Current MRC logo
The Medical Research Council (MRC) is a UK organisation dedicated to "promot[ing] the balanced development of medical and related biological research in the UK".
The MRC is one of seven Research Councils and is answerable to, although politically independent from, the Office of Science and Technology, which - in turn - is part of the Department of Trade and Industry.
It is governed by a council of 14 members, which convenes every two months. Daily management is in the hands of the Chief Executive. Members of the council also chair specialist boards on specific areas of research. For specific subjects, the council convenes committees.
The MRC funds research centres, three main institutes (in Cambridge, Mill Hill and Hammersmith) and 35 smaller units nationwide. Overseas facilities are located in Gambia.
The MRC started as the Medical Research Committee in 1913, its prime role being the distribution of medical research funds under the terms of the 1911 National Insurance Act. This was a consequence of the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Tuberculosis, which recommended the creation of a permanent medical research body. The mandate was not limited to tuberculosis, however.
In 1920, it became the Medical Research Council under Royal Charter. A supplemental Charter would be approved by the Queen at the 17 July 2003 Privy Council.
Important early work carried out under MRC auspices was:
- Identification of the dietary cause of rickets by Sir Edward Mellanby
- Discovery, in 1918, that influenza is caused by a virus
- Description of neurotransmission and the first neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, by Sir Henry Hallett Dale and Otto Loewi, leading to a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1936;
- Development of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming, Sir Ernst Boris Chain and Lord Florey, gaining them the 1945 Nobel Prize;
- Linkage of lung cancer to tobacco smoking by Sir Richard Doll and Sir Austin Bradford Hill in the British doctors study, published in 1956;
- Discovery of the structure of DNA by James D. Watson, Francis Crick, Rosalind Franklin and Professor Maurice Wilkins. They would receive the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for their discovery.
- Development of magnetic resonance imaging in 1973 by Professor Peter Mansfield and independently by Paul Lauterbur. This would lead to the 2003 Nobel Prize.
- Development of monoclonal antibodies by César Milstein and Georges Köhler in 1975 (1984 Nobel Prize)
- The identification, in 1983, of folic acid as a preventive measure for spina bifida and neural tube defects
- Large studies, in the 1970s and 1980s, showing that aspirin can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- The publication of the genome of C. elegans, the first organism to receive this treatment, in 1998.
- The ongoing Heart Protection Study, showing benefits of primary prevention with simvastatin in patients at high risk for cardiovascular disease.
In all, scientists associated with the MRC have received 22 Nobel Prizes in both Medicine or Physiology and Chemistry.
As Chief Executive Officers (originally secretaries) served:
- MRC official web site (http://www.mrc.ac.uk)