In this miniseries, we celebrate the recent appointment of 40 of the University’s most promising early career researchers as Chancellor’s Fellows. This issue, we’re taking the opportunity to meet a few of the Fellows from the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.
Dr Faye Wade, Dr Kathryn Nash and Dr Lucy Weir talk about the paths they followed into research and what the Chancellor’s Fellowship means for their work.
In this new miniseries, we celebrate the recent appointment of 40 of the University’s most promising early career researchers as Chancellor’s Fellows. This issue, we’re taking the opportunity to meet a few of the Fellows from the College of Science & Engineering.
Dr Andrew Schurer, Dr Joanna Sadler and Dr Lucia Bandiera talk about what inspired their work, the research community at Edinburgh and what the Chancellor’s Fellowship means to them.
Given the University’s diverse research excellence, Senior Vice Principal Professor Jonathan Seckl explores how the use of broad themes can help shape the narrative around the impact of our work.
The University of Edinburgh is renowned globally for the exceptional quality of our research. We were ranked fourth in the UK for research power in the last REF, behind Oxford, Cambridge and UCL, but ahead of Imperial and Kings College London, splitting the so-called ‘golden triangle’ (“golden quadrangle” with Edinburgh at the apex to my mind). We are in the top 20 universities in the world according to the 2021 QS rankings, which gives considerable weight to research reputation.
In recent decades our discoveries and insights in such diverse fields as particle physics, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, genetics/genomics, artificial intelligence, sustainability, linguistics, sociology and political science have all made a major impact on the world. We have educated or employed colleagues who have won seven Nobel prizes since 2013.
We are excellent at many things, but, given our broad research base, how do we capture and distil this excellence into a coherent narrative? Put simply, in the coming decades, what do we want the University’s research to be known for?
This is the challenge that I and other colleagues have been working on and has led to the creation of five overarching research and innovation themes. All are underpinned by our excellence and core capability in data-driven innovation. They are designed to celebrate our existing strengths, promote inter-disciplinarity and collaboration and articulate our future ambitions.
The themes are:
Future health and care
One health and food security
Societal and planetary sustainability
Culture and creative economies
Living and working digitally
In many ways, the themes coalesced naturally around our research strategy from 2019 and our current activity. They are facilitated by our five data-driven innovation DDI hubs, funded though the City Region Deal, and are flexible enough to operate across our Colleges and disciplines. They also capture how the UN Sustainable Development Goals play out in a Scottish context.
Let me briefly expand upon each of these themes.
The future of health and care
What are the next treatments, medical breakthroughs or approaches to care that will transform how we maximise wellbeing and look after the ill and vulnerable? This theme captures our pioneering work in areas such as MND, dementia, nursing, reproductive health, regenerative medicine, medical informatics and many others, including the crucial interfaces between medicine, the sciences, social sciences and the arts. A key project is the Advanced Care Research Centre (ACRC), launched with Legal & General, which aims to transform the way care in later life is conceived, designed and delivered.
One Health and Food Security
One Health articulates and examines the interrelated nature of human, animal and ecosystem health. The inception of SARS-Cov-2, its leap from animals to humans, the regularity with which this has occurred and will occur in the future, has made this even more pressing. This theme encompasses issues such as animal and human health surveillance, emerging infections, food security, over-grazing, pollution, market economies, waste management, policy and politics. The Easter Bush Agritech Hub, which was announced earlier this month, our burgeoning capabilities in space and satellite data, and the new UK supercomputer (ARCHER2) will play a major role in this theme.
Social and Planetary Sustainability
How can societies be more peaceful, just and equitable? How can we ensure life on our planet is thriving several generations from now? This theme captures our work in answering those questions. It includes areas such as sustainable urban planning and engineering projects, research into renewables, and insights into what makes strong, accessible systems of justice and governance. The Edinburgh Earth Initiative and Energy@Ed are fine examples of how we are already beginning to coordinate our approaches.
Culture and Creative Economies
We are building on fantastic work being done in gaming, music, the visual arts, film, and graphic design. This theme also includes areas such as tourism, festivals, the exploration of the cultural heritage of Scotland and other countries. A fine example is Creative Informatics, leveraged through a major AHRC grant. Traveltech for Scotland is another great example, which is using data to boost the beleaguered sector. Both will soon be housed in the exceptional environment of our Edinburgh Futures Institute.
Living and Working Digitally
Data and digital technologies are changing every part of life. From how we do everyday things such as the weekly shop or listening to music to large scale applications in manufacturing, office work, AI and robotics. This theme captures the research that is shaping this future and is helping us to understand its implications, whilst building public trust enabled by the Baillie Gifford award to the Centre for Technomoral Futures. The recent UKRI-funded Global Open Finance Centre of Excellence (GOFCoE),is another example. It is employing financial data to deliver social and economic benefit to all corners of the globe.
