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Medical research has a bright future

After nearly eight years at the helm of the MRC as Chief Executive, Professor Sir John Savill steps down at the end of March, just before UK Research and Innovation comes into being on 1 April. Here he reflects on how he’s translated his priorities into research investments which will strengthen the UK research ecosystem for the future.

At the end of this week I will have completed an eventful seven and a half years as CEO of the MRC. Thanks to wonderful support from across the MRC’s extended family, much has been achieved for medical research.

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Pushing dementia research forward through US-UK collaboration

For MRC grants that involve collaborations, almost half (43%) are international. We’re running a symposium in Washington D.C to encourage more of this, by joining up UK early career researchers and National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers working in neurodegeneration. But what’s the international incentive? Three researchers with MRC-NIH Partnership Awards share how they hope to benefit.

Dr Chi-Hun Kim, Dementias Platform UK, University of Oxford

Dr Chi-Hun Kim

Dr Chi-Hun Kim

The UK and US each have rich data sources for dementia research. But there aren’t any efficient UK-US data access channels which make it easier for researchers in the two countries to collaborate.

I plan to use the Dementias Platform UK (DPUK) Data Portal as a channel for more efficient and long-standing collaboration. The portal is a secure one-stop website where researchers can upload their data and analyse it for free. By using this robust MRC-funded facility, I’ll conduct a study using data from both sides of the Atlantic. I’m aiming to get a better picture of how conditions that block or reduce blood flow to the brain might affect the development of dementia.

DPUK and I have been helping South Korea make a similar facility to help with international collaboration. My experiences from the MRC-Korea collaboration will set me up well for this exciting new collaboration. 

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Lessons on how to foster interdisciplinary research

As one of the first cross-council interdisciplinary initiatives, The Environmental and Social Ecology of Human Infectious Diseases Initiative (ESEI)* was developed to respond proactively to the global problem of potential pandemic, epidemic and emerging infectious diseases. Five years on, MRC Programme Manager Morven Roberts shares lessons learnt from the initiative about how to foster future waves of interdisciplinary research.

In the last five years, the Ebola, Zika and yellow fever outbreaks – as well as the critical challenge presented by antimicrobial resistance – have provided continued impetus for research to understand the drivers of emerging or re-emerging infections.

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