In addition to the research packages awarded to Group Leaders, the UK DRI provides several internal awards designed to promote collaboration, establish institute wide research platforms and encourage innovative pilot studies from early career researchers. Managing all this from UK DRI HQ is new recruit, Dr Aoife Kiely (pronounced ‘ee-fa kylee’). We caught up with Aoife to find out what funds are currently available and ones to look out for in the near future.
Funding opportunities with our new Science Review Manager, Aoife Kiely
Hi Aoife, can you tell us about your background and your new role?
Going all the way back, my PhD was in biochemistry from University College Cork in Ireland (the beautiful quad made famous for many reasons, but also bizarrely enough featured in an episode of ‘How I met your mother’...). My thesis involved investigating whether the Parkinson’s linked protein PINK1 might have a role in Alzheimer’s disease. After that I packed up my pipettes and moved to London as postdoc, joining Queen’s Square Brain Bank at UCL to study the relationship of neuroinflammation and the degradation mechanisms of alpha-synuclein in parkinsonism, in particular - multiple system atrophy.
I was very sad to leave the lab but had struggled to find funding and wanted to try a different, but still research-related avenue. I took the role of Research Communications Officer at Alzheimer’s Society with the role mainly focused on communicating dementia research to the public. I learned a huge amount here, in particular, a lot about the funder’s side of funding. Still, I wanted to do more to support researchers and get closer to research.
As a founding funder of UK DRI, we were closely involved with the institute and I admired the ethos and collaborative values it holds. I was thrilled to be offered my role as Science Review Manager which primarily requires running the internal awards programme - making sure that the rounds are well promoted, fair and transparent.
What funding initiatives currently exist for UK DRI researchers and who are they aimed at?
Three rounds of funding are currently open:
The first, our Pilot Awards programme, is available to postdocs who are working in the group of either Group Leaders or Associated Members. We are looking for innovative proposals for projects that will enable the recipient to gather the necessary data or develop a technique that will enable them to apply for larger external funding or publish a paper. We want this award to have a meaningful positive effect on their career progression. This round closes at midday on 31 January 2020 and where we will distribute up to ten awards of £44,000 (direct costs) for one year. This round will open again in the summer and autumn of 2020.
Our second is the cross-centre postdoc awards. The purpose of these is exactly what it sounds like, we want Group Leaders in different centres to join forces, merge expertise and hire a new postdoc whose work will connect the two groups. Only pairs of Group Leaders from different UK DRI centres or a Group Leader and an Associated Member from different centres are eligible to apply. The deadline for applications is midday 31 March 2020 and we will fund up to four awards of £220,000 (direct costs) for three years. The following round of this award programme will open in autumn 2020.
Our third is the Mouse Models for Dementia Research award (please note, this is not a financial award). UK DRI researchers are invited to apply to the DRI-Animal Models Programme (DRI-AMP) at the Mary Lyon Centre, MRC Harwell (MLC) for the generation of new genome edited mouse models to address novel research question. New point mutation(s), knockouts, targeted insertional transgenic models (e.g. lines expressing recombinases, fluorescent tags) will be generated by CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing or targeted insertional transgenesis. Cross-site/multi-PI projects, tool-development for hypothesis testing and novel research questions from Group Leaders without a track-record in mouse research are particularly encouraged. The deadline for this call is 21 February 2020.
What other initiatives are on the horizon?
We are currently taking a range of different approaches to using our award programmes to meet the strategic goals of the UK DRI. Here are a few examples:
Director’s Strategic Initiatives
Each Centre Director is invited to propose an initiative that has strategic relevance to the UK DRI. These are innovative and ambitious new undertakings that use the expertise of the centre but don’t simply continue existing research. They have strong relevance across the different centres and have a clear direction and a relevant translational component. Prof Chris Shaw’s Gene Therapy Initiative is our first example of this, based at UK DRI at King’s.
These are designed to unite researchers working on the same area across the UK DRI. Currently up and running, we have the ‘Neuroinflammation’ Theme led by Prof Hugh Perry and the ‘Vascular’ Theme run by Prof Joanna Wardlaw. Associated flexible funding will be available to, for example, cover expenses of holding seminars/events and allowing researchers to travel to other centres and learn new techniques. More information on this will follow in the near future.
Tools and equipment platforms
We are also receiving proposals to establish new tools or equipment platforms. These are facilities which will act as a beneficial resource to the whole institute. For example, as part of the Gene Therapy initiative, the team will establish a Adeno-Associated Viral (AAV) vectors platform, supporting the generation of gene therapy vectors for UK DRI Groups. Group Leaders can approach the Associate Director at their centre if they identify such a resource.
Inter-UK DRI travel bursaries
Our early career researcher (ECR) network has developed the idea of small travel bursaries to enable ECRs to travel between centres for talks/events or collaborations and training. This programme is being run by the ECR reps in each centre, but if in doubt, any interested ECRs can get in touch with me.
We are also developing new ways to support UK DRI researchers and staff at all levels of the institute community so watch this space!
Thanks Aoife. Finally, are there any other responsibilities you’ll be taking on in your role and how can researchers get in touch if they have any questions about funding?
I will also be the point of contact between the UK DRI HQ and the founding charity funders. This means that I will be involved in coordinating lab visits and events but also that I will occasionally be asking you to take selfies with elf-hats on or share the orange! If you would like to support the charities by taking part in an event, practicing your SciComms skills or meeting patient groups then please do get in touch - details on my UK DRI profile.
Article published: 02 December 2019. Please note the article was updated 10 December 2019 as the Mouse Models programme had become active.