Professor Martin Wilkins, Vice Dean (Research) – the year in review

Professor Martin WilkinsIn my first year as Vice Dean (Research) it has been a pleasure to discover the full breadth and quality of our research.  We continue to build on our strong convergent science, so well demonstrated by our success with initiatives such as the UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI) Centre at Imperial, the newly established Health Data Research (HDR) UK, and the Future Vaccine Manufacturing Hub.

The UK DRI at Imperial is led by Professor Paul Matthews and is actively recruiting the best scientists to Imperial to contribute to a UK network to carry out research relevant to all dementias. The HDR has come together to address challenging healthcare issues through use of data science, with Imperial’s participation lead by Professor Paul Elliott in his role as an HDR Associate Director. The Future Vaccine Manufacturing Hub, which involves multiple research partners, is led by Professor Robin Shattock from Imperial’s Department of Medicine, includes scientists from across the Departments of Chemical Engineering and Life Sciences. The aim of the Hub is to improve the response to outbreaks, by distributing vaccines quickly and more cost-effectively.

Addressing major scientific questions requires building a critical mass of multidisciplinary researchers, and Imperial is well placed to do this. So we have been working across faculties to develop multidisciplinary networks of excellence with three new networks established this year in the areas of vaccines, diabetes and vascular science.

Celebrating success

Our translational research received another boost this year with our largest ever award from the MRC’s Confidence in Concept scheme.  As well as £1m received from the MRC, additional funds were provided by our Biomedical Research Centre, Royal Marsden Hospital, Wellcome Trust, EPSRC and AstraZeneca, resulting in total funding of £1.7m. This has been awarded to 26 exciting new research projects, across a broad range of areas and collaborators. The aim of the scheme is to strengthen the College’s early translational research portfolio, providing funding to help with the translation of novel therapeutics, devices and diagnostics towards clinical testing and/or a marketable product. This approach epitomises the research ethos in the Faculty, striving to achieve excellence in research with impact.

There isn’t enough room in this brief piece from me to name all of our investigators, from ECRs to senior researchers, who have been winning prestigious awards. However, congratulations to you all and keep up the good work.

Preparation makes perfect

To help ensure that our researchers remain world-leading, the Faculty Research Committee has taken a proactive approach to a drop in successful MRC awards by implementing ‘MRC Shadow Panels’. These have been established to facilitate systematic review of project grants and NIRG applications to both MRC Infection & Immunity and Population System Medicine Boards.

The Panels comprise senior leaders from across the College who have exceptional MRC success rates. Many work closely with the MRC, and they have considerable experience of peer review and assessment. The strategic feedback offered is invaluable, and participants who have been through Shadow Panel Reviews have found the process extremely helpful.

Our research in the media

I am very proud of the regularity with which our work gains positive media attention and engages the wider public with the importance of research. Again there are far too many to list everything, but a few of my favourites are the wonderful press about our research into using ‘magic mushrooms’ to help with severe depression; a better way of dealing with ‘cyberchondria’ (abnormal health anxiety, made worse by people researching their symptoms online); the negative impacts of London air pollution on the health of unborn babies and older adults; and increasing resistance to antifungal treatments that could lead to global increased disease outbreaks and threats to food security.

Finally I’d just like to wish those taking a break over summer a wonderful holiday, and I’m looking forward to an even more successful year when all hands are back on deck.

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