NIHR | Manchester Biomedical Research Centre

Dr Tracy Briggs shares £200k Emerging Leaders Prize from Medical Research Foundation

Today, the Medical Research Foundation awards its first Emerging Leaders Prize to three outstanding lupus researchers.

Lupus is a serious autoimmune condition – caused when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue. It is most common in young women but in rare cases can affect children. The new Emerging Leaders Prize offers flexible funding to scientists – the winners will decide how best to use the funds to support their lupus research and their research careers.

Dr Erina Herrick made the first Emerging Leaders Prize possible when she left a generous gift to the Foundation in her will. The prize is a tribute to Dr Herrick’s own work as a scientist and the contribution she made to lupus research.

Together the winners’ research considers lupus from three perspectives: it’s impact on the brain, the role of genetics and the autoimmune response. All are clinical academics, meaning they run research projects and treat patients.

One of the researchers to share the award is Dr Tracy Briggs, part of the BRC’s Musculoskeletal Research Theme and Honorary Consultant at Manchester Centre for Genomic Medicine, Saint Mary’s Hospital, who has been awarded £80,000 for her research.

Dr Briggs is a clinical geneticist who works with families and children. She is interested in how inherited information influences lupus and works to identify genes linked to lupus. Tracy aims to understand how changes in genes increase a person’s risk of developing lupus or other related autoimmune conditions.  She has identified genes that cause severe lupus in children. For families, gene discoveries can help provide a diagnosis, inform family planning and improve care. In the future she plans to study the effect of medicines in people who have rare genetic conditions to help find the best treatment for each patient and will continue to look for the genetic cause of disease in adults who have less rare forms of lupus.

On winning Dr Briggs says:

The Emerging Leader’s Prize means I now have funding for a technician to help with lab work and a bioinformatician to help analyse genetic data. I can start to ask new questions about the genetic drivers of lupus that I didn’t have the resources to before.

“It is wonderful to have recognition for the work we have already done in Manchester and to know that the Foundation supports my ideas for future research. I really want to understand why lupus happens from a genetic perspective. If we can find the causes in rare cases of lupus, which are very severe and associated with a high death rate, then that could have a huge impact for families. The fact that we can apply that knowledge of rare disease to a larger group of patients and hopefully have a bigger impact, well that’s what really drives me.”

Dr Briggs plans to use the funds to pay staff salaries and for research consumables to help run more lab experiments and analyse complex genetic data.

The other two winners were Dr David Hunt, who’s work between the Medical Research Council Institute for Genetics and Molecular Medicine and the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic at the University of Edinburgh looks at how lupus can affect the brain at a molecular level, and Dr Edward Vital, a clinical researcher from the University of Leeds who’s work focuses on the autoimmune elements of lupus. You can find out more about Dr Hunt and Dr Vital’s work on the Medical Research Foundation website.

The Emerging Leaders Prize aims to recognize and reward talented researchers who’ve already made a strong contribution to their field. The Foundation funds research in areas like lupus where investment is low, but clinical need is high. This year’s Prize was made possible thanks to a legacy gift from Dr Erina Herrick, whose own research explored lupus.

Medical Research Foundation CEO Dr Angela Hind says:

We are thrilled to present the first Emerging Leaders Prize to three outstanding lupus researchers. Our winners plan to use their prize funds to support a lupus conference, a collaborative study, staff salaries and patient outreach, so the flexibility will help our winners progress their lupus research and ideas even further. The Foundation aims to support research where there is little existing investment but clear clinical need for better treatments. We are delighted that our first Emerging Leaders Prize will boost lupus research across the UK.

The next Emerging Leaders Prize opens in May 2018 and it will reward excellence in adolescent mental health research