Staff Services Student Enterprise

Collaboration, Diversity and Impact from Bench to Bedside

Dr Emily Sena
10 Jun 2021

Dr Emily Sena from the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh discusses her research and how collaborating with industry brings a diversity of perspectives.

I have been an academic for the past 15 or so years, and I really enjoy what I do. My research is about what makes studies using preclinical models of human diseases rigorous and valid, and understanding the critical facets of translating findings in these models to humans in a clinical setting.

The campaign ‘Bench to Bedside’ aims to demonstrate exactly this: the expertise, track record and facilities at the University of Edinburgh that enable us to translate our research into impact.

In addition to being a neuroscientist, I describe myself as a meta-research scientist and I use systematic review and other meta-approaches in my work.

Colleagues that know me well, know that I consider collaboration as key to both successful and interesting research projects. My first publication, in 2007 as a PhD student, was a study in collaboration with colleagues based in London, Argentina and Birmingham, and it landed me a paper in the BMJ. This was the type of research I liked to do: I had the opportunity to bring my skillset to the table but also learnt a lot from some very smart scientists.

I have been fortunate that in my relatively young career, although no longer an Early Career Researcher, some of my work has already had a recognised impact. It has informed laboratory practice guidelines, reporting guidelines for animal research and also editorial policy. I suspect, for many of us, articulating, capturing and evaluating our research impact can feel a little gruelling but it is hugely satisfying and clearly important. I have to admit that these more “academic impacts” felt more within my wheelhouse, and I didn’t fully acknowledge how my research could be of interest to the industry.

Inevitably, collaboration with industry colleagues came. This has been indifferent guises but it all speaks to the ongoing impact and the greater reach of my central aim to improve translational research. My most substantial industry collaboration has been my role in a European IMI project, European Quality In Preclinical Data (EQIPD), where I led the “historical data analysis” work package. The purpose of the project was to investigate the sources of variation on research findings, within and between partners, to guide how we may design robust experiments going forward.

This project opened my eyes to the different approaches to working and the different drivers, particularly between academics and industry, even when conducting the same experiment. But more importantly, we shattered some preconceived notions about the quality of research each type of partner conducted. It also allowed me to forge connections and exert some of my experience and expertise related to rigorous experimental design across the consortium.

One of our industry partners states that their work with us has changed their internal research procedures, that they have a greater focus on rigour and experimental design and that our collaboration not only alerted them to the issues but informed them of how best to address them. This for me was some tangible and novel impact. Even more excitingly, we are now scoping options to co-supervise a research fellow (read “get the project funded”) to take this work even further, make sure that what we do is applicable to multiple stakeholders and maximise our impact.

Ultimately we have similar goals, to ensure that laboratory models better inform us of human disease and lead to effective interventions. Diversity in the perspectives of those you bring to the table to include all key stakeholders and effective collaboration seems, to me at least, a pretty good strategy.

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Dr Emily Sena