Blog Archive

Sensing viruses: shape matters

Viruses are basically packets of nucleic acid, DNA or it’s sister molecule RNA. Our cells have therefore evolved to recognise these molecules as a sign of virus infection. A recent study from Jan Rehwinkel’s lab in the MRC Human Immunology Unit has revealed a new way in which cells sense and respond to invading viruses. Layal Liverpool, a DPhil student in the Rehwinkel lab, who was involved in the work, explains more.

Breaking boundaries in our DNA

Each of the cells in your body contains an instruction manual, otherwise known as your DNA, with all the information required to build an entire human being. An important open question in biology is how different cells get directed to the right part of this manual to find the instructions for their specific tasks. A new study, published in in Nature Cell Biology today, by a team of scientists co-led by Doug Higgs and Ben Davies shines light on the underlying structural processes that help the cells work out which part of the manual to read to establish their identity. Marieke Oudelaar, a DPhil student in the Higgs and Hughes labs, who was involved in the work, explains more.

The stem cell that keeps you topped up with blood

Our blood is made up of a huge number of different cell types responsible for oxygen distribution, blood clotting and fighting infection. So, have you ever wondered where all these different blood cells come from? Believe it or not it is down to one type of cell, called hematopoietic stem cells, which can give rise to which ever blood cell type the body needs. In this blog post Christina Rode discusses and visually explains where these cells come from, what they do and why they are so important.

The slimy jelly that helps us respond to infection

A fully functioning immune system is dependent on good communication between many different types of cell. We know that one set of cells detects damage and infection, while another leaps into action to defend the body. But we weren’t entirely clear how the two ‘talked’ to each other. In this blog, Prof David Jackson and his senior post-Doctoral fellow Dr Louise Johnson explain the team’s newest finding, which suggests that a special type of carbohydrate acts as the broker between the two.

A zebrafish genetic toolkit to understand development

Development is complex business – from the moment a sperm fertilises an egg, a cascade of biological processes is set in motion. Small changes in this cascade can cause a number of different developmental conditions, and so trying to tease apart the stages is important to help find the causes and highlight potential treatment options. Here, Vanessa Chong discusses a new method the Sauka-Spengler Lab has developed to understand the nuts and bolts that regulate these developmental changes in a very special set of cells.

INTERFERing: the immune responses helping cancer cells resist treatment

Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy generally work by causing damage to the DNA of cancer cells. Unfortunately, cancer cells can become resistant to this DNA damage and therefore resistant to the treatments. Recent collaborative research in the WIMM between labs in the Department of Oncology and the MRC Human Immunology Unit sheds light on this process, revealing new markers of treatment resistance in patients and potential future drug targets. Layal Liverpool explains more.

Multiple Sclerosis – Action and Reaction

Brain Diaries is an exhibition and series of events organised by the Oxford Museum of Natural History in partnership with Oxford Neuroscience. The aim is to show the public how the latest neuroscientific research is transforming what we understand about our brain – from birth to the end of life.  In order to celebrate the opening of this event, the Museum hosted a ‘Super Science Saturday’ on Saturday 11 March.  One of the labs taking part was the Lars Fugger lab, who research Multiple Sclerosis. Here, Jessica Davies, a postdoctoral researcher in the Fugger lab, reports how they got on presenting their exhibit to those that attended Super Science Saturday.

Cells have a skeleton, and a very clever way of organising it

Just like humans, each of our cells have a skeleton in order to maintain their shape. Up until recently, we didn’t have the ability to see their skeleton in great detail. But with new technology creating ever-more powerful microscopes, we can now see the skeleton and the patterns it creates to maintain the cell’s structure. In this blog post, Dr Marco Fritzsche discusses his recent paper published in Nature Communications in collaboration with Prof Christian Eggeling and Prof Eric Betzig, researching exactly how the skeleton of a cell is organized.

CRISPR computers: how to program a cell

Inside every cell in your body, a complex network of signals are constantly being sent, received, interpreted and acted upon. These signals tell the cell how and when to perform its particular specialised task, in concert with all the other cells surrounding it. Understanding how these networks operate is critical to developing a full understanding of biological systems, but until recently, scientists have lacked tools with sufficient precision to probe these networks accurately. In this blog post, Quentin Ferry (a DPhil student in Tudor Fulga’s lab at the MRC WIMM) describes their latest research, recently published in Nature Communications, in which they have developed new molecular tools that allow rewiring of cellular signalling networks with unprecedented precision.

What are the consequences of severe anaemia for mothers and babies?

Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder that results in the production of abnormal red blood cells, resulting in the inefficient transport of oxygen around the body. In severe cases, babies carrying the genetic changes that cause the disease rarely survive to birth and the health of the mother is also affected. However, recent improvements in medical care mean that now, babies with this rare form of severe anaemia can survive and this presents a need for sharing resources and expertise between doctors throughout the world to ensure these patients are properly cared for throughout life. To coincide with Rare Disease Day, Dr Duantida Songdej (a consultant haematologist in Thailand) and her DPhil co-supervisor Dr Chris Babbs tell us about their work creating a registry of survivors of this rare form of anaemia – a project that Duantida initiated during her DPhil studies with Doug Higgs here at the MRC WIMM.

Stopping the spread: towards new treatments for childhood cancer

Cancers of the blood, or leukaemias, that involve mutations in a gene called Mixed Lineage Leukaemia (MLL) have a very poor prognosis and are particularly prevalent in young children. Due to the aggressive nature of this type of cancer, there is an acute need for the development of more effective therapies to help treat the children who suffer from this devastating condition. Professor Thomas Milne’s group in the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit recently published an article in Cell Reports detailing the mechanisms by which MLL translocations may drive malignancy and exploring the potential use of small molecule inhibitors to mediate this. In this blog post, two of the authors on the paper (Jon Kerry and Laura Godfrey) describe their findings.

The science behind the headlines

The Museum of Natural History in Oxford runs many activities to try and engage the public with scientific research, including their regular ‘Super Science Saturdays’ events. Last autumn, as part of a special themed Super Science Saturday called ‘Behind The Headlines’, a team of scientists from Roger Patient’s lab in the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit created a series of different activities to explain the science behind the headline: ‘How tiny fish could hold the key to blood cancer treatment’. In this blog, DPhil student Tomasz Dobrzycki (who helped to create and deliver the activities) describes just how rewarding the event was, and how important he believes it is to make the time and effort to communicate our research to non-academic audiences.

How students see scientists: Part XV

In early December last year, a group of five undergraduate students from PETROC College in Plymouth visited the WIMM in order to get a taste of what life as a research scientist might really be like. In this blog, Sarah Huxtable (Programme Manager and Lecturer, Genetics and Physiology) tells us just how rewarding the students found their visit, and how great the cake was!

A Not-So-Special Delivery: Zika Virus in its Envelope

In the first WIMM blog post of 2017, Layal Liverpool and Antonio Gregorio Dias Jr (two DPhil students working in the MRC Human Immunology Unit) describe how our understanding of the dengue virus could hold the key to developing a vaccine for Zika. This article was originally published by Science Innovation Union

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