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Celebrating ten years of the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine

by Guest Author on 23 Dec 2019

Over the past year, the University of Edinburgh MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine has been celebrating a significant milestone: 10 years as an MRC Centre. Robin Morton, the centre’s Science Communication Manager, guides us through the celebrations.

Image credit: Douglas-Robertson

Birthdays are a time of celebration, a time to reflect and to look forward to the future. When I joined the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine (CRM) in 2016, I marvelled at its successes, excellent facilities and sense of community.

And as the Centre approached the end of its first decade, I wondered how we could capture, and celebrate, some of that intangible community and the successes they’ve shared. A party, or maybe a cake? Scientists always like cake. We settled on a year-long celebration of ‘CRM at 10’.

Cake cutting Stuart Forbes and Ian Wilmut. Image credit: Douglas Robertson

Cake cutting Stuart Forbes and Ian Wilmut. Image credit: Douglas Robertson

Excellent science

The MRC CRM was formed in 2008 and first directed by Professor Sir Ian Wilmut, who led the team that created Dolly the Sheep over 20 years ago. Throughout the past decade, the centre’s mission has remained the same: to study stem cells, disease and tissue repair to advance human health. There are many examples of excellent science.  Just recently, Nature Medicine published the first-in-human trial of a new macrophage (a type of white blood cell) therapy for liver cirrhosis, led by current CRM Director and clinician-scientist, Professor Stuart Forbes.

The Centre has transitioned from being spread across different campuses to co-habiting in a specially designed building, opened in 2012 by the Princess Royal, HRH Princess Anne. One hundred eighty scientists and clinicians moved in, but today we have over 300 scientists led by director and clinician-scientist Professor Stuart Forbes.

Brilliant people

There’s no better way to capture the essence of a Centre than through celebrating its people. That’s why we planned a party as the main event – an awards ceremony for staff and students, past and present, and key partners to come together and receive recognition for their successes.

It was hugely exciting to welcome back and present awards to many former staff who had helped to build such a great community. Former Communications Manager Ingrid Heersche and former head of the professional services team, Fiona Oswald, were recognised for their contributions to building and supporting the Centre’s community.

Scientific excellence was also acknowledged, as well as the support staff who have helped the Centre achieve success. One of the CRM’s first PhD students, Dr Nicola Festuccia, now runs his own group at the MRC London Institute of Medical Science. On receiving his award, he reflected on the importance of the cross-disciplinary scientific community at CRM, the support he received from his supervisor Prof Ian Chambers and others, and how this has helped him achieve success in his career.

A personal highlight was the presentation of a ‘CRM at 10’ Recognition Award to Mr Peter Thoms. With his family, Peter has raised around £6,000 for the Centre by running half marathons in memory of his wife Anne Elaine, who had Multiple Sclerosis (MS). MS researcher Professor Anna Williams presented the award.

Top-class facilities

But what about other ways to share what has been achieved? Earlier this year, we opened our doors for people to look round our top-class facilities whenever they want. Working closely with some of our talented PhD students and staff, we designed a Google Street View-style virtual tour of our laboratories, offices and shared spaces. Sophie Quick, a student on a prestigious Wellcome Trust 4-year PhD Programme in Tissue Repair and a great communicator, guides visitors through the tour and highlights what our scientists do and the facilities they use.

Centre for Regenerative Medicine Virtual Tour. Image credit: Centre for Regenerative Medicine

Centre for Regenerative Medicine Virtual Tour. Image credit: Centre for Regenerative Medicine

Our annual scientific retreat in the picturesque Scottish Borders also had a ‘CRM at 10’ theme. Staff and students voted for the winner of the ‘CRM at 10’ photo competition which captured the personality and stories of our Centre. The hugely popular winning image “My cells want to be Scottish!” was produced by Marilyn Thomson, part of our Tissue Culture Services team. Marilyn’s image was originally in black and white before she stained the kidney cells with a blue stain that stains the cell’s DNA.

"My cells want to be Scottish" - Kidney cells grown in the lab, used to produce a biological compound (lif) to maintain mouse embryonic stem cells. Image credit: CRM

“My cells want to be Scottish” – Kidney cells grown in the lab, used to produce a biological compound (lif) to maintain mouse embryonic stem cells. Image credit: Centre for Regenerative Medicine

Future focus

As our year-long celebration closes, we look to the future. The MRC CRM are joining forces with the Centre for Inflammation Research to form the Institute for Regeneration and Repair. The institute will house around 600 scientists in the CRM building and a new Centre for Tissue Repair building.

As a Science Communicator at the MRC CRM, I feel blessed to be surrounded by successful science and scientists, a fabulous support team and a great working environment. I am so glad to have had the chance to help celebrate that, to tell the story of a decade of the MRC CRM and to share some of that magic… and cake.

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