Thursday, 12 June 2014

NPII brings Tim Hunt to China

Although officially retired, Sir Tim Hunt FRS remains a major character in British life sciences. Awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (which he shared with his colleagues Paul Nurse and Leland H. Hartwell), Hunt's discovery changed how we understand the process of cell division.

He discovered cyclinsa family of proteins that control the cell cycle by activating specific CDK (cyclin-dependent kinase) enzymes. Cyclins were originally named because their concentration varies during the cell cycle; these days, we know that not all cyclins "cycle" throughout the process, but their catchy name stuck. The discovery of cyclins heralded an explosion of research interest in the cell cycle, and their central role in cell division has made them a focal point in cancer research, an area in which Dr Hunt worked for twenty years.

We at Nobel Media (in partnership with AstraZeneca) were delighted to invite Dr Hunt to take part in the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative in China in June 2014. This was Dr Hunt’s second NPII event – he also visited Manchester in 2010 - but China held a particular interest for Tim. He has long been fascinated with Chinese cookery thanks to an interest in chef and food writer Fuchsia Dunlop. So, rather uniquely for NPII, this trip combined science, communication and food!

First on the agenda was Shanghai, where Tim would meet young scientists from Fudan University, along with researchers at AstraZeneca's Zhangjiang campus.

The lecture was heavily subscribed and was followed by a fascinating Q&A session with the audience that covered everything from the role of cyclins in cancer to what it felt like to be awarded a Nobel Prize. It was also translated simultaneously into Mandarin by a very talented translator who was thoroughly briefed by Dr Hunt. After a busy media session with press and trade journalists, it was off to indulge Dr Hunt's other passion - Chinese cuisine! The local AstraZeneca team found a fantastic restaurant which allowed Tim to try lots of new foods, including roasted snake. But it was an early night for the team - next up was the large lecture theatre of Fudan University.

Dr Hunt was greeted like a celebrity at Fudan, mobbed by the huge group of students who attended his fascinating lecture, “Lessons from a Life in Science: How to Get a Nobel Prize”

During this lecture, Tim admitted that the name 'cyclin' really stemmed from his love of cycling around Cambridge on his yellow bike, and showed us his "Nobel Prize-wining gel" that confirmed his discovery...

Tim met with senior University officials from Fudan, including Dr Yi Zhun Zhu, Dean of the School of Pharmacy, and with a group of young scientists for an informal roundtable session. Here, the students asked questions on everything from Tim's thoughts on communicating research to the best things about being a scientist. It was a fun and very fruitful discussion, and all of the students left with a smile on their face :)

After a busy day, it was off to the airport to catch a flight westward to Chengdu, where Dr Hunt would meet researchers from the West China School of Medicine. Set in the heart of a bustling, vibrant city, Sichuan University is full of keen and eager students from all backgrounds, and they turned out in force to meet Dr Hunt! Before his lecture, Dr Hunt visited some of they key labs at Sichuan, meeting some researchers and a large number of fish!

Next it was on to an informal roundtable with some of Sichuan's best and brightest young researchers. This discussion turned out to be on of our very best sessions, covering issues from the state of research in China, through to impact factors and the challenges facing female scientists in academia. The entire session was filmed, and will soon appear on the website as a series of short clips

Dr Hunt was also given some lovely gifts from each of the venues he visited, but it seems that few made him happier than this panda scroll from Dr Li Weimin, Dean of West China School of Medicine!    

As with all of Dr Hunt's lectures, this one was completely over-subscribed, with close to 400 scientists and doctors filling the venue. During the Q&A, Tim took to the floor with his microphone and a fascinating discussion ensued! This lecture was filmed and will very soon be available to watch on the NPII site

We had a truly fantastic time in China, and it was a pleasure to once again work with our partners AstraZeneca, on this worthy initiative. As ever, we have shared a selection of photos from the event on the official page, where soon, the lecture and highlights videos will also appear. And please keep an eye on the website over the coming months, where we will share a series of short clips from the event, providing advice and insights from Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt

Friday, 25 April 2014

Roger Kornberg visits Scandinavia to talk science and innovation

Rewind to 4 Oct 2006. Professor Gunnar Öquist, Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, has just announced the Nobel Laureate in Chemistry for that year - Roger D. Kornberg. Unusually for one of the science prizes, it was unshared - Kornberg was the sole recipient of the prize.

