“The Academy is different. It brings together people from diverse backgrounds, continues to write independent reports on topics of immense importance, and has lobbied to maintain the considerable ties in science that have been developed across the EU. Most of the Academy’s funding is given for specific projects, which is why Helix group donations are so important, because they give the Academy complete freedom in what it does. I am delighted to be a member of this group that supports the vital work of the Academy”
Sir Charles George FMedSci, Helix Group Member
On 12 October, the Academy hosted its third annual Helix Group Reception, sharing stories of researchers who have benefitted from the Academy’s work and enjoying groundbreaking neuroscience with Professor Ray Dolan FRS FMedSci, joint winner of the €1 million 2017 Brain Prize.
Hosted at the Academy’s headquarters at 41 Portland Place, the evening began with a tribute to members of the Helix Group from Academy President, Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci. Support from the Helix Group has enabled the Academy to provide more funding and career support than ever before, and have a significant influence on policy in the UK and internationally.
The evening’s keynote lecture, “The architecture of reward”, was given by Academy Fellow Professor Ray Dolan FRS FMedSci. Professor Dolan is Mary Kinross Professor of Neuropsychiatry at University College London and Director of the Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing. Helix Group members were entertained and informed by a lecture spanning the breadth of Professor Dolan’s life and research, as his talk moved from his early years living alongside his patients in psychiatric hospitals, to embarking on a research career studying neuronal mechanisms behind reward and punishment and his recent studies including over 20,000 participants using citizen science apps.
Funding from the Helix Group has also enabled the Academy of Medical Sciences to seek external funding and develop its own grant schemes which identify researchers at critical points in their career. The Academy was delighted to welcome two medical academics, who have benefitted from this support, to share their experiences at the reception.
Dr Sian Henson, Springboard awardee and SUSTAIN participant, spoke movingly about how the Academy’s Springboard scheme was one of the only grant schemes that accepted career breaks: “I think it’s a really pioneering and innovative scheme, because it was the only scheme I found that wasn’t fussed about when you got your PhD. This was really important to me because my child was ill and I had to take time out in order to look after him.” Dr Henson is now a Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, investigating the changes to the immune system during ageing.
Another early career researcher, Dr Athanasios Saratzis, spoke about his difficulties securing funding for a clinical trial within surgery. At the time, Dr Saratzis was only 29, with many doubting his relative youth and inexperience: the Academy’s Starter Grant for Clinical Lecturers provided support that was not available elsewhere. Dr Saratzis used his grant to fund a pilot randomised controlled trial, which has now led to the technique entering full clinical trials.
The Helix Group is the Academy of Medical Sciences’ group of individual donors who support the Academy with an annual donation of £250 or more. The support of Helix Group members provides vital unrestricted funding, enabling the Academy to act proactively to address unmet challenges across the biomedical sciences. As of September 2017, the Helix Group has reached a new milestone of 130 members.
Helix Group members are publically celebrated on a commemorative board in the Academy’s Fellow’s Room at our headquarters, on the Academy of Medical Sciences website and in the Annual Report. Members receive an annual update on Academy programmes, and are invited to the annual Helix Reception.