What do these themes mean for you as a researcher in the University? I hope you’ll see your own work and expertise within them. I also think that these areas showcase the biggest opportunities for attracting research grant funding and partnerships with industry.
A new part of the University website will be launched soon that will showcase research based on these themes. This will give greater visibility to and build a coherent narrative for our collective strengths.
Of course, not all our research will fit neatly into these themes. That is fine. Research is the quintessential ‘bottom-up’ activity. It depends on you and your brilliant ideas. But increasingly we are asked how applications for funding fit the institutional strategy. I hope that with these exciting, relevant and broadly drawn aims, most of us can say that our creative ideas are aligned to such a strategy.
The past year has shown that we live in exceptionally challenging times. But it has also reinforced, more than ever, the value and the power of our research. And we have shown, often working together, that we contribute to solutions to the most challenging issues of our times.
These research themes, underpinned by DDI, will help us tell that story more clearly, attract more partnerships and funding and, ultimately, make more of a difference in the world.
In this new miniseries, we celebrate the recent appointment of 40 of the University’s most promising early career researchers as Chancellor’s Fellows. This issue, we’re taking the opportunity to meet a few of the Fellows from the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine.
Dr Ailith Ewing, Dr Adrian Muwonge and Dr Lida Zoupi talk about the paths they followed into research, the support they’ve received here and what the Chancellor’s Fellowship means to them.
Building on recent growth in commercialisation activity in the therapeutics field, Edinburgh Innovations and the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine have launched their Bench to Bedside campaign.
When you have notched up a record year and the graphs are continuing to curl steeper, what next? The answer for Edinburgh Innovations (EI) and the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine is to launch a campaign to build on that momentum.
Commercialisation of the College’s therapeutics expertise has reached new heights amid a series of successful company launches, supported by substantial investors, and an impressive roster of industry collaborations.
This month’s launch of the Bench to Bedside campaign will further boost industry engagement and inspire more research staff and students to commercialise their work.
The campaign is the first in EI’s Discovery Series, which will span 2021 and reach out to business by highlighting the University’s track record, facilities and expertise. It will also help more staff and students discover the benefits of maximising the impact of their work through commercialisation.
“We have a strong track record of engaging with industry to find solutions to unmet clinical needs,” says Professor Stuart Forbes, Dean of Research at the College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine.
Professor Stuart Forbes
“This new campaign will highlight that, from bench to bedside, the University of Edinburgh has the expertise, track record and facilities to help our partners deliver impact.”
The income generated for the University from the College’s translational and industrial funding awards more than doubled in 2019/20 and has already set a new record in the first seven months of the current year.
And over the past 18 months, Edinburgh Innovations has helped launch five therapeutic discovery companies that have raised substantial investment.
Recent spinout successes include Resolution Therapeutics, launched with an investment of £26.6 million from Syncona, to develop macrophage cell therapies to repair organ damage – including end-stage chronic liver disease.
Professor Forbes is a joint founder of the company, having worked with his research team at the Centre for Regenerative Medicine for a decade on the role of macrophages in organ repair, with funding from the Medical Research Council.
Syncona has been collaborating with Professor Forbes’ team since 2018, developing processes to engineer macrophage cell therapy.
Fellow founder John Campbell is Director of Tissues, Cells and Advanced Therapeutics at the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS) and Honorary Professor at the University of Edinburgh. The SNBTS is part of the collaborative effort, working to optimise the manufacturing process and produce engineered macrophages for clinical use.
Dr George Baxter, Edinburgh Innovations CEO, says: “The way the parties have worked together to pursue their mutual aim is an excellent example of academic research translating into the chance to transform lives.”
Dr George Baxter
Meanwhile, researchers at the University’s Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences are working with New York-based Neurogene to develop next-generation gene therapies.
Supported by EI, the team led by Dr Stuart Cobb has signed a multi-year agreement to advance development of multiple platform approaches to improve on existing gene therapy technologies.
Neurogene will provide funding to Dr Cobb’s laboratory in exchange for the right to license intellectual property. Neurogene will be responsible for late stage preclinical and all clinical development of any products generated under the collaboration.
Dr Cobb, Simons Fellow and Reader in Neuroscience at the Patrick Wild Centre and Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences, has been working with Neurogene since 2018 and serves as the company’s Chief Scientific Officer.
Dr Cobb says: “Gene therapy is a very promising yet complex development area, and we are privileged to help address the unmet needs that exist within rare neurological diseases.”
