Five big things we found out in 2023

To mark the end of yet another year filled with new discoveries, we’re taking a look back at five big things we found out in 2023.


We showed how genetic clues can reveal lung cancer’s next move.

Researchers at the Crick and UCL published a group of articles as part of the TRACERx study. By looking at changes in the DNA of cancer cells within the same tumour, they can anticipate how those cells will behave in the future.

Being able to predict how a specific tumour might grow or spread to other parts of the body would give us a huge advantage when it comes to deciding on the best treatment options.

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ancient plague dna

We found 4,000-year-old plague DNA - the oldest cases in Britain to date.

By analysing DNA samples from the teeth of individuals who died in Britain around 4,000 years ago, researchers identified three separate cases of the plague-causing Yersinia pestis bacteria.
Understanding how past diseases like the plague spread and evolved over time can help us better understand and respond to modern transmissible diseases.

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COVID-19 brain fog

We started to untangle how COVID-19 affects brain cells

After having a COVID-19 infection, many people report getting ‘brain fog’ and other long-lasting impacts on their ability to think clearly. 

By looking at cell samples in the lab, researchers found that the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19 can affect the blood-brain barrier and damage cells in different ways, depending on which variant is involved.

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thymus stem cells

We identified adult stem cells in the thymus for the first time

The thymus is a gland in the front of the chest that’s primarily responsible for maturing the immune cells our bodies need to fight off infections.

Researchers from the Crick and UCL found that the thymus contains self-renewing adult stem cells, suggesting that it could play an important regenerative role beyond childhood. This new understanding of the thymus might be exploited in the future to boost our immune systems.

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pregnancy brain

We found that mouse brains get ‘rewired’ during pregnancy to prepare for parenthood

It’s already well known that the female body undergoes changes during pregnancy, but we’ve now learned that changes also happen in the brain.
Researchers found that mice who were still pregnant showed increased parental behaviour towards groups of pups. They also observed changes to the number of neurons, and the number of connections between neurons, in certain areas of the brain.

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