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Bristol researchers awarded Future Leaders Fellowships

Press release issued: 15 October 2020

Four Bristol researchers have been awarded UK Research and Innovation's (UKRI) prestigious Future Leaders Fellowships. The awards, designed to establish the careers of world-class research and innovation leaders across the UK to help them tackle major global challenges, are announced today [15 October] by Science Minister Amanda Solloway.

The initiative will see 101 fellows based at UK universities and businesses supported through an investment of £109 million.

Announcing the successful fellows at today’s Future Leaders Conference, Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “We are committed to building back better through research and innovation, and supporting our science superstars in every corner of the UK. By backing these inspirational Future Leaders Fellows, we will ensure that their brilliant ideas can be transferred straight from the lab into vital everyday products and services that will help to change all our lives for the better.”

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, said: “Future Leaders Fellowships provide researchers and innovators with freedom and support to drive forward transformative new ideas and the opportunity to learn from peers right across the country.

"The fellows announced today illustrate how the UK continues to support and attract talented researchers and innovators across every discipline to our universities and businesses, with the potential to deliver change that can be felt across society and the economy."

Four Bristol researchers are among the recipients of UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships. These include:

Dr Hannah Griffiths from Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences who will explore how large above-ground mammals, such as deer, as well as tiny invertebrates and microbes under the soil, impact forest growth providing new knowledge that will inform efforts to increase biodiversity and combat climate change.

Soil communities are extremely complex and diverse, with millions of species and billions of individuals living within a single ecosystem. However, because life in soil is so small and numerous, studying below-ground food webs is extremely challenging and time consuming. Therefore, an important outcome of this work will be the use of cutting-edge genetic sequencing techniques to determine, for the first time, how the diversity of these difficult to study organisms influences carbon sequestration and therefore climate change mitigation strategies. The study will help us understand and mitigate the consequences of declines in global biodiversity for the ecosystem services that support humanity and generate data that will help manage the restoration of forests to reverse the decline in biodiversity and help mitigate global warming.

Dr Anya Skatova, a Turing Fellow and behavioural scientist at Bristol Medical School (Population Health Sciences) will work on realising the value of transaction data to improve population health. Her fellowship will question whether shopping history data, such as recorded through supermarket loyalty cards, can be used in a positive way to support health research and the development of new interventions. Dr Skatova, who is currently based in Bristol’s School of Psychological Science, will link retail loyalty card datasets with rich medical, genetic, early life environment and other records collected by the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). This will allow to create a transaction data linkage framework for other longitudinal cohorts and population health more broadly. Further, the fellowship will establish the feasibility of novel ways of assessing both health outcomes and associated lifestyle choices through objective measures of real-world behaviours reflected in retail shopping history data,and apply new methods on reproductive health domain.  

The ultimate goal of the study is to put large commercial datasets — such as shopping history data — at the service of the public healthcare through contributing to early detection of diseases, developing and testing targeted interventions, and contributing to the evidence-based healthcare and health research. 

Dr Siddhartha Kar, a cancer epidemiologist at the Bristol Medical School will study how a wide range of everyday factors, such as exercise and diet, as well as the human body’s physiology and biochemistry relate to the molecular characteristics of tumours in cancer patients. Dr Kar will then map how these tumour molecular characteristics, in turn, affect survival after a diagnosis of cancer. Some of these everyday factors, particularly those associated with lifestyle, are modifiable through public health interventions. Other physiological and biochemical measures, such as the levels of specific proteins or cholesterol in the blood, and the tumour molecular characteristics themselves, may be amenable to medical treatment. By establishing the causal chain from these factors or measures to tumour molecular features to cancer progression, Dr Kar’s work will inform the development of novel approaches to cancer prevention and therapy.

Dr Joshua Silverstone, a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow and member of the Quantum Engineering Technology (QET) Labs in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering will develop the optical-electrical systems that are essential for realising the coming quantum revolution. The development of quantum technologies will change how we collect, compute, and communicate information in our everyday lives. Using long-wavelength single photons, particles of light, together with tightly integrated electronics, Dr Silverstone and his team hope to overcome the barriers to building big quantum technology, making it useful in the wider world.

UKRI’s initiative aims to support the creation of a new cohort of research and innovation leaders who will have links across different sectors and disciplines. Awardees will each receive between £400,000 and £1.5 million over an initial four years. The grant supports challenging and novel projects, and the development of the fellow’s career. The funding can also used to support team members, their development, and pay for equipment and other needs.

Further information

The Future Leaders Fellowships scheme, which is run by UK Research and Innovation, will recognise up to 550 individuals with a total investment of £900 million committed over 3 years. The scheme helps universities and businesses in the UK recruit, develop and retain the world’s best researchers and innovators, regardless of their background. They can apply for up to £1.5 million to support the research and innovation leaders of the future, keeping the UK at the cutting edge of innovation. Each fellowship will last four to seven years.

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