Guest blog post by Dr Madina Kara, Neuroscientist at the Stroke Association
Twenty years ago, stroke research was largely neglected by other funding agencies. Through the Stroke Association’s early and continued investment, we have established a strong community of stroke researchers and healthcare professionals. In our report Saving Lives: 20 years of investing in vital stroke research we share examples of how, through funding research bursaries and fellowships, we have attracted many talented individuals to the field of stroke. Their work continues to help many thousands of people reduce their stroke risk and recover from the devastating effects caused by the condition.
In 1992, Professor Philip Bath, the UK’s first ever Professor of Stroke Medicine, was appointed at the University of Nottingham by the Stroke Association. The creation of this post has established the university as a leader in clinical trials for stroke and led to the UK’s participation in several large international stroke research trials. Following our lead, there are now Stroke Professors at many universities around the UK.
Whilst we’ve had much success in creating a community of stroke researchers there is still much to do.
The Stroke Association’s new Research Strategy
In December 2013, the Stroke Association launched its new five year research strategy at the 2013 UK Stroke Forum conference, the largest multi-disciplinary stroke research conference in the UK. The new research strategy brings us closer to our vision of a world where there are fewer strokes and those touched by stroke get the help they need.
We have identified four strategic goals that will maximise the full value of our research investments, and strengthen our role as a partner with researchers, policy makers, clinicians and people affected by stroke.
These four strategic goals are:
- Shape the research agenda
- Develop a vibrant and diverse stroke research community
- Influence health and social care policy, practice and public understanding
- Learn about what works and embed it in our work
Whilst all four areas are important, this blog will focus on our commitment to develop a vibrant and diverse stroke research community and the next generation of stroke research leaders.
Research funding and research capacity need to go hand in hand. A stronger funding base for stroke research needs to be supported by increased research capacity. As part of the Stroke Association’s new research strategy, the charity is working to strengthen our commitment to the development of the next generation of research leaders. We will continue to fund early stage researchers to undertake Fellowships and in a new move, the Stroke Association will introduce new funding streams aimed at mid to senior researchers.
Nurturing early career researchers through funding Fellowships
Our Postgraduate Fellowships have enabled nurses and allied health professionals to gain valuable research experience and complete PhD degrees exploring the fields of stroke prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. We have also supported early career researchers to gain postdoctoral research experience by funding Postdoctoral Fellowships. By funding fellowships for nurses, physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, psychologists and occupational therapists the quality of rehabilitation research in the UK has dramatically improved. This has in turn helped more stroke patients make their best possible recovery. The Stroke Association aims to help our Fellows develop transferable skills and supports them by providing networking opportunities within the wider research community. These added skills will help professionals reach their full potential and become the next generation of stroke research leaders. Who knows the benefits their hard work will bring to the lives of stroke patients and their loved ones in the future?
Professor Marion Walker, Professor in Stroke Rehabilitation at the University of Nottingham, has first-hand experience of the impact of Stroke Association funding. She said: “Research funding from the Stroke Association has provided a lifeline of support for researchers like me. When I qualified as an occupational therapist in 1980, there was very little research being conducted into stroke recovery and virtually no research opportunities for therapists. Through a number of early research grants, the Stroke Association funded me to complete my PhD and rise through the ranks to become a Professor in Stroke Rehabilitation”.
Funding Clinical Fellowships
Our clinical fellowship awards were created in 1996 to provide doctors with specialist training in stroke medicine. This was not readily available through the National Health Service (NHS) at the time. These fellowships were a huge success, bringing and retaining many talented clinicians into the field of stroke.
Today the Stroke Association jointly funds clinical fellowships with the Medical Research Council (MRC). By collaborating with the MRC we leverage additional funding to train more clinicians and ensure we appoint excellent candidates for these prestigious awards. As part of the Stroke Association’s 20th anniversary celebrations we awarded Princess Margaret Fellowships: flexible awards aimed at increasing capacity in clinical research. The University of Edinburgh has used this funding to hold the Edinburgh Winter School which aims to help new or aspiring clinical academics develop answerable research questions.
New lectureship programme
As part of our new strategy we are making a commitment to support 15 Stroke Association Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Reader positions. This new programme aims to address succession, sustainability and the current pipeline crisis in the careers of stroke researchers. It will provide secure, long-term funding for researchers and help to leverage further funds to support PhDs, Post-Docs or other junior research and fellowship positions. But perhaps most crucially, it will inspire the next generation through a high quality lecturing and training programme.
The Stroke Association is currently in a consultation period regarding the details of this new programme of awards. A briefing document has been developed to allow anyone interested to contribute to the discussions of these awards. The consultation period is open until 10 June 2014. The programme will be launched on 30 June 2014. For more information, please contact Dr Kate Holmes at email@example.com.
The Stroke Association relies on donations to change the lives of stroke survivors and their families. To find out more about the research we fund, and to make a donation, visit www.stroke.org.uk/donate