Kevin Talbot is Head of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Oxford. Together with his colleagues on the Scientific Advisory Panel, he has the task of making recommendations as to which of the research proposals submitted to the charity have the best promise of delivering meaningful impact for those affected by neurological conditions.
Thanks to our much-valued supporters, we are funding a wealth of exciting research that I am confident will lead to real improvements in treatment and care. In addition, through our investment in PhD studentships and early career researchers, we are helping to ensure that talented young researchers are attracted to, and remain in, the field, paving the way for continued progress in neurological research.
The astonishing speed with which scientists around the world have developed, tested and rolled out Covid-19 vaccines is testament to the power of medical research. It has demonstrated what can be achieved when the right support is available. I am immensely proud of the role played by my colleagues here at the University of Oxford in delivering a safe, effective vaccine, which is giving us a path out of the pandemic.
At the same time, scientists and doctors have worked side by side to test new approaches to the treatment of patients seriously ill with Covid-19. Again, the UK has led the way, with one of the early successes being the trial of the low cost steroid dexamethasone, shown to reduce deaths in severely ill patients.
All of this underlines the huge importance of medical research and a research infrastructure that has sufficient facilities, resources and expertise to tackle not only emergent problems such as Covid-19, but also the diseases of old that still have no cure.
However, medical research has been badly affected by the pandemic. The first lockdown saw swathes of vital research grind to a halt as laboratories were forced to close and clinical trials were suspended.
Whilst most of this research has now resumed, a crisis in charity funding is putting ongoing and future research at risk. Medical research charities play a crucial role in the UK’s research landscape – they are the lifeblood of medical research. A decline in charity funding will cause vital research projects and clinical trials to be paused once again, delaying crucial medical advances and denying tens of thousands of patients access to pioneering new treatments.
These funding cuts also threaten jobs, with the risk that skilled scientists may leave research, reducing the pool of expertise, slowing the pace of progress and limiting our capacity to tackle significant health challenges. It is patients who will feel the effect of this slow-down, as the vital discoveries that help to save and improve lives are delayed.
As you will know, we are currently focusing our efforts on three priority research areas that are under-funded relative to disease burden: brain tumours, brain and spinal cord injury, and headache and facial pain. These conditions affect huge numbers of patients, yet have simply not attracted a sufficient level of funding, meaning that treatments have not advanced.
It is crucial that funding for these key areas of research does not drop further, so that there are no further interruptions and scientists like Richard Baugh, below, can continue their research and offer hope to people affected by these conditions.
With funding from Brain Research UK, Richard Baugh began working towards his PhD in 2017, with an ambitious project focused on the deadly brain tumour glioblastoma. Only one in five people diagnosed with glioblastoma live for more than a year following diagnosis, so this is a tumour that desperately needs our attention.
Richard is using an immunotherapy approach involving the use of specially engineered viruses to infect and kill tumour cells. As well as directly killing the tumour cells, the idea is that these viruses also stimulate an immune response, so that the body’s natural defences are roused and sweep in to destroy any remaining tumour, much like the way that vaccines train the immune system to fight threats such as coronavirus. Read more about Richard's project.
This is crucial work in an area of huge unmet need. However, when the pandemic hit the UK in March2020, lockdown meant that Richard was unable to access his lab for five months, losing critical experimental time. He is now getting back on track and additional funding from Brain Research UK is enabling him to complete his research. Continued investment in this area is vital in order that there are opportunities and funding for talented scientists like Richard to continue their research.
Together, we can reduce the impact of neurological conditions, to help people live better, longer, THANK YOU.
Professor Kevin Talbot MB BS, DPhil, FRCP
Chair, Scientific Advisory Panel, Brain Research UK,
Head of the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences and Professor of Motor Neuron Biology, University of Oxford