A bold biomedical venture
13 October 2011
On 11 October, Imperial celebrated officially joining The Francis Crick Institute at an event in King’s Cross. The Institute – a £650 million world class interdisciplinary biomedical research institute set to open in 2015 – was founded by the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and UCL. Reporter speaks to Professor Maggie Dallman, Principal of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, about her involvement in the project and what it means to Imperial.
When did you first become involved with the Institute?
When Sir Keith O’Nions became Rector in 2010, we considered whether it might be appropriate to start discussions with the partners and he was really keen to do so. I talked to the CEOs of all the partner organisations as well as Sir Paul Nurse, who is now the Institute’s first director, and they were excited for both Imperial and King’s College London to be engaged. Since that time, members of all the faculties and the Business School have been working towards our accession.
Why were you so keen to be involved with the project?
This is one of the most exciting developments in research relating to healthcare that I’ve seen in the UK in my lifetime. The opportunities for collaboration in the physical sciences, engineering and biomedical sciences will deliver amazing new knowledge, as well as practical benefits for patients – it is an extraordinary opportunity. We’ve also never seen a collaborative effort on this scale between major funding agencies and HEIs.
How much has Imperial invested?
All the HEIs involved have invested £40 million into the project – it is a major investment so we have taken time to ensure that academics and scientists across the College are engaged with the Crick mission.
What are the research aims of the Institute?
The Institute aims to understand the human body, determine what happens when normal processes – physiological, homeostatic mechanisms – go wrong and cause diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke, infections and neurodegenerative diseases. They then aim to use this knowledge to prevent and help to treat the conditions.
What can Imperial bring to the Institute?
Imperial’s strengths in physical sciences and engineering sciences will be applied to issues of global healthcare. The AHSC will act as one of the translational outlets for the basic sciences that will be developed at the Institute.
How will Imperial benefit from the collaboration?
The idea is for Imperial staff to be seconded to the institute for periods of time and then return to the College, bringing new research knowledge with them. What is of increasing excitement is the idea of Crick employees being seconded to Imperial, so there will be a dynamic interaction between the two organisations.
What kind of facilities will there be?
It’s going to be a spectacular state-of-the-art building full of stunning equipment for activities such as microscopy, imaging and protein structure analysis. The labs are open plan and one of the key design briefs was to ensure the plan provided enough social and mingling space to encourage maximum interaction between different groups.
Who will work at Crick?
Academics from every faculty at Imperial will have a chance to get involved with the Institute. In total it will employ 1,500 staff, including 1,250 scientists, but we can’t say exactly how many will be from Imperial at this stage. I envisage there will be around 10-15 Principal Investigators, along with their students and postdocs. Sir Paul Nurse is particularly keen on having early career scientists working there for a few years to allow them the opportunity to develop their research portfolios. Only the most outstanding researchers will be considered. So, those who have written novel papers, employ novel approaches or have specialist knowledge of technologies should be well placed to get involved.
What’s your advice for those wanting to get involved?
We are beginning to map out activities and facilities with all the partner organisations and are planning to hold workshops and other engagement activities for staff to find out about what is happening. Keep an eye out for adverts in Reporter and Staff Briefing.
— Emily Ross-joannou, Communications and Development