Grants and Awards

What we have funded

In 2022, The Biochemical Society awarded over £300,000 in grants and bursaries to support a wide variety of conference attendance, outreach projects, lab visits, and small events.

Discover a selection of reports from our successful grant recipients to see what our community has been up too and how our grants could help you in the future. If you need funding to help support a similar project or activity, view our full list of grant opportunities to find out how to apply.  

International Workshop on BioDesign Automation 2022
Conference Report, Eszter Csibra

If, as a PhD student, you had asked me how I anticipated spending my first Parisian conference, I would not have pictured this.

I am a molecular biologist, in a room full of engineers. There is a comfortable quiet in the auditorium. Everyone is squinting at their laptops: we have just opened our third or fourth Google Colab of the day. Could I ever have imagined a few years ago that I’d be comfortable in a space like this? I doubt it.

I’m at the International Workshop for BioDesign Automation, or IWBDA for short, and we are learning about LabOP – a community-based attempt at standardising laboratory protocols. Consider the question of a basic PCR protocol – how would you write it? Would your protocol differ if you were writing for a postdoc or a beginner? What about a liquid handling robot? What assumptions are you making when you write one?

These are important questions, and not just for automation engineers. Laboratory automation costs are falling and, in some areas, such as synthetic biology, there is an enthusiastic demand for their adoption. Larger-scale experimentation enables bigger-picture thinking: high-throughput library cloning, culture systems with real-time monitoring of proteins and metabolites, and continuous directed evolution platforms are all now an affordable reality for many groups. But to make them widely accessible and, importantly, reproducible, we need to agree on some common standards.

The principle of standardisation runs through the conference. My own topic of interest, metrology, has been alive to the importance of standardised units for some time. In my corner of synthetic biology, our most frequently used assays attempt to quantify fluorescent protein (FP) abundance in engineered bacterial cells using plate readers, in units of ‘relative fluorescence units per OD’. It isn’t difficult to appreciate that such units are not suitable for comparing data between labs or even instruments – worse, they also do not allow us to compare the abundance of two different FPs (e.g., GFP and mCherry) expressed in the same cell.

Our latest manuscript, on a method we called FPCountR, tackles this problem. It encompasses both analytical biochemistry and the co-development of software tools to allow us to count FPs in ‘molecules per cell’ using a simple plate reader for the first time. In the coffee breaks, I chat to engineers about fluorescent protein structure, and how extinction coefficients allow us to convert light absorbance measurements to absolute (molar) concentrations. It is slightly surreal but also wonderful to be able to contribute to this international effort to make our data meaningful across disciplinary divides.

As the three-day conference ends, and I make my way home, I am struck by this. It is unusual to attend a highly technical conference on automation where equally technical biochemistry is so well received, and yet scaling up biological experimentation surely requires contributions from both disciplines. I am impressed by the scale of the efforts of the engineering community to making our future more easily automatable. I wonder whether it’s time more of us biologists paid attention.

I am grateful to travel grants from both the Biochemical Society and Microbiology Society for allowing me to attend and present at IWBDA. I hope very much to be back next year.

High Impact Presentation Skills (compiled Dr Amy Vincent) 

The high impact presentation skills session, run by Simon Cane, gave an in-depth introduction to the different considerations when presenting and pitching. Simon’s wealth of previous experience provided an example driven workshop that effectively illustrated potential pitfalls and techniques to improve pitches and presentations. 

The twelve staff members that attended the workshop ranged from late stage PhD students, to clinical and fundamental science Fellows who had recently gained a level of independence. These early career researchers are affiliates of the Institutes of Biosciences and of Translational and Clinical Research. All those who attended the day felt that they benefited from the training. It had been suggested that having a ‘worked example’ prepared in advance by a participant might best illustrate ways to improve. Dr Greaves volunteered to present a grant pitch for a specific funding application that she was preparing, so this opportunity was very appropriately timed to generate useful feedback and get a constructive critique. Perhaps not surprisingly, Dr Greaves felt she probably gained the most as she could implement the timely advice to improve her forthcoming grant proposal. 

