NIHR | Manchester Biomedical Research Centre

Bridging the Gap – June 2023

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.

Henry Ford

Hello and welcome to my latest blog.

We are just six months into our new National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) – and I am delighted that we are off to a flying start.

Thursday 1 December – our official launch date – was the beginning of a new chapter for our BRC and I’m thrilled that there is already so much to update you on from our first few months with a number of awards, accolades and excellent news articles which you can read about below.

Firstly, on a typical rainy Manchester day, it was fantastic to see so many colleagues at the launch event for the NIHR Manchester BRC and NIHR Manchester Clinical Research Facility (CRF) 2022-27, which took place in March at the Whitworth Art Gallery, to mark this new round of funding.

There were around 130 academic and clinical research delivery and operational staff from our BRC, Manchester CRF, The University of Manchester (UoM), colleagues from partner trusts, industry associates and Greater Manchester dignitaries in attendance.

We were honoured to welcome Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, who officially opened the event, and spoke of his support for the BRC describing this as a “hugely significant milestone in the building of a 21st century research-based economy in Greater Manchester”. Ensuring our research is relevant to the health challenges that we face in this region is key and our 13 new and existing Themes will help deliver a healthier population.

Andy’s speech was followed by key speakers including myself as well as Professor Jacky Smith (Director of NIHR Manchester CRF), Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell (President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester), Professor Jane Eddleston (Group Joint Medical Director at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust) and Professor Dermot Kelleher (Chair of the NIHR Manchester BRC International Scientific Advisory Board). Closing remarks were delivered by Nazir Afzal OBE (Chancellor of The University of Manchester).

The launch event was an opportunity to reflect on our incredible journey of progression over the last ten to 12 years, growing from a single speciality Biomedical Research Unit to now, when we are the largest BRC outside the South East of England. We’ve been able to bring in many more world-leading researchers, increase our research themes and expand our geographical reach across Greater Manchester, Lancashire and South Cumbria.

Our new funding award will enable us to make real advances towards improving patients’ lives and reducing health inequalities through translational and experimental research.

I firmly believe it will allow us to expand on our achievements and the solid groundwork we have established in this region. From discovery, to development, and to deployment of innovations and new treatments, the benefits our patients will see from this vision is something we can all be very proud of.

As Professor Jane Eddleston explained at the launch event, this next phase – with new colleagues from Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust alongside long-standing partners The Christie NHS Foundation Trust, and Northern Care Alliance NHS Foundation Trust  – is so exciting, because this really will enable us to extend research benefits right across the North West, for the whole of our diverse population.

Building a BRC like this is a huge team effort – and I would, once again, like to thank our faculty, core team, partners, patients and participants for their hard work, vision and dedication. As Professor Dermot Kelleher described, Manchester BRC really is “a true leader in translational research, not just in the UK, but internationally”.

You can watch the launch event and hear from our keynote speakers again via this live stream recording.

We were also pleased to premiere a new film about our BRC’s bold ambition for driving forward health improvements and lasting change for all through creative, inclusive and proactive research. You can watch this film on our YouTube channel.

The success of our new BRC will undoubtedly be built on the firm foundation of our previous years and I would like to take this opportunity to thank colleagues who helped us achieve this and who have recently retired from their roles in Manchester. All have made a tremendous contribution to Manchester BRC;

Professor Jørgen Vestbo was Lead for the Respiratory Theme of the BRC 2017– 2022, co-Theme Lead for the current BRC, Honorary Consultant at MFT and a Clinical Professor of Respiratory Medicine at UoM and retired at the end of March.

Before retiring in December 2022, Professor Catharine West was Professor of Radiation Biology at UoM and Advanced Radiotherapy Theme Lead at the BRC and recently received the title of Emerita Professor.

Professor Chris Griffiths OBE, retired in October 2022, and was Director of the Manchester Centre for Dermatology Research and Dermatology Theme Lead for the BRC.

Alison Peirce, BRC Senior Programme Manager left in February after being an integral part of the team for the past six years. Her dedication, hard work, and knowledge of NIHR systems and processes were instrumental in all our successes.

The BRC Core Team has made a number of appointments to support the delivery of our strategic objectives. We are delighted to welcome Samman Mahmood as BRC Administrator and Hema Mistry as BRC Operational Performance Lead, who will oversee delivery of BRC contractual requirements including annual reporting and financial management. Theme Managers, Mamoona Ahmed (Disease Complexity and Multi-morbidity Cluster), Rachel James (Rare Conditions), Lois Gardner (Advanced Radiotherapy), Kate Kuyt (Cardiovascular and Dermatology) and Nisha Nair (Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases) have recently joined our experienced programme management team.

Lynsey Priest has also joined the Core Team as Strategic Projects Manager, supporting NIHR national initiatives including the BioResource and Translational Research Collaborations, paediatric research and our strategic funding calls. We have also welcomed Ilina Serafimova as Digital Infrastructure Project Manager and Ruth Savory has joined the Innovation and Partnerships team, as Innovation Project Officer. Jenny Fairhurst has joined as joint BRC and Manchester CRF Communications Manager alongside BRC Communications Officer, Sophie Henderson.

