Making a difference: Impact report 2017

Developing the human capacity to do research

Chapter Six

Developing the human capacity to do research

Introduction

Research can only take place if there are a sufficient number of trained and engaged researchers who are able to take on the work, and there are the right facilities and resources to allow research to progress. Supporting researchers is a vital part of ensuring that new concepts are developed into treatments for patients. Funders can assess how well they are developing this capacity by looking at three aspects:

Key stats

Career progression

Many funders want to support the development of skilled researchers in their own disease area. Tracking where researchers move at the end of awards allows them to see how effective their career development programme is.

20% (1,075) of 5,287 awards led to 2,039 research team members moving into new positions

Number of researchers moving into new positions per award:

Type of researchers that moved into new positions:

When we look at all staff, we see a similar trend.

Figure 17 Figure 17. Which sector did the staff reported move into?

Where the researchers moved:

See further information in the appendix 1.


Case study: Diabetes UK

Early career support from Diabetes UK allowed Dr Richard Oram to complete a PhD and gain an NIHR clinical lectureship.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition where the body’s own immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Daily doses of insulin are vital for the survival of the 345,000 people living with Type 1 diabetes in the UK.

In 2011, Dr Richard Oram was awarded a Diabetes UK Clinical Training Fellowship. Dr Oram showed for the first time that most people who have had type1 diabetes for over 5 years are still producing very low levels of insulin, suggesting that they still have some functional beta cells that are either escaping the immune attack or being regenerated. This exciting finding generated considerable interest in the diabetes research community, and opened up new opportunities to better understand the causes of Type 1 diabetes and to develop effective new therapies.

Diabetes UK

Dr Oram completed his PhD in 2014, and went on to become an NIHR Clinical Lecturer. He continues to work in the field of diabetes research, focusing on the study of endogenous insulin production in people with Type 1 diabetes and the work carried out during his PhD has allowed him and his colleagues to secure follow on funding worth in excess of £1.5 million.

“My three-year Diabetes UK research fellowship was life-changing, and I am grateful to the charity for giving me the opportunity. It has been a lot of fun and I hope it is just the beginning” Researcher Perspective


Awards and recognitions

Collecting information about the awards and recognition received by researchers allows funders to assess the long-term success of the researchers they fund. Awards and recognition can stimulate the career of a researcher, increasing the profile of their research.

29% (1,552) of 5,287 awards led to 7,737 awards and recognitions, 6,409 of these were unique [1]

Types of awards and recognitions:

For further information see appendix 1.


Case study: Worldwide Cancer Research

Worldwide Cancer Research is funding a nanotechnologist whose work has the potential to improve treatment delivery in most forms of cancer as well as other diseases

Radiotherapy is one of the main forms of treatment against cancer. It uses high energy rays, to destroy the cancerous cells. Most current radiotherapy is fired from outside the body meaning it has to pass through the healthy tissues that surround the tumour first; causing side effects.

Worldwide Cancer Research funded Dr Khuloud Al-Jamal, a world leader in the area of nanomedicine, to study nanocapsules, which are tiny particles, one-thousandth the size of a human hair. Dr Al-Jamal is testing whether nanocapsules can be used to deliver siRNAs – molecules that make tumours more susceptible to radiotherapy – and radioactive particles directly to the tumour. Direct delivery methods like this could greatly reduce the toxic effects of radiotherapy in healthy tissues, and minimise the side effects that many cancer patients experience. Similar nanocapsule based delivery methods for drugs and siRNA’s would be useful in a broad range of other diseases.

In 2012 Dr Al-Jamal won the prestigious Royal Pharmaceutical Society Science Award for her work in the field. This award is given every year, to a pharmaceutical scientist who has a proven record of independent research and published work that shows outstanding promise.

Worldwide Cancer Research“Even when they are effective in killing cancer cells, radiotherapy and chemotherapy can cause side-effects, which are sometimes serious enough to stop treatment altogether. Thanks to nanotechnology, our targeted and combination treatment approaches, allow doctors to continue the treatment and to give higher doses to cancer patients, which under normal circumstances are unsafe. Charity funding has helped us to bring these novel ideas to light, as pharmaceutical companies are only interested in investing in ideas that have already been validated in animal studies.” Researcher Perspective


Use of facilities & resources

Researchers need to be able to access high quality facilities to enable them to carry out their research. For funders that support these facilities, it is important to be able to evidence that they are being used.

7% (360) of 5,287 awards used 492 facilities or resources

Types of facilities and resources used:


Case study: Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust part fund Diamond Light Source, the UK’s cutting edge synchrotron that’s enabling innovative research to happen across the spectrum of human health.

Diamond Light Source is the UK’s one national synchrotron, a vast machine half a kilometre in circumference that essentially acts like a giant microscope, producing bright light that scientists can use to study a vast range of subject matter. Many modern experiments require the bright beam of light that can only be generated by a synchrotron.

Wellcome TrustDiamond is jointly funded by the Wellcome Trust and the UK Government through the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC). The synchrotron is free at the point of use if researchers are successful in a competitive application process, and provided that the results are placed into the public domain. This means the best research projects from across the full spectrum of UK research can use this world class facility without being limited by the funding they have available.

Diamond light source was reported as a resource used by 42 awards funded by 11 of our member charities. The focus of these awards crossed the spectrum of disease showing that the investment is helping drive a huge range of medical research forward.

“My group are totally dependent upon Diamond for our crystallographic studies of key proteins in bacterial cell wall biosynthesis and cell division. None of our recent major discoveries, published in Nature Communications and the EMBO Journal, would have occurred without the access to Diamond’s beamlines and its support staff.” Researcher Perspective


References

  1. Unique outputs refer to the actual number of outputs generated. The number of total outputs is higher because this figure includes outputs that have been attributed to more than one award. ↩︎