10 ways remarkable research is protecting health

Throughout 2018 we've featured stories about trailblazing research by the people we support. Here are some of the highlights.

Woman wearing MEG scanner

It may look like something from Game of Thrones, but the MEG scanner could transform human brain imaging. It's one of many great research achievements during 2018.

AI is helping babies at risk of brain injury

Time is critical for doctors treating newborn babies with suspected brain injuries. The sooner treatments such as whole body cooling can be used, the better the outcomes are likely to be.

Doctors rely on the results of EEG brain monitoring to give them crucial information. But these brain scans are so detailed they can only be interpreted by an expert, and there aren’t enough experts for someone to be at every cot side. 

Wellcome-funded researchers at the INFANT Centre at University College Cork are developing the first ‘smart’ system to recognise patterns in electrical brain activity, which will help to identify babies who need treatment quickly. 

Watch Professor Geraldine Boylan explain how her team are training computers to learn EEG patterns to help babies at risk of brain injury.

Scientific collaboration can outsmart epidemics

The global community has shown the power of working together during the Ebola epidemics in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With one outbreak from earlier this year over but a second ongoing, research has been at the heart of the response.

From setting up ring vaccination programmes to starting a clinical trial to assess existing drugs, find out how research is helping us become better prepared to respond to outbreaks.

Watch Dr Luke Meredith explain why creating a mobile laboratory to fit into a portable suitcase can provide great benefits during an infectious disease outbreak, like the West African Ebola crisis.

There's been a milestone in our understanding of mitosis

Digitised image of a mother cell, painted on silk
Credit: Odra Noel
The research team has discovered the process by which cells move from one stage of mitosis to the next.
In January 2018, Wellcome-funded researchers at Edinburgh University answered a question that has perplexed cell biologists for almost 150 years – how cells organise their vast amounts of DNA when they replicate and divide in the process of mitosis.

When mitosis goes wrong, it can lead to things like birth defects and cancer. Understanding more about this process in healthy cells could help to shed light on developmental problems that occur when cells do not divide properly.

Read more about what researchers discovered about the process of mitosis.

We're exploring how cities spread diseases, 100 years on from the flu pandemic

This year we launched Contagious Cities – an international cultural project based in New York, Hong Kong and Geneva. It marks the centenary of the 1918 flu pandemic, during which a third of the world’s population was infected and 50 million people died.

'Germ City: Microbes and the Metropolis' opened in New York in September 2018. Like the other Contagious Cities exhibitions, artist residencies, walking tours and public events, it's designed to spark and support local conversations about the global challenges of epidemic preparedness.

Find out more about Contagious Cities.

Watch a film about John and Caroline, Benjamin and Crispin - two different couples in two different centuries, linked together by contagious disease in New York.

Work has begun to map human cells – all 37 trillion of them

The Human Cell Atlas is a global project to map all the cells in the human body. It could transform understanding of many diseases and how to treat them.

That there are different cell types in different organs, such as the skin, brain and liver, is well understood. But the way cells differ within each organ is not. And they vary from person to person. Because of this, we still don't know how many different types of cell there are in the human body.

The Human Cell Atlas involves scientists and organisations from all over the world. Read more about the scientists we're funding at six UK research institutes.

Watch Dr Sarah Teichmann and Dr Sam Behjati explain how the Human Cell Atlas will be transformative in revealing the function of individual cells.

Practical pioneers are using new ways to stop superbugs

In November, more than 300 leaders in global health came together in Ghana to discuss how to tackle one of the world's greatest challenges: the rise of antimicrobial resistance.

Some of the most inspiring actions to stop the rise and spread of superbugs are happening in lower and middle-income countries, where the problem is greatest.

Find out about five ideas that stood out from the event and watch films about four pioneering initiatives to stop superbugs.

Find out how pharmacists and doctors are working closely together in South Africa to make sure antibiotics are used effectively and only when necessary.

Accepting difference is fuelling creativity

Heart n Soul’s Chat Up event at Wellcome Collection
Credit: Christopher Andreou
Heart n Soul provide opportunities for people to discover, develop and share the talent and power of people with autism and learning disabilities.

The Hub within Wellcome Collection hosts two-year residencies for groups to explore aspects of medicine, life and art.

This year it became home to Heart n Soul, a charity and company who will use the space and resources to uncover new insights around the lives of people with autism and learning disabilities. The group includes artists, writers, researchers, designers and clinicians, with and without lived experience of learning disabilities.

The previous residents of the Hub were Created Out of Mind. Over their two years, the interdisciplinary team used the power of the arts to communicate the personal stories and scientific realities of dementia. 

New scanner is a breakthrough for imaging brain activity

Scientists at the University of Nottingham are working with University College London on a five-year Wellcome-funded project which has the potential to revolutionise the world of human brain imaging. 

Magnetoencephalography (MEG) is a technique for mapping brain activity – it measures the magnetic fields generated by electrical currents that occur naturally in the brain.

The new scanner can be worn on the head, like a helmet, meaning the person having the scan can move around freely. It could improve the study of abnormal brain activity such as epilepsy, and mental health disorders like schizophrenia.  

Find out how the MEG scanner works and how it could revolutionise brain imaging.

There have been important insights about women's health worldwide

Ethiopian woman being interviewed as part of fieldwork for a project about uncovering the prevalence of female genital cutting
Credit: Mhairi Gibson
Mhairi Gibson and her team have developed an important new technique for gathering women's views on hidden health issues.

From research ethics and women’s role in medical training to abortion stigma and the health of women migrants and prisoners, we have funded a wide range of work that explores women's health around the world.

For example, Mhairi Gibson and her team have developed an important new technique for gathering women's views on female genital cutting (FGC). The indirect questioning method has revealed the extent to which people publicly hide their views on FGC. These insights can be used to help develop more effective interventions.

Read about other projects we have funded to explore women's health.

Neuropixels technology means we can probe whole brain activity

An international team of scientists has produced a new technology that will transform the way we study the brain. The supersensitive Neuropixels probes – each thinner than a human hair – can record the activity of hundreds of individual nerve cells across the brain in real time. 

At the International Brain Laboratory, researchers are already using the probes to study different areas in the mouse brain as it forages for food. Longer term experiments will help to study changes in the brain resulting from development, experience and ageing, as well as the effects of neurodegenerative diseases.

Read more about how Neuropixels probes will help scientists to understand the complexities of the brain

Watch Professors Anne Churchland and Matteo Carandini explain how the probes will record and share data in real time.