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Dr Richard Chahwan (left) and Dr Emma Dempster (right).

£100,000 grants for two medical research leaders of the future

Two talented researchers from the University of Exeter have each been awarded £100k to further their work in developing our understanding of cancer and schizophrenia as part of a prestigious new grant scheme.

Dr Richard Chahwan, a lecturer in Molecular Immunology and Dr Emma Dempster, a lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School, have received grants from the Academy of Medical Sciences’ inaugural £1.8million Springboard scheme, designed to support promising early career researchers.

The two were selected from more than 100 applicants to receive the two-year £100,000 grants, together with mentoring from Academy Fellows and access to leadership and career development activities.

The Academy of Medical Sciences, an independent body representing medical science in the UK, has designed Springboard to fill a gap in the funding and training currently offered to non-clinical researchers at an early career stage and to support talented ‘research leaders of the future’. Forming a research group and establishing an independent research project is one of the most crucial, but difficult steps in the career of a scientist.

Dr Dempster, whose project will investigate the molecular architecture of schizophrenia, said: “Schizophrenia is a severe form of mental illness that makes an important contribution to the global burden of disease. This Springboard award will provide funds enabling me to investigate how schizophrenia-associated epigenetic variation affects gene function using new gene-editing techniques.”

Dr Chahwan, who is looking at immune cell behaviour and chromatin, said: "Cancer will affect one in two men and one in three women in their lifetime. It is a complicated disease that requires a sophisticated understanding of its various modes of action. This Springboard award will allow my lab to conduct studies in mice to investigate the role of specific chromatin modifications and their role in maintaining the integrity of our DNA, hence safeguarding us from cancer and other immune-related diseases.”

Professor Robert Lechler, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said: "Biomedical researchers within the early years of starting a lecturer post are at a key stage of their career, where the right support can make a great difference. Establishing an independent research programme as an early stage researcher is challenging, and failure to acquire start-up funds can result in loss of talented staff.”

The first round of the new grant scheme, launched with support from the Wellcome Trust, received 102 applications from researchers covering a breadth of disciplines. Nineteen grants were awarded to researchers at institutions across the UK.

Date: 28 April 2016

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