Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.
8 Feb 2018
Professor Janet Darbyshire worked in medicine and then clinical trial based research from the early 1970s. Playing an instrumental role in the development of HIV treatment, she’s worked on and coordinated many clinical trial programmes in the UK and Africa. Last month we celebrated her achievements at a ceremony held within the Houses of Parliament, awarding Janet our most prestigious award, the MRC Millennium Medal. Here Janet tells us about her early memories of medicine, giraffes in Africa and the changes she’s seen her research make to people’s lives.
Career in brief [...]
- Qualified in medicine at The University of Manchester in 1970
- MSc in Epidemiology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine 1990
- Became head of the MRC HIV Clinical Trials Centre in London in 1989
- In 1998 established, and became director of, the MRC Clinical Trials Unit (CTU)
- Awarded an OBE in 1996 and a CBE in 2010 for services to clinical sciences
Continue reading: Working life: Professor Janet Darbyshire
13 Oct 2016
Research published in BMC Medicine, based on the Million Women Study, reports women with lower levels of education and living in more deprived areas of the UK are at higher risk of coronary heart disease due to differences in behaviour. Here, study co-author Dr Sarah Floud discusses what these findings mean in the context of addressing social and health inequalities.
Heart disease is a leading cause of death worldwide for men and women. Many observational studies show that individuals with lower socio-economic status have a higher risk of heart disease than those with higher socio-economic status. [...]
Continue reading: Explaining inequalities in women’s heart disease risk
3 Oct 2016
Last week the Academy of Medical Sciences published a report, ‘Improving the health of the public in 2040’. Dr Vittal Katikireddi is an NHS Research Scotland Senior Clinical Research Fellow in the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit and was a member of the working group. He explains how a healthier society can only be achieved by making society fairer – and why the solution goes beyond anything medicine can do on its own.
Despite advances in medical technologies treatments and public health measures, we’ve made no progress in addressing health inequalities in the UK. For example, a boy born today in one of the most deprived areas of Glasgow can expect to live around 15 years less than someone born in one of the richest parts of the city. [...]
Continue reading: A reflection on health inequalities
19 Jul 2016
The places where we live, study and work shape our behaviours and health. To give members of the public a new perspective on their surroundings, MRC Epidemiology Unit researchers shared their science for the MRC Festival of Medical Research. Oliver Francis and Paul Browne tell us how they organised their event ‘Are you in a healthy place? Travel, food and our neighbourhoods’ and what made it a success.
Bikes, takeaways and conversations
When you say ‘medical research’, the first things that spring to mind probably aren’t cycling and takeaway food. But we do all know that doing a bit more of one and eating a little bit less of the other could be good for our health.
What we don’t always realise is that these health-related decisions aren’t always individual or personal and that the world around us has a huge influence on many of our choices. We also have to remember that much of the world around us is shaped by decisions made in Westminster and our local councils. [...]
Continue reading: Are you in a healthy place?
14 Apr 2016
Today, the UK Biobank has launched the largest body scanning project in the world. Funded by the MRC, Wellcome Trust and British Heart Foundation, the biobank will scan 100,000 people to provide images of their brains, hearts, bones, carotid arteries and abdominal fat. Head of the Division of Brain Sciences at Imperial College London Professor Paul Matthews is one of the academic experts who have been supporting UK Biobank to create this resource and he tells us how it could prove invaluable to all areas of medicine.
Building the bank
Over 10 years, the UK Biobank has recruited and gathered a wealth of high quality information from 500,000 people across the country. These people have donated blood, urine and saliva samples, provided detailed health, lifestyle and environment information and agreed to allow the biobank to follow their GP and hospital records throughout life.
Now we will be adding sophisticated imaging to enrich our understanding of the origins and progression of the major diseases of later life. [...]
Continue reading: UK Biobank: looking at the whole person
21 May 2015
Here in the UK we have lots of long-term studies following the health of a particular group of people. These cohort studies are goldmines of information for health researchers. Here Professor Jill Pell, Director of the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, reflects on why our new Cohort Directory will make life easier for researchers – and make the most of this valuable information.
Jill Pell (Image copyright: University of Glasgow)
Cohort studies are a fantastic resource but we’re not getting the best out of many of them at the moment. That’s why, here at the MRC, we’ve developed the Cohort Directory to increase the awareness and use of these important resources.
