 1950s television camera and lights.
What’s it doing there? Filming a medical drama? Broadcasting the television news live from a hospital? Not quite. Instead it’s the filming of Your Life in Their Hands, a controversial medical documentary which began in 1958. [...]
Continue reading: Behind the picture: Charles Fletcher as the first TV doctor
19 Jan 2017
Ainslie Johnstone, PhD student at the University of Oxford, studies the amazing ability of the brain to reorganise and adapt after injury. In her commended 2016 Max Perutz Science Writing Award article she describes how enhancing this process could help with brain injury recovery.
On 8 January 2011 Gabrielle Giffords, a US congresswoman, was shot in the head at point-blank range. The bullet struck Giffords’ forehead on the left-hand side and travelled straight through her brain, destroying everything in its path. [...]
Continue reading: Practice – not miracles – makes perfect