RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy
Since the last RAE submission the University of Wales Institute Cardiff (UWIC) has undergone major reorganisation. This led to the formation of the School of Applied Sciences in August 1999 which amalgamated four centres, Biomedical Sciences, Food Science, Environmental Sciences and Horticulture. Of these four centres, only Biomedical Science is being submitted to 2001 RAE.
As a result of the reorganisation, research activity in the Centre of Biomedical Sciences (BMS) has been greatly increased. The expansion has been aided by considerable external and internal funding, the recruitment of 4 new research active academic staff and 2 research support staff and the enrolment of 13 new research students. The research themes outlined in the 1996 RAE submission have now become established research areas within BMS. To further focus and manage the research, the Biomedical Science Enterprise and Research Centre (BSERC) was established in July 2000. This centre has served to consolidate research groups, establish specific research programmes and foster an active research culture. The Centre benefits from strong national and international collaborative links with other academic institutions, medical establishments and industry.
A plan for the improvement of BMS dedicated research facilities was outlined in the RAE 1996 submission and this has subsequently been implemented resulting in the present research infrastructure. The facilities consist of two large dedicated research laboratories, an instrument room, a phlebotomy room and tissue culture and microbiology category B suites. Since the last RAE there has been a significant increase in internal financial investment of £143,600 (1999/2000) and £171,000 (2000/2001). This has contributed to the employment of research active staff, the purchase of dedicated research equipment and the support of honorary readers and research fellows. The Centre is composed of 9 category A researchers (2 honorary readers, 5 academic staff and 2 senior research fellows), 13 research students (9 full-time and 4 part-time) and 2 research technicians. A research committee consisting of senior researchers and headed by the two honorary readers (chairman and secretary) manages the Centre. This committee meets monthly and is responsible for the implementation and development of research practice and policy within BSERC. The Centre organises monthly internal research seminars, which encourage young researchers to present their research findings in an open and supportive environment. The School of Applied Sciences also organises an Annual Postgraduate Day and an Annual School Research Conference.
In order to focus and manage research, the Centre is divided into two main research units as follows:
1. The Microbiology and Infection Unit
1. The Microbiology and Infection Unit consists of 3 academic staff (Dr R. Cooper, Dr N. Burton, Dr S. Hicks), one M.Phil. research student and two research technicians. Dr Cooper, who heads this Unit, has continued her research into the bacteriology of chronic wounds as outlined in the 1996 RAE submission. Since March 2000, an externally funded research technician has been appointed to investigate the bacterial loading of chronic wounds. This is a joint project between UWIC, the Wound Healing Research Unit, University of Wales College of Medicine (UWCM) and Smith & Nephew. This area of research has been further developed to investigate the therapeutic value of treating chronically infected wounds with honey. This project has generated considerable interest both nationally and internationally, resulting in collaborative links with Wound Healing Research Unit, UWCM and the University of Waikato, New Zealand. Recently, a grant of £9,000 was secured from the European Wound Management Association to fund one M.Phil. student. Dr.Cooper also collaborates on an intra-school, multidisciplinary project with the Food Research and Consultancy Unit (FRCU)to assess the efficacy of hospital cleaning regimes. This project is funded partly by a grant from the Chief Medical Officer, Welsh Office (£3,250). Dr N. Burton, a part-time lecturer, has continued to pursue his research investigating the identification and distribution of Burkolderia cepcia in the environment. This research has resulted in the successful completion of a Ph.D. in July 1999 and the publication of 3 research papers. Dr S.Hicks, a senior research fellow, is investigating the role of mucins in infection. This project has collaborative links with the Department of Veterinary Science, University of Bristol and has resulted in a number of high-impact factor research publications.
2. The Molecular and Cell Biology Unit contains 6 full-time academic staff, 11 research students and 1 research technician.
