Access to EU funding programmes should be a priority in Brexit negotiations, according to Alzheimer’s Research UK, as a poll of dementia scientists highlights fears that Britain’s exit from the EU will lead to a loss of funding for research.
The survey, carried out by Alzheimer’s Research UK, highlighted a range of concerns about the impact of the EU referendum result – including a loss of funding, a drop in the UK’s standing as an international leader in research, and the impact on scientists’ ability to move between labs and collaborate.
The survey of 70 dementia researchers, carried out in August, found that losing access to EU research funding is a leading worry among scientists, with 60% listing this as being ‘of great concern’. As Brexit negotiations get underway, Alzheimer’s Research UK is urging the government to ensure that access to vital EU funding programmes will continue for UK-based researchers, as one of a package of measures to protect the UK’s life sciences sector.
Alzheimer’s Research UK is also calling for continued mobility for UK and EU researchers, ongoing support for cross-border collaborations and for scientific representation during the government’s exit talks.
The poll shows that detrimental effects are already being felt in research as a result of the EU referendum outcome, with 47% of respondents aware of opportunities for European partnerships being withdrawn or unsuccessful, while 41% were aware of researchers having been removed from grant proposals following the referendum result.
With 26% of respondents coming from an EU member country and working in the UK, the survey highlights the collaborative and international nature of many dementia labs. But results from the poll also show difficulties with recruitment and retention of researchers in UK labs as a result of the referendum. Three quarters (76%) of scientists surveyed were aware of someone leaving the UK, or considering leaving, because of concerns about their future in the country, while 51% were aware of problems recruiting researchers or students from EU member countries.
Dr Matthew Norton, director of policy and strategy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “It’s clear from our survey that dementia scientists are still very worried about the negative impacts of Brexit on UK science. UK government investment for dementia research has increased in recent years but EU research schemes are still an essential source of funding for dementia scientists in the UK. We are beginning to make real strides in the search for much-needed treatments for people with dementia, but if access to funding is lost there is a risk that progress could stall.
“We are deeply concerned that scientists may be discouraged from working in the UK: the ability to collaborate and move between labs is vital for research to thrive. Dementia research is still under-resourced in the UK, with just one scientist working on dementia for every six working on cancer – we must not allow Brexit to compound this problem. When our political leaders sit at the negotiating table it will be crucial that the scientific community is represented. There are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK today and if we are to find new treatments that can make a difference to their lives, our research sector must be supported.”