Bridging the Gap – July 2021
Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.
Welcome to my July blog, we have had a busy few months at the BRC, so there is lots of exciting activity to update you on.
Since we were awarded BRC status by the NIHR in 2017, everyone involved in the Manchester BRC has played a meaningful role in establishing us as a leader in translational and experimental medicine; delivering on our commitments and focusing on our goal of creating lasting change for all by bridging the gap between new discoveries and individualised care. We have come a long way in that journey and in late May, we submitted our ‘stage one’ application (part of a two-stage process) to the NIHR for seeking BRC status from 2022-2027. Such an award would allow us to continue to push forward on this journey, so we can achieve even more for our patients and communities.
Preparing and submitting the BRC bid has really embodied our ‘One Manchester’ approach, with significant involvement from BRC staff, researchers, and our partners. I am incredibly grateful for the hard work, dedication, and collaborative spirit shown by everyone involved in this process, and it is a clear testimony to the huge strides we are making in Manchester BRC.
Hot on the heels of looking to the future with the new bid, we have also submitted our Manchester BRC 2020/21 annual report, which has given us the opportunity to look back on our many successes over the past year. There is no doubt that COVID-19 dominated, however, it is a reflection of the incredible resilience of our researchers, clinicians, and core infrastructure staff that we were able to still deliver against many of our medium and long-term objectives.
Over the next few months, we will be sharing highlights from the annual report across our social media channels – including our performance metrics across a range of indicators and latest value-added case studies that describe the impact of our work, so please do keep an eye on the BRC Twitter page, and share these fantastic stories across your networks.
One area featured in our 2020/21 report was an update on our Health Inequalities Steering Group, which is driving this key strategic focus for our Manchester BRC. Last month’s report from Sir Michael Marmot, ‘Build Back Fairer in Greater Manchester: Health Equity and Dignified Lives’, provided a timely reminder of the impact of such inequalities and how COVID-19 then had such an unequal impact across the country and our region. This report does however offer a clear vision for how we as a city-region can raise the bar on health outcomes, and Manchester BRC will continue to play its part in achieving these goals.
Our Health Inequalities Steering Group has been central to the development of the new Inclusive Research online learning module – a collaboration led by Vocal, with the Manchester BRC, the Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Research Advisory Group (BRAG), the NIHR Manchester Clinical Research Facility (CRF) and The University of Manchester’s i3HS Hub. This free online resource, which utilises case studies and data from across Greater Manchester, is now available to help researchers, research staff and public contributors to develop and apply an inclusive approach in their own research environments, and I would encourage all Manchester BRC staff to take up this learning opportunity.
This fantastic new eLearning was officially launched by Vocal Director, Dr Bella Starling, at the International Festival of Public Health yesterday – which I am told should be uploaded to the Festival’s YouTube channel in due course. I was honoured to speak alongside Bella and BRAG members during our BRC Special Session, where I outlined how Manchester BRC fits into the wider research landscape and our work to address health inequalities. As I mentioned during the session, Greater Manchester has some of the highest levels of health inequalities in the UK, and sadly COVID-19 has exacerbated many of these. Together with Vocal and our public contributors, Manchester BRC is leading the charge for inclusive research, which is something we should all be proud of.
Our work to address inequalities will be further strengthened through our commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI); and it is a priority for us to ensure that all of our staff and researchers have equity in terms of career progress and development opportunities. In the coming weeks, we will be launching a workforce survey to better understand our staff and student demographic and their access to these opportunities. This is hugely important in helping us to identify any underrepresented groups and building plans into tackling this, so again, please do take part.
A key strength of BRCs is in bringing together partnerships and collaborations for the greater good of our patients and communities, and we have strong links to the BRCs across the North via our collaboration with the Northern Health Science Alliance (NHSA). The NHSA is a health research partnership between the leading NHS trusts, universities, and Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) in Northern England. The NHSA works with BRCs across Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, and Sheffield to build a collective innovation ecosystem. By building on the collective power of the Northern BRCs, we can see the lasting changes that our research is playing in the lives of millions of people across our regions, by translating lab-based scientific breakthroughs into potential new treatments, diagnostics and medical technologies.
We recently contributed to the NHSA publication of ‘NIHR Northern BRC Collaborative: Innovating With Industry’ brochure. Our collaborations with industry partners, from large multi-nationals to local SMEs, are pivotal in driving patient and population benefit and tackling local health inequalities. This brochure describes some excellent examples of how our regional infrastructure supports and enables early phase commercial development and evaluation.
