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Announcing the Women in Cell Biology Early Career Award Medal

To mark the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the BSCB we are pleased and excited to announce the establishment of a new prize, the BSCB Women in Cell Biology Early Career Award Medal. This will be an annual honour awarded to an outstanding female cell biologist who has started her own research group in the UK within the last 7 years (with allowance for career breaks due to children or for other legitimate reasons)

“While the concept of women-only prizes is controversial, most scientists think that we lose far too many talented, young, female scientists. We hope that this award will help raise the profile of some of our most promising young stars at a crucial stage in their career and that the awardees will serve as inspiring role models for the next generation of female cell biologists.” – Professor Jordan Raff, President of the BSCB

This new prize will complement the already established Hooke Medal, awarded annually by the BSCB to a UK-based cell biologist of either gender who has made exceptional contributions to the field. From 2015, the Hooke Medal will be awarded to someone who started his or her own group within the last 14 years (with allowance for career breaks due to children or for other legitimate reasons).

The winner of the 2014 Hooke Medal was Dr Anne Bertolotti from the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.  A full list of previous Hooke Medal winners can be found here.

The BSCB committee is currently inviting nominations for both the Hooke Medal and the WICB Early Career Award Medal from its membership.  Candidates must provide a full CV and have to be nominated by two BSCB members who should both provide a short summary of the candidate’s major contributions to cell biology. Submission should be sent to the BSCB Secretary, Grant Wheeler ( The deadline for nominations is the 1st August. Winners will be selected by the BSCB Committee and will be presented with their medal at the BSCB/BSDB Annual Spring Meeting in Warwick (April 12-15th, 2015), where they will deliver their Medal Lecture.


WICB Medal Design Competition

We are launching an open competition for the design of the WICB Early Career Award Medal. Entrants should provide either one or two high-resolution images or drawings (one for the front, one for the back – indicating which is which) (see here for images of the Hooke Medal designed by Brad Amos, as guidance). The designs should reflect some aspect of cell biology and include the words “BSCB” and “WICB Early Career Award”. Entrants should send their images to Grant Wheeler ( by 1st August 2014. 

The winner will be selected by the BSCB committee and announced on 1st September 2014. The committee reserves the right to chose designs from two separate submissions for the front and back of the medal and make alterations to fonts and the design (subject to the designers approval) pre-production. There is no monetary prize for the winner, however if the winner is a BSCB member they will be invited to attend the prize-giving at the Annual Spring Meeting (at the BSCB’s expense) and their winning design will also be  promoted via the usual channels. 

Science Writing Prize Winner Announced

The 2014 Science Prize Winner is Samiha Shaikh, from the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research. Focussing on pain, the essay was judged to be very clearly written and well structured. You can read Samiha’s essay here.

Jenny Rohn, our judge this year will also be publishing the essay on her Lablit website. Jenny was also impressed with another entrant’s essay and will be publishing that too.

Welcome to the new BSCB website

For well over a year we have been discussing the need to revamp the BSCB website and towards the end of 2013 we bit the bullet and embarked on the tendering process that has brought us here. We are really happy with the result and hope you are too. The aim was to give the site a fresh new look whilst retaining the majority of the content. It will hopefully allow us to update content more regularly, use more imagery and multimedia, and use blogs and e-newsletters to keep members better informed. We have even entered the modern age and have a twitter feed (!) which we hope to use to full effect at the Spring Meeting in Warwick.

You can send feedback comments directly to me or if you have a few minutes to spare take part in a survey here.

Thanks for visiting.

Paul Andrews – BSCB Web Coordinator

Image Competition Winners Announced

And the winners are…

The central nervous system of a Grasshopper embryo.

The central nervous system of a Grasshopper embryo.

The £200 first prize goes to a beautiful and tenuous array of cells comprising the developing central nervous system of the grasshopper embryo taken by Dr. Anna Franz in the School of Biochemistry at the University of Bristol. The second prize of £100 goes to the vibrant and striking image of human embryonic stem cells that have undergone neural differentiation into rosette-like clusters, by taken Dr. Patrick Ovando-Roche, based in the Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology at Imperial College, London. The third place prize goes to Dr. Louise Hughes, Head of Bio-imaging at Oxford Brookes University for a colourful 3D rendering of kissing trypanosomes. Who said cell biology wasn’t interesting?

