Issue 9

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

If you have ever tried your hand at cell culture (the process by which cells are grown under controlled conditions in the lab), then you will probably have come across HeLa cells, the most widely propagated continuous cell line. I once cultured these whilst studying the protein interactions that take place inside cells. At the time, I didn’t think about whom these cells had originally come from or what had caused them to divide indefinitely. In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot tells the story of the lady from whom these cells were taken. Read more »

Equal Opportunity Science

Astute readers of this issue's Focus articles may have already noticed a conspicuous absence. When we were planning articles about famous scientists who have worked or are working at Edinburgh, it soon became apparent that there were no women among the people we'd proposed. Not only that, but off the top of our heads, the (mostly female) Focus team couldn't think of a single historical female scientist with a link to the University. Read more »

The Lifestyle Diseases Timebomb

In a world where we are continuously told about the increasing risk of any number of diseases such as diabetes and heart-disease, Mismatch: The Lifestyle Diseases Timebomb breaks down humans' evolutionary journey in an attempt to answer the question of how these lifestyle diseases have come about. This book is a veritable voyage through the evolution of humans and a large number of other species. Read more »

A Bit of Edinburgh Medical History

The public’s appetite for crime is greater than its desire to hear about successes. Consequently, whilst we hear a great deal about Edinburgh’s Dr Knox and his criminal suppliers Burke and Hare, relatively little is said about the city’s more positive pioneering physicians.

From the Barber Surgeons of Surgeons’ Square, to the transplantation unit at Little France, medicine has been taught in Edinburgh since the sixteenth century. In that time, the University and the city were associated with many of modern medicine’s innovators. Three of the greatest are spirited Sir James Young Simpson, indomitable Sophia Jex-Blake and shrewd Sir John Crofton.

Simpson, born in 1811, is perhaps the most famous of the three medics in this selection, and the motto on his coat of arms boldly recalls his most significant achievement: ‘pain conquered.’ Read more »

Dr Hypothesis (Issue 9)

I recently neglected a packet of biscuits and they went all soft, but I believe when cakes go stale they go hard, I don’t actually know because I never let it happen... What’s the difference?

Biscuitless Betty Read more »

Murder Under the Microscope: Sir Sydney Smith

For many, forensics makes us think of handsome detectives who investigate gruesome murders, using cutting-edge science to arrest the culprit. Whilst born a little early to be a TV star himself, Edinburgh nurtured a pioneer of the ‘scientist-detectives’; Sir Sidney Smith.

He arrived from New Zealand as a student, remained as a professor and went on to become Dean of Medicine, with a break in between to organise the medico-legal system of Cairo. His autobiography, Mostly Murder, vividly describes some of his most acclaimed cases and thoughts about putting murder under the microscope. Read more »

The Dead Still Do Tell Tales

The University of Edinburgh is world-renowned for its medical programme and has a long and distinguished history of innovation. What people may not be aware of however are the two unique pathology collections that have played a role in both medical teaching and research. The first is held at the University itself, while the other is in the care of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

The University’s anatomy collection, now known as the Anatomy Resource Centre, was founded by the Munro family. The Munro ‘dynasty’ consisted of three generations who collectively held the Chair of Anatomy at the University of Edinburgh for 126 years. The collection truly flourished under Sir William Turner, Professor of Anatomy from 1867 to 1903, who as particularly interested in comparative anatomy, anthropology and craniology. Read more »

The Best of the Fest

The quality of this city’s science festival always reminds you, after a long winter, why Edinburgh is such an inspiring place to live. Founded in 1989, it’s the oldest and one of the largest science festivals around. It comprises a dizzying number and variety of events spanning the city. Between the 9th and 22nd of April venues like the City Art Centre, the Royal Botanical Gardens, The Edinburgh Zoo, the Royal Observatory, and others will host workshops, talks, screenings, shows, sleepovers (yes, really!), games, courses, and events which defy classification. Like the summer festivals the problem can be an overload of choice, but unlike in August, you probably have some exams this month. Although you have to be economical with your time, the Edinburgh International Science Festival is simply too good to miss. Read more »

Dr McCulloch

“I don't love you for anything but who you are.”

Emily's distant words I will now more than ever hold dear. However, during these difficult times they aren't as reassuring as they might be, mainly because I have never been sure what exactly it is that made me me.

My name is Albert McCulloch, I am the Executive Director to the Institute's Scotland Central Division. Edinburgh born and educated. Top of the University of Edinburgh's Institute training program 2063 and later the youngest practitioner in the then-newly-formed Institute. Now a household name for my pioneering of the Institute's values. “It is the Institute’s aim that all men should be perfect men” –paragraph 1, preamble.

One can only try. Read more »

The mysterious uterus

The uterus is a key player in all aspects of mammalian reproduction, from ovulation to birth. None of us would be here without it and half the population have one, so why are the mechanisms behind some of its main functions still shroudedin mystery? Read more »

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