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Amid predictions that higher education will be changed forever by the current pandemic, Professor James Miller, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Glasgow Caledonian University, suggests the innovative ways the sector is responding to the crisis will make it even more valued in the future.
The current crisis has underlined the critical role played by the UK’s experts and researchers and the institutions supporting them, as well as the need for collaboration between them, says Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of the National Centre for Universities and Business.
As a growing number of universities move teaching and assessment online in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the University of Derby is holding a virtual conference which aims to support staff in making the transition.
The Office for Students is leaving it up to universities to decide on particular approaches to the Coronavirus pandemic rather than issuing specific guidance, and has promised to minimises its regulatory demands on the sector in response to the crisis.
The University of Leicester has received its biggest ever single gift from a private individual - £2.7 million- which will be used to fund life-saving kidney research of global significance in the College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology.
The funding has been welcomed by the UK IgA Nephropathy Patient Group because of its potential to understand and eventually develop new drugs to treat one of the leading causes of kidney failure - IgA Nephropathy - across the world and to aid a global alliance of researchers to battle it in different populations.
The donation is the second largest made by philanthropist Mr Jimmy Mayer to further renal research at the University. In 2014, he gave £500,000 to the Leicester research team to fund the IgA Nephropathy research programme.
Mr Mayer said: “When my son was diagnosed with IgA Nephropathy in 2012 I, as any father, started to research to better understand this condition; I wanted to know what could be done and how I could modestly contribute to these efforts.
“Through my investigation I became acutely aware of the broader implication of kidney disease in our society. I also came across the great work of the fabulous team at Leicester. I hopped on a train for a visit and have ever since been their number one fan. It seemed to me that with a grant of this type they could continue to build on a very solid foundation.
“It is my sincere hope that with these efforts they can make significant progress toward a more complete understanding of IgA Nephropathy, improved treatment options and, perhaps even, a cure.”
The funding will create dedicated research facilities - The Mayer IgA Nephropathy Laboratories - as well as a named Professorship - the Mayer Chair in Renal Medicine – at the University.
The vital funding will support the work of a research group at the University of Leicester led by Professor Jonathan Barratt of the Department of Infection Immunity & Inflammation at the University. He is also an Honorary Consultant Nephrologist in the John Walls Renal Unit, Leicester General Hospital. Professor Barratt will hold the title of the Mayer Chair in Renal Medicine.
The researchers aim to further understand mechanisms that lead to the development and progression of IgA Nephropathy and to establish the world’s first international registry of IgA Nephropathy patients.
IgA Nephropathy is a condition in which an individual’s own antibodies, which are produced naturally to fight infections, settle in the kidneys and damage them by causing inflammation and scarring. Patients often do not display symptoms. As a result, most affected people are unaware they have the condition until they have a blood or urine test. The causes are not fully known and, in extreme cases, the condition can cause kidney failure.
Scientists at the University of Leicester have been investigating the condition for over 30 years. It is the excellence and transformative potential of their research that has led to this generous donation.
Professor Barratt said: “This donation will transform our approach to the study of this common cause of kidney disease. We will, for the first time, be able to compare how IgA Nephropathy behaves in populations from South America through to Asia. By comparing different populations, with different genetic risk factors and exposure to different environmental stresses such as diet, pollution and prevalent infections, we hope to identify the key factors that cause IgA Nephropathy and which of these determine whether a patient with IgA Nephropathy develops kidney failure.
Mr Bill Friar, Director of Development and Alumni Relations at the University of Leicester, said: “We are so grateful to Mr Jimmy Mayer for his generous gift, which will transform not only our own kidney research but also help researchers around the world. It is a testament to the quality of IgA Nephropathy research at the University of Leicester that he has made a second major donation to our work. I know the Mayer family want their support to raise awareness and encourage others to contribute in any way they can. We are working with Jimmy and David on ways to use their inspiring example to encourage others to make their own gifts, of any size, to further potentially life-saving research into kidney disease.”
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