We have made significant progress in our contribution towards the national NIHR Health Informatics Collaborative (HIC). This is a national network of 28 NHS trusts and health boards, which aims to combine and re-use NHS data for research through collaborative large-scale datasets. The first clinical area able to utilise this data is the HIC’s Cardiovascular theme. Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT) teams, led by Dr Stuart Grant, have made vital contributions to this national initiative and will now be working alongside other UK teams to facilitate several high-profile studies. Meanwhile COVID-19 datasets from MFT and Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust are also now being used within the Renal Transplantation theme. This is excellent progress and further demonstrates the reach of Greater Manchester researchers. I was delighted to see Manchester BRC’s Head of Digital Strategy, Ruth Norris, and Data Manager, George Tilston, showcasing this work at the virtual HIC annual event back in April.
News from across the BRC
I would like to congratulate Jemma Haines, PHD Fellow in our Respiratory theme, on her recent award of an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list. Jemma received the award for her work in the field of upper airway respiratory disorders in speech and language therapy, alongside significant work to support modifications in practice during the pandemic. Jemma has also been appointed Chief Allied Health Professional (AHP) for MFT – something we hope will only strengthen our existing ties between our BRC and AHP-led research across Greater Manchester.
As part of our Musculoskeletal theme’s regular contribution to Arthritis Digest magazine, Professor Hector Chinoy recently discussed his research into the rare autoimmune condition Myositis. Also within our MSK theme, 22-year-old lupus patient, Sally, shared her experience of taking part in research, as part of the NIHR IMID BioResource. I am also delighted to hear that MSK Theme Lead, Professor Anne Barton. has been selected as a mentor for the national NIHR Training Camp in September, where she will be helping to support around 70 trainees from across the NIHR infrastructure. Anne will be sharing an update after the event, and I look forward to hearing more on that in the coming months.
Finally, a study by our Respiratory researchers, led by Dr Chris Kosmidis, BRC researcher and Senior Lecturer in Infectious Diseases at The University of Manchester, discovered COPD patients exposed to mould experienced significantly more flare-ups, and were more likely to visit their GP.
In training news, the Innovator Training Scheme – our joint programme with Translation Manchester to support research active staff to develop their skills in working with industry – has been a great success during its initial programme run. There will be a short break over the summer before returning in September, but if you have missed any of the previous sessions you can catch up on them via our YouTube playlist. Our speakers have also shared their expert advice via the accompanying ‘Innovator Insights’ blogs, with editions on the essentials of innovation, entrepreneurship, and intellectual property.
Translation Manchester has also launched their 2021 Informatics Training Scheme, which is open to BRC staff and researchers. The scheme offers researchers of all career stages the chance to upskill their informatics skills, through selected postgraduate course units within the School of Biological Science (SBS) – with more information and how to apply available on the Translation Manchester website.
The CRUK Manchester Lung Cancer Centre of Excellence – led by Cancer Precision Medicine Theme Lead, Professor Caroline Dive – is hosting a weekly series of ‘How do I…?’ lectures over the next six weeks. These aim to share knowledge and approaches to lung cancer research, with topics on biomarkers, meta-analyses, patient-derived models and more.
The latest funding call for the NIHR Senior Investigator award is now open. Senior Investigators (SIs) are among the most prestigious researchers funded by the NIHR and are outstanding leaders of patient and people-based research. We are proud to have a number of SIs across our research themes, and this is testament to the talent we have here in Manchester. The four-year award offers £20,000 a year to successful applicants – who are selected based on their NIHR and applied research focus, training and leadership record, and individual research excellence and impact. The deadline for applications is Wednesday 25 August. If you are thinking of applying, please contact our BRC Operations Manager, Lisa Miles, who can signpost you to further support.
The NIHR produces a weekly funding bulletin featuring open and upcoming funding calls, which BRC colleagues can subscribe to via the NIHR website. Two such funding opportunities from Translation Manchester are currently open. The Access to Expertise (A2E) programme, which supports investigators to access technical expertise outside their immediate research group, and the Projects for Translation (P4T) programme, which encourages interdisciplinary work to address challenges in translational research. Both are open to BRC researchers, and you can find out more via the Translation Manchester website.
With school holidays now underway, I hope you manage to enjoy a break and some time with family and friends. Until next month, take care and look after yourselves.
Professor Ian N Bruce
Director, NIHR Manchester BRC