UKRI recently launched their Future Leaders Fellowship scheme, which aims to help early career researchers and innovators from around the world get the support they need to develop their careers. Applications can come from any discipline including immunology!
Immunologist Dr Kirsty Le Doare, a Reader and Honorary Paediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology Consultant within the Paediatric Infectious Diseases Research Group at St. George’s, University of London, was awarded a Fellowship in the first round of funding. She is currently based in Kampala, Uganda working with the MRC/UVRI & LSHTM Uganda Research Unit, as well as with MUJHU, a partnership between Makarere University and Johns Hopkins University. Here, she discusses her experience of applying for the Fellowship and the difference that it has made to her career.
I am a clinical academic in paediatric infection and immunity and decided to apply for the UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship (FLF) because it offered seven years of funding. Who wouldn’t want that sort of job security? I was at a stage in my career where I really needed some stability from the relentless treadmill of writing grants (and having them rejected) so that I could get on with actually doing science! I had (and still have) fantastic mentors who encouraged me to apply and gave me the confidence that I would be qualified for the fellowship. The application itself was a fairly standard fellowship application, with reviewer comments after the first stage that were really helpful in preparing for the interview. The interview was like no other I have been to, in that the FLF is not just for clinician scientists but all scientists, so the panel included chemists and biologists, as well as medical scientists and statisticians, which are what I was used to seeing.
My UKRI Fellowship is being used directly to fund elements of six streams of work. It will be combined with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) to answer questions about immunity to Group B streptococcus. The money will be split between St George’s and the Uganda site because the treatment of pregnant women to investigate Group B streptococcus are different in Uganda and the UK, so we have two parallel arms running that I’m overseeing. Importantly, the fellowship provides training for me in people management, health economics, media skills and secondments to other organisations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) helping provide context of where the project will fit in in the wider global health space.
We are aiming to set up a lab at St George’s and one in Uganda which will look at how the immune system works and try to replicate a baby’s immune system in the lab. Then we will have the field sites in the UK and Uganda that will directly feed into that. The ultimate aim is that we have this ‘cross-talk’ between the labs so that we can have an exchange of ideas and people, transferring ideas from the UK back to Uganda.
We are carrying out a series of studies in Uganda. I am working to set up a mother and baby study, with the aim of understanding what it is that makes babies sick. Then we’re also looking to understand whether there are things in the mothers’ immune systems that can also be transferred, whether via blood or breast milk, that might stop babies getting those infections.
The idea is to investigate whether developing and using vaccines for women when they are pregnant, against Group B streptococcus and pertussis (whooping cough), could boost that natural immunity and result in babies that aren’t infected with these diseases any more.
The funding from the Future Leaders Fellowship will be life-changing for me. As it’s a 7-year fellowship, I will be able to recruit and retain staff and develop them. I won’t have to worry about keeping the people that I need to keep the research going, but can spend the time on the research itself and developing new ideas and my team. It’s got a huge capacity-building element so we’ll be able to do more in Uganda, transferring skills across sites and retaining our people there.
Kirsty Le Doare
UKRI Future Leaders Fellow
Reader and Honorary Paediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology Consultant, St. George’s, University of London
You can find out more about the UKRI Future Leaders Fellowships and how to apply on their website. Application to Round 5 of the scheme open on 26 March 2020 with the deadline for mandatory outline proposal submissions at 16:00 on 2 June 2020.