It was awarded for Kornberg's fundamental studies on transcription - the process by which the information stored in the genes is copied and transferred to those parts of the cells that produce proteins. Kornberg was the first to create an actual picture of this process at the molecular level in eukaryotes - a group of organisms that include everything from fungus to humans!

Constant transcription of the genetic information in the DNA is a central process for all living beings. The DNA-molecule itself lies protected within the cell nuclei. The genetic information therefore needs to be copied and transformed into "messenger DNA", which can then move the information out from the nucleus and to the protein-producing part of the cell. These proteins can then construct the organism, and define its function. Any interruptions in transcription can have severe consequences - illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and many inflammatory diseases have links to disturbances in the transcription process. Roger Kornberg was the first to create an image of this process "in action" - and these images make it possible to understand the molecular mechanisms governing transcription.

Figure 1. The transcription process as depicted by Roger Kornberg in 2001. RNA-polymerase in grey / white, DNA-helix in blue and the growing RNA-strand in orange

Now back to 2014 - in early April, Roger Kornberg talked about his incredible discovery, and much more, in packed lecture theatres in Gothenburg and Copenhagen as part of the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative (NPII). His first visit was to the University of Gothenburg, where he spoke to students and staff from the hosting university and from Chalmers University of Technology.

The talk was incredibly-well received and the audience Q&A offered some fascinating debate and discussion.
My favourite part of our NPII events are always the roundtable sessions with students, postgrads and postdocs, and the group from GU and Chalmers didn't disappoint! Questions ranged from how to maintain a good work-life-balance, to what the Nobel Prize means to a scientist. Collaboration and publishing were also discussed and debated, and both the students and Dr Kornberg left the session feeling invigorated. As always, we filmed the whole session and the highlights will be shared as short clips on the NPII website in the coming months - keep an eye out!
 After an interview with a local journalist and a delicious lunch with other junior scientists, it was off to the next venue - AstraZeneca Mölndal. AstraZeneca are our partners on these events, and we were very excited to get to their Swedish research HQ. The atmosphere was a little different at AZ - Dr Kornberg didn't speak about his science, instead he took part in a fascinating discussion on the importance of creativity in innovative science. The AZ staff turned out in huge numbers - there were people sitting on the auditorium steps. We even had to set up an "overview" area in the canteen for those who couldn't get in!

Roger Kornberg was joined by three other guests: Karin Markides, President and CEO of Chalmers University; Mene Pangalos, Executive Vice President of AstraZeneca’s Innovative Medicines and Early Developments arm and Richard Neutze, Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Gothenburg. This discussion was led by Adam Smith, Chief Scientific Officer at Nobel Media AB - you can watch it in full here:

The next day, we were off to Copenhagen, to the amazing venue, The Black Diamond, to meet students and staff from the University of Copenhagen and the Technical University of Denmark.

Another brilliant lecture from Roger Kornberg - entitled "The End of Disease" - led to a jam-packed Q&A session with the audience. As in Gothenburg, this was followed by a round table session with young scientists from both universities. They talked about Dr Kornberg's childhood - as the son of another Nobel Laureate, he has some interesting insights on what the Prize means to a scientist!

Dr Kornberg had some more media interviews, followed by a dinner in the famous Copenhagen venue, Nimb. But his day wasn't over. Dr Kornberg also found time to record a podcast with Adam, which you can listen to here:

We really enjoyed our visit to Copenhagen and Gothenburg - we promise to share the lecture video very soon, and keep an eye on the site for hints and tips from Dr Kornberg. We also had some lovely interactions on Storify, which you can read here. 

