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Jan – Jun 2014

Blog Articles from 2014

Step-by-step: determining the development of cancer

There are over 200 different types of cancer, with 1 in the 3 people in the UK being affected by the disease during their lifetime. Cancer is caused by an accumulation of multiple alterations to the genetic material inside a cell, and these changes can vary widely even between individuals suffering from the same form of cancer. This complexity makes cancer a hugely challenging disease to treat, and therefore there is an evident need for scientists to continue their research to improve our understanding of this disease. Raffaella Facchini describes the development of a novel tool by researchers in Terry Rabbitts’ lab at the WIMM that could help scientists study how and why cancers develop.

Never work with children AND animals (unless they’re kittens)

Two years ago, Dr. Kathryn Robson, a senior scientist at the WIMM, ran a five-week course on Life Sciences for 10-11 year olds at a primary school in Abingdon. Using the pedigree cats that she breeds, Dr. Robson introduced the concept of genetic inheritance and a complex biological phenomenon known as X-inactivation to a very young audience. This month, one of the famous felines (then merely a kitten) gave birth to her own litter of kittens. To mark the anniversary, here Dr Robson explains how (sometimes!) working with children and animals can actually do the trick…

Does the answer lie within…? Using patients’ proteins to target breast cancer

Breast cancer remains the most common type of cancer in the UK, with women at a 1 in 8 lifetime risk of being diagnosed with this disease. In 2010 alone, more than 49,500 women were diagnosed (equivalent to 136 women per day) and approximately 400 men1. Here, Raffaella Facchini describes a recent collaborative study including researchers at the WIMM which could help to develop novel diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for breast cancer.

What do polar bears, cancer research and Cheryl Cole have in common?

Sadly, it isn’t that Simon Cowell has decided to donate all profits from the next series of X Factor to WWF and Cancer Research UK – it’s the #nomakeup selfie. Whilst the debate rages over the relevance of a woman’s face without makeup (or a man’s face with makeup) to cancer awareness, the fact remains that the #nomakeup selfie campaign has raised a huge sum of money for valuable research into the causes of cancer. Dr. Gemma Swiers explains how scientists at the WIMM are helping the fight against this deadly disease.

Just the FACS, man.

Many scientific institutes have a need for core facilities to process samples in a ‘cheap’ and efficient way. These centralised units have a big advantage over separate groups purchasing expensive pieces of equipment: they can pool financial resources and employ managers and operators with a high level of technical expertise to get the best possible results. Flow cytometry or FACS (fluorescence-activated cell sorting) is an important scientific resource and Kevin Clark, a senior sort operator in the WIMM, explains the critical role that it plays in current research.

Lipids, ligands and lavatories: WIMM Day 2014

Every year, scientists from all corners of the WIMM emerge from their laboratories, throw off their lab coats and meet over coffee, mini quiches and potentially a glass of wine to discuss the exciting new discoveries that have been made at the institute during the past 12 months. From new cancer biomarkers to novel diagnostic strategies for anaemia, the breadth of translational research emerging from labs at the WIMM was evident from the minute the microphone was turned on. Bryony Graham, a postdoctoral research scientist in Doug Higgs’ lab, sums up the highlights from the day.

David and Goliath in the fight against prostate cancer: how a tiny protein could help tackle a deadly disease

Prostate cancer kills over 10,000 men every year in the UK, which is why Prostate Cancer UK have launched Men United v Prostate Cancer; an army of scientists, doctors, nurses, fundraisers, celebrities, politicians and supporters all taking action on men’s health. Dr. Val Macaulay’s lab at the WIMM is part of this team, and here Dr. Tamara Aleksic, a senior scientist in the lab, describes new findings from the group that may help to develop new treatments for this terrifying disease.

Repair, re-generation and facing “The Unknome” – The 2014 RDM Annual Symposium

In February, the Said Business School played host to the Radcliffe Department of Medicine’s (RDM) Annual Symposium. Scientists from across the RDM’s departments were able to meet and present their research via both poster and oral presentations. For the majority, this also provided them a rare opportunity to go ‘down the hill’ – from the internationally recognised John Radcliffe Hospital to the historic centre of Oxford. The variety of work presented throughout the day highlighted the breadth of research being undertaken by the 5 units, which make up the RDM, including the WIMM. Raffaella Facchini, a final year DPhil student at the WIMM, describes the highlights of the day: from ‘big’ to ‘small’ science and the mysterious concept of the ‘unknome’…

Capturing the genome

Your body is a community of approximately 37 trillion cells – tiny structures of all shapes and sizes that work together to allow you to move, eat, breathe, sleep and perform all manner of other unpleasant bodily functions. Each cell has its own, specific, specialized job – but how does it know what to do, and when? How does a cell in the eye detect light, or a blood cell detect an infection?

I’m a scientist…get me out of here!

Who would actively volunteer to subject themselves to a barrage of quick-fire questions about their job from young, relentlessly inquisitive teenagers? Dr. Gemma Swiers, a postdoctoral research scientist at the WIMM, rises to the occasion and takes up the challenge as part of an online public engagement initiative supported by the Wellcome Trust. From stem cells to beached whales, little did she know what she’d be up against – or how rewarding the experience would be.

Not all junk DNA is rubbish

The term ‘junk DNA’ is one loved by journalists, and often loathed by scientists. When the full sequence of the human genome was published in 2004, it was found that in actual fact less than 2% of your DNA actually contains instructions to make proteins (the physical building blocks of the human body). So if the remaining 98% doesn’t appear to be doing anything useful…what on earth is it there for?

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