Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Professor Frank Grosveld, Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam

  I would like to comment on one of the major arguments, being used to justify the relocation of the MRC NIMR, namely the fact that the basic research should be placed close to a clinical setting to ensure its translation to the clinical practice. It is simply false.

  I am doing basic research in related fields. I started my research group at NIMR in Mill Hill, stayed there for more than 10 years and then moved to the Netherlands to the Erasmus Medical Center (Rotterdam). This center is a fusion between the biggest Academic Hospital in the country and the medical faculty of the Erasmus University. My department is working with several clinical departments. However our research is slowed down rather than the opposite by being close to a clinical setting, even though some of these collaborations work well. Perhaps most telling is that my best research projects and groups are not associated with clinical departments (the exception is the genomic analysis of cancers, but that can hardly be classified as basic research as it is in fact of a diagnostic nature). Many institutions will often claim that they have an excellent basic research programme, when in fact this is not the case. Perhaps the best example is the MRC's own Clinical Research Center on the Hammersmith site. It was set up to have basic research close to the clinic with clinicians participating in or running the research. However the example they present as their best case is one of a very good research programme run by a clinician, but the work is unrelated to the clinic and his clinical work is not even done at the same site.

  Over the years I have become convinced that the argument to close basic research institutes like the one in Mill Hill and place it much closer to a clinical setting to be able to efficiently do medical research, is in fact only part of a struggle about power, control and funds by a community that is increasingly overrun by the incredible speed of modern basic science. The pressure on basic research is also increasingly accompanied (at least in my country) by political pressure from central Government and parliament that all research has to be "useful" or "applicable". Most progress is not made that way as it is often unpredictable and depending to a large extent on serendipity.

  This does not mean that I think that science should not be brought closer to medicine, but instead of the "collaboration model" we have tried for 10 years (and are continuing where it is fruitful), we have changed tactics to close the gap with the medical community by bringing much more science education to the medical students. The idea is of course that in future they will automatically be much more sensitive to integrating basic research in their clinical departments. We therefore started a MSc Molecular Medicine programme for the best and most motivated medical students. It includes a year of basic research and is a great success. When they complete the MSc and their medical degree, we make it easy for them to come back for a PhD doing basic research as part of their medical specialization. For example I presently have a PhD student working on the mechanism of X chromosome inactivation, while his further medical training will be to become a surgeon.

16 November 2004

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