The next Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative event will be in China - we'll be bringing Tim Hunt to Shanghai and Chengdu on the 3rd June.... so lots more posts to come!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Dr. Craig Mello visits Maryland

Dr Craig Mello visited Maryland, United States on 4th and 5th November 2013, as part of the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative. There he met researchers from:
  • University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB)
  • Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore (JHU)
  • AstraZeneca MedImmune Campus in Gaithersburg

The schedule for Monday 4th November was packed, with a visit to both UMB and JHU for Dr Mello. At UMB, he was welcomed by James L. Hughes (pictured below), Chief Enterprise and Economic Development Officer and Vice President of the Office of Research and Development.

After a breakfast with executives from UMB, Dr Mello was introduced to a packed auditorium by Dr Bruce E. Jarrell (pictured below), Chief Academic and Research Officer, Senior President, Dean of the UMB Graduate School. Dr Jarrell said that he looked forward to hearing stories from Dr Mello, as "It's stories that we remember & that make us human"

Steve Projan, Infectious Disease & Vaccines iMED Head, MedImmune also said a few words about the relationship between academia and industry in medical research, and encouraged the students to make the most of the opportunity to speak with Dr Mello.

Adam Smith, Editorial Director of Nobel Media talked about the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative, and then it was on to Dr Mello's talk “A Worm’s Tale: Secrets of Inheritance and Immortality”

The opening of the talk was nothing less than an ode to nematode worm, with a high-energy soundtrack! Dr Mello pondered everything from the beginnings of life in the Universe, to his most recent work on DNA translation using CRISPR (which is making headlines in many newspapers at the moment!). Dr Mello also spoke about Nobel-awarded work on RNA-interference (RNAi). RNAi is often referred to as the search engine of cell and it allows researchers to rapidly “knock out” the expression of specific genes and to thus define the biological functions of those genes. RNAi also provides a potential therapeutic avenue to silence genes that contribute to disease.

After a fascinating talk and a busy Q&A session, it was on to lunch with a group of UMB students, in the beautiful Museum of Dentistry. Dr Mello spent time with each of the students, and made sure to have a photo opp with them too.

Once lunch was over, it was off to Johns Hopkins University. Dr Mello was introduced to another full auditorium by Landon King, Executive Vice Dean, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr Mello gave another fascinating talk, where he introduced the "real Nobel Prize Winner" - the nematode worm.

At JHU, Dr Mello also spent over an hour speaking with students at a Round Table - there were some great questions asked, and very fruitful discussions on topics from publishing, to work-life-balance and the challenges facing today's young scientists. Dr Mello rounded off a busy day with a working dinner!

The next morning on 5th November, it was an early start to visit MedImmune, a key sponsor for this event. Bahija Jallal, Executive Vice President, MedImmune introduced Dr Mello to the large audience of scientists, all eager to hear more about RNAi. Dr Mello's talk was once again fascinating - he introduced the germline "...the immortal lineage" 

Dr Mello's talk ended on a very poignant note - a picture of his daughter, surrounded by gold Nobel medals (containing chocolate!). She is diabetic, and without insulin, she could not survive. Dr Mello used the opportunity to urge scientists working in drug discovery to collaborate, saying "We must be open and work together. This is not a game we're playing, people like my daughter depend on medical research"

Here, the audience for the Q&A was a little different - scientists at all stages of their career, working in the pharma industry. Despite that, many of the interactions were similar to those Dr. Mello had with a student audience. Scientists have the same concerns everywhere - dealing with negative reviews of work, publishing in the 'right' journals, knowing when to move on to something new... and Dr Mello discussed all of these and more with the scientists at  MedImmune.

