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UK government announces major new funding to attract world’s best in science and innovation

Sian EGardiner5 July 2018

Business Secretary Greg Clark has announced a major new investment in UK talent and skills to grow and attract the best in science and innovation from across the world.

The inaugural UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowship Scheme is set to receive £900 million over the next 11 years, with six funding competitions and at least 550 fellowships awarded over the next three years.

UCL researchers are frequently among those to receive government backing. Recent examples include the Department of Physics & Astronomy’s Krishna Manojkumar Jadeja, who has received funding for his project on ‘coherent gamma rays,’ along with a team at the Department of Medical Physics & Biomedical Engineering led by Professor Gary Royle, whose proton therapy proposal has received backing from the National Institute for Health Research.

Flexibility for researchers

Delivering the keynote speech at the International Business Festival in Liverpool last month, Clark outlined £1.3 billion worth of investment for British universities and businesses.

The money is intended to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs, innovators and scientific leaders and secure Britain’s future economic prosperity, and is the single biggest investment in science in 40 years. He said: “The money will help ensure the UK invests 2.4% of GDP in R&D by 2027 and help us become the world’s most innovative economy by 2030.”

Clark explained that the investment will provide up to seven years of funding for early-career researchers and innovators, including support for part-time awards and career breaks, in a bid to provide researchers with the flexibility needed to tackle ambitious and challenging research areas.

Key international collaboration

Commenting on the announcement, Clark added: “We are a nation of innovators, with some of the world’s greatest inventions created on British soil – from penicillin to the first computer programme. We want to retain our global reputation as a destination for world-class scientists and researchers, by providing opportunities to find and nurture the next Ada Lovelaces and Isaac Newtons.

“International collaboration has been key to many of the most significant discoveries and breakthroughs and I want the UK to remain the go-to destination for the best scientists and innovators. We are investing in the rising stars of research and innovation to ensure the UK is where the products and technologies of tomorrow are developed.”

The scheme is open to businesses as well as universities, and is also open to researchers from around the world, in a bid to ensure the UK continues to attract exceptional talent from around the world.

Supporting the Grand Challenges

Clark also announced that complementing the Future Leaders Fellowship Scheme, the Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering, British Academy, and Academy of Medical Sciences will collectively receive £350 million for the prestigious fellowships schemes. This funding will enhance the research talent pipeline and increase the number of fellowships on offer for high skilled researchers and innovators.

For the next five years, £50 million has been allocated through the National Productivity Investment Fund for additional PhDs, including 100 PhDs to support research into AI, supporting one of the Grand Challenges within the Industrial Strategy and ensuring Britain is at the forefront of the AI revolution.

UCL at the forefront of dementia research

JasonLewis21 September 2017

Dementia – a group of neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease and vascular dementia – is a common condition that affects over 800,000 people in the UK. This number is expected to rise to one million by 2025 and two million by 2051.

UCL research is world-leading in efforts to diagnose, treat, care for and prevent dementia. Researchers at UCL are continuing to make great advances in this area and are at the forefront of impactful studies and trials currently ongoing in the world today.

Here are a few of the projects and initiatives led by UCL academics and researchers improving our knowledge of dementia and working towards creating healthier futures.

Image source: The Lancet

Lifestyle changes could prevent a third of dementia cases

A recent report led by Professor Gill Livingston (UCL Psychiatry) revealed that more than a third of the world’s dementia cases could potentially be prevented by tackling nine lifestyle factors that increase an individual’s risk of experiencing cognitive collapse later in life.

Prof Livingston said: “Although dementia is diagnosed in later life, the brain changes usually begin to develop years before, with risk factors for developing the disease occurring throughout life, not just in old age. We believe that a broader approach to prevention of dementia which reflects these changing risk factors will benefit our ageing societies and help to prevent the rising number of dementia cases globally.”

These factors range from hearing loss to poor education and physical inactivity. Taking proactive measures to improve brain health throughout life by targeting these risk factors, such as continuing education in early life, reducing hearing loss in mid-life and reducing smoking in later life, could prevent one in three cases of dementia.

