Young talents needed to advance medical research

Informatics expertise and tech entrepreneurship required for future research, say Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust

May 28, 2015
Person holding blood samples in test tubes

Young innovative researchers need to come to the fore in medical science to help with the challenges that lie ahead, according to funders.

Declan Mulkeen, chief science officer at the Medical Research Council, said that informatics expertise, which tends to be found in younger scientists, is needed on peer review panels to help shape new thinking about data investigations.

Meanwhile, a senior official from the Wellcome Trust said that too many major awards were led by mature researchers and the field could benefit from the spirit of tech entrepreneurship.

Speaking at a Westminster Higher Education Forum on healthcare research on 21 May, Dr Mulkeen singled out computational medicine and informatics as one of several priorities for the future of medical research. He said that recognising patterns in large biological datasets is a “phenomenal challenge” that needs new methodologies and new data interrogation and visualisation tools.

“Informatics is also going to change the way we collaborate in science…But a real progressive effort is needed to effect this change in the right timescale,” he added.

One change needed was to broaden undergraduate molecular biology programmes so that future researchers can connect better with maths and physics, he said.

Dr Mulkeen suggested that peer review might also have to adapt to the fact that researchers exploring large datasets could not articulate their aims at the outset of a project. This is counter to many of the “tried, trusted and tested” ways of thinking about research in peer review.

Peer review committees might be helped by researchers with expertise in this area, who tend to be younger.

Meanwhile, John Williams, head of science strategy, performance and impact at the Wellcome Trust, said that medical science needed to recognise that “too many of our major awards” are led by “the more mature representatives of the community”.

“Look at the vibrant tech economies of Silicon Valley and the entrepreneurship shown by twenty- and thirtysomethings. We have to ask how we [can] bring that drive and energy into our research environment,” he said.

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Article originally published as: New blood needed to pump up research (28 May 2015)

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