Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Professor Dario Alessi, University of Dundee

  1.  I am a Principal Investigator working in the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit at the University of Dundee and I carried out much of my PhD research at NIMR (1989-91) under the supervision of Dr David Trentham, FRS, a renowned biophysicist, at this Institute. At the time, and I still feel the same is true at the present, it was really a unique place to work as it was a highly multi-disciplinary centre where scientists from different disciplines got together to do highly original science in a manner that is difficult in other institutions. In my case I was combining chemistry, biophysics and physiology working between 4-5 different groups, each possessing distinct expertise. This type of research is difficult to undertake in smaller MRC Units such as the one I am working in at Dundee in which all the groups work on a more related theme of work. The training I received at the NIMR played a significant role in enabling me to get to the senior MRC funded research position that I am fortunate to currently have.

  2.  I am not convinced of the argument that moving the NIMR into the centre of London to a new facility would greatly benefit UK science. A major concern is that this would be hugely expensive. Presumably, the large amount of money that would be required for this would need to come from the MRC budget. As the MRC only has a defined annual budget, the cost of re-locating NIMR to the centre of London will have to be borne by other MRC funded researchers working elsewhere in the UK. This will effectively harm a considerable amount of other MRC funded projects.

  3.  One of the great benefits of NIMR is that they have very effective animal research facilities on site. I understand that for the UCL bid for NIMR, the animal facility will be located one mile away. Anyone who has done animal-based research, such as myself, would recognise that this is highly impractical as experiments are much better performed if the animal facility is within the same building as the laboratories in which the researcher is working in. Moreover, with the increasing numbers of animal rights campaigners, having an animal research unit at a separate location will have serious security implications as the staff working in this Unit would be clearly identified by the campaigners as will the researchers entering and exiting the unit with research equipment as well as animal samples for analysis in their laboratory up the road. Animal samples will be transported in easily identifiable dry-ice boxes, liquid nitrogen containers or live animals in cages. Construction of these new animal facilities would also be highly expensive and cause a lot of unnecessary problems given that NIMR already possesses one of the best animal research facilities in the UK.

  4.  I understand that the King's Building bid for NIMR proposes to divide it into two separate buildings. This would effectively destroy the unique culture that has evolved in the NIMR that enables diverse research groups to work together in the same building. Splitting NIMR in half will harm collaborations and interactions between the researchers working in the different buildings.

  5.  Taking the above points into consideration the most cost effective and scientifically best option in my opinion would be to leave NIMR at its current site.

  6.  I understand that the MRC in a sensible drive to get best value for research are keen on the idea of MRC centres rather than specialised MRC Units such as the one that I work in. I think this is a potentially harmful policy as many of the top UK scientists work in MRC Units, as they are they are fabulous places to work in and make a major contribution to the highest quality UK research publications. If getting rid of MRC Units and converting them to Centres is the mechanism by which the MRC is going to come up with the additional funds to pay for the translocation of NIMR to the centre of London, this I do not feel will benefit at all UK science. Many scientists might consider going to work in the USA where they can receive better support for their research.

22 November 2004

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