UCL home to £250m national Dementia Research Institute

Alzheimers-research-UK-Oxford-186UCL beat Oxford, Cambridge and other leading universities in a bid to host the headquarters of the £250m UK Dementia Research Institute (UK DRI). The UK DRI is jointly funded by the Medical Research Council in collaboration with Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Research UK. The institute will ultimately operate across a number of UK locations, with its ‘Hub’ to be based at UCL.

The UK DRI aims to transform dementia research by broadening the scope of its research area and facilitating a more interdisciplinary approach to the study of dementia. The institute will connect researchers working across different disciplines, including those outside of the dementias field, and attract leading experts from around the world to the UK.

UCL President and Provost Professor Michael Arthur said: “Our vision for a DRI is a truly national asset that facilitates exchanges of ideas, people and resources between groups, disciplines and centres. A UCL DRI Hub will enable and support all DRI centres to deliver on the Prime Minister’s dementia challenge 2020 and internationally on the G8 Dementia Summit Declaration.”

Professor Bart De Strooper, Director UK DRI at UCL, added: “Right now, our understanding of these diseases is not dissimilar to what we knew, or thought we knew, about cancer several decades ago. What we need is a paradigm shift in the way we think about dementias. Just as we realised that a whole range of factors is responsible for how cancers occur and progress in an individual, we now need to take a more holistic view of dementia and accept that a wide range of approaches may be needed in order to be successful. We have a huge amount of discovery science to do – and I want to see real surprises.”

To find out more about the UK DRI visit their website and follow them on twitter.

Groundbreaking dementia research, Virtual Reality and innovative collaboration

SHQ1

Image source: Sea Hero Quest

Dr Hugo Spiers (UCL Experimental Psychology), in collaboration with a range of partners including ETH Zurich, created award winning mobile game, Sea Hero Quest (SHQ) to support scientists currently working towards finding a cure for dementia. SHQ records users’ sense of direction to determine how navigational skills decline with age.

By playing SHQ for two minutes, users generate the same amount of data that scientists would take five hours to collect in similar lab-based research. Researchers from UCL and the University of East Anglia will use this data to create the world’s largest benchmark of how humans navigate, which will then go on to become a critical diagnostic tool for dementia in the future.

The game has been downloaded over 2.7million times and played in every country in the world. It is currently the biggest dementia study in history, and has collected an amount of data that would have taken over 9,000 years to acquire in a traditional lab setting.

Speaking on the findings, Dr Spiers said: “The findings the game is yielding have enormous potential to support vital developments in dementia research. The ability to diagnose dementia at early stages, well before patients exhibit any signs of general memory loss, would be a milestone.

Watch the project story and find out more on the Sea Hero Quest website.

UK’s first non-medical therapy for dementia

Dr Aimee Spector (UCL Psychology) directs the International Cognitive Stimulation Therapy centre at UCL. Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST) is an evidence-based therapy for people with dementia, which has changed dementia care within the UK and worldwide.

UK Government NICE guidance on the management of dementia recommend the use of group Cognitive Stimulation for people with mild to moderate dementia, irrespective of drug treatments received. CST is currently the only non-medical therapy endorsed by UK government guidelines for the cognitive symptoms of dementia.

cst2-smallThe International CST centre aims to share information and encourage collaboration between professionals and consumers internationally. In addition to various services, it also hosts annual CST conferences to facilitate the proliferation of knowledge and empower practicing health professionals working with dementia patients.

The 2nd International CST Conference will be held in Hong Kong on 1-2 December 2017.

World-leading trials and research studies at the heart of UCL

MRI_scan_mummeryThe UCL Dementia Research Centre (UCL DRC) is a hub for clinical research into various forms of dementia. The DRC focuses on identifying and understanding the disease processes that cause dementia, the factors that influence these disease processes, and how best to support people with dementia and their families.

In addition to research, the UCL DRC also provides a cognitive disorders clinic within the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.

There are currently a number of clinical trials and studies ongoing at the UCL DRC, to find out more and get involved, visit the UCL DRC website.

Free online course on dementia

UCL also offers a free online course for anyone interested in dementia, its effects on people and the brain. The four-week (two hours a week) course provides a unique insight into dementia through the stories, symptoms and science behind for less common diagnoses. Learn more and register your interest for the next enrolment.