From my perspective as an early career researcher who is not very comfortable with presenting and pitching, I found this incredibly useful and will certainly be going back to my notes whenever I need to prepare for a future presentation or a pitch. The advice that perhaps most sticks in my mind is using animations to coordinate the slides with precisely the point you are making, to gain maximum impact. Often the advice is don’t use animation, as it can distract rather than emphasise, but given illustrations of how it can be used appropriately, it really did show how it can add to the impact of the presentation and focus the audience’s attention on what you want them to remember afterwards. 

At the end we had a question-and-answer session. One of the attendees had a pitch to a USA based collaborator scheduled for the following week. They were provided with tailored advice for how pitching might change depending on the cultural background of the audience and also the differences in pitching to academics verses partners from industry. They said this was most useful in preparing for their meeting and for their future work which is often through interactions with industrial partners. 

Lastly, Valeria Di Leo, a final year PhD student at the time of the course, had an forthcoming presentation at the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation (a US based charity) meeting, as a consequence of attending this workshop, she was able to implement some of the techniques she had learnt to the benefit of her talk. One of the Wellcome Centre PIs who also attended the meeting, reported that she presented very well and received excellent feedback from others. 

The support of the Biochemical Society in delivering this workshop has allowed a range of early career researchers from PhD to those in early independence to establish fundamental skills as part of their career development. The session was a fantastic success and we hope to run future such training events for the development of different skills in our ECRs and potentially also for the PIs! 

Zimbabwe meets Oxford - A Summer Internship in Molecular Pharming by Tendai Gukuta

Over the past five years I have relentlessly pursued the dream to study molecular biology at the University of Oxford however resource constraints or opportunities were limiting. However even in this dark cloud a silver lining was ready to show and I received an offer to be part of a summer internship in molecular pharming for vaccine development under Professor Renier van der Hoorn’s seasoned mentorship. This was made possible through fully funded grants from the generous support of the Biochemical Society as well as support from the International Society on Plant Molecular Pharming (ISPMF), Somerville College and Professor Renier’s development fund.

The 3 month internship in the Plant Chemetics Laboratory was a transformational experience. I got acquainted with modern; world class research and infrastructure as well as rubbing shoulders with distinguished doctoral and post-doctoral researchers all at the heart of Oxford. The aim of the program was capacity building but I left with more knowledge, experience, an open mind through the brainstorming sessions and a new lenses to see the world through.

Molecular pharming benefits developing countries immensely and the internship contributed directly to the Zimbabwean community that stands to benefit most from this technology. During the pandemic African countries had little research done in vaccine development however the thorough and broad trainings, industrial visit to Leaf Expression systems and Lab retreat I participated in opened my eyes. It gave me the opportunity to appreciate the extent to which molecular pharming can be applied to transform African research as well as preparing for the next pandemic among other challenges faced by the continent.

I am eternally grateful for being awarded this opportunity and have already begun exploring new lines of research inspired by plant immunity genes research extensively done by Professor Renier and his team. My biggest takeaway from the program was moving from being a theoretical researcher in molecular pharming to a practical and well rounded scientist, an increased tenacity for this body of work and investigating other plant expression systems and, the potential to implement these techniques in the African context through collaborations.

Good things come to those who wait – UK DNA Replication Meeting 2022 - Ben Foster

Two years on from the originally scheduled timeslot, the UK DNA Replication Meeting finally got underway under an autumnal September Birmingham sky. The signs from the recent Commonwealth Games gave a dash of colour for those arriving by train into Birmingham New Street, with lots of speakers and over 80 posters to be presented epitomising the excitement for the community to meet and discuss their work. Much has changed since the meeting was first advertised in 2020 but despite the COVID-related disruption, the quality of research on display was incredibly high.

