Discovering the potential: interdisciplinary science in public health

Many thanks to my colleague Susan Bird for this blog post which reports on a recent visit she made to the Discovery Centre for Translational and Interdisciplinary Research in Dundee – it includes some great insights on the skills and attributes needed for this area of work, including networking and building connections – Rebecca

At a recent visit to the Discovery Centre for Translational and Interdisciplinary Research in Dundee, Dr Sarah Hussain, Publicity and Communications Officer, made it clear how important interdisciplinary research is – and how people coming into this work need to have the capacity to engage fully in working this way. A particular focus of the Discovery Centre is to bring cross-disciplinary teams of researchers together to tackle the problem of antimicrobial resistance, a serious threat to global public health that requires action from scientists across all disciplines.

Networks have developed between biophysicists, chemists, microbiologists, clinicians to work together on projects including developing novel diagnostics, new drug delivery strategies and data analytics. They have biologists, chemists and medical biologists working together on neglected diseases such as sleeping sickness, TB and malaria – analysing thousands of molecules to look for potential to develop further.

They collaborate with other academic groups, funding agencies and with pharmaceutical & biotechnology companies too to share the results of other promising molecular discoveries and to identify promising molecules for entry into preclinical development, the first stage in drug development. This arrangement works well for both parties as research is partnership-funded and the financial risk for the pharma companies is reduced at the discovery stage.

The investment in technology at the Centre is significant and includes twenty spectroscopy machines, the largest number in a UK research centre, each costing the equivalent of a Ferrari. The building houses a mix of wet labs (experimental spaces) and dry labs (office/write-up spaces) plus open areas for discussion, collaboration and informal meetings.

There has also been a real shift in the availability of research data. In the past, only data relevant to published research was made available. Now in their inter-disciplinary research, all data is available so others can see, judge and use.  This can mean real challenges in balancing openly-available data and protecting intellectual property rights.  Now that all data is out there, there is an increased need for people to manage the data, which involves lots of computing science but from a very mixed range of disciplines.

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