Making a difference: Impact report 2017

Generating new knowledge

Chapter Two

Generating new knowledge

Introduction

One of the most immediate outcomes of a piece of research is the generation of new knowledge and resources to support further research. This can be split into three aspects:

Key stats

Publications

Publications allow new knowledge to be widely shared amongst the research community, helping to progress and move it in new directions.

62% (3,271) of 5,287 awards generated 29,151 publications, 26,828 of these were unique [1]

Figure 4 Figure 4. Number of publications per award

Number of publications generated per award:

For further information see appendix 1.


Case study: Alzheimer’s Research UK

A researcher funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK published work that sparked a new era for Alzheimer’s research and gave researchers worldwide a new target for treatment development.

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for about two-thirds of cases in older people and affecting around 500,000 people in the UK. During her Alzheimer’s Research UK funded Research Fellowship at University College London, Dr Rita Guerreiro made a landmark genetic discovery which threw a spotlight on the role of the immune system in Alzheimer’s. In 2012, Dr Guerreiro published work showing that rare variations in the DNA code of an immune gene called TREM2 could triple a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s.

The discovery sparked a new wave of research across the globe, providing strong evidence that the body’s natural defense mechanism may actually be driving the onset and progression of the disease.Alzheimer’s Research UK The discovery has already influenced the work of research teams worldwide, and has been cited over 600 times. Alzheimer’s Research UK has invested nearly £500,000 into follow-up studies. For her huge contribution to research, Dr Guerreiro won the Alzheimer’s Research UK Young Investigator of the Year Award 2016.

“Identifying TREM2 as a risk gene has cemented the immune system as a key player in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, breeding a variety of projects in this research area. This increased focus on the immune system will help us as researchers to find new approaches for treatments for Alzheimer’s” Researcher Perspective


Research Tools & Methods

For science to progress, new tools and methods need to be developed and shared with other researchers. These outputs allow other researchers to further develop or use the validated tool in their own research, moving the field forward.

16% (853) of 5,287 awards generated 1,580 research tools and methods, 1,447 of these were unique [1:1]

Types of research tool or method generated:

Figure 5 Figure 5. Types of research tool or methods generated

Material type % of tools and methods
Antibody 2%
Model of mechanisms or symptoms - non-mammalian in vivo 2%
Data analysis technique 1%
Model of mechanisms or symptoms – mammalian in vivo 0%

Figure 6. Other types of research tools and methods generated

For further information see appendix 1.


Case study: Prostate Cancer UK

A novel assay developed by researchers is allowing scientists to investigate a whole new area of treatment possibilities for advanced prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men in the U.K. with on average 1 in 8 suffering from it. AMACR is a protein linked with advanced forms of prostate cancer for which there is currently very few treatment options. High levels of the protein are found in the cancerous cells and research has shown that reducing AMACR levels or blocking it’s activity stops the cancer from growing, making it an exciting target for new drug development.

Prostate Cancer UK funded a PhD student in the lab of Dr Matthew Lloyd at the University of Bath to investigate AMACR. As part of this project the team successfully developed a new assay that allows rapid and quantitative assessment of AMACR activity, which had not previously been possible, and which had been a major problem blocking research into new AMACR focused treatments. This novel assay method has been awarded patents in the U.K. and worldwide.

Prostate Cancer UK has now funded a follow up study which aims to refine the assay and use it to screen for new drugs that could be used to stop AMACR working. Prostate Cancer UK Funding these projects has led to a huge leap forward in the development of new treatments for advanced prostate cancer and has added to the pool of talented researchers working to find a cure. The technology also holds promise for the development of more informative tests to detect and monitor this serious disease.


Research databases and models

Medical research generates large amounts of information, and researchers can use this to create new models to help understand diseases.

6% (296) of 5,287 awards generated 401 research databases and models, 371 of these were unique [1:2]

Types of database or model:

Figure 7 Figure 7. Types of database or model generated

For further information see appendix 1.


Case study: Autistica

A research database being shared by over 45 research projects is helping develop more accurate diagnostic tests and effective interventions for people living with autism.

Autism affects 1 in 100 children in the UK affecting how they communicate with and relate to other people and how they make sense of the world around them. Diagnosis usually occurs around the age of two but earlier diagnosis could allow interventions to take place that minimise the severity of the condition.

Children with an autistic sibling are at a much higher risk of developing autism themselves. Autistica brought together a consortium of charities to fund a project known as BASIS – The British Autism Study of Infant Siblings. The consortium collects and shares data on the development of children with an autistic sibling.

Over 45 individual projects are now making use of this shared dataset which is maximising the use of the collected data and driving research forward swiftly. Key discoveries include new early indicators of autism visible from 6 months of age that could eventually be used for much earlier diagnosis. BASIS also incorporated one of the first clinical trials for autism which showed that early intervention to optimise babies social and communication skills could minimise the severity of autism.

Autistica The success of BASIS has led to over £10m in further funding, kick-started the career of promising autism researchers, and has sparked an affiliated European wide network adding extra participants and expertise to this important work.

“This study is a fantastic example of the power of collaboration - when data is shared openly, everyone benefits: funders, researchers and, most importantly, the people we exist to support. Autistica is immensely proud to have played our part in making this such a success.” Charity 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. ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