2a. The Immunology Research Group, headed by Dr K. Jones, has continued its investigation into the role of pulmonary surfactant in immuno-regulation in the lung, as outlined in the 1996 RAE submission. This research area has been extremely successful, resulting in collaborations with pharmaceutical companies, The Department of Medicine (UWCM), and the Welsh School of Pharmacy at Cardiff University. The group received a quantity of the pulmonary surfactant drug Xosurf (Glaxo Wellcome) worth £2,000 to study the immuno-regulatory properties of this compound within the alveolar space of the lung.Currently, there are 5 individuals studying full-time for Ph.D.s in this research area and of these, three will be examined in 2001. One of the individuals, Mr K Morris is a member of academic staff who is undertaking a part-time Ph.D. A full-time dedicated research technician also supports the Unit. A new area of research within the group is in the field of allergy, in particular, nut and latex allergy. Recently, a Ph.D student has commenced an investigation into the molecular mechanisms involved in salicylate allergy. Expertise in this area has also led to the creation of the Allergy Consultancy Unit. This enterprise initiative has generated external funding totalling £14,500 , which has been used to underpin research programmes within the Immunology Research Group. To date projects have been set up with industry, the NHS and two housing authorities in the UK. Recently, the Unit has been awarded a SMART Welsh Assembly Award of £58,700 over 12 months to develop a specific allergy testing device. This grant will commence in March 2001 and employ a research technician.
The research groups studying diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer represent novel research areas within the Faculty of BMS. These programmes have been initiated since the last RAE and have resulted in the recruitment of new research active staff.
2b. The Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease Research Group. Within this group there are 3 full-time members of academic staff (Dr A. Thomas, Dr R. Adams and Dr S-A Evans ) and 4 research students (2 full-time and 2 part-time). The group has a strong publication track record and numerous collaborative links with research departments in (UWCM) and various other institutions including Cardiff University. These associations are beneficial in providing access to human clinical samples, patient-based studies and animal tissue. Dr A. Thomas’ main research interests lie in the field of type 2 diabetes. He has initiated a number of partnerships with pharmaceutical companies, for example, one of the Ph.D. programmes is studying the anti-inflammatory effects of thiozolidinediones (TZDs), an insulin sensitising drug, marketed by Glaxo Wellcome. That Ph.D. student is funded by internal UWIC funds. Other similar studies involving anti-lipid drugs pravastatin and lovastatin (Bayer Pharmaceuticals) are also in progress. A reagent grant of £1000 has been received from Bayer Pharmaceuticals and support obtained from the UWIC Research Opportunity (URO, £2,900) fund to pump-prime this growing area of innovative research.
2c. The Cancer and Cell Cycle Research Group. This group is headed by Dr M. Edwards and contains 3 research students (2 full-time and 1 part-time). The group has just secured a three-year research grant from Cancer Research Wales totalling £41,000. The grant commenced on 1st December 2000 and partly funds one of the full-time MPhil/PhD students. The project, which involves two research students, will investigate the role of the ATM gene in the genetic predisposition to malignant disease. It involves a team of collaborators which includes Professor AMR Taylor, Cancer Research Campaign Institute, University of Birmingham, Dr J. Court, Department of Medical Oncology, Velindre Hospital, Cardiff, Prof. V. Thomas, Department of Medicine, UWCM, Cardiff and Professor I D Bowen, Cardiff School of Biosciences, Cardiff University. The research is of international importance and involves investigations into the predisposition of various ethnic groups in Middle Eastern populations to malignant disease. Professor M. Hannan, Dept. of Radiation Biology, King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Centre, Saudi Arabia, who is a Honorary Visiting Professor at UWIC, is collaborating on this project. These studies will culminate in the development of a screening programme to identify individuals predisposed to malignant disease. Other research in this group focuses on the molecular mechanisms responsible for the initiation of human autoimmune diseases. The latter research involves collaborations with the Department of Medicine, UWCM and University Hospital Qatar.
