Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Professor B Askonas, Imperial College London

  We greatly welcome the decision by the MRC to accept the majority votes following their consultations that NIMR should remain as a single multidisciplinary Institute rather than be split up.

  My brief comments relate only to the proposal to move NIMR to a central London University/Hospital site. I should like to point out that there are major advantages in leaving NIMR at its present site. The majority of about 1,000 individuals replying to the MRC email questionnaire voted that proximity to a Hospital was not important. The MRC only accepted votes of organisations where 56% of 36 respondents felt that Hospital proximity was very important. One complaint has been that there are so many NIMR alumni responding or writing in: however this in itself reflects one of the successes of NIMR that so many alumni are Professors and in high posts at many Universities and Medical Schools throughout the UK.

  In the original MRC Council Sub-committee report last year Infection/Immunity was to be a major focus in the future. Undoubtedly there are major advantages to NIMR at Mill Hill for all aspects of Infection research. I am an Immunologist who carried out research in immunology of virus and parasite infections at NIMR some while ago. There are important requirements when dealing with dangerous pathogens for special facilities—for example several separate containment facilities 2, 3 and 4 both for laboratory experimentation as well as for animal isolation set ups. To have such facilities at the same site requires a lot of space. Security is essential and undoubtedly everyone is aware of present day problems created by animal activists preventing the building of new animal facilities. Additional spare space for emergency problems such as SARS (that fortunately did not reach the UK) is a bonus. All these facilities are available at the present NIMR site at Mill Hill. In recent years more than 50 new viruses that can infect humans have emerged across the world. At present we have the threat of bird influenza hanging over us. With new regulations rebuilding of all these facilities next to a Hospital would be enormously expensive—it does not seem a great idea to have to move infected animals over some miles in the centre of London if it is not possible to have everything at the same site; Moving infected animals requires special permission from the Home Office on each occasion.

  The science at NIMR is excellent according to recent quinquennial site visits. NIMR already does translational research and has many outside collaborations within the UK and other countries. This could be further encouraged at the Mill Hill site. In any case, e-mail seems to be a preferred method of communication these days. Provision of more clinical Fellowships to be held at NIMR would strengthen closer links with clinical research and clinical scientists.

22 November 2004

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