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A look back at Peter Medawar

Peter Medawar with colleagues at the NIMR

Peter Medawar with colleagues at the NIMR

Peter Medawar, Nobel Laureate and Director of the MRC National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) in the 1960s, was born 100 years ago on 28 February. Here Frank Norman, Head of Library Services at the NIMR, looks back on how his research into skin grafts led to modern organ transplants, and his significant role in encouraging and supporting young scientists.

It was in 1940 that transplantation sparked the interest of the young Peter Medawar. While working as a researcher at the University of Oxford, an RAF plane crashed near to his home and one of the airmen suffered severe burns.

Through his experience of trying to help the airman, Medawar became interested in treating burn victims with skin grafts – a risky and often unsuccessful intervention. He prepared a review of the literature, Notes on the problem of skin homografts, which he sent to the War Wounds Committee of the MRC. Read more

Data sharing: a patient perspective

Genomic data from patients is a rich source of information for research into how our genes affect our health and here at the MRC we are keen to harness its power as part of our vision for informatics research. But what do patients think about their genomic data being shared for research? Here Alice Hazelton, Public Engagement Officer for Genetic Alliance UK, writes about the charity’s efforts to find out.

Families from SWAN UK tour the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Families from SWAN UK tour the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (Image copyright: Genetic Alliance UK/Joshua Tucker)

 

Genomic information has the potential to transform healthcare. Researchers are continually learning more about the genome and the genetic basis of disease and as the cost of genome sequencing technologies and analytics tools fall, more and more research will become possible.

This will help us to achieve a greater understanding of how our genes affect our health and develop new diagnostic tools, screening methods and treatments for some conditions. The sharing of patient data will play a crucial role in this. Read more

Getting the best out of biological samples

Tissue samples stored in microscope slides

Tissue samples (Image: euthman on Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Hundreds of thousands of biological samples such as blood, urine and tissue blocks are kept in research institutions and hospitals across the UK. Within them may lie the answers to some of the biggest questions in medical research. Getting the best out of samples relies on donors understanding what they may be used for and researchers feeling confident about when they can use and share them. Here Professor James Ironside, Professor of Clinical Neuropathology at the University of Edinburgh, tells us about new MRC guidance on the practicalities and ethics of using biological samples.

“It’s better not to restrict the possible use of the sample because by restricting it you’re increasing the chance that it’ll go to waste. You want the highest probability that something good will come from it.”

Those are the words of a patient surveyed about the public’s views on the use of biological samples in medical research [1]. So how do we go about increasing the chances that samples will be useful?

Samples of human biological material have always been crucial to medical research, but as we move into an era in which huge amounts of data can be analysed easily, getting the best out of each and every sample is becoming more important than ever. Read more