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Funding boost to involve more doctors in cancer research

Scheme aims to retain women scientists in the field

Jo Carlowe

Monday, 13 May 2019

Scottish science is to receive a multimillion-pound boost to transform training for doctors who undertake cancer research.

The joint Clinical Academic Training Programme Award to the tune of over £6m should help stem the current decline in clinician scientists.

Cancer Research UK is to award the funding to its research centres in Edinburgh and Glasgow to train early-career clinician scientists.

Clinician scientists in Scotland is in decline, particularly in senior posts. Traditionally, the path to becoming a clinician scientist involves doctors taking time out of training to undertake a PhD, before returning to complete their medical training in their chosen specialisation. But many clinicians don’t come back to research after qualifying as consultants – particularly women.

To address this problem Cancer Research UK’s £6.2m programme in Scotland will introduce new measures – including more flexible training options and improved mentorship and networking opportunities – to better support women clinicians who want to get involved and stay in cancer research.

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “Training early-career clinician scientists is a vital part of our work to save lives through research. Clinician scientists have a very important role to play by bringing their knowledge and experience of treating people with cancer to scientific research.

“If we’re to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured, we need all our doctors and scientists to be able to reach their full potential. That’s why we are taking action to introduce more flexible training options for early-career clinician scientists, as well as better support and mentorship. We want to encourage more women clinicians to get involved in cancer research and create powerful role models that will help attract and retain more clinician scientists in the future.”

In particular, the funding will enable the Cancer Research UK centres in Glasgow and Edinburgh to offer the MB-PhD qualification to early career clinicians – which would allow them to study for a PhD earlier in their medical training.

Research in the US shows that offering this qualification retains more women in clinical research, with 70% of women there who have undertaken the US equivalent – an MD-PhD – staying in the field.

As well as more flexible training options, the programme will take a more continuous approach to mentoring clinician scientists both during and after their PhD, when support to apply for follow-on funding to continue their research is important. There will also be a focus on building a stronger clinician scientist network in Scotland.

Commenting, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I welcome these clinical research training awards from Cancer Research UK to support research careers and the development of more talented medical research scientists in Scotland working to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“We recognise there can be obstacles recruiting women into science-based professions and we are delighted that CRUK are joining us in the effort to tackle these inequalities. Workforce is a key ambition of our £100m cancer strategy and we aim to have a diverse, sustainable, workforce caring for people with cancer.”

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