Blog: The North is Already Excellent for Research, by Dr Ben Martyn

Why the North already offers great opportunities for researchers by NHSA Business Development Officer and Analyst Dr Ben Martyn

12th November 2018

I recently saw an exchange on Twitter, discussing the problems of setting up research centres of excellence in the South, where living costs are high, rather than the North, where they’re lower. One of the things that really struck me from the comments was how little awareness there seemed to be of what the North has to offer beyond reduced living costs. One commentator suggested these centres would be built in the North, but at the risk that no one would come to work in them. Maybe it’s the bubble effect or maybe its Northern modesty but if you’ll indulge me I’d like to sing the North’s praises for a bit.

For a relatively small geographical area the North boasts a huge concentration of world class universities. From those N8 universities of Manchester, Durham, Sheffield, York, Leeds, Lancaster, Newcastle, and, Liverpool, that form part of the NHSA’s members,  to the younger institutes like Sheffield Hallam, the University of Hull, and, the University of Central Lancashire who are quickly growing and demonstrating themselves as capable research institutions. Very few destinations in the world can offer such a breadth of research talent within two hours or less by train.

This pool of talent has been recognised in investment from government and the private sector. The brand new £350 million Newcastle Helix is home to the National Innovation Centres for both data and aging, as well as acting as an exemplar for urban sustainability; a key piece in taking a holistic approach to our health and well-being.

Manchester is home to the Anti-Microbial Resistance Centre (AMR), tackling one of the biggest issues facing healthcare worldwide. Durham is home to the Centre for Process Innovation, helping to bridge the gap between conception and commercialisation. Lancaster’s Centre for Ageing Research is a world-leader in tackling the issues surround aging populations and the problems we each individually face as we grow older. York is home to the £2.4m Wolfson Palliative Care Research Centre, conducting research and working with healthcare professionals to have an impact on people with the serious illnesses we all hope we never have to face. Leeds is a world leader in precision medicine, working in an interdisciplinary way to tackle global health issues, with centres like The Astbury Centre for Structural Molecular Biology, the Leeds Omics Single Cell Genetics Centre, and the Cancer Research UK Leeds Centre. Sheffield is leading the way with the Sheffield Institute for
Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) and the Centre for Assistive Technology and Connected Healthcare (CATCH), as well as quickly establishing itself as a centre for digital start-ups. Liverpool is renowned worldwide as centre for studying infectious diseases, at the Institute of Infection & Global Health. It’s also home to the MRC Northwest hub for Trials Methodology Research, ensuring that clinical trials continue to provide the evidence that allows the best decisions to be made for patients. Liverpool also hosts the Centre for Integrated research into Musculoskeletal Ageing (CIMA), the MRC Arthritis UK Centre for Integrative Musculoskeletal Ageing, with Sheffield and Newcastle,  and Liverpool and Lancaster Universities Collaboration for Public Health Research (LiLaC).

On top of that the North plays host to several NHS England Test beds, NHS Genomic Medicine Centres, NIHR Medtech and In Vitro Diagnostic Co-operatives (MICs). All these institutes and programmes are underpinned by the world recognised research intensive NHS trusts we have in the North.

All that and I’ve barely scratched the surface.

In all these locations a key theme of integrating academia, public sector, business, industry and the communities they sit within to provide the greatest benefit to patients is found. This offers researchers in the North a fantastic opportunity to engage in the healthcare ecosystem outside of the work they do, and organisations like Connected Health Cities and the Academic Health Science Networks exist to share data and ensure the North can work as a collective team.

It’s true that the region suffers from many inequalities that are covered by the North-South divide. Life expectancy is lower and a recent report from Durham University showed that incidence of chronic pain is higher here too. This highlights how important it is to continue to promote the work that is happening here. The North is taking its destiny into its own hands and work undertaken here has real potential for life-changing impact.

And the North has by far the best national parks. Between the Peak District, the North York Moors, the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District it doesn’t matter where you live in the North, you’re never far from these fantastic places and all that they offer.

So, if you want to live and work in state-of-the-art buildings, with beautiful surroundings, alongside world leading researchers and industry, tackling some of the most important challenges of today, look North.

Oh, and the cost of living is lower too.


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