The current strategic planning policy and future resources should result in a dramatic improvement in many of our perceived weaknesses detailed above. In fact the future of research in BSERC is an exciting prospect, which is evident form the magnitude of the improvement and achievements attained since the last RAE submission four year ago.
It must be emphasised, that although the research active staff have been allocated to specific research groups, the groups are not mutually exclusive and the BSERC provides a cohesive network of internal collaborations. Many of the research programmes, techniques and equipment are common to all the research groups. There are numerous examples of internal collaborative research projects, a case in point being the investigations into the inflammatory mechanisms in diabetes and pulmonary disease which involves collaboration between researchers in the Diabetes and Cardiovascular Research Group and the Immunology Research Group.
As well as an improved infrastructure, BSERC has benefited from investment in research equipment. Recent purchases include a fluorescent activated cell sorter (FACS), a gel analysis system, a coagulometer, a luminometer, a fluorescent microscope, two PCR machines, an anaerobic cabinet and a tissue culture cabinet. There are also dedicated molecular biology areas with RNA and PCR workstations.
Since 1996, the Centre of BMS has recruited 4 new academic staff and a research support technician. These individuals have been strategically selected to complement the current research programmes of BSERC.
The provision and maintenance of a research environment, which brings out the best performance from staff and students is of utmost importance, and resources are in place to facilitate this. New research students are required to complete a UWIC Certificate in Research Methods (CRM) and a half-module in Research Methods, which is part of the MSc Biomedical Sciences. This programme provides initial training in research methodology and regular training sessions for supervisors of research degrees. It has been in operation for some time, and leads the way to the national move towards introducing some formal structures into Ph.D. programmes. Postgraduate students are supported financially, in part, by allocated funds within BSERC. They are also actively encouraged to present their work in national and international conferences where appropriate. Allocated institutional funds are available to facilitate such conference attendance when other financial support is not available. All researchers are also encouraged to participate in monthly research seminars in the department, which enable exchange of ideas in a supportive environment. The UWIC Staff Development Programme also provides a comprehensive range of opportunities for all staff to enhance and update their IT, management and personnel skills.
Departmental strengths include the quality of publications, external research collaborations, and new research facilities; this combination has resulted in a lively and expanding research environment which is beneficial to staff and students alike (literary and collaborative strengths are discussed in detail in RA6). The current environs of research students and research-led teaching in BMS at UWIC are proving to be a catalyst for the development of high quality research. Many of the postgraduate and undergraduate BMS students either work or participate in work placement schemes in NHS hospitals and industrial laboratories, and this provides a necessary window on external research developments and has opened up many collaborative projects. In fact, it is one of BSERC current objectives to pursue jointly funded projects with the NHS and industrial partners via schemes such as the Teaching Company Scheme (TCS).
We are aware of certain areas of weakness in the department. As a relatively new research centre, the research funding from external sources has been limited and an improvement in this area will be a major objective of BSERC. However, recent awards from external sources, detailed in RA6, amount to £108,000, and this is a direct result of the long-term strategic planning put into place at the time of the last RAE. An increase in the numbers of Ph.D. students enrolled, coupled with the supportive research environment, should lead to an improvement in the completion and submission of Ph.D. projects. To date, one student has successfully obtained a Ph.D., with a further 3 submissions imminent in 2001.
Research-led teaching is desirable and necessary for accreditation of degree schemes by the Institute of Biomedical Sciences. Current policy involves rationalisation of the teaching programme in biomedical sciences, in order to increase efficiency of delivery of courses. This will thus alleviate the teaching demands on research-active staff enabling them to devote more time to R & E activities.
With the research infrastructure and resources now in place, there is also more opportunity for encouraging staff to engage in research and enterprise in an innovative and supportive environment. The focusing of research and research-support towards areas of strength will minimise the previous deficiency in agreed policy for research & enterprise in the department. Staff can now pledge their expertise to the achievements of the group research objectives, whilst developing both the collective group profile and their individual research profile.
Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL
Last updated 17 October 2003