Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.
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
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.
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
8 Jun 2016
Professors Irv Weissman and Ravi Majeti at Stanford University and Professor Paresh Vyas at the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit in Oxford, are working on an antibody from the Stanford investigators that enables the immune system to detect and kill cancer cells. They are now testing whether it’s safe and effective for use in people with blood cancer. In this week’s blog they tell us how they collaborated across the Atlantic to get public funding for a project that has led to a spin out with multiple backers and a promising clinical trial.
What if we could make our immune system fight cancer like it fights infection?
These aren’t the only teams in the world grappling with that question but for Professor Irv Weissman and Professor Paresh Vyas, the solution feels tantalisingly close for patients with blood cancer. [...]
Continue reading: Fighting cancer like an infection
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.
“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
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 (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
10 Nov 2015
When searching for his next career move in 2012, Prof Jeff Pollard wanted a prestigious place to call his new home. After decades in the US, he found what he was looking for in the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh. Here he tells us why he chose the UK to do his science, and why the MRC name was such a draw.
Professor Jeff Pollard
I am often asked why, after 25 years, I would leave a prestigious position in the US to return to the UK.
By the time I left in 2013, I was the Louis Goldstein Swann Chair in Women’s Health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, the Deputy Director of the Cancer Center and Director of the Center for the Study of Reproductive Biology and Women’s Health. My work had been recognised with several prestigious awards including the highest award of the American Cancer Society, the Medal of Honor for Basic Science Research. So why would I move? [...]
Continue reading: Why I decided to swap the US for the MRC
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
29 May 2014
Martin Christlieb (Image copyright: Martin Christlieb)
MRC researchers get involved in all kinds of activities that help members of the public engage with medical research. From extracting DNA from strawberries to looking at cells under a microscope, there is an array of hands-on experiments to guide people through. But Dr Martin Christlieb, the public engagement manager for Oxford’s Department of Oncology, thinks that engagement works best when researchers introduce people to their own research. Here he explains why.
If you want to engage people with science you’ll need to entertain and convince as well as inform and educate. That takes passion. You’re most likely to display passion if you feel it, and that means talking about the science that gets you out of bed each morning.
That means talking about your work: you care about your work, right? You know that what you do is important, and that what you do is part of a bigger picture of understanding how to tackle disease.
The money that funds research comes from public sources; funding councils distribute money taken in tax, and charities the money they collect in donations. A scientist’s part of the deal must be to make an effort to communicate what we’re doing, how it’s going, and what impact it might make. [...]
Continue reading: Let’s talk about me ― making your science the focus
18 Feb 2014
Left: brain cells without HACE1 shrinking and dying, and right, cells high in HACE1.
When Barak Rotblat moved to Canada to start research into childhood cancers, he had no idea that it would lead to insights into Huntington’s disease, one of the most debilitating forms of neurodegeneration. Here he tells us why he’s glad he went against his initial instincts.
As my PhD at Tel Aviv University, Israel, was coming to an end, I was looking around for a lab in which to continue my training. My PhD was in the field of cell signalling ― studying how components within cells interact ― and I knew I wanted to stay in that field.
An opportunity came up with a researcher called Poul Sorensen at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. At first I was a bit reluctant. I was mainly interested in how proteins move around in cells, while Poul was a pathologist studying genes involved in childhood cancers. However, when I looked into the project a little closer, I realised that analysing the genes that go wrong in childhood cancers could lead to fundamental understanding of cellular processes that affect all cells.
A few months later I was getting on a plane to Canada. [...]
Continue reading: From Israel to Canada, cancer to Huntington’s