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!