We were welcomed upon registration with a buffet lunch, meeting new faces in the foyer of the Alan Walters building. An additional facet of the meeting was for the invited speakers to suggest postdocs or students in their groups to present in their place, an initiative that I hope will be taken up in other meetings. It certainly gave a fresh look to the speaker list and was a fantastic opportunity for early career researchers to present on a bigger stage. The talks were kicked off by Almutasem Saleh from the Speck lab in London giving an intriguing glimpse into the regulation of DNA replication initiation, the double screen in the lecture theatre giving a suitable analogy to double hexamer formation, which was the theme of several talks. Almutasem was one of three early career researchers to receive talk prizes, an untrivial but not life-changing amount of money we were told. With the bar set extremely high, subsequent talks did not disappoint. The “novelty” talk was provided by Thorsten Allers, focussing on DNA replication in Archaea, and the Keynote lecture from John Diffley highlighted the colossal amount of DNA that is synthesised within the body on a daily basis. Short 3-minute flash talks from selected poster presenters preceded a vibrant first poster session, before a delicious “informal” dinner at the Edgbaston Park Hotel, where many attendees were staying and discussions certainly carried on in the bar late into the night.

Day 2 provided more talks on replication termination, and the role of chromatin and transcription in DNA replication, with more flash talk sessions interspersed in between. A highlight for me was to hear Karlene Cimprich talk about R-loops in relation to genome stability, someone who I have always recognised as a world leader in DNA damage and repair pathways. Day 2 also included a Biochemical Society early career researcher award talk from Tom Deegan, who carried out much of the work in the Diffley and Labib groups, both of whom were in the audience. After receiving his medal, Tom described how an early sketched diagram of replication termination inspired his work, and how the long flight and ski lifts at a conference led to a fruitful collaboration with Joe Yeeles. After presenting my even numbered poster during an engaging second poster session, we were treated to a “formal” dinner at the Edgbaston Park Hotel, making sure that I wore a collared shirt for this one. Exquisite food and served wine fuelled more discussions, and I met more new peers and friends.

The final morning of talks focussed on replication stress, highlighting the relevance of studying DNA replication in the context of disease pathologies. Once the talks were finished, and poster and talk prizes handed out, it was time to leave, filled with inspiration and contacts for future work, and the promise of a follow up meeting in 2 years.

Thank you to the organisers Aga Gambus, Anne Donaldson, Marco Saponaro, Thorsten Allers and to the Biochemical Society for coordinating an excellent programme, and to the team in Birmingham providing refreshments throughout the meeting.

Thank you to the Biochemical Society for the Early Career Bursary to attend the meeting.

Musing on my first in-person conference after a prolonged break – Drug Repurposing II - Taufiq Rahman

Like many others from academia or industry, I have long been craving for attending conferences in person – not primarily fuelled by anything geeky, but more out of desperation to breathe and tread normally, like in pre-COVID times. With the majority of us now vaccinated and boosted (and kudos to the great science behind these life-savers), we have started to reclaim some normalcy in life, although this nasty bug is unlikely to go easily. When I first saw the Biochemical Society’s Drug Repurposing II meeting advertised on Twitter, it only took me seconds to make up my mind – ‘I don’t want to miss a thing!’. The theme was close to my heart and I have some of my own ongoing efforts along this line, and I long regretted missing out their first meeting (Drug Repurposing I) held in 2019 in Birmingham.

This time the venue – Woburn House – was just a 10-minute walk from King’s Cross, yet surprisingly was devoid of the hustle and bustle of central London. The conference room had ample light and air and was spacious enough to accommodate all of us in a socially-distanced manner; the overall logistics and technical support were great.

The two days of the conference consisted of series of oral presentations (normal ones and the flash poster talks) interleaved with regular refreshment breaks, during which we could enjoy the posters and network. I found almost all talks (excluding my own) to be very interesting, but I feel like mentioning at least few here.