After a lunch with MedImmune's junior scientists, Dr Mello was interviewed by the Nobel Media team - during that interview, we think we managed to capture some real insights into Dr Mello's career, his life, his research and his background - we can't wait to share them with you on our site  over the coming weeks and months. All of Dr. Mello's visit was filmed by our hardy film crew, who took a well-earned break afterwards!

It looks like Dr Mello's visit was well-received - have a look at a selection of tweets from the event itself! Storify account of Dr. Mello's visit

All of the event photos, Dr Mello's lecture video, and a collection of highlights from the event can be viewed here.

Soon we'll share the many many pearls of wisdom that Dr Mello shared on his trip, in the form of bit-sized-clips. Expect to hear about everything from his experience at school, to receiving that phone call from Stockholm.

About Nobel Laureate Craig Mello
Dr. Craig C. Mello is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland, United States, and holds the Blais University Chair in Molecular Medicine and is Co-Director of the RNA Therapeutics Institute at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts. Dr. Mello shared the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Dr. Andrew Fire, for their “discovery of RNA interference (RNAi) - gene silencing by double-stranded RNA.”

Before the Nobel Prize, Dr. Mello’s work on RNAi was recognised with several awards including the National Academy of Sciences Molecular Biology Award, the Canadian Gairdner International Award, the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Award, and the Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

About the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative and Nobel Media AB
The Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative is a global program that brings Nobel Laureates to universities and research centers to inspire and engage young scientists, the scientific community and the general public by sharing the exciting stories about the Nobel Laureates and their Nobel Prize-awarded achievements. The Initiative is organized by Nobel Media AB, the company managing media rights for the Nobel Prize. Please visit:    Nobel Media®, Nobel Prize® are registered trademarks of the Nobel Foundation.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Nobel Laureates: Their Early Inspirations

...Admit it. Plenty of us have pictured how we would respond to THAT phone call from Stockholm, telling us that we’d been awarded a Nobel Prize. But it’s good to know that many of the science Nobel Laureates admit to having had that same daydream too! Peter Agre, who shared the 2003 Chemistry Prize with Roderick MacKinnon, was very honest when speaking to a group of Russian students:

Each of the Nobel Prizes can be shared between up to three individuals each year, but even then, the actual number of Nobel Laureates in the sciences is tiny. In total, 565 people have been awarded one of the Science Prizes (Physiology or Medicine, Physics and Chemistry) since 1901, and that includes the eight newest Laureates announced last week. Higgs, Levitt and Schekman and their fellow awardees, find themselves in a very privileged position! But did they ever really think that they would be awarded a Nobel Prize?

Elizabeth Blackburn, who shared the Medicine or Physiology prize with Jack Szostak and her colleague Carol Greider in 2009, never expected the odds to fall in her favour:

Did these highly-respected researchers always dream of becoming scientists? And what were their early influences? Oliver Smithies, who shared the 2007 Medicine or Physiology prize with Mario Capecchi and Sir Martin Evans, describes what he wanted to be when he grew up – how would you answer that question?

And Peter Doherty, who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Rolf M. Zinkernagel, realised that he was good at science in school, but may have ended up on a completely different road:

It’s clear from answers like this that the one thing that these scientists have in common is their love for their work. But, were they always destined for scientific greatness? Many “Science Laureates” hail from scientific families – Bruce Beutler, the 2011 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine spoke fondly to an American student about the role that science played in his childhood:

These clips form part of the Nobel Prize Inspiration Initiative (NPII), which aims to inspire and communicate with scientists, at all stages of their career. The initiative, led by Nobel Media, brings a Laureate to a series of universities, where they give a lecture and take part in series of Q&A sessions with young scientists. This new website hopes to extend the reach of the initiative, by sharing of the content from these events with a global audience of scientists. The collection of short clips and lecture videos allows the Laureates to share their insights on everything from their childhood, through to communicating research, career options, and maintaining a good work-life balance.

You can also follow the initiative on Twitter @NobelPrizeii or Facebook #NPII