Brilliance in the genes: inside Britain’s ‘Nobel prize factory’

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The ft has been given access to one of the most sophisticated research facilities in the world a laboratories so successful that it’s been called a nobel prize factory this is the mrc’s laboratory of molecular biology the lnb as it’s known for short has 112 nobles in total more than any other institution of its size so what’s the secret of the lab success we’re here

To ask some of its leading scientists first hand if i knew what the secret source of this place is i would be very rich and very famous unfortunately i don’t but one of the properties of this lab that makes it a bit maverick is the trust and engagement with risky science and long-term science that we believe delivers the goods in the end one of the most audacious

Projects at the lmb is led by madeleine lancaster her team are encouraging stem cells to grow into clusters of human brain tissue sometimes referred to as mini brains the really special aspect is that they are self-organizing so we’re not coming in and forcing the cells to make specific genotypes we’re allowing these tissues to develop on their own also of course

In a three-dimensional conformation which is the way the brain develops naturally using this technique madeleine can study the way in which healthy cells arrange themselves within the embryonic brain she can even look at how neurons fire into activity i think generally if you understand how something is built then you’ll also understand more about how that works and


So that’s kind of the goal here is to try to let these things build themselves and we can watch that process and learn something about human brain development and also what goes wrong in neurological conditions madeline’s method may be unusual but bold approaches like hers have led to revolutionary work at the lmb take her colleague richard henderson he received

The 2017 nobel prize for chemistry for his work on cryo-electron microscopy or cryo-em it’s a technique that quickly freezes tiny biological molecules in a very thin layer of ice preserving their natural structure without the need for unnatural staining the images you get are actually images of the molecules themselves in their normal environment amorphous ice

Instead of water and so by recording a stack of images like that which would be images of the part of the molecules at different angles in the computer you can process it into a high resolution near atomic structure and so instead of finding the subunit structure the outline of the molecule in a rough detail you can actually see right into it and see all the atoms

The amino acids the dna the nucleic acids it can be used to understand how drugs bind to molecules in biology and this is terribly important in drug design and we’ll be going to the heart of a number of human physiology is that you need we need better drugs for after more than 20 years of research cryo-em has the potential to revolutionize so-called structure based

Drug design making medicines that are more effective with fewer side-effects it’s a fantastic example of how long-term investments by the uk’s medical research council can translate directly to healthcare and the process is accelerated even further when labs like the lmb work with pharmaceuticals companies such as astra zeneca to be able to push the boundaries of

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Science to work frontier of science means that we have to employ the best scientists within our laboratories we have to collaborate and partner with the best scientists globally and these partnerships are rather to develop new approaches by which we can develop medicines which we can then take forward to the clinic or to understand the basic mechanisms of disease

You’re looking at one of the great hopes for understanding how the brain works it’s called a connectome a map of some of the pathways that information can take as it passes from neuron to neuron it’s enriching our understanding of behavior and memory and it could one day help us find a treatment for alzheimer’s disease greg we’re looking at a spectacular rotating

Fly’s brain what’s it showing us the big challenge at the moment in trying to understand how brains actually control behavior is to understand the network of connections within the brain and how information flows through those networks while the animal is producing a particular behavior and that’s true whether you’re talking about a fly which is what we study a worm

A mouse or a human even in a fly brain which is just a millimeter across greg’s team have a huge task on their hands tracing the path of individual neurons through stacks of electron microscope images and then painstakingly recreating all the connections in a computer model greg what did it take to produce this beautiful picture so it took their combined efforts of

Many different scientists with many expertise there are contributions for over a hundred and fifty people in this image and there’s about 30 million clicks tracing neuron through this electron microscopy image data that have turned into this image that we see here good science takes a village fortunately cambridge is building such a village the cambridge biomedical


Campus it’s already home to some 17,000 health care professionals and research scientists and the space on campus for another 14 wembley pitches of new development the impetus behind the whole project collaboration having proximity to all other collaborators in the coma cluster is really important we’ve got the role pat worth we’ve got the ci uk buildings lots of

Great clinical research at keys really understanding how we take some of the discoveries that they were building here and really bring them into general practice and i think a lot of that is understanding how best to make the right kind of connections how best you put the right infrastructure and informal networks in place to encourage dialogue thanks to institutes

Like the lmb the uk is already a world leader in biomedical research and development and if the country takes lessons learned from this labs history it has the potential to achieve even more success you

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Brilliance in the genes: inside Britain's 'Nobel prize factory' By Financial Times

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