Day 1 kicked off with a video presentation by Charlotte Summers highlighting the success and failure of various local and global drug repurposing endeavours against COVID-19. Being an Honorary Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine at Cambridge University Hospitals, it was unsurprising that Charlotte couldn’t escape an urgent hospital duty at the last minute. I have been a great admirer of her professional and research activities for a long time – she now leads the ongoing HEAL-COVID trial to identify treatments that could help against ‘long-COVID’ problem. After Charlotte’s talk, David Cavalla gave an exciting account on nearly-successful repurposing of imatinib against acute respiratory distress syndrome that hitherto remains as an unmet medical need. I knew David (though he wouldn’t know me) as he was in our department as a consultant during my PhD years. He recently edited a book on drug repurposing, a copy of which was given to the best poster winner.

Like many others, I have been an avid follower of John Overington’s research on various aspects of drugs, their targets as well as their repurposing potential. He gave an excellent, authoritative perspective on realistic drug repurposing and I felt like I could listen to him for the whole day. John’s talk was followed by another engaging and very entertaining talk given by Dan Hawcutt from the University of Liverpool. He was an amazing, witty speaker aptly reflecting on the challenges of repurposing drugs in paediatrics. I also learnt a lot from Fiona Law who talked about intellectual property (IP) strategies for repurposed drugs; it seems repurposing drugs against orphan and rare diseases holds best promise in securing the IP.

Apart from the abovementioned few, there were many other talks and posters that drew my attention. Quite a few of them utilised machine learning for predicting effective drug combinations against various cancer types whilst many obtained initial hits from phenotypic screening.

The conference, I felt, was a great success, ending with some refreshing, renewed interest in drug repurposing. It’s a shame that I couldn’t attend the conference dinner which was fabulous, I gathered. I must thank the academic organisers, the Biochemical Society and the venue staff and all the contributors for putting up such a great event. I have already started imagining Drug Repurposing III happening in future!

Post-YSF/FEBS congress report - Chumin Zhou

It was my honour to receive the sponsorship from the Biochemistry Society to attend the Young Scientists’ Forum (YSF) and FEBS-IUBMB-PABMB congress 2022. The YSF 2022 took place at a resort hotel (3 stars) that located in Vimeiro, Portugal, which had a gorgeous beach view from the room. My PhD project was lucky enough to be selected for oral presentation, which was about “investigating the radiosensitivity of HPV-positive and HPV-negative head and neck squamous cell carcinoma spheroids with PARP inhibition”. It was my honour to have a chance to talk about my research with 120 young scientists from all over the world, and I was so happy to have an opportunity to discuss science and exchange knowledge or ideas with people from different field and passionate to their studies. In addition, there were several keynotes talks of innovative research, which was helpful to broaden my horizons and inspire me for more ideas in biochemistry and molecular biology study. Besides, the practical workshops provided by YSF were also really helpful in developing skills for PhD students in writing CV, publication abstract, public engagement and self-confidence improvement.

After three days of amazing experiences in Vimeiro, the conference had provided a shuttle bus for transporting us to Lisbon congress centre, where the main global congress took place and it was big enough to fit around 2000 people. My PhD research was lucky to be selected by the main congress for poster presentation. This 5-day biochemistry global summit had been classified into several symposiums, including cancer treatment, apoptosis, DNA damage, genomic sequencing and so on. One of my favourite parts of the main congress was the main opening talks for each symposium as I could always learn a lot from those inspiring presentations. I was so happy to have chance to talk to many intelligent people from all over the world and different field of study, it was always a pleasure to share my points of view and exchange ideas of science with these experts.

In addition, I had signed up the “Women in Science” lunch, had an opportunity to meet these amazing and outstanding women, and to share their special experiences in working in academia and pharmaceutical industrial. At the same time, the congress provided a good platform to allow me build up connection with people from various background, which was really helpful in my future career development, such as postdoctoral fellowship, grant application, collaboration and so on. This trip definitely was the highlight of my year, thank you Biochemical Society again for offering me such an amazing chance to explore more in science, meet new people, build up relationship network and improve skills for my future career.