EI has a dedicated Business Development team for the College, led by Dr Andrea Taylor – a driving force behind the current upward trajectory who is determined to build the momentum even further.
Dr Andrea Taylor
She cites the recent receipt of a £2.4 million Wellcome Trust Institutional Translational Partnership Award (iTPA) as typifying the direction of travel. The team’s previous, smaller, iTPA scheme ran for three years and brought an increase of 60 per cent in the College’s early career researchers engaging with commercialisation, including a disproportionate rise among women.
Dr Taylor says: “The iTPA alone has had a major impact on the culture across biomedical sciences, with a new pipeline of 80 projects currently live. We have created a translational hub which has built an engaged translational community of 300 members; we want to reach 1,000 in the next three years.
“There is no better way for researchers to have impact in the real world than to work with business. It’s an exciting time to join our growing community of collaborators and make ideas work for a better world.”
The Bench to Bedside campaign comprises a series of EI-hosted events, outreach activities including presence at external events, and communications and marketing activities. Key academics will act as champions to promote industry engagement and commercialisation, including Professors Neil Carragher, Shareen Forbes and Jonathan Fallowfield.
There will be news stories announcing company launches and collaborative research projects in coming weeks, case studies for use online, in newsletters and in marketing materials, and a takeover of the EI website to highlight the campaign.
Among the planned events is ‘Seeing Value in Novelty’ on 31 March. This one-hour session, delivered by venture capital company Epidarex Capital, will show how it’s possible to use investor expertise and finance while continuing to develop your career as an academic researcher.
Professor Jeffrey Pollard and Dr Luca Cassetta, co-founders of Macomics, will share their story on successfully managing the best of both worlds.
The event will also be an opportunity to learn more about EI and will be of particular interest to PhD students, early career researchers, postdoctoral fellows and principal investigators in the field of life sciences.
Edinburgh Research Office and the Institute for Academic Development have been working together to build bespoke support programmes for researchers impacted by Covid-19.
Sara Shinton, Head of Researcher Development and Assistant Director of the Institute for Academic Development explains a bit more about the need for support: “In 2020 we’ve faced widespread disruption to our ways of working and recognise that some research and researchers have been more significantly affected than others. With support from the Scottish Funding Council, Edinburgh Research Office and the Institute for Academic Development have developed a new programme to support mid-career researchers.”
Whether you are just beginning to branch out into interdisciplinary research or you’re comfortable exploring other disciplines, this kind of research is becoming more widely practised throughout the University. No matter what stage of your interdisciplinary project you’re at, Edinburgh Research Office is there to help. Here Jonathan Rans, Strategic Research Executive, shares the new online resources that are now available to support interdisciplinary research across the University.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nine million more nurses and midwives are needed to accomplish universal health coverage by 2030. A lack of resources, rising chronic illnesses and ageing populations mean we’re seeing a huge strain placed on healthcare professionals which only looks to continue to grow.
In response, WHO named 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife at the World Health Assembly in 2019. The initiative aimed to shine a spotlight on the work of nursing professionals across the globe, and encourage more funding opportunities to support them during the next 10 years and beyond.
It’s hard not to marvel at the beauty of the Old Royal Infirmary building as you walk down Lauriston Place. A key part of Edinburgh’s history, the building served as the city’s main hospital until 2003 when it moved out to Little France, now known as Edinburgh BioQuarter.
But the building’s legacy will continue once restoration work finishes and it can house the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI). Promoting a completely multi-disciplinary approach to building courses, EFI works, not only across the University, but across the city too, drawing on partnerships in government, industry and communities to be able to make a real impact both locally and globally.
What does it mean to see, imagine and reimagine bodies? How does biomedicine and technology shape what we think of as the human body? How might this change in the future?
These are just a few of the questions Ingrid Young, Chancellor’s Fellow, Stephanie Sinclair, Public Engagement and Knowledge Exchange Coordinator, and their colleagues in the Centre for Biomedicine, Self and Society, will be exploring in their events for the Being Human festival later this November.
Dr Gwenetta D Curry is a Lecturer in Race, Ethnicity and Health at the University. Her research interests are racial and ethnic health disparities, critical race theory, and Black family studies. Here she talks a little more about her present research which analyses racial disparities in treatment and infection rates of Covid-19.
The pandemic has changed how a lot of people work. More than ever we’re relying on technology and data-driven methods to help with out day-to-day roles. In this issue Edd McCracken, Head of News, speaks to a number of our academics about how they have embraced this new way of working.
Professor Christina Boswell, Dean of Research in the College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences, understands what it’s like to wrestle with uncertainty at the start of a career in academia. Here she shares why early career researchers have been hit so hard by the pandemic, and explains how the University is improving the support available.