The Medical Research Council celebrates its 100th Birthday this year with a look back at the past and a gaze into the future of medical innovation.
In a public poll, the MRC is asking what medical advance from the past 100 years has had the greatest impact, and what will be the most important medical discovery of the next 100 years.
The MRC is a long-standing supporter of medical research at Imperial College London, providing millions of pounds of funding annually and backing seven major research centres.
A range of public figures, including Imperial academics and alumni London, have already responded to the poll.
Lord Darzi, Professor of Surgery at Imperial said: “As a surgeon, one clinically-related scientific breakthrough of the last centenary that stands out for me is the development of new technologies associated with minimally invasive surgery. There has been an increasing use of robotics for performing complex procedures with minimal access trauma.
“The completion of the human genome project and its contribution to personalised medicine early in the last decade stands out for all of us, but a particular highlight is the development of stem cell therapies and their outstanding potential in regenerative medicine. I eagerly anticipate future developments in this groundbreaking field and realising the full potential of stratified medicine in improving the health of the population.”
Comedian, singer and Imperial alumnus, Helen Arney (Physics 2002) said: “The most important advance for me has been scanning the brain with MRI. From fumbling around guessing what bumps on the skull might mean, via poking around inside with sharp sticks and electrodes, to MRI. Exploiting the natural properties of the simple elements that make up the most complex organ in the body, to produce photograph-like images of what it looks like inside to diagnose strokes, tumours, and the cause of so many neurological disorders that were almost down to pure guesswork 100 years ago. That to me is a huge leap forward.
“The most important future discovery might not even be fully understood within the next 100 years, but it’s got to be epigenetics. How the genes you are born with can be ‘switched’ on and off by the markers that surround your DNA, depending on your environment or even your lifestyle. Over the last 100 years we’ve gone from having nothing but the most basic understanding of heredity, to decoding the entire human genome – we know so much about what each little chunk of our DNA does, but with the dawn of epigenetics we’ve realised it’s only the beginning. It’s not what DNA you have, it’s what you do with it that counts – epigenetically speaking.”
To take part in the poll or read more responses, visit the MRC centenary website.
The Medical Research Council has a great deal to celebrate
– Professor Dermot Kelleher
Dean of the Faculty of Medicine
Earlier this year, Imperial hosted an exhibition, Strictly Science, to celebrate the centenary. It included a century-old laboratory installation re-enacting experiments on the nervous system, war-wound treatment and vitamin-deficiency disease. Alongside this was a contemporary neurotechnology lab where visitors could play with interactive experimental tools – Wii balance boards, eye-trackers, and a motion capture suit used by Imperial College London’s Dr Aldo Faisal to investigate how the human brain works.
The celebrations at Imperial will continue later this year with an open day at the MRC Centre for Molecular Bacteriology and Infection. Opened in July 2012, this centre examines the way bacteria infect our bodies and aims to understand how our immune systems and new antibiotics can protect us from disease.
Dean of Imperial’s Faculty of Medicine, Professor Dermot Kelleher said: “The Medical Research Council has a great deal to celebrate. Throughout its 100-year history, it has enabled the most innovative and important medical research to flourish.”
Imperial research receives around £20 million in MRC funding each year. This year saw the opening of the MRC-NIHR Phenome Centre at the College. This national facility will analyse 100,000 blood and urine samples each year to determine the causes of disease and indicate how treatments can be tailored for individual patients.
“Here at Imperial we have benefitted from considerable support from the MRC. We look forward to working together for the next 100 years and beyond,” Professor Kelleher added.
The MRC is only six years younger than Imperial and the two institutions have enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship.
For example in 1965, the MRC’s Metabolic Reactions Research Unit was opened at Imperial by the Queen Mother. The unit was headed up by biochemist Sir Ernst Chain, who shared the Nobel prize for the discovery of penicillin and its uses with Sir Alexander Fleming and Sir Howard Florey. Chain’s legacy at Imperial was the founding of the Department of Biochemistry and construction of the seven-story biochemistry building. Last year the College recognised his contribution in the naming of the Department of Life Sciences’ Sir Ernst Chain Building - Wolfson Laboratories.
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