Brain Gain - Discovering Neuroscience: A digital education outreach project for higher education students - Mariana Laranjo, Sara Amaral, Carolina Caetano, Sílvio Santos, Rita Campos, João Peça, Catarina M. Seabra

Brain Gain is democratizing access to information on research and careers in Neuroscience through a series of open-access education outreach events targeting higher education students, including online talks, pitch challenges, a podcast and an online platform.

The Brain Gain Online Talks were launched in 2020 in collaboration with SPN, the Portuguese Society for Neuroscience. We organized an online series of educational outreach talks, approaching neurosciences from different points of view, such as: Technology, Brain Diseases and therapies, Neuroscience careers, Cognition, and Neuroengineering. We invited Portuguese neuroscientists, neurologists, neuroscience communicators and other neuroscience-related professionals from all over the country to promote an exchange of ideas with the audience. To motivate students’ participation, at the end of each day, we performed a live quiz focused on the content of the talks and the winner was awarded a 1-year SPN membership. We hope to sustain this yearly initiative as an open and remarkable event in Portugal that honours neuroscience. The feedback from students reflects the positive impact of these initiatives in their paths: “It was an amazing initiative and very well organized! Many of us see a big obstacle between students and researchers and this type of event encourages a lot of interaction between us. Thanks again and congratulations on the initiative.” (participant from the first edition of Brain Gain Online Talks).

The Brain Gain Challenge was launched in 2022 and consisted of a pitch competition where students were challenged to present a 3-minute pitch about a discovery from the neuroscience field that had inspired them. This initiative was designed to capacitate students with science communication skills and to create educational resources. We provided hands-on workshops on pitch preparation, creating figures and graphical abstracts and on video editing, in a learn-by-doing strategy. The pitch competition was streamed online, and the awarded pitches are available on the Brain Gain online platform. The awarded students have the opportunity to perform a one-week internship with an SPN member at a Portuguese research institute with follow-up online mentoring -the pilot for the Brain Gain Mentorship Program.

We recently launched an openly available podcast. By publishing the audio recorded from the Brain Gain online talks, we provide an opportunity for additional students to listen and learn with neuroscience experts. This innovative podcast in Portugal focused on neuroscience, is a relevant resource for those interested in pursuing these careers or those who are just curious. We believe podcasts are important non-formal teaching approaches and privileged storytelling tools, as they have the advantages of 1) being easy to follow; 2) being a time-efficient form of communication; 3) being accessible and 4) being easy to deliver via social media, and 5) being a privileged vehicle for more engaging forms of communication. In this case, we are disseminating neuroscience career-specific information, hot neuroscience topics, and recent research to provide practical advice for students and those outside the academic network. We intended to write transcripts in Portuguese and English to make the podcast more accessible and inclusive.

We created an online platform - The Brain Gain Portal - to centralize our resources and information about our initiatives. In the future, our ambition is that this platform can evolve as a place where scientists and students can connect to find opportunities, such as internships and courses. We believe the Brain Gain Portal will provide the right platform to connect with a broader demographic of people as our resources will be valuable to the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (i.e., Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe, Equatorial Guinea and Timor-Leste). The platform will also allow for community building by sharing research ideas, questions, events, jobs and other opportunities and increase networking.

Using these innovative digital approaches to deliver and disseminate scientific content, including the research and clinical work in neurosciences performed in Portugal, we are defying the social boundaries between scientists and society. Brain Gain initiatives are proving to be effective in inspiring higher education students, which are the next generation of neuroscientists, providing different resources on career paths and the neuroscience field and strengthening the relationship with scientists and universities. Addressing brain disorders and mental health issues are a worldwide concern with increasing expression, and therefore it is crucial to promote neuroscience literacy to raise awareness for brain research using effective non-formal education outreach approaches.
Thank you to the Biochemical Society, IBRO, SPN, UC, ESCI for supporting this initiative.

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The Biochemical Society offers a programme of grants and bursaries supporting research, attendance at scientific conferences, and the sponsorship of events. Discover more about the funding we offer for members and non-members. 

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