New science and Nobel Prize winners: WIMM Day 2015

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Once a year, all the scientists in the MRC WIMM come together to discuss their most exciting new research and to catch up with colleagues out of the lab over a cup of coffee and a mini quiche or two. The annual conference is always an excellent day and this year’s event, held on Friday 27th March at the Said Business School, was no exception.

An important aspect of WIMM Day is the opportunity for PhD students to present their work to the entire Institute, and last year the Ita Askonas Medal and Prize was introduced to recognize and reward the contribution that students make to research at the MRC WIMM. This year the Ita Askonas Medal was won by Ummi Abdullah from Peter McHugh’s lab for her talk on defective proteins in Fanconi anaemia. After being presented with her award, Ummi said: ‘I was completely surprised when I was announced as the winner because I thought the other three students were really good too. Ita Askonas championed the recognition of scientific achievement regardless of gender or ethnicity. I am very honoured to be the recipient of a medal named after her.’ The three other students who also presented on the day and received runner’s up prizes were Maria Suciu (Doug Higgs’ lab), Amy Kenyon (Tatjana Sauka-Spengler’s lab) and Pramila Rijal (Alain Townsend’s lab).

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2015 Ita Askonas Medal winner Ummi Abdullah (left) with Scientific Advisory Board chair Prof. Wendy Bickmore, Director Prof. Doug Higgs, and runners up Maria Suciu, Amy Kenyon and Pramila Rijal
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David Clynes

In addition there were varied and stimulating talks delivered by both postdocs and group leaders during the day; over 40 posters covering research from all units within the WIMM were also on display, and the scientists involved in this work were on hand over lunch to take attendees through their discoveries. In keeping with previous years, there was also a prize for the best poster, which this year was awarded to David Clynes from Richard Gibbons’ lab for his poster on the protein ATRX and its potential role in the development of certain cancers. David said: ‘WIMM Day is a great opportunity to present our work to the Institute. It was great honour to receive an award from such a distinguished panel.’

Last year also saw the introduction of the MRC WIMM Public Engagement Prize, awarded to scientists at the Institute who have made an outstanding effort to communicate their research to a non-scientifically educated audience. This year the prize was awarded to Philip Simister for his participation in CRUK Oxford’s Open Day, during which he ran a stand to convey the challenges of developing new anti-cancer drugs. Philip said: ‘I am delighted to be selected for this MRC-sponsored award - thank you. It is a privilege to conduct research in molecular medicine at the MRC WIMM, yet important to step out of the science lab on occasion to impart our specialised knowledge to a very interested public.’

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2015 Public Engagement Prize winner Philip Simister (right) with Director Prof. Doug Higgs and Scientific Advisory Board chair Prof. Wendy Bickmore
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Sir Paul Nurse

The 4th Weatherall Lecture was given by Nobel Prize laureate Sir Paul Nurse, who continues to research the mechanisms underlying how cells grow and divide alongside his role as outgoing President of the Royal Society and Director and Chief Executive of the new Crick Institute in London. His talk, entitled ‘A lecture in two halves: making science work and controlling the cell cycle’ gave the audience insights into Sir Paul’s ground-breaking research career and a chance to learn from his many years at the head of a variety of distinguished research institutions. He spoke of the need for freedom within funding structures to allow for creativity amongst scientists, and to never stop questioning scientific findings – especially our own. It was an uplifting and inspiring end to a day of excellent talks and exciting science.