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Predictions for 2014

9 Jan, 2014
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With the new year upon us we were interested to hear what people in the Wellcome Trust community experts were looking forward to, and which areas of research they thought would be big in 2014. We asked for input from different centres that we fund, and also asked our new director, Jeremy Farrar what he hopes the year will bring. We’d love to hear your predictions for the year too – please add your thoughts in the comments section below.

Wellcome Trust Director Jeremy FarrarDr Jeremy Farrar – Director, Wellcome Trust

What are you looking forward to in 2014?

Really getting started at the Wellcome Trust, and encouraging its continued development as a creative, innovative, positive, confident and inspiring supporter of research for human and animal health in the humanities, in technology transfer and in policy. Critically, I’m looking forward to ensuring that the Trust continues to be both an inspiring place to work for all colleagues and an inspiration to our external community. I’m also excited about the opening of the refurbished Wellcome Collection in October.

In the world of science, I’m looking forward to major breakthroughs in the areas of cancer, infectious diseases, neurology/mental health, obesity and diabetes, as well as seeing the final Phase III data on the dengue vaccines. I hope that this year will see the development of real open access in research data (academic and pharmaceutical) and publishing, and will also uncover a way to inspire more young scientists and (especially) women to remain in science. Finally, I look forward to finishing my last major clinical study, on enhanced treatment for TB meningitis.

Outside of science, I’m looking ahead keenly to the arrival of springtime, England getting back to winning ways at cricket, seeing ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ at Stratford, going to my second football match, and the World Cup in Brazil.

What do you think will be the trends/interesting developments in your field?

One of the biggest developments in scientific education and research will be the move to open access across the whole process of research, from ideas to implementation. Big challenges in the field include how we inspire and engage the next generation of scientists, and also the breaking down of barriers in science, across disciplines and between countries. Other developments will likely concern mental health globally and cancer vaccines. The opening of the Crick Institute will also be a key development in encouraging ground-breaking research.

Trends in the field will include antimicrobial resistance, the continued rise of non-communicable diseases in low- and middle-income countries, and the re-energising of population health in the UK and globally. A less likely but very important trend would be the further spread of MERS-CoV beyond the Middle East, and of H7N9, EV71 and other viruses in Asia.

The big stories of the year will be the bringing of genomics into clinical practice and it making a difference to people’s lives, as well as the role of environmental change, land-use change, urbanisation and demographic change as the drivers of human and animal health in the 21st century.

Professor Robert Heyderman – Director, Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme

What are you looking forward to in 2014?

Numerous Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust (MLW) projects started in the last three to five years coming to fruition, and the beginning of several new initiatives at MLW to ensure the relevance of MLW activities to policy and policy makers. We have several big projects on TB, pneumonia and influenza that I think will provide some fascinating insights in the next year.

What do you think will be the trends/interesting developments in your field?

I think we will see some really exciting stories linking host biology to pathogen genetics. Our work on TB diagnostics and combined TB/ HIV interventions will attract considerable attention – the diagnostics side will lead to new approaches to the diagnosis of TB, particularly in children, while our TB-HIV work will show how community-based intervention can reduce the burden of TB and HIV.

We will also start to see whether the population impact of new pneumonia (pneumococcal) and diarrhoea (rotavirus) vaccines is as great as was hoped (some of this data will come from Malawi).

Work from a monkey model of HIV infection, that suggests that broadly neutralising HIV antibodies can clear HIV, could be extended to clinical trials in humans.

What was the highlight of 2013?

It is difficult to pinpoint only one highlight within the MLW Programme, but my personal highlight was a collaborative project with Alister Craig at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine completed by a very bright Wellcome Trust Clinical PhD Fellow called Chris Moxon. Chris’s work linked malaria parasite sequestration in the brain to inflammation and clotting providing novel mechanisms for cerebral malaria in children.  Other highlights included the refunding of the MLW Programme, the Liverpool Glasgow Global Centre, and the Liverpool Clinical PhD Scheme in the same year.

MQ: Transforming Mental HealthCynthia Joyce – CEO, MQ: Transforming Mental Health

MQ will be tackling public engagement around mental health and research. We are very fortunate that this is also an area addressed by the Wellcome Trust, and hope that there may be opportunities for collaboration as MQ identifies its path forward.

What are you looking forward to in 2014?

