Bridging the Gap – November 2021
“Success is contagious when you surround yourself with people
who refuse to let you down.”
Welcome to my November blog. Back in July, I gave an update on our NIHR application for BRC status for 2022-27, and I am pleased to announce that last month we submitted our final ‘stage two’ application to the NIHR. This ambitious bid aims to go much further in our aim to deliver transformational research for the benefit of our patients and communities. The whole process was made possible by the collaborative effort, hard work and dedication of BRC staff, researchers, and partners. We are now thinking ahead to our interview which will take place in early spring 2022. One of the great privileges of being a BRC Director is being surrounded by so many world-leading researchers and an excellent operational team all working together towards a common goal. I would like to say a huge thank you to the whole team and in this blog, I want to highlight many of the recent successes from our BRC.
This month saw our partners NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) Greater Manchester (GM) host their Evening of Excellence awards. A virtual replacement for their long-running GM Clinical Research Awards, this special edition recognised the exceptional achievements of health and care staff delivering cutting-edge research during the past year – including both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 research. There were many fantastic and inspiring recipients from across Greater Manchester, and I was delighted to see several BRC researchers and projects among them, including: Dermatology Theme Lead Professor Chris Griffiths and his Dermatopharmacology team at Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust; the CORONET study team, which includes Cancer Precision Medicine Theme Lead Professor Caroline Dive; the Respiratory Theme’s Professor Alex Horsley and Dr Tim Felton; the Greater Manchester Care Record team, which includes members of our Informatics and Data Sciences Theme; and BRC Industry Lead, Professor Rick Body. This is a deserved accolade of the passion and wealth of research talent and expertise we possess across our region, and I’d like to pass on my congratulations to everyone who was nominated by their colleagues and peers as deserving recognition.
Congratulations also to Professor Emma Crosbie, Cancer Early Detection Programme Lead, and her team, on winning the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) 2020 Research Paper of the Year. Her study was the first to show that a simple blood test could be used to detect ovarian and other types of cancer in women attending their GP. Professors Will Dixon (Musculoskeletal Theme) and Marcel Van Herk (Advanced Radiotherapy) were also recently named as the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health’s (FBMH) 2021-22 Turing Fellows – which recognises scholars with proven research excellence in data science, artificial intelligence (AI), or a related field. These two new Turing Fellows join our Informatics and Data Sciences Theme Lead Professor Niels Peek, who also had his Fellowship renewed for 2021-22.
Of course, COVID-19 remains a top priority across our research portfolio, and September saw the launch and first recruits for the Gritstone trial, taking place at the NIHR Manchester Clinical Research Facility (CRF) at Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI). This phase one study is trialling a new generation of COVID-19 vaccine that should have broader protection and potential to be effective against future variants – the CRF is the only European recruitment centre. This again shows how our One Manchester approach is delivering pioneering research to combat the pandemic, and I’m proud to have chaired Manchester’s COVID-19 Rapid Research Response Group (RRRG) who supported this study coming to Manchester, as I discussed in a recent interview with The Telegraph (paywall).
We also recently saw Manchester’s first research proposal approved to use the NIHR Health Informatics Collaborative’s (HIC) Cardiovascular/COVID-19 dataset. This study will be led by Stuart Grant, Honorary Lecturer in Cardiovascular Surgery at The University of Manchester, and will explore readmissions after Acute Coronary Syndrome from multiple BRC sites, using an interdisciplinary team from clinical and health informatics teams.
Finally, thank you to everyone who has responded so far to our recent Manchester BRC Demographic Survey. Your response is vital in helping us understand how our staff and student groups reflect the populations we support, so that we can reflect and continually promote equity of access to career development and opportunities across our BRC staff and researchers. If you have yet to take part, you can do so via this link to the survey, which will close on Monday 6 December.
News from across the BRC
Respiratory Theme researcher, Consultant and COVID-19 research Clinical Lead for Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT), Dr Tim Felton, was recently appointed as the new Director of MFT’s Diagnostics and Technology Accelerator (DiTA) – a strategic partner of the BRC which acts as a catalyst for evidence generation for new MedTech and in-vitro diagnostics (IVDs) across the trust and commercial partners. I look forward to working with Tim and the DiTA team to further develop our collaborations.