A very warm welcome to our new partners and all those colleagues who have recently joined the BRC. Working together, I look forward to our team going from strength to strength.

Awards and achievements

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve already had a number of successes to celebrate in our first few months, which brings me on to the fantastic news that seven leading professors from across our BRC have recently been appointed Senior Investigators by the NIHR.

As you may be aware, Senior Investigators are among the most prominent and prestigious researchers funded by the NIHR and are outstanding leaders of patient and people-based research within the research community.

Huge congratulations to the following newly appointed and re-appointed colleagues:

You can read more on the BRC website.

In wider BRC news

Our partners Vocal have shared their learnings about collecting demographic data on people involved in their patient and public involvement and engagement (PPIE) activities in a new paper which you can read on their website.

Published in May, the paper titled, ‘Understanding who is and isn’t involved and engaged in health research: capturing and analysing demographic data to diversify patient and public involvement and engagement’ details how this is helping them to focus their priorities for involvement, engagement and collaborative working.

Calls for improving diversity and inclusion in PPIE so that research can better address health inequalities and be relevant for everyone have become more urgent. The paper highlights that it is feasible to assess the demographics of people who take part in PPIE activities and that Vocal are involving people from a wider range of ages and ethnic backgrounds in health research, as compared to available national data.

I also always enjoy reading with interest our contributions to Arthritis Digest, a magazine for people with arthritis that highlights the latest relevant research and reviews topical issues. Recent articles include;

  • Dr Darren Plant, Senior Lecturer in Complex Disease Genomics at UoM and researcher in our Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases Theme explains that the future will see us identify biomarkers to improve rheumatoid arthritis treatment outcomes.
  • Professor Anne Barton, Lead for our Rheumatic Musculoskeletal Disease Theme and Lead for the Centre for Genetics and Genomics Versus Arthritis, discusses how a diagnosis of inflammatory arthritis is life changing, but no longer a life sentence.

More successes

Congratulations to our BRC colleague Sindhu John who was recognised at the MFT Long Service Awards in March. Sindhu is Nurse Manager at the Manchester Royal Infirmary and delivers research within the Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases Theme.

I was also delighted to see Dr Colette Inkson, Innovation and Partnerships Manager, taking part in celebrations for International Women’s Day on 8 March. She gave an inspiring talk on her career alongside other female leaders in an online event for MFT colleagues.

Congratulations to BRC researcher, Dr Hannah Guest for creating an eye-catching poster design and winning first prize in the British Society of Audiology’s competition for World Hearing Day 2023.

Don’t forget you can also tune in to ‘The Pankhurst Presents: Health Tech Matters’, a podcast about technology and healthcare, which launched in March and is well worth a listen. In each episode, leading researchers, innovators and healthcare professionals linked with the Pankhurst Institute are interviewed about how advances in areas such as digital health, advanced materials and artificial intelligence are shaping the future of healthcare. In the opening episode, they speak to Professor Niels Peek, Director of the Christabel Pankhurst Institute and BRC Lead for Digital Health. Listen to episode one now on Spotify.

Head of Digital Strategy, Ruth Norris and Education and Training Coordinator, Jane Crosbie travelled to New Mexico to participate in a two-day intensive workshop on how to better ‘put the science of team science research into practice’ and develop robust training programmes. You can read their blog about the learnings they will bring back to the BRC on the UoM website.

Colleagues marked World Cancer Day in February with Vocal promoting their #CancerAndUs campaign which included participants visiting a research laboratory to get ‘behind the scenes’ insight into the environment and what researchers were currently working on.

World Cancer Day was also a fantastic opportunity to promote the One in Two podcast series featuring many of our BRC researchers and produced by the Manchester Cancer Research Centre (MCRC). With one in two of us receiving a cancer diagnosis at some point in our lifetime, it has never been more important for our research to improve the outcomes for people affected by cancer.

Series one focuses on ‘Innovations in early detection’ which specifically spotlights the importance of cancer early detection for increasing survival in patients. You can find out more about how innovations, discoveries and projects are changing the landscape of early detection on the MCRC website and listen again.

Further opportunities

The NIHR Applied Research Collaboration Greater Manchester (ARC-GM) offers healthcare professionals the opportunity to spend time with researchers to develop a competitive PhD proposal. By contributing up to £20,000 in backfill per Fellowship, plus a £2,000 training budget, ARC-GM aims to develop research capacity across a range of disciplines. Applications for this programme are now open and applicants from a diverse range of backgrounds are encouraged to submit their applications by Thursday 18 May 2023. Details of how to sign up to these sessions and more information on the programme can be found on the ARC-GM website.

I would also encourage you to look out for a new ‘Spotlight On’ series which is launching soon and which will focus on a specific area of the BRC in each edition. Initially, we will be shining a spotlight on our Cluster model and how it’s unique to Manchester BRC.

Finally, please make sure you’re following Manchester BRC on Twitter @ManchesterBRC. We have also recently created a Manchester BRC LinkedIn for our latest news and updates.

I hope this blog highlights the exceptional impact and wide-ranging breadth of work our BRC delivers. We have achieved so much already…and this is only the beginning. Onwards and upwards.

Take care,

Professor Ian N Bruce

Director, NIHR Manchester BRC