You can see the winning images (and previous year’s winners) here.

This year saw a record number of entries and I’d like to thank all entrants for submitting their cell biology images in this closely fought competition. We look forward to next year’s entires – so keep snapping!

Science Writing Prize 2014

Understanding the bliss of pain: why it is all in your head

by Samiha S. Shaikh

Cambridge Institute of Medical Research, Cambridge, UK.

Stubbing your toe, scalding your hand, breaking your leg, eating a pound of chillies…Can you imagine life without pain? At first it seems like an excellent idea, making us blissfully oblivious to all of these unwanted discomforts and allowing us to get on with our lives without interruptions. After all, surely such an unpleasant sensation can have no advantage?

Think again. In fact, it may come as a surprise that we don’t have to imagine a completely pain free life at all; rather than being the stuff of science fiction, for people with congenital insensitivity to pain (CIP) this is reality. They have a complete inability to sense pain from birth, similar to a faulty circuit in which the switch does not work and the light bulb does not light up. Perhaps life without pain isn’t so rosy after all. During teething babies want to bite on anything in sight, including their tongues and lips. As they don’t feel pain, babies with CIP chew right through their tongues and lips. They later suffer other injuries that go unnoticed including severe corneal abrasions, as a result of scratching or rubbing the eyes too hard and fractures or burns. Without the warning signals that pain provides, a child with CIP can break their leg yet walk on it all day or cause sight-damaging corneal problems without noticing. As a result of all the complications, people with CIP typically have a much-reduced life expectancy.

So if putting up with some pain means you live longer, I think most peoples’ choice would be the same as mine! But what if we feel too much pain? At the other end of the spectrum are people with the condition primary erythromelalgia (PE) who have a much lower pain threshold and hence feel too much pain. Their light bulb lights up too brightly when the switch is turned on. These people suffer from burning pain in the feet, legs and hands which is easily triggered by exercise or standing for too long or even just by warm weather. Even wearing shoes can be so painful that it prevents people from going to work or school.

While both a lack of and excessive pain can be devastating, chronic pain can be useless and maladaptive. Normally pain signals are detected by receptors called nociceptors in damaged tissues and passed as electric impulses via pain nerves to the pain sensing centres in the brain. In the face of a prolonged barrage of signals, the system can become disrupted and dissociated from tissue damage so that the pain centres remain active constantly even after the damage has resolved. The light bulb continues to light up even when the switch is off. ‘So this pain is all in my head?’ comes the question. Of course it is, but then so is the pain you feel when you stub your toe and this does not make either any less real. Pain is ‘felt’ in the brain rather than in the periphery.

Our responses to pain are to a degree determined by our genes. Indeed, the underlying cause of CIP and PE is genetic. Surprisingly, although the diseases are completely contrasting, both CIP and PE are caused by mutations in the gene SCN9A.

You may well be wondering how mutations in the same gene, SCN9A, can cause pain insensitivity and also increased pain perception. By taking a look at the function of SCN9A we can gain an understanding as to why mutations in the same gene result in two diseases that are contrasting. SCN9A is a sodium channel that is located on nociceptors and without it, the transmission of a painful stimulus from sensory nerves to the brain cannot occur. In CIP, patients have a shorter form of SCN9A that cannot perform its usual function and ultimately doesn’t allow for the transmission of painful stimuli from the skin to the brain. In contrast mutations that cause PE increase the activity of SCN9A and thus increases the ability of nociceptors to transmit a pain signal to the brain, making these people supersensitive to pain.

