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Insight blog: Posts tagged with basic research

Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.

Diagnosis and research key to hepatitis elimination

28 Jul 2017

In 2017, global virus elimination is the focus of World Hepatitis Day. Hepatitis C was first identified in 1989 and today we have drugs that destroy the virus. Associate Director of the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research Professor John McLauchlan’s work contributed to this transformation. The real challenge now, he writes, is diagnosis.

Professor John McLauchlan

This is my third blog post to mark World Hepatitis Day. In 2013 I shared our plans to help the NHS deliver the best treatment to patients through two research consortia, HCV Research UK and STOP-HCV. In 2015 I wrote about the impact of new anti-viral drugs, able to not just control the virus, as is the case for HIV, but rid people of their infection.

Thanks to new treatments, many people are now at a much lower risk of developing liver disease and there are reports of patients who no longer require a liver transplant. [...]

Continue reading: Diagnosis and research key to hepatitis elimination

Preparing to move – how cancer can use your immune system as a highway

9 Aug 2016

Dr Jacqui Shields and Dr Angela Riedel at the MRC Cancer Unit explain the science behind these brightly-coloured blobs that show us how cancer cells prepare their road ahead so they can spread around the body.

A healthy lypmh node next to a lymph node that has been damaged by signals from a cancer.

Breaking down your defences: cancer cells send signals to a healthy lymph node (left) that distort its shape and damage its function (right) making it easier for a tumour to take hold.

One of cancer’s deadliest features is its ability to move through your immune system’s ready-made network of vessels and nodes.

Often, we don’t know a cancer has spread through the immune system until it’s too late, but now we may have found something that could help us predict when that’s going to happen: our findings suggest that before cancer cells even begin to move, they emit signals which send the new area into chaos. [...]

Continue reading: Preparing to move – how cancer can use your immune system as a highway

Single cell technology – an eye for detail

25 May 2016

New technology is helping scientists study the secrets of single cells in more detail than ever before. Dr Roy Drissen at the  MRC Weatherall Institute for Molecular Medicine tells Sylvie Kruiniger how single cell technology has helped them discover a previously unknown stage in blood cell development which may have implications for the future of leukaemia treatment.

Dr Roy Drissen holds a microfluidic chip. Photo: martinphelps.com

 

“Before Galileo invented the telescope, we could just see Jupiter. With the telescope, we saw that Jupiter had moons. That’s what single cell technology is doing for biology: where we used to think there was only one type of cell, we can now see several.” [...]

Continue reading: Single cell technology – an eye for detail

Dementia: care today, cure tomorrow

3 May 2016

Charity partners Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK will be instrumental in involving people living with dementia in the work of the new £250m MRC-led UK Dementia Research Institute. Here Alzheimer’s Society Ambassador Keith Oliver shares his hopes for how the new institute will make life better for people with dementia, now and tomorrow.

Keith Oliver in his garden

Photo copyright: Alzheimer’s Society

My world changed in 2010 when I was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 55. My early symptoms were falling over, an element of reduced concentration and being unable to follow things as well as I did previously.

I went to the GP thinking I’d got an ear infection and was sent for an MRI scan. When I had an appointment with a neurologist to discuss the scan he said, totally out of the blue, that it looked like the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. After attending a memory clinic for around four months of quite intensive testing and assessments I received a diagnosis. [...]

Continue reading: Dementia: care today, cure tomorrow

Behind the picture: a tiny cell-killing drill

28 Apr 2016

This image has been created by a team at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC LMB) in collaboration with the University of Exeter and Birkbeck College and, for the first time, shows a detailed structure of a ‘lysenin pore’. Dr Christos Savva, an Electron Microscopy Facility scientist at the MRC LMB spoke to Sylvie Kruiniger about why understanding these structures could be the key to treating many different diseases.

Lysenin Pore

Lysenin Pore

It may look like some kind of technicolour mushroom but this teeny structure is actually a cell-attacking pore made of just nine proteins. [...]

