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Cuts Disastrous for Brain Science Research, Academics Warn

From Guardian (UK) (February 11, 2011)

The closure of drug company research facilities and "draconian" funding cuts will have a disastrous impact on brain science in Britain, senior academics warned yesterday.

At least 30 neuroscience research groups are expected to fold under cuts proposed by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), adding to jobs already lost after big pharmaceutical companies shut research programmes or moved them abroad.

Last year GlaxoSmithKline pulled out of antidepressant research in Britain in an effort to save pounds 500m a year by 2012, while AstraZeneca and the US drug company Merck closed facilities across the country.

"There is now virtually no neuroscience being done by pharmaceutical companies in Britain," said David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London. "The prospects for the future are extremely bleak."

The loss of drug company investment leaves academics without industry partners to collaborate with on research into mental health disorders, neurogenetics and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

The closure of industry research is compounded by the BBSRC’s own plans to cut expenditure on neuroscience by pounds 20m over the next five years.

The council said it had to cut support for the field because it draws too many successful proposals and consumes "too great a proportion of funding".

Instead, the council has asked its funding committees to prioritise research projects in other areas, including food security, bioenergy, industrial biotechnology and the basic biosciences that underpin health and wellbeing.

Colin Blakemore, the Oxford University neuroscientist and former head of the Medical Research Council, said neuroscience was being unfairly penalised. "This is disastrous. One of the most successful areas of science in Britain is going to be demonised because it is so successful. It’s the last straw that might break the camel’s back."

He estimated the funds shortfall would see at least 30 research groups disband.

In a letter to Sir Tom Blundell, chairman of the research council, more than 80 leading British neuroscientists called for the plans to be reconsidered.

The letter from the British Neuroscience Association (BNA) said the latest blow to neuroscience was "likely to affect the career aspirations, development and training opportunities for young researchers".

Around 5,000 scientists and students conduct neuroscience research in Britain.

Trevor Robbins, president of the BNA, said grim prospects for young neuroscientists in Britain could drive them abroad.

A brain scan. The British Neuroscience Association says young neuroscientists could be driven to move abroad

Posted: February 2011