Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.
4 Feb 2016
Last week an international group of basic scientists and clinicians released results showing evidence of an epigenetic switch in mammals that controls obesity. Dr Tony Coll at the MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit explains why this is just the beginning of an exciting exploration of the role played by epigenetic factors in complex human diseases.
Who am I not? Cell video abstracts. Cell January 28, 2016 (Vol. 164, Issue 3) [...]
Continue reading: Finding the obesity ‘off switch’
15 Jan 2016
This week Mr John Scott, a member of the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936, was able to meet his grey and his white matter in models made by the Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE) and the National Museum of Scotland which are due to form part of a new gallery opening in summer 2016. Sylvie Kruiniger talks to CCACE’s Dr Simon Cox about the project.
(Image copyright: National Museums of Scotland)
How many people can say that they have held their own brain in their hands? In this picture, Mr Scott is doing just that. Its size, shape and folds perfectly match those housed inside his head. The 3D print of his brain’s outer surface will sit alongside a strikingly beautiful image of his white matter etched in glass at the National Museums of Scotland from summer 2016.
Mr Scott’s brain has been imaged numerous times over the past decade as part of studies of the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 (LBC1936). The team, led by Professor Ian Deary (whose office we have visited in a previous post), used different types of MRI scan generated by the University of Edinburgh’s Brain Research Imaging Centre to generate the two objects for the museum’s collection. His white matter was mapped by a diffusion tensor MRI and, for the 3D print, his cortical surface was mapped by a standard structural scan. [...]
Continue reading: Behind the picture: When Mr Scott met his brain
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
16 Sep 2015
Dr Donald J. Davidson is an inflammation biologist and MRC Senior Non-Clinical Fellow at the MRC Centre for Inflammation Research. Here he tells us about his working life, and why he considers communicating research just as important as doing it.
Career in brief
- Medical degree, followed by two years as a lab technician
- Self-funded part-time PhD in cystic fibrosis pathogenesis at the MRC Human Genetics Unit
- Four research fellowships, including four years in Canada
I never really mapped out my career. The main thing that brought me into science was a natural curiosity – I always want to know how things work. Planning is important, but it helps to be flexible and I’ve taken opportunities as they’ve arisen, even if they’ve seemed a little unconventional at the time. Everyone from my clinical professors to my bank manager thought I was making the wrong choice when I gave up my clinical career, but it was the correct decision.
Despite my clinical training I follow a non-clinical scientist route now. I’d really enjoyed science at school, but I felt that I should do medicine. There was lots of rote learning, I didn’t enjoy the way the course was taught, and ultimately I wasn’t convinced I wanted to be a doctor, so I left medicine when I graduated in 1992. I did return briefly to complete my clinical training in order to get a clinician scientist post – but by then I had discovered medical research science! [...]
Continue reading: Working life: Dr Donald J. Davidson
14 May 2015
How often do PhD students get to meet patients with the disease they spend hours toiling away trying to combat? Probably not often enough. Here Alex Binks, an MRC-funded PhD student at the University of Glasgow, tells us about how an encounter with patients and some coloured balloons helped him step away from the lab bench and think about his research in a new way.
Alex Binks (Copyright: Alex Binks)
I didn’t quite know what to expect when I was told I had to prepare a ‘project pitch’ for the MRC patient engagement event. The task required us to communicate our research in three minutes or less to a room full of bright-eyed patients, who were genuinely interested in what we do.
This is the first year of my PhD and, maybe rather surprisingly, nothing I had been taught during my undergrad degree had forced me to think about science and research in this way. Not only did I need to think about how to make the attendees understand why I do what I do, but I needed to make it interesting too.
My research focuses on using viruses as potential anti-cancer drugs, and the ways in which they lead to cancer cell death. But how to capture that in a three-minute talk? [...]
Continue reading: Engaging with patients: stepping outside the research bubble
9 Apr 2015
Should researchers wait until they’re senior before talking about science in public? No, says Michaela Mrschtik, a PhD student at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, every scientist can make a valuable contribution.
(Copyright: Michaela Mrschtik)
I started a PhD in cancer research because I am passionate about science and I want to help improve people’s lives. I hope that my research will have a positive impact on cancer treatments someday, but I have discovered that bench work is not the only way for scientists to make a meaningful contribution to society.
Every scientist has a voice, but we often don’t make use of it in public. It’s part and parcel of a scientific career to share exciting findings and talk about science with other scientists, but relatively few researchers do so in non-academic settings. Why?
In my case, I simply didn’t have the confidence. I had started writing for a student-led science magazine at my university and I had helped out at a few public engagement events in my institute. Still, I felt that as a researcher I was too young, too inexperienced and simply not senior enough to make a case for science in public. [...]
Continue reading: Every scientist has a voice
11 Dec 2014
Every year scientists and policymakers pair up and shadow each other as part of the Royal Society’s Pairing Scheme. Two MRC researchers have recently completed a ‘Week in Westminster’. Here Dr Angela Attwood, a research fellow at the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol, found that it’s the librarians, clerks and advisors who are the key contacts in Westminster. In a separate post, Dr Helen Chappell finds that Parliament is crying out for research findings.
Andrew Miller MP addresses pairing scheme participants (Image copyright: The Royal Society)
In recent years, the UK government has been strongly advocating evidence-based policy making informed by cutting edge scientific research.
As a psychologist, I can identify how my findings may inform policy, but identifying ways to get my findings to policy-makers is much more challenging. This was one of the main reasons why I chose to take part in the pairing scheme.
Every scientist who takes part in the scheme is paired with an MP or civil servant, and half of the week spent in Westminster allows time for shadowing. I was paired with liberal democrat MP Stephen Williams, who is also the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and a fellow (adopted) Bristolian. [...]
Continue reading: Parliament from the inside
11 Dec 2014
Every year scientists and policymakers pair up and shadow each other as part of the Royal Society’s Pairing Scheme. Two MRC researchers have recently completed a ‘Week in Westminster’. Here Dr Helen Chappell, a researcher at MRC Human Nutrition Research in Cambridge, tells us how she found a policy-making system on the lookout for scientific expertise. Her counterpart Dr Angela Attwood writes in a separate post.
Andrew Miller MP addresses pairing scheme participants (Image copyright: The Royal Society)
In January a new exhibition will open at the Science Museum London. Churchill’s Scientists is dedicated to one of the most famous British Prime Ministers of the twentieth century and his fascination with science and technological advancement.
Having just returned from an absorbing ‘Week in Westminster’ as part of the Royal Society’s Pairing Scheme, the exhibition is a useful reminder that science and Government are no strangers to each other. Or, at least, they shouldn’t be. [...]
Continue reading: Scientists: your Parliament needs you!
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
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?