These population cohort studies recruit very large numbers of people from the general population and collect lots of information – using questionnaires, measurements and biological samples – about their health at that particular time. They then follow them up periodically to find out who develops health problems.
For population health scientists, like me, they are the gold standard method for determining what causes disease – the essential first step in preventing it. [...]
Continue reading: Making the most out of cohort studies
30 Oct 2014
Major Greenwood (Image credit: MRC Biostatistics Unit)
The introduction of measurement into medicine established the foundations of the modern discipline of biostatistics, crucial to all aspects of medicine, epidemiology and public health. But how did statistics become so embedded? Isabel Baker looks back at Professor Major Greenwood, an eminent statistician of the 20th century, who developed and encouraged some of the first uses of modern statistical methods in medical science.
This 1920s photo of Major Greenwood ― whose forename was Major, rather than reflecting military rank ― pictures him smiling cheerily on a wooden bench. But it gives little away about the nature of this distinguished and imposing man who dedicated his life’s work to statistics.
“There can be no doubt that to many people he was rather formidable,” reads a tribute to Greenwood in the London Hospital Gazette’s obituary. “But those who knew him best realised that he was just as critical of himself as of others, and that much of his ungenial manner was really due to shyness.” 
Greenwood started his career by following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both well-respected doctors. But in 1904, while working part-time as a GP, he attended a course on statistics at University College and found a new interest. [...]
Continue reading: Behind the picture: Major Greenwood and the measure of medicine
30 Apr 2014
Ian Deary and his standing desk
Ian Deary is Professor of Differential Psychology at the University of Edinburgh and Director of the Lifelong Health and Wellbeing-funded Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology. He showed Hazel Lambert around his huge office where airy windows framed by wood-panelled walls overlook George Square gardens.
I’d always liked standing to read if I was thinking about something, sometimes walking up and down. So I thought, why not get a standing desk? It can go up and down. It was a bit of a surprise, because once I got it I didn’t put it back down again; I do all my writing and work and reading at this standing desk and I find it very refreshing to be able to do that. I have four computer screens, making a single large one. I’ve always wanted a ‘desktop’ to be a desktop. If you have a proper desk you spread things around on it. It seemed limiting to have one little screen and to have everything piled on top of it. With four screens you can spread things around. But I think probably the best object in the whole room, are the three large windows; it’s a lovely outlook. [...]
Continue reading: What’s in a work space? Ian Deary and his unique furnishings
28 Apr 2014
A new environment and health atlas unveiled last week allows you to type in a postcode and see the community-level risk for developing 14 diseases, as well as the levels of common environmental agents. Here Dr Anna Hansell of Imperial College London explains five of the most interesting ― and surprising ― findings from the atlas.
Image copyright: Imperial College London
Image copyright: Imperial College London
One of the most exciting things about the atlas is the fine scale that we’ve managed to achieve by drilling down into small area-level data (around 6,000 people per area). People have mapped disease risk and environment factors before, but never at such a fine scale. While it shouldn’t be used to see what an individual’s risk is, it does allow us to see some surprising patterns, some of which are ripe for more research …
- Some diseases produce ‘flat maps’. Some diseases such as lung cancer, skin cancer, liver cancer, COPD and mesothelioma showed high levels of geographical variation (high levels in some areas and low in others). But common cancers such as breast cancer and prostate cancer showed very little geographical variation ― a ‘flat map’. This suggests that environmental factors that vary between areas are unlikely to play a large role in determining the risk for prostate or breast cancer. [...]
Continue reading: Five interesting things … from the postcode health atlas
14 Mar 2013
Today is the bicentenary of the birth of John Snow, the Victorian physician who worked out how cholera is transmitted and is often called the father of epidemiology. But would he recognise the field today? MRC-funded PhD student Suzi Gage takes a look at how it has changed, and finds a discipline that Snow could still call home.
(Image copyright: Alexander Bertram-Powell)
Head to Soho in London and you might find an epidemiologist or two on a pilgrimage to Broadwick Street and the memorial to John Snow. There you’ll find a public water pump with its handle missing; a symbol of Snow’s discovery that cholera was spread not through “bad air”, but through contaminated water. Snow famously asked for the handle of the Broad Street (now Broadwick Street) pump to be removed, after he mapped local cases of cholera and determined that water from it was the most likely source of the outbreak. [...]
Continue reading: What would John Snow make of epidemiology today?