Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.
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
11 Jan 2017
Paul Cowling, PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, received a commendation prize in our 2016 Max Perutz Science Writing competition. In his article, he explains how fluorescent molecules could help with early, and faster, diagnosis of lung cancer.
It is June, and twilight sets in over the bustling beer garden. I take a drink from my pint before returning my attention to my friend Chris who is ranting about the state of affairs at Newcastle Football Club. He finishes venting his anger over the team’s lacklustre performances and proceeds to light a cigarette. [...]
Continue reading: Shedding some real light on lung cancer
24 Nov 2016
In her runner-up article for the 2016 Max Perutz Science Writing Award, Katie Ember, a PhD student at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, explains how she is using light to improve detection of a rare cancer.
It’s just as vital to our survival as our hearts. But the first time I watched a human liver being dissected, I realised how little I knew about this incredible organ. [...]
Continue reading: Cholangiocarcinoma: The cancer you’ve never heard of
14 Oct 2016
Liza Selley won the Max Perutz writing prize 2016. Liza is a PhD student at Imperial College London studying the negative effects of brake dust emissions on human health and the economy. Here she shares her winning essay explaining why her research matters.
It’s been splashed across the papers – traffic pollution is a menace. Striking 30,000 of us each year with heart disease, respiratory illnesses and lung cancer, vehicle fumes kill four times as many people as car accidents and hospitalise a great many more. [...]
Continue reading: Braking perceptions of traffic pollution
31 Oct 2015
The 2015 MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award was won by MRC PhD student Emily Eisner from the University of Manchester. In her winning article she explains her research investigating how smartphone technology might help identify when people are at risk of a psychotic episode.
Emily Eisner was presented with the Max Perutz at a ceremony in London
I am lying on my office floor. Swirling vision and shimmering lights have just begun. These are warnings. I know that if I take painkillers and rest I can avoid the intense pain of a migraine headache. The trick is to intervene early.
My research is not about migraines, but the rationale is the same – you’ve got to spot the signs. [...]
Continue reading: A ‘smart’ way to spot schizophrenia signs
28 Oct 2014
Jane Patrick, a PhD student at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, studies zebrafish to learn more about muscle diseases such as muscular dystrophy. She explains her work in her commended entry for the 2014 Max Perutz Science Writing Award.
Which muscles are you using right now? Perhaps you’re absent-mindedly shaking a leg or munching on food? At the very least, I expect you’re breathing. The chances are you haven’t even noticed your muscles working. Most of us take our muscles for granted, but for a child born with an inherited muscle disease, such as myopathy or muscular dystrophy, it isn’t that simple.
These children have a faulty copy of a gene meaning their muscle doesn’t develop or work properly, so they have weak or degenerating muscles from birth or a very young age, and often developmental problems too. The problem is there are a vast number of different genes that can be affected, some unique to one patient, which gives a huge range of symptoms and makes it difficult to find an effective treatment. [...]
Continue reading: Fishing for treatments for muscle diseases
22 Oct 2014
Could gut infections be making the standard polio vaccine ineffective in children in low-income countries? Edward Parker, a PhD student at Imperial College London is trying to find out, as he explains in his article commended in the 2014 Max Perutz Science Writing Award.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative was never meant to last this long.
In 1988, when the campaign was launched, there was considerable optimism that polio would not see the end of the century. Although this deadline has long since passed, the progress made by the eradication initiative should not be underestimated: in what is arguably the greatest onslaught against a disease in history, polio has been reduced from an infection with a global distribution, responsible for 350,000 cases of paralysis each year, to one that is on the brink of extinction. Just 223 cases of the disease were reported in 2012 ― the lowest number on record.
But polio is a wily foe. Despite exhaustive vaccination campaigns, the virus has never been eliminated in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. What’s more, polio has recently been on the move. After cases in Ethiopia, Somalia, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Syria, and Iraq, in May 2014 the World Health Organization declared the spread of polio to be an international public health emergency. [...]
Continue reading: Gut reaction: the impact of intestinal infections on polio vaccination
16 Oct 2014
Newcastle University’s Thomas Hall listens to the chatter between neurons to find signals which could help restore movement to people paralysed by strokes or spinal injuries. He describes his research in his commended entry for the 2014 Max Perutz Science Writing Award.
I visit Charlotte on a Saturday morning, arriving to the smell of fresh baking. After seeing her grandchildren, we head to the village hall for a surprisingly competitive monthly bake-off. But I’m not here just for tea and cake. A year ago, aged 73, Charlotte suffered a stroke, leaving her wheelchair-bound and with her right arm almost completely paralysed. One day she was working as a freelance architect; the next, she was unable to even write or dress herself.
But six months later, in 2034, Charlotte became one of around 200 patients worldwide fitted with a revolutionary new medical device called a ‘brain-computer interface’, or BCI.
Back at home, she shows me the scar on her scalp where doctors implanted thousands of microscopic electrodes in the part of her brain that controls her right arm — the part that was ‘disconnected’ by the stroke. [...]
Continue reading: Computer-connected brains: science fiction or science future?