Modern scientific research is being revolutionised by incredibly powerful new technologies: machines which can read your entire genetic code; microscopes which can see individual molecules inside living cells; and computers which can re-create the big bang. In this post, Lucas Greder in Marella de Bruijn’s lab describes his experiences with another such technology: fluorescence activated cell sorting (or FACS), and how learning to master this technique is critical to his ongoing PhD research.
It’s late November. It’s starting to get pretty chilly; you’re debating whether it’s OK to put the heating on yet; and then you start to get just a hint of a sore throat. Which develops into a cough. And a runny nose. And before you know it, you’re laid up with a full-blown cold. It’s well known that the elderly are more susceptible to common illnesses like the flu than younger people, but it’s less well understood why. However, recent research by Katja Simon’s lab in the Human Immunology Unit at the WIMM has not only identified a key process involved in flu susceptibility in the elderly, but also a drug which might help to alleviate the problem.
Each individual cell in our body has its own specific set of instructions that allow it to execute a particular task – like ensuring a red blood cell can carry oxygen, and a nerve cell can detect pain. By definition, these sets of instructions must be wildly different between various cell types – but how does the body control which instructions are assigned to each cell? The answer is a very complex set of mechanisms that are exceedingly difficult to understand, but new tools developed by a joint team of scientists from the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine and Department of Physiology Anatomy and Genetics in Oxford, should help decipher one layer of this regulatory landscape.
In the second of our series of blogs by students who spent a week of their summer holiday working with scientists in the WIMM, Olivia and Zoe Brandon from Seven Oaks School in Kent explain what they got up to in the lab, and how this has influenced their perception of scientific research.
Bowel cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer. In 2011, over 40,000 people in the UK were diagnosed with the disease1: equivalent to one person every 15 minutes. In order to try and understand how and why this form of cancer develops, scientists need to be able to grow cells derived from tumours in the lab – something which has proven to be extremely challenging. However, researchers in Walter Bodmer’s group at the WIMM have recently developed a method to not only propagate these rare tumour samples in the lab, but also to coax them to develop into structures similar to those found in the body.
Your immune system is usually something you’re grateful for; it helps you fight infections, deal with cuts and bruises, and generally defend your body against all the bugs and grubs that are constantly trying to make you sick. However, in rare cases, the immune system turns on itself – instead of attacking bacteria and viruses, it starts to attack YOU. There are several diseases in which this phenomenon, known as autoimmunity, is observed – here Lauren Howson describes recent work by the Cerundolo lab in the MRC Human Immunology Unit at the WIMM that sheds some light on one such disease, known as Autoimmune Addison’s Disease.
The WIMM actively supports the development of aspiring young scientists, and every summer the Institute opens its doors to a variety of students at different stages in their academic careers. In July, two A-Level students from the John of Gaunt school in Trowbridge spent a week in the WIMM, getting to know the scientists that work there and having a sneak peek into the mysterious world of biomedical research. Here, Ceara Kaveney and Etain Dobson give an insight into their experience at the WIMM, and how it has changed their outlook on science as a career.
The short answer is – more photos than they know what to do with. Researchers might not be snapping celebrities, but they do generate thousands of images of animals, cells, proteins, and countless other weird and wonderful biological phenomena. Whilst perhaps not quite as visually appealing as Brad Pitt or Beyonce, these images do have one thing in common: they all need to be stored, organized and analysed, and new software developed by Steve Taylor at the WIMM promises to do just that.
Understanding how normal blood cells are made in the body can help us understand what goes wrong in blood-related diseases such as anaemia (a lack of red blood cells) and leukaemia (cancer of the blood). Guest writer Dr. Gemma Swiers describes recent research by Claus Nerlov’s group in the WIMM that has made an exciting breakthrough in understanding how the body produces red blood cells – especially when they are needed most.
Anaemia is a condition where sufferers have a reduced number of functional red blood cells. It is a global problem which affects over 270 million pre-school children worldwide, the majority of whom are from low and middle-income countries in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa. There is an evident need to continue research of this disease and here Raffaella Facchini describes recent work from Hal Drakesmith’s lab at the WIMM that could help to develop more targeted prevention strategies for children in the developing world.