We’ll lose more than just money if we lose access to EU research funding

Losing access to EU funding programmes isn’t just a matter of cash, it denies UK scientists a place at a highly collaborative table which accelerates scientific progress and the speed at which the fruits of research can reach the public, says Crick researcher Bernard Siow. 

I have been partly funded via EU Framework Programmes throughout my scientific career. On a practical level, losing access to such funding would mean there is simply less money available to do research. But even if the government can ensure that the funding UK researchers would normally have received via the EU is replaced, they can’t hope to replicate the highly collaborative international exchanges that come with the funding within any meaningful timeframe. 

Collaboration without parallel 

The level of collaboration on large European grants, funded by EU Framework Programmes, isn’t replicated in any other mechanism I have been part of. 

These grants involve the leading research groups in the field working together to solve big problems and advance science. The productive atmosphere in the meetings for these projects is unparalleled – they create an environment in which fellow researchers can be critical in a truly constructive way, without the competitive, and sometimes combative, nature of other types of international scientific meetings I’ve been involved in.  

Making connections 

My research focuses on in the development of microstructure imaging techniques using diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) and then applying these techniques to research questions. Microstructure dMRI allows us to visualise structures 1000 times smaller than the resolution of conventional MRI. Using these techniques, we can measure cell size, density and shape without the need for invasive biopsies. This enables a plethora of applications, such as localisation and grading of tumours, understanding the progression of neurodegenerative diseases, and a better understanding of the learning and ageing processes.  

The level of collaboration on large European grants, funded by EU Framework Programmes, isn’t replicated in any other mechanism I have been part of.

Perhaps my most enduring memory of being involved in an EU award is a meeting for the CONNECT (Consortium of Neuroimagers for the Noninvasive Exploration of Brain Connectivity and Tractography) programme, funded by an FP7 Collaborative Project award. 

The CONNECT project sought to use microstructure imaging to improve estimates of the human connectome – a map of neural connections in the brain. The project spurred on the development of microstructure techniques that are now being used in the clinic, as well as non-invasive tools for understanding of disease processes and ageing.   

As an early postdoc researcher, the meeting opened my eyes to how collaborative projects can drive forward and stimulate scientific discovery, particularly for difficult and contentious topics. I met leaders in the field and continue to exchange ideas and partner with them today. 

EU Framework Programmes have made research more efficient, effective and productive, accelerated scientific progress and fostered further collaboration. This means that the benefits of research impact society sooner. Missing out on the opportunity to be involved in such projects would be a great loss to me and my fellow researchers. 

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