JUL – DEC 2016

How students see scientists: Part XIV

The Global Physician Leadership Stream (GPS) at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) allows trainee doctors to undertake placements in research labs abroad as part of their studies, The MRC WIMM has hosted several students on the programme over the past few years (see previous blogs here and here) and this summer was no exception. Read on to find out just how valuable Nelson Tsz-Pui Kwan found his experience working with David Beeson (NDCN) at the MRC WIMM earlier this year.

Cracking the code

Every year, thousands of children are born with health problems that are caused by changes to their DNA sequence, or genetic code. These changes might have been inherited from their parents, who are often unaffected themselves, and therefore have no idea of what they might be passing on to their children – and therefore, understandably, no idea of how to cope with the consequences. Understanding which genetic changes cause these conditions is critical to helping scientists and doctors inform parents about the conditions their children suffer from, and help to develop new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies to counter the impact this has on the child’s life. In this blog, Kerry Miller, a postdoc in Andrew Wilkie’s lab, explains how her research on a skull deformation condition called craniosynostosis holds the promise to do just that.

Honey, I shrunk the scientists: Virtual immersion in the microscopic reality

Virtual reality is more often associated with sci-fi films than molecular biology, but find out in this blog how a team from the MRC WIMM are hoping to change all that. Imagine being able to walk around the nucleus of a cell, or pick up and discuss a 3D image of a zebrafish embryo with a team of collaborators from all over the world in the same room. Sound like a distant fantasy? Jakub Chojnacki explains why it soon might not be…

How students see scientists: Part XIII

The latest post in our series of blogs written by students who undertake work experience placements here at the WIMM is a little different. Whilst most students who come here work in a lab, this week’s blog is by a GCSE student at Cherwell School, Abraham Sondhi, who last month undertook a week’s work experience placement in the Administration Office. Read on to find out just how much Abraham learnt during the five days he spent with the team, and how much he valued the experience.

Pinch by pinch

What does your genome have in common with a Michelin-starred chef? Find out in this article by Yale Michaels, a DPhil student in Tudor Fulga’s lab, written for the MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award.

Seeing is believing: what does your DNA look like in 3D?

Clue: it’s a bit more complicated than a bendy ladder. Over the past year, scientists working in the Computational Biology Research Group and the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit at the MRC WIMM have been collaborating with Goldsmiths University in London to produce CSynth: new interactive software which allows users to visualize DNA structures in three dimensions. The team took the technology to New Scientist Live in September this year, and wowed hundreds of people with this incredible new tool. In this blog post, Bryony Graham describes the science behind the technology, and how the team managed to explain some pretty complex genomics to thousands of people using some pieces of string, a few fluffy blood cells and a couple of touchscreens, all whilst working under a giant inflatable E. coli suspended from the ceiling. Of course.

How students see scientists: Part XII

The WIMM plays host to many students over the course of the summer months, offering them a valuable insight into the life of a scientist, and introducing them to fundamentally important concepts and techniques in the lab. In this post, Rahul Shah, a medical student about to start the third year of his degree at the University of Cambridge, tells us about the two months he spent working with Andrew Wilkie and Steve Twigg in the Clinical Genetics lab.

Ever wondered where your blood comes from?

We all find out at a pretty young age what our blood is: often due to unfortunate incidents as toddlers involving overambitious attempts to run/jump/climb over household objects twice our height. But despite almost continually losing blood throughout our lives via cuts, grazes, injections and other incidents we almost never run out of the stuff, except in extreme circumstances. This is because your body is constantly producing blood to make up for that which is lost during daily life – but where does this new blood come from? This is a tricky question to answer, but a study led by Rui Monteiro in Roger Patient’s lab in the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit sheds new light on this complex process. Tomasz Dobrzycki, a DPhil student in the lab, explains what they found.

How super is a super-enhancer?

Over the past few years, a fierce debate has raged on amongst geneticists about whether the enticingly named ‘super-enhancer’, a region of the DNA proposed to have essential functions in controlling how a cell works, actually exists. Last month, a study by a team of scientists in Doug Higgs’ lab at the WIMM finally took apart this question piece by piece – and they found that there is nothing very ‘super’ about a super-enhancer at all. Marieke Oudelaar, a DPhil student in the Higgs and Hughes labs who was involved in the work, explains more.

How students see scientists: Part XI

For the past two years, we have posted a series of blogs over the summer months written by students who give up their free time to undertake work experience placements at the WIMM. In the first of this year’s posts, Casper Woods, a lower sixth student at St Paul’s School in London, tells us about the time he spent in Richard Gibbon’s lab in the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit in July. Casper is one of eight grandchildren of Anya Sturdy, in whose memory the Anya Sturdy Fellowship was established to support the training of clinical fellows in the WIMM.

Science in the supermarket (and other unusual places)

You might reasonably expect to be accosted by a double-glazing salesperson or someone shaking a bucket for charity as you go about your weekly shop – but you’d probably be pretty surprised if someone intercepted you on your way out and asked if you know what your immune system does. That’s exactly what a team of scientists from the WIMM did in June this year, in collaboration with the Department of Oncology – they took their research to the public, driving all over Oxfordshire to stand in shopping centres and tell the public about the incredible science that their taxes help to fund. In this blog, two DPhil students who volunteered for the event, Layal Liverpool and Helen Winter, tell us about their experience of being part of this innovative project.

Lessons from looking at clouds: Uri Alon and emotions in science

Earlier this year, Uri Alon, a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, came to the WIMM to give two talks: one about his research, and one about his view on the importance of considering emotions in the scientific process. Uri Alon has spoken on this topic many times, including as Ted Talk that has had almost a million views. In this blog, Juan Ruiz Villalobos, a DPhil student in the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit, describes Uri’s key message that science has a culture – and culture can be changed.

Scratching the surface: how to kill a cancer cell

The side effects of many cancer treatments are notoriously damaging, sometimes to the extent that they have a greater impact on the health of the patient than the cancer itself. The reason for this is that cancer drugs also kill healthy cells as well as the cancer cells, and so scientists are working hard to try and develop ways to deliver drugs specifically to the cancer itself. In this blog post, Pete Canning, a postdoc working in Terry Rabbitts’ lab in the MRC Molecular Haematology Unit, describes recent research from the lab which uses information about the proteins on the surface of the cell to do just that. Read on to find out more.

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