Spotlight on four medical research leaders the Academy has supported

At the Academy of Medical Sciences, we champion those working in biomedical and health research.  

Our innovative grants and programme schemes develop medical researchers’ careers, so that they can generate new knowledge to improve the health of society. 

As a charity, we rely on donations to carry out our work. Read on to find out about the ground-breaking work of four researchers that your donations have supported: 

 

Professor Vincent Dion is Professor at the UK Dementia Research Institute at Cardiff University: 

“I’m in the first cohort of the Academy of Medical Sciences Professorship Scheme, which financially supports people who have relocated to the UK for a Professorship. I was able to come in from the outside and access people I wouldn’t otherwise have met, to establish a national network and give my research programme a boost. 

“My research goal is to develop new therapies for a set of diseases caused by a genetic mutation of expanded DNA repeats. These repeats cause 14 neurological and neuromuscular disorders such as Huntington’s disease, affecting around 1 in 2000 people worldwide. Although the symptoms for the diseases differ, they all involve the gradual loss of cognitive abilities due to defective or dead neurons across different areas of the nervous system. 

“The ultimate goal is to stop, reverse or prevent the onset or progression of these devastating diseases that currently have no cure.  

“The Professorship Scheme provided flexible funding so that I could go after high-risk high-reward projects. The scheme has helped my team work to prevent these expansions from occurring and improve the methods of sizing and sequencing the genes.” 

 

Professor Alison Pilnick is Professor of Language, Medicine and Society at the University of Nottingham: 

“I was on the second round of FLIER, the Academy’s programme to develop cross-sector leaders of the future. FLIER has given me the confidence to be much braver in pursuing my ideas and in approaching colleagues about collaborations. 

“My research uses sociological methods to examine how healthcare professionals and their patients talk to one another. Specifically, I’m researching the impact of patient-centred care. It's a widely used concept but there's no agreed universal definition. Despite its widespread adoption, review studies have failed to find any consistent evidence for its effectiveness. Some studies have shown that it impacts positively on patient satisfaction, but the evidence base for a positive impact on health outcomes is poor.  

“FLIER gave me the confidence to take a critical approach to an almost sacred concept, and provided a network for me to articulate the importance of this work to funders.  

“Without the holistic support the Academy has provided I would never have been brave enough to apply for, or successful in receiving British Academy funding. 

“My findings show that an understanding of the way healthcare professionals and their patients communicate needs to be embedded in policies from the outset. I’ll be using the findings from my research as a springboard for dialogue with policymakers to try to inform and develop training, practice and policy.” 

  

Dr Snehal Pinto Pereira is Lecturer in Population Health and Applied Statistics at University College London: 

“As a statistical epidemiologist, I have three main research areas that I use statistical modelling to understand. We’re all going to live longer than ever before, so how do we ensure we can live independently for as long as possible? My first research area is looking at how activity affects your physical capability as you get older. 

“The second area is examining how child abuse and neglect is related to poor adult health and economic outcomes. In an ideal world we would do everything possible to prevent these maltreatments from happening, but this research helps decide where to invest limited resources to improve the lives of those affected. 

“Finally, more recently I have created a model to predict the children and young people most likely to experience at least one impairing symptom months after SARS-CoV-2 testing, which would mean that those children could be directed to the best care early on. 

“In 2020 I joined SUSTAIN, the programme that is tailored specifically towards women at the beginning of their independent careers. The beauty of SUSTAIN is that having connections outside of your institution is so valuable.  

“I’m at a fantastic institution surrounded by some of the best and brightest in my field; I can access expertise in my topic area. What I need, and what SUSTAIN provides, is support that is not accessible through the structures of academia. This is what makes or breaks careers, and what can lead to people wanting to leave academia, not the actual science. 

“I would never have become a mentor before the Academy’s mentoring workshop. I used to think mentors have to have all the answers, now I know that’s not the case. I’ve helped my mentees’ problem-solve for themselves and I’ve watched them become independent academics. 

“Before the SUSTAIN presentation skills workshop, I used to use my slides as a crutch and read verbatim. I took the workshop advice on board and when I interviewed for my current position, I had to give a presentation. I was the only one who was shortlisted that didn’t use any slides, and I got the job!” 

 

Dr Giovanni Biglino is Senior Lecturer in Biostatistics at Bristol Medical School: 

“My relationship with the Academy began in 2017 when I joined the mentoring scheme. What stood out to me was the freedom in selecting a mentor. I’m a biomedical engineer but I was developing my interdisciplinary research, so I selected a leader in Primary Health Care and narrative medicine. The mentoring relationship has brought invaluable development. She told me about FLIER and I was able to get on the programme thanks to her help. 

“FLIER has been a huge lesson in agility. The programme taught me how to be flexible and adapt, which was hugely beneficial to me as a young academic recovering from an accident while navigating the pandemic. 

“I feel privileged to have had the opportunity of FLIER, for the community and the training. The programme enabled me to enhance my leadership skills through peer support, coaching and workshops.  

“My research involves patients, clinicians, psychologists, visual artists and musicians. Giving a structure, like that of a FLIER project, to interdisciplinary work is effective; I can better organise the team and deliver on my objectives. FLIER has allowed me to frame my ideas into a vision and has provided the tools to help implement it. 

“Bioengineers don’t tend to work with patients, so I’ve developed a platform and content to help the wider community of bioengineers understand ethical ramifications of biotech. It also serves to start conversations and share best practices, to ultimately involve patients in the design of medical technologies.” 

 

We need your support. 

We were able to nurture these researchers’ careers through our programmes and grants due to the vital unrestricted funding from Academy donors.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a £200,000 shortfall in Academy funds. By making a donation today, you will ensure we can create an open, progressive and diverse research sector, provide expert policy advice, and address the most pressing health challenges in society. 

These four researchers spoke at our Helix reception, which we held to say thank you to our member donors. The Helix Group was launched in 2014 and is the Academy’s group of individual donors who support the Academy with an annual donation of £250. If you would like to join the Helix Group, please email our Fundraising Officer Rosie at rosanna.tabor@acmedsci.ac.uk.

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