So it seems that mutations in SCN9A can cause extremely severe forms of altered pain sensation that are at two different ends of the spectrum. In between these extreme disorders, there is a wide variation in normal responses to pain We all have genetic variations i.e. slight differences in our genes, which make us code for slightly different proteins that in most cases are harmless but in some cases can lead to slightly different properties of the protein. Interestingly, researchers have identified and shown that variation in SCN9A are accountable for the range of pain sensitivity in normal individuals. So, not only can mutations in SCN9A cause terrible alterations to pain threshold, but they can also only slightly alter pain thresholds but not enough to cause disease. However, there are lots of other genes involved: NGF, NTRK1 to name a few.

From CIP and PE we know that SCN9A are key in pain sensation, and novel analgesics targeted to this protein are in the making, including the development of SCN9A blockers that prevent the transmission of pain signals from nociceptors to the brain. With the lessons learned from rare diseases such as CIP and PE we may be able to develop treatments for something much more common: chronic pain that affects up to 60% of people in the UK.

Rather than a simple switch that turns a light bulb on and off allowing us to sense pain, there is an intricate network of much more complicated dimmer switches and regulatory mechanisms which interconnect and affect the system, sometimes surprisingly. Pain signalling is vital and when something goes wrong, the fine tuning  of events in this complex system are turned upside down and then and only then do we realise the gift and bliss of pain.


BSCB Newsletter, Winter 2013

Welcome to the Winter 2013 issue of the BSCB newsletter. You may have noticed the absence of a spring newsletter this year. After much discussion of whether or not the newsletter

newsletterW2k13_thumbshould go fully electronic, we have decided to keep one hard copy of the newsletter a year that should arrive by post in time for a relaxing Christmas read, with a shorter update eNewsletter sent by email to members in spring.

  • Anne Bertolotti is the Hooke medal winner for 2014. Congratulations to Anne who works at the MRC LMB, Cambridge. Also, take a look at the interesting interview with Anne on page 7 about her career and inspirations that was conducted by our new postdoc rep, Alexis Barr.
  • Alexis introduces herself in a piece on page 26 and we also have a new PhD student rep, Claire Mills and you can get to know more about her and her plans on page 27. The BSCB committee voted in four new members this year – Nancy Papalopolou, Ana Pombo, Silke Robatzek and James Wakefield – and their contact details are on page 30 along with the complete list of current BSCB committee members.

The Editor:
Kate Nobes
University of Bristol

View on ISSUU



The sun was shining gloriously in Warwick today and the Spring meeting is now underway. The Graduate Symposium this afternoon was a success and the two plenary  talks from Janet Rossant and Kai Simons  are coming up tonight  – followed by the all important pub quiz. The challenge this year is to make sure our President doesn’t win again!


BlogByte: What’s in a name? Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology (SB) is a relative newcomer to the biology arena, but by the time you graduate in science it could be well established. [In July 2013 the UK Government made a £24 million cash injection into SB]. So what is ‘synthetic biology’? Like all new ideas a definition of Synthetic Biology will probably change overtime. At present the subject is defined by a group of synthetic biologists on their website, as (A) the design and construction of new biological parts, devices and systems and, (B) the re-design of existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes. The UK Royal Society define synthetic biology as ‘an emerging area of research that can broadly be described as the design and construction of novel artificial biological pathways, organisms or devices, or the re-design of existing natural biological systems.’ More information is available at and search for ‘synthetic biology 101’ and ‘What is Synthetic Biology?

Winter Newsletter available online

The Winter 2013 issue of the BSCB newsletter is now available to read on ISSUU. You may have noticed the absence of a spring newsletter this year. After much discussion of whether or not the newsletter should go fully electronic, we have decided to keep one hard copy of the newsletter a year that should have arrived by post before Christmas, with a shorter updates by eNewsletter (sign up on the right of this page) sent by email to members in spring and autumn.

The Newsletter features an interview with our 2014 Hooke Medal Winner Anne Bertolotti about her career and inspirations conducted by our new postdoc rep, Alexis Barr. Alexis introduces herself in a piece on p26 and we also have a new PhD student rep, Claire Mills and you can get to know more about her and her plans on p27. There is also the President’s report. The 2013 Science Writing Prize winner’s essay, a report on the I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here competition which the BSCB sponsored and which our own Alexis Barr took part in!. There are book reviews, lots of meeting reports and much more.