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Bridging the Gap – June 2022

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 1 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Welcome to my June blog. It has been a couple of months since my last, and there is plenty to catch up on.

The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) – who recently updated their name to reflect their research in social care – awards Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) status and funding every five years to NHS trust and university partnerships demonstrating excellence in experimental medicine and the translation of lab-based scientific breakthroughs into potential new treatments, diagnostics and medical technologies. Over the past 12 months the team has been working hard on the two-stage application process, building on the success of the current BRC, to apply for funding for the five years (2022-2027). April saw our final interview, which was attended by myself, Professor Graham Lord, Dean of The University of Manchester’s (UoM) Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health (FBMH), Sir Mike Deegan CBE, Chief Executive of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT), and Professors Ananya Choudhury (Advanced Radiotherapy), Caroline Dive (Cancer Precision Medicine), Chris Griffiths (Dermatology) and Shon Lewis (Mental Health) from across our research themes.

I would like to reiterate my thanks to our fantastic interview team on the day, as well as our operational and project management staff for their efforts with supporting and driving forward our bid preparations over the past year. I will bring you news of the final outcome once we receive it in the coming weeks.

Another major development has been the publication of the NIHR Race Equality Public Action Group (REPAG) framework. Race and ethnicity play a major role in health outcomes, however evidence shows that research does not always address the needs of those who might benefit the most. In addition, the people who take part in research rarely reflect our diverse population, as those from minority communities take part less than others due to exclusionary systems and practices. Finally, our research workforce lacks the diversity needed within its own ranks. The framework aims to help assess how policies, practices and culture could be changed to better serve diverse communities, foster improved race relations and ultimately improve healthcare delivery, as well as ensure the diversity of our workforce is representative of this too.

Led by colleagues from Vocal alongside public contributors and staff from minority communities, we were delighted for Greater Manchester to be one of 16 pilot sites to contribute to the trial of the NIHR REPAG.

While other pilots focus on a single research institution, Greater Manchester’s contribution to the framework was unique in that it involved the whole of our research ecosystem, including Manchester BRC, our host organisations MFT and UoM, and wider NHS and NIHR infrastructure. Throughout this activity, we have examined a whole host of policies, governance, and training for areas where we can improve our practice around race equality and representation, alongside workshops to raise awareness of this among senior leaders in research. Findings from these centred on three main themes:

  1. Developing capacity and confidence within the research ecosystem to become anti-racist
  2. Increasing representation of people with living experience of racial inequalities within our NIHR infrastructure governance and workforce
  3. Developing systems and processes to address race equality at all stages of research and public involvement.

Ensuring clinical research, care and treatment is representative of the whole population is of the highest importance if we are to develop new care and treatments that meet the needs of everyone. If we are to truly achieve our mission to drive health improvements and personalised care for all, we know we need to be bold in our aim to actively promote race equality across our clinical research, as well as our workforce. I believe taking part in this pilot programme has helped to set a vision on how we can achieve this.

As part of this framework, we spent time reflecting on our work and certainly found examples of good practice, including the activities of the Health Inequalities Steering Group and recent staff demographic survey – we will be sharing a summary of results in the coming weeks. Such information and data will inform our strategy as we move forward with this work. While this demographic survey is a good first step, we recognise there is much progress to be made in other areas, with the development of an action plan to work towards the recommendations from this pilot and a requirement to join the activities up across our infrastructures. I believe our ‘One Manchester’ approach will help accelerate this across the whole region and our research community. The publication of REPAG, and our own findings throughout the pilot will certainly be prioritised as we move forward. On a personal level, I have been made more aware of how unconscious biases and assumptions can have significant downstream effects on our research quality and its ability to be generalised. As BRC Director, it is therefore vital that we have a fully representative workforce and wide consultation with diverse stakeholders through all our BRC structures so that our research can be better aligned right from the early planning stages.

On a similar note, Equality, Diversity and Human Rights Week 2022 (EQW2022) – which acts as a platform for health and care organisations to highlight their work to create a fairer and more inclusive NHS for patients and staff – took place on 9 to 13 May. To celebrate, we shared a social media campaign featuring a new round of case studies on how our research and public involvement is tackling health inequalities, including:

You can also catch up on the full campaign, including videos of each case study, via this Twitter thread. All of our health inequalities case studies can also be found on the BRC website.

Awards and achievements

First off, a belated congratulations to Professor Rick Body, BRC Innovation and Partnerships Lead, Professor Maya Buch, Rapid Translational Incubator Lead and Musculoskeletal Theme researcher, and Professor Paul Dark, Respiratory Non-fungal Infections Programme Lead, on their appointments as NIHR Senior Investigators – a highly prestigious honour which recognises leading NIHR-funded researchers delivering outstanding research in their respective field. I was delighted to see Rick, Maya, and Paul join the ranks alongside several other BRC researchers, and this is further testament to the fantastic leadership, expertise, and quality of research we have here in Manchester.

I would also like to congratulate Professors Corinne Faivre-Finn and Peter Hoskin of our Advanced Radiotherapy Theme, who were recently honoured by the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO). Corinne and Peter – both Oncologists at The Christie – embody Manchester’s world-leading reputation in radiotherapy research and treatments, and this is a fantastic recognition of the work they have done in their field.

