UK foundation launches health research excellence fund

Britain’s Medical Research Foundation has launched a new £2.7 million (US$4.2 million) health research fund for Africa. The fund will support scientists to pursue projects at centres of excellence outside their current places of work.

The Africa Research Excellence Fund, or AREF, will promote outstanding health research by Africans in Africa.

Dr Peter Dukes, deputy director of AREF, said £200,000 (US$311,000) had been committed to the fellowship programme in the first call, with the aim being to raise up to £2.7 million for the programme.

Dukes said the body was determined to use funds already available to the benefit of African science, and so launched the fellowship programme 'virtually' from the Medical Research Council Unit in The Gambia on 11 May.

The official launch of the AREF is scheduled for 17 September 2015 in London, at the Royal College of Physicians, where the fund is already registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales.

The fellowship

The fellowship is intended for outstanding early-career African researchers who have been awarded their PhD in the last four years.

Researchers interested in the programme will have to demonstrate the ability to develop research ideas and the skills needed to use advanced research methods to explore their ideas.

The focus will be on infectious diseases and non-communicable diseases. Research methodologies and technologies applied to health research must prioritise advanced medical statistics, medical bioinformatics, biomedical computational modelling, molecular biology and other advanced, laboratory-based science and economics.

“The AREF is about excellence and impact. So we are looking for potential leaders of the future: eager, committed, early-postdoc scientists with the knowledge, skills and courage to ask important, challenging research questions – to design elegant research protocols – and to drive the research through to solutions with impact.

“In other words – Africa’s rising health research stars,” said Dukes.

He said six to eight fellows will be funded this year, with the distinct possibility of another three per year focused on non-communicable diseases.

“The number of awards depends firstly on the quality of applications and their length. If our expert advisors recommend more short awards than long ones, AREF will make more awards than if the best proposals are all for nine months,” he said.

Up to £43,000 for a nine-month award will be provided for a research development fellowship at a leading research organisation outside the fellow’s own institution.

The first round of AREF will close for applications on 8 July and awards will be made in October.

“We are working hard to raise a full £2.7 million so as to fund a five-year programme of fellowships,” Dukes said. The placements will take place only in South Africa and Europe.

“We expect, as the fellowship activity grows, to widen the scope to the best institutions internationally. We decided to keep to a ‘footprint’ focused on the regions in which we currently have a growing network of contacts and partners.

“Inevitably the first round will reveal unexpected issues in placing our fellows. So let’s learn first where we know the terrain best,” Dukes told University World News.

After the AREF research development fellowship, researchers can apply for up to two follow-on research conferences or mentoring visits, to sustain and extend collaborative and mentoring relationships built up during the placement.