It was also fantastic to see the work of several of our cancer researchers, including Dr Phil Crosbie (Cancer Prevention and Early Detection), Professor Caroline Dive (Cancer Precision Medicine) and Professor Karen Kirkby (Advanced Radiotherapy), featured in the new national Cancer Revolution exhibit, which opened at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester in October. Manchester is at the forefront in a number of pioneering cancer treatments and innovations, so it is a real credit to this that the exhibition starts here, and I’d encourage you to go see it before it moves to London in March next year. Also within our Cancer Prevention and Early Detection theme, Dr Crosbie’s work on the Lung Health Check programme, and PhD student Vicky Woof’s work on the barriers in breast screening for British-Pakistani women, were recently featured in NIHR’s national Evidence Collection on catching cancer early.
Pioneering research led by Professor Bill Newman, Genomic Solutions Associate Lead for our Hearing Health Theme and Consultant at MFT, could help revolutionise the diagnosis and treatment of Perrault syndrome – a rare genetic condition that can cause hearing loss, as well as early menopause and infertility in women. The paper, that involved a number of centres across the world, was recently published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.
Meanwhile, to time with World COPD day on 17 November, Respiratory Theme researcher Dr Alexander Mathioudakis shared international findings on the most important flare-ups research outcomes for patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Resistance to commonly prescribed antibiotics is becoming one of the biggest global health challenges today. During World Antimicrobial Awareness Week 18 to 24 November, we highlighted the need to use antibiotics more effectively, and how Manchester BRC research is testing ‘individualised’ approaches to antibiotic prescribing.
Researchers in our Musculoskeletal (MSK) Theme have continued their regular contributions for Arthritis Digest magazine, including Dr Janet McDonagh on Juvenile Arthritis and the world of work, Dr Stephanie Ling on biologic treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis, and most recently Professor Steve Eyre explaining DNA editing. In further MSK news, I am also pleased to announce that the Immune Mediated Inflammatory Diseases (IMID) BioResource recently recruited its 1,000th participant, after a national rollout spanning over 40 sites across England. In collaboration with Vocal – who create opportunities for people to get involved in health research in Greater Manchester – several of our MSK researchers and patients also contributed to their #MyMSKstory campaign for World Arthritis Day on 12 October. This showcased a diverse range of MSK patient stories and experiences, insights and blogs from our researchers, and contributions from a variety of partners and charities we work with. Catch up on updates.
Throughout October, the NIHR’s annual Your Path in Research campaign highlighted the roles of a range of healthcare professionals and their contributions to research. I was delighted to see several of our researchers featured in the national campaign, including Jemma Haines and Professor Jacky Smith (Respiratory Theme), and Dr Stephanie Ling (MSK Theme), who also featured in a local campaign alongside across MFT and Manchester CRF researchers. You can catch all updates from the campaign via this Twitter Moment.
Launched in March, our Innovator Training Scheme (ITS) webinar programme drew to a close this month. This this has been a very successful collaboration with our partners Translation Manchester and has given invaluable support to researchers looking to develop their commercial skills. You can catch up with the final sessions through our regular Innovator Insights blogs; Collaborate to Innovate, and Commercialisation to Clinical Impact (which is also available to watch back on our YouTube channel). Alongside the main webinar programme, we also recently welcomed applications to a special series of ITS pitching events, which will help researchers hone their pitching skills through mentoring support and a ‘Dragons Den’ style event, so look out for updates on this next month.
The NIHR have several upcoming events and webinars including: Incorporating Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in patient and public involvement (1 December); Leading innovation and change (14 December); and their Virtual Leadership programme (13 January). A full list of NIHR events is also available on the NIHR website.
Our partners at Translation Manchester are also hosting a two-day event on 8 and 9 December covering the highlights and challenges of translational research, which you can register for here, while CRUK are hosting their Clinical Research Conference, Delivering Excellence – for research nurses and practitioners – on 8 February 2022 in Manchester. CRUK and The University of Manchester are hosting a virtual Clinician Scientist Career Showcase event next week (30 November), which is ideal for students and early career researchers, and features Dr Emma Crosbie, Cancer Early Detection Programme Lead, and Dr Stephanie Ling, MSK Clinical Research Fellow. Register via Eventbrite.
The latest NIHR Fellowship programme has a number of schemes currently open for application, including the Doctoral Fellowship for PhD funding, Advanced Fellowships for post-doc development, and the Development and Skills Enhancement Award for specific research skills development. Applications close through January 2022, with dates varying depending on the programme.
Until next time, take care and look after yourselves.
Professor Ian N Bruce
Director, NIHR Manchester BRC