OPINION: Scientists, funders, and translational research: it might take three to tango

Published 13 July 2016

I couldn’t believe my ears. Are there still scientists who think they know it all and they know it best? I attended the road show of the KWF, the Dutch Cancer Society. KWF initiated a new model of funding research, aiming to improve the relevance of the research for patients. To inform the scientific community on the changes, they organized a road show and have been visiting several research institutes in the Netherlands (see https://goo.gl/S2fW9J for more information on this).

One of the changes, according to Janneke Elbers of the KWF, is that KWF wants to be more involved during the conduct of the projects also to prevent projects from slowing down or hitting a dead end because of technical or scientific issues. ‘We can help trouble shooting’, was Janneke’s message. One of the scientists replied, ‘if smart people like us run into problems, why do you think KWF could help out’?

It makes me sad. I think the direction in which the KWF is heading makes a lot of sense. The days that scientist just get some money to do some research are over, whether you like it or not. Patients and public are looking for measurable impact and relevance. Scientists will need to adjust by opening up, sharing their knowledge and expertise, and by being receptive to ideas from abroad.

This, in fact, is at the heart of EATRIS: creating synergy between individual scientists and institutes, and between scientists and funders. With our track record in translational research we are ready to help shape the future. For example, we have a long-term agreement with another major charity in the Netherlands, the Reumafonds (RA foundation). As part of this relationship, EATRIS assesses research proposals for translational aspects. In this way, project applicants can benefit from the wide range of expertise and enabling technologies that are available within the EATRIS network. Don’t make the mistake to think that only poor scientists would need such an assessment. It really is the other way around: if you have the ambition to make a difference, if you want patients to actually benefit from your work, you will need to get out of your scientific comfort zone and look beyond your next publication. Don’t worry; you won’t be on your own. The complete EATRIS community is ready to support you!