The Manchester Cancer Research Centre is home to researchers from multiple different organisations, both academic and healthcare-focused, spread across geographically separate locations within