Continue reading: Behind the picture: a tiny cell-killing drill

A healthy return on public medical research spending

26 Feb 2016

MRC Chair Donald Brydon discusses the Spillover Report, published this week in BMC medicine. Spillover measures the wider economic gains from public investment, both government and charity. The report was funded by the MRC and led by Professor Jonathan Grant, Director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London. It considers 30 years of data from 1982 to 2012 and provides an up to date and accurate picture of the effect of public funding on the UK economy.

Donald Brydon

Donald Brydon

Public funding for research, although not generous, has led to scientific advances that impact on millions of lives and have delivered extraordinary health gain. It also has a very healthy effect on the economy.

For every £1 we invest in medical research, we see a 17 per cent annual return to the UK economy, indefinitely.

That’s before you take into account the monetised benefits of a healthier population. Include that and the rate of return rises to somewhere between 24 and 28 per cent. [...]

Continue reading: A healthy return on public medical research spending

Working Life: computational biologist Dr Shamith Samarajiwa

12 Feb 2016

Dr Shamith Samarajiwa’s computational biology group is the newest team at the MRC Cancer Unit. His group develops multi-disciplinary data science, data engineering and computational biology solutions to understand the complex biological systems involved in carcinogenesis. 

Dr Shamith Samarajiwa

Dr Shamith Samarajiwa (Copyright: Johannes Hjorth)

Career in brief

This is an exciting time to be dealing with biomedical data. In a world poised and waiting for personalised medicine, computational biology will help us to detect cancer sooner by realising the potential of big datasets. There are millions of datasets already out there but these are completely underutilised. [...]

Continue reading: Working Life: computational biologist Dr Shamith Samarajiwa

Finding the obesity ‘off switch’

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’

Working life: Brain bank manager Dr Laura Palmer

14 Dec 2015

Dr Laura Palmer is the manager of the South West Dementia Brain Bank at the University of Bristol, which is part of the MRC-led UK Brain Banks Network. Here she tells us about her working life, the pressure of a part-time PhD, and why people are always fascinated by her job.

Laura Palmer

Career in brief

  • Undergraduate degree in pathology and microbiology
  • Eleven years at the South West Dementia Brain Bank, starting as the bank technician and becoming brain bank manager
  • Part-time PhD over eight years while working at the bank

As soon as I saw a job at the bank advertised I knew it was perfect for me. It brought together my degree knowledge with my interest in dementia stemming from my grandma’s vascular dementia. I didn’t have all of the necessary experience but I was persistent and keen to learn. At the time of my interview I was working nights in a supermarket!

Things have changed dramatically in the brain bank while I’ve been here. We’ve really grown and developed – we used to accept about 12 donations a year, now it’s more like 40. Public awareness of brain donation has increased really positively.

I called my PhD the ‘never-ending thesis’. It took eight years when I’d hoped to complete it in six. I began it part-time within about a year of starting to work here, funded by a wonderful local charity called BRACE which supports a lot of the bank’s work. Balancing my PhD with my job and trying to have a life was really difficult. It’s fantastic to be able to focus solely on my job now. [...]

Continue reading: Working life: Brain bank manager Dr Laura Palmer

Behind the picture: Sir John Sulston’s worm cell drawings

23 Sep 2015

Sir John Sulston is best known for the leading role he played in the Human Genome Project. But earlier in his career, he studied the development of the nematode worm. Sarah Harrop tells the story behind a lab notebook entry which contributed to a Nobel Prize-winning breakthrough.

Sketches showing coloured representations of how nematode worm cells divide

A page from John Sulston’s 1980 lab notebook showing his cell-tracking method (Image: Wellcome Images under CC BY 4.0)

 

These intricate biro scribblings are from the 1980 lab notebook of Sir John Sulston, completed when he was a young postdoc at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge. They’re the result of hours spent staring at the embryos of nematode worms under the microscope, hand-drawing their tiny cells as they divided.

Early 1980s technology wasn’t up to photographing the cells at a high enough resolution to see them dividing. So John took on the ambitious task of watching and recording each and every cell division of the developing embryo to trace the origin of each cell. [...]

Continue reading: Behind the picture: Sir John Sulston’s worm cell drawings