Dig at vets' 'blue sky' cash pile

January 10, 1997

Clinical veterinary research work is suffering as funds are channelled into "blue-sky" schemes, according to a leading British scientist.

Researchers are finding it increasingly difficult to win funds to investigate particular clinical problems, while the majority of funding goes to research which may or may not have clinical benefit, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' Selborne Committee of Inquiry into Veterinary Research was told.

Bob Michell, professor of applied physiology and comparative medicine at the University of London said: "It seems below the dignity of the funding councils to fund near-patient clinical research. They think scientifically it is too mundane. People almost weigh the value of a project by the amount of molecular biology which can be brought into it."

Yet this concentration on fundamental research exists despite a vast gap in species-specific knowledge within veterinary science, he added.

"In most areas of veterinary clinical science we lack the baseline quantitative knowledge, both epidemiological and analytical, which has been commonplace in human medicine for decades," he said. "Diabetes is an important canine disease, but what percentage of middle-aged bitches are diabetic? We have no evidence, no sound data, merely well informed clinical hunches.

"We have to dig foundations as well as erect state-of-the art architecture. There is far more interest in funding grand designs than the 'mundane' but essential work of providing sound foundations - without which the good designs will frequently prove flawed or inappropriate."

Professor Michell also called for the inquiry to reconsider how veterinary research is funded. "The one thing which would be a monumental step forward, would at last be a study of the feasibility of transferring veterinary research to a separate panel under the Medical Research Council," he said.

Veterinary research is funded largely through the Biology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and small animal charities. "Our association with the BBSRC goes back to the days when veterinary science was really seen as a part of agriculture," explained Professor Michell. "A move to the MRC is long overdue. The MRC has shown good judgement in planning basic and clinical research. We would benefit from their attitudes and mechanisms."

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