In 2014, MQ will be working on a very mission-specific public engagement project: collecting public input on research priorities for depression. We are partnering with the James Lind Alliance to reach out to a wide range of constituents to conduct one of the largest ever surveys of this type.  Depression affects nearly everyone at some point in their lives, so an ambitious project is in order.  The public’s questions and concerns on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of depression will be shared with the broader research community to inform and improve the research process.

What do you think will be the trends/interesting developments in your field?

MQ is building a scientific team to monitor research progress for mental health problems.  We plan to cover the scope of research from exciting discovery studies to more applied questions such as better ways to use psychological treatments. In 2014 we expect to see some of the following topics in the news:

  • further information from on-going genetic studies – particularly regarding the schizophrenia-bipolar disorder spectrum of illness
  • promising news on predictive markers for depression
  • exciting new uses of mobile technology for treatment of depression and anxiety
  • calls for more research funding for mental health problems as the depth and severity of the issue are discussed more openly in public forums.

The recent report from the Prince’s Trust on unemployment and mental health problems  among youths is just one aspect of our mental health management crisis.  This is true of all nations, not just the UK.  (See this editorial from ‘New York Times’ columnist Nicholas Kristof.)

What was the highlight of 2013?

That’s easy ­ we opened for business! On a more research-oriented note, we were thrilled by the publications from Stanford University’s Karl Diesseroth Lab on CLARITY, the new technology for visualising brain circuitry. This is yet another important tool for understanding brain function.

Prof. Reza Razavi's labProfessor Reza Razavi, Director, Wellcome Trust-EPSRC Centre of Excellence in Medical Engineering, King’s College London

What are you looking forward to in 2014?

I am looking forward to our Centre of Excellence in Medical Engineering bearing fruit, as we have a number of first-in-man studies planned for 2014. For example, we will do the first completely MRI-guided ablation of cardiac arrhythmias in patients with atrial flutter, which takes away the need for X-ray radiation, and allows us to see the ablation lesions as we carry out the procedure.

What do you think will be the trends/interesting developments in your field?

A key development will be the combination of imaging and other bio-markers with genetic data in large cohorts using new bio-statistic and computing techniques to better understand how diseases develop. Another development will be the use of computer models based on personalised patient data (such as imaging) to deliver personalised medicine – and in particular predict responses to expensive treatments before trying them out.

What was the highlight of 2013?

We had a very successful symposium in Ascot of the four WT-EPSRC Excellence in Medical Engineering Centres, with a focus on translation and commercialisation. We enjoyed two inspiring keynote talks from Bala Manian and Eliot McVeight, and a very entertaining after-dinner speech by Robert Winston.

Dr Sarah Teichmann, Sanger Institute-EBI Single-Cell Genomics Centre

I think single-cell genomics deserves a mention – this was highlighted  (collectively) as the ‘Method of the Year’ in ‘Nature Methods’, and of course we have our very own Sanger-EBI Single-Cell Genomics Centre. It is likely that there will be a slew of interesting new discoveries that come out of this technology this year, both from the Sanger Institute and elsewhere.

Professor Andy Waters – Director, Wellcome Trust Centre for Molecular Parasitology

Prof Andy Waters

What are you looking forward to in 2014?

We look forward to continuing an expansionary period and recruiting new scientists as we cultivate our links with researchers in disease endemic regions and the Major Overseas Programmes of the Trust. Allied to this is the continued evolution of our Global Health Centre partnership with Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust Research Centre in Blantyre, the University of Liverpool and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, which was launched last year.  We expect that we will be able cement active working links throughout the Centre and welcome the first recruits.

Outside of the field I am looking forward to the Commonwealth Games here in Glasgow, not just for the excitement of the events, but also for the opportunities the Games will provide for Glasgow, its centres of academic excellence, its artists and deep cultural roots – combined with their pure friendliness and engagement with the world.

What do you think will be the trends/interesting developments in your field?

The impact of genomics will continue to underpin the vast majority of basic research in tropical disease, empowering as it does the directly focused investigation of gene function and also facilitating global surveys of organisms and their environments.  There’s no limit to what we can learn.

What was the highlight of 2013?

The Large Hadron Collider working! Also the continuing revelation of biological complexity – the layers on the onion skin show no sign of ending.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 14 Jan, 2014 5:02 pm

    Here’s hoping developments in cell biology and genomics lead to better targeting of treatments, especially those with severe side-effects. I’m looking forward to more excitement from optogenetics and other neuromethods. I’m also hoping for better science reporting in the mainstream media, and more visibility for women, disabled and ethnic minority scientists. (Hey, a girl can dream.)

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