In 1991 and 1992, 14,000 pregnant women in Avon in the West of England signed up to be part of the Children of the 90s study. Over 21 years information about their children — from their first steps to variations in their DNA — has been collected and studied, providing one of the richest resources about child development in the world.
This kind of public participation is essential for the success and future of medical research. Without volunteers to donate time and biological samples, scientists can’t fully understand how we stay healthy and how disease develops.
Part-funded by the MRC, the study has gone from strength to strength. As the young people started to turn 21, we caught up with the scientists who curate and work on this vital collection to find out what the future holds.
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George Davey Smith (Copyright: University of Bristol)
Professor George Davey Smith heads up not one but two MRC projects: he directs the Children of the 90s cohort study and the MRC Centre for Causal Analyses in Translational Epidemiology (MRC CAiTE) in Bristol. His career has taken him from Wales to Nicaragua, and India to Glasgow. Katherine Nightingale met George to find out about his itinerant career, cycling and a life without admin.
George Davey Smith was away on unauthorised holiday cycling around Ireland when his counterparts at Cambridge medical school were taught about epidemiology.
Returning the day before the epidemiology module test, he received some limited instruction from friends in the pub, and then did better in the epidemiology test than in other parts of the course. “I realised this was something for me,” he says. Read more
Cathy Southworth explains why, when faced with the challenge of opening up stem cell science to the public, she turned to comic book artist Edward Ross and science fiction writer Ken Macleod. She is the Public Engagement Manager of OptiStem, an EU-funded stem cell research project based at the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Edinburgh.
When I was tasked last year with developing a resource to open up the world of stem cell science to the public, I must admit my heart groaned a little at the thought of another leaflet or information page that would be lost among the mass of information on the web. We needed something eye-catching and enticing; something that would stand out, all the while ensuring that the science was portrayed accurately.
There was obviously a story to tell; a very human story about how contemporary medical treatments are brought to the clinic. How do ideas develop? How do these ideas become possibilities? How do they get tested? How do we know they are as safe as they can be? How do we decide what ‘safe’ means and who decides? These were among the many questions I wanted to address, along with including an array of characters: scientists, clinicians, regulators, ethicists and patients, to name a few. Read more