New biosciences studentships launched

An outstanding opportunity has been created for students interested in leading edge biosciences related to bone, joint and rheumatic disorders.

The Oliver Bird rheumatism programme is awarding a total of £3,000,000 to five UK academic institutions to establish a cohort of 25 highly talented young scientists who will receive comprehensive doctoral training in rheumatic disease research and its translation for the benefit of patients.

Aberdeen, Glasgow and Newcastle universities, King’s College London and University College London have each been selected to set up an Oliver Bird Collaborative Centre. “The quality of the applications for this prestigious award was extremely high and the competition was very tough,” said Mr Anthony Tomei, director of the Nuffield Foundation that administers the Oliver Bird rheumatism programme.  The committee was looking for proven international excellence in research as well a broad, multidisciplinary approach to training the students that would direct their future careers in the field of bone, joint and rheumatic disease.  The programme builds on the initiatives defined in the Roberts’ review, “Set for Success” (April 2002).

The successful institutions will provide training in basic science into the underlying causes of rheumatic diseases, as well as clinical care including the development of treatment, rehabilitation and psychological aspects of pain and disability. Students will not only become familiar with immunology, biomedical physics and environmental sciences but they will also be able to develop skills in emerging fields such as predictive genomics, imaging, proteomics, nanotechnology and stem cell research.

These four-year training programmes are examples of a new style of PhD training as recommended by the Roberts’ review and they are the first of their kind in the field of rheumatic disease.  The studentships will help to generate links between diverse departments in the newly formed collaborative centres.  “We are now searching for exceptionally bright and motivated students who want to do something useful,” said Tim Cawston, professor of rheumatology at the University of Newcastle who has received an award.  “Students will have the opportunity to make their own discoveries and to help make a difference to the lives of people with bone, joint and rheumatic disease.  We believe they will ‘get the bug’ for doing research and be excited by their own unique knowledge.”

In the UK today, rheumatic disorders, which cover over 200 different diseases, are extremely common and affect over eight million people of all ages and the numbers are rising each year.  Over three million adults are physically disabled and one in every thousand children suffers from arthritis. At a personal level, arthritis is devastating, particularly for young people in their 20s and 30s.  Around 50% of people of working age who are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis cannot work due to chronic pain and fatigue, depriving them of their independence and self-esteem. Most rheumatic diseases affect bones and joints but there are other diseases, such as lupus, with widespread systemic effects.

Understanding the pathogenesis of rheumatic disorders is also improving knowledge of other inflammatory conditions, such as coronary heart disease and lung disease.  “We are all peddling fast,” said Professor Iain McInnes from the University of Glasgow, who also won an award.  “It is a very exciting time to be a rheumatologist.” 

The Oliver Bird Collaborative Centres will be good for UK research, bringing together new technologies, ideas and collaboration.  The comprehensive training programme will give a sound introduction into rheumatic disease research, leading to specialisation in the field.  The Nuffield Foundation hope that the programme will produce the next generation of world experts in bone, joint and rheumatic disease research, but most importantly, it will ultimately benefit the people who suffer from these chronic conditions for which, at present, there is no cure.  

Notes to Editors

The Oliver Bird Rheumatism Programme is funded by the Oliver Bird Fund.  The Fund, for research into the prevention and cure of rheumatism, was established in 1948 by the late Captain Oliver Bird who suffered from osteoarthritis and is administered by the Nuffield Foundation. 

The main focus for research at the new Oliver Bird Collaborative Centres is:

  • University of Aberdeen, co-ordinated by Professor David Reid - Potential therapeutic targets in rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and Paget’s disease.
  • University of Glasgow, co-ordinated by Professor Iain McInnes - Understanding immune mechanisms in inflammatory arthritis.
  • King’s College London, co-ordinated by Professor Costantino Pitzalis - Improving the treatment and outcome of rheumatoid and other forms of inflammatory arthritis.
  • University of Newcastle, co-ordinated by Professor Tim Cawston - Prevention and treatment of joint inflammation and damage.
  • University College London, co-ordinated by Professor David Isenberg - From bones to B-cell biology.

The Roberts' Review, Set for Success

A review into the supply of science and engineering skills in the UK, commissioned as part of the Government's productivity and innovation strategy. The review made strong recommendations for improving the attractiveness of PhD training - see HM Treasury website