Another fantastic achievement to highlight is Dermatology Theme Lead, Professor Chris Griffiths OBE, receiving an Honorary Vice Presidency from the Psoriasis Association. Chris is world-renowned for his expertise in psoriasis, and the award recognises over 20 years of expertise and support he has given the charity, particularly across their medical and research committee, grant applications, and research strategy. In another success for the Dermatology Theme, BRC Dermatology Researcher, Dr Matthew Harries, has been awarded a British Skin Foundation grant to support national Alopecia research.

Congratulations also to Professor Jacky Smith, Programme Lead for Improving Respiratory Symptoms, Lisa Miles, BRC Operations Manager, Colette Inkson, Innovation and Partnerships Manager, Ruth Norris, Head of Digital Strategy / Partnerships, and Bella Starling, Director of Vocal, who were named among Northern Health Science Alliance’s (NHSA) list of 250 trailblazing North Innovation Women. I am immensely proud of the fantastic female leadership we have across the BRC, and this is a real credit to the recipients and their work. Lisa has also been accepted onto the NHS Clinical Entrepreneurship programme for her Wilbo’s Blends business – which produces nutritional blended diet meals for people who require tube-feeding. This prestigious scheme provides a package of learning that supports entrepreneurial thinking and innovation for clinical and non-clinical healthcare professionals.

Lastly, as I touched on earlier in my own thanks on work for the BRC bid, our core team make huge contributions to our work. I was delighted to see our Training Lead, Jane Crosbie, and Project Managers, Emma Thorpe (Cancer Prevention and Early Detection) and Rebecca Elliot (Advanced Radiotherapy), recognised by Vikki Goddard, FBMH Director of Faculty Operations, in her final Professional Services blog, for their work supporting the Professional Services Development Network, and Cancer Research Project Managers Network respectively.

In wider BRC news:

Events and training

Given our earlier focus on REPAG, a quick reminder that our Inclusive Research eLearning module – co-developed by Vocal, patient and community leaders, Manchester CRF and the i3HS Hub – is still available to BRC Faculty looking to learn more about these approaches. Manchester CRF have made this training mandatory among their staff, and in our commitment towards inclusive research we are now looking into this too with BRC faculty.

On events, Translation Manchester recently launched the latest round of their Research Impact Training for early career researchers. The programme will run a series of sessions on topics such developing an impact hypothesis, networking effectively digitally and in the real world, writing successful translational funding applications, working with industry and translational research, medical devices, and drug discovery. Places are available on first come, first served basis across two cohorts: 7-9 June, and 20-22 June. For full details, session times and how to apply, contact translation@manchester.ac.uk stating which cohort group you would prefer, your role and the Faculty/School you belong to.

UoM’s Christabel Pankhurst Institute are hosting their next Digital Health Inequalities online seminar on Wednesday 8 June, 1-2pm, where Dr Gindo Tampubolon, Lecturer in Global Health, will be discussing digital technologies has helped with the management of cardiovascular disease in low and middle income countries. To attend, simply paste the zoom link into your browser on the day, or contact digital-inequities@manchester.ac.uk.

The Institute are also welcoming applications for their UMRI Interdisciplinary Research Pump-prime Competition 2022-23, which aims to support interdisciplinary research to leverage further external funding. Awards of up to £50k are available for research across UoM’s three research platforms (digital futures, sustainable futures, and creative Manchester), health equity and inequalities, and enhancement of international strategic partnerships. The deadline for applications is 12pm, Monday 13 June, and full details can be found in the Pankhurst newsletter.

Health Innovation Manchester (HInM) are hosting their ‘SME Collaboration with big corporates and patient and public involvement’ event on Thursday 23 June, 12pm to 3pm, which will explore Johnson & Johnson’s perspective on innovation, collaboration and working with large companies in life sciences. Also supported by HInM, the Manchester Academic Health Science Centre (MAHSC) Cardiovascular Domain research collaboration workshop takes place on Wednesday 29 June, 12.30pm to 4pm. The event aims to foster new collaborations and share innovations between clinical and research teams working in cardiovascular health across our region.

NIHR are hosting a national webinar ‘How to apply public involvement effectively in your research application’ taking place Wednesday 6 July, 1.30pm to 2.45pm. To celebrate Pride month, NIHR’s Central Commissioning Facility (CCF) are also hosting ‘Rainbows, Riots and Research’ – two identical webinars taking attendees through key terminology and concepts relating to LGBTQ+ identities and the social history of Pride. Webinars will be held on Wednesday 1 June, 11am to 12pm (register via Zoom) and Wednesday 15 June, 11am to 12pm (register via Zoom).

Finally, the Francis Crick Institute – a flagship UK charity supporting biomedical research – are hosting their Crick Innovation Challenge event between Friday 22 July and Friday 29 July. This in-person event will see scientists collaborate on challenges around biotech, healthy ageing, laboratory innovation and data-driven health, and is ideal for early career researchers looking to learn more about entrepreneurship and research collaboration. Applications close Friday 17 June.

I do hope you have some time off to relax over the extended Bank Holiday weekend.

Take care for now.

Professor Ian N Bruce

Director, NIHR Manchester BRC