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Unlocking the research potential
  1. Suzanne Jarvis

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Last week was a good week for highlighting the knowledge and expertise that is evident in the veterinary profession.

The BVA held its annual members’ day, which includes the presentation of its awards. The awards celebrate those who have made an outstanding contribution to veterinary science and the profession (see pp 358–359), but BVA also provides funds to assist today’s students to further their studies.

Members’ day is also when we present the Vet Record Impact Award. Each year, this award recognises the research paper, published within the previous year, that we consider has the most potential to change practice.

This year, there was a clear winner – a paper by Andrea Turner, David Tisdall and colleagues,1 which found that reducing antimicrobial use generally, and ceasing the use of the highest priority critically important antimicrobials, had no detrimental effect on the health, welfare and production parameters of dairy cows on the farms studied.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is an area of huge importance to both human and animal health. It is a daunting problem to solve. And obviously, while this one paper can only be a small part in this enormous AMR jigsaw, what it does show is that change can be made at a local level without the need for regulation. It also gives a vision that these changes could be scaled up around the globe to greatly reduce the use of antimicrobials in farming.

Also last week, the RCVS hosted its annual fellowship day, which sees the induction of new members to its fellowship. The fellowship recognises outstanding contributions to clinical practice, veterinary knowledge and the profession. Part of its remit is to promote public awareness of veterinary science. Considering the disengagement between a section of the public and experts, which has led to worrying outcomes, such as the anti-vaccination movement, this commitment to promote veterinary science is to be welcomed.

As well as celebrating the incoming fellows, the RCVS also devoted time to students, in its fellows of the future competition. This gave under- and postgraduate students the opportunity to showcase research that they had carried out, and to be judged on both the science and their presentation.

The science on display was varied, from genetics and molecular studies, modelling and diagnostics, to surveys and prevalence studies.

The students gave a good account of themselves, acknowledging limitations and often suggesting what could potentially be productive avenues to pursue for future research. However, as is so often the case, the financial limitations were also clear.

It is frustrating to see research not getting done due to lack of cash

While the funding bucket cannot be bottomless, it is frustrating to see that over the years quality research does not get done due to a lack of cash. And, with the potential for funding losses from the EU after Brexit, money looks to only be getting tighter.

From a professional point of view, it can also lead to a narrowing of opportunities for vet graduates who wish to become research scientists.

There is a long tradition of vets transferring to research outside the traditional veterinary areas, often through initially getting involved in comparative medicine. This can only be good for the profession in promoting what opportunities there are with a veterinary degree.

The keynote speaker at the RCVS fellowship day was a great example of this. Iain Glen, a vet by training, described his and his team’s work in discovering and developing the anaesthetic propofol for human patients. The World Health Organization has described propofol as an ‘essential medicine’, and with its use also established in animals, it is an example of a true One Health success.

In our research scientists, both now and for the future, we have a large pool of expertise and talent. But what we also need is funding to unlock this potential.

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