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MEDIC Forward: a disaster in consultation

€1.2mil grant from cancer charity Marie Curie could be “handed back” as leading professor also put “at risk” by controversial MEDIC Forward project

More research funding has been put at risk as a result of the ongoing MEDIC Forward consultation, according to School of Medicine sources. Prof. Marian Ludgate, the professor at the helm of the €1,200,000 INDIGO project is yet another academic to have received an “at risk” letter warning of potential redundancy.

Prof. Ludgate conducts research as part of the Institute of Molecular and Experimental Medicine, where many other academics are understood to have received “at risk” letters.

This revelation comes just week after it was revealed that Prof. Alan Williams, who was also warned that he may be made redundant, was to receive a grant of £1,000,000 from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) to continue his research into heart diseased. Since Gair Rhydd’s original report, the University has withdrawn Williams’ “at risk” letter, but numerous other academics including Prof. Ludgate are at risk.

If Prof. Ludgate’s area of research is disinvested from, it would hail the end of the Cardiff University’s involvement in the INDIGO project. INDIGO is a Marie Curie-funded initiative in which Cardiff, working in conjunction with universities in Germany and Italy, is conducting research “to investigate how microorganisms shape the immune response leading to autoimmune disease”.

The project is “investing[ing] the microbiome in Graves’ disease, an autoimmune condition in which autoantibodies mimic the hormone TSH” leading to an “overactive thyroid”. Some patients also “develop a potentially sight-threatening condition called Graves’ orbitopathy”.

The grant, awarded in October 2014 was hailed as a “major” success for the IMEM, with funding for the project set to last a number of years. Since then, however, MEDIC Forward has targeted Thyroid research as a potential area of disinvestment less than a year after the grant was awarded.

It is understood that if Thyroid research is invested from, and Prof. Ludgate is redeployed or offered a redundancy package, the unused grant money would have to be returned.

The consequences of this would be “disastrous” according to sources. A source at the School of Medicine, who wished to remain anonymous, said that: “the reputational  damage to the School of Medicine would be huge is that grant is handed back, but that doesn’t seem to deter MEDIC Forward”.

School of Medicine sources have claimed that the CATS project is set to end in September, despIte the next stage of the project (CATS3) being fully funded. In ending the CATS project, a PhD student attached to the project is set to be academically orphaned and unable to finish her research project.

Those familiar with the situation do not understand why Prof. Ludgate’s work has been highlighted as an unsustainable area of research. One observed familiar with the situation spoke to Gair Rhydd and said: “The thyroid research group is currently participating in several international research programmes but they are apparently unsustainable and not conducting research of a sufficient calibre despite attracting not only considerable funding but also international collaboration.”

They added: “They are a successful research group and with international standing and sustainable funding, there is no possible that disinvestment can be justified by [MEDIC Forward]’s own criteria, so why are they pushing ahead with it regardless?”

Another, a PhD student in another research group, said “This is what happens when you have a Dean who doesn’t see the value of Thyroid research.”

Cardiff University refused to confirm whether Prof. Marian Ludgate had received an “at risk” letter concerning their area of research, and would no elaborate on matters concerning INDIGO or other associated research projects. A spokesperson claimed that doing so would be “inappropriate” while the consultation period continues, and offered no indication as to when the information would be available. They added that “at the appropriate time [Cardiff Univeristy] will liaise with funders and any impacts will be suitable addressed.”

In response, Gair Rhydd has submitted a freedom of information request for the names of academic staff who have been threatened with disinvestment, as well as the business cases associated with said academic staff; the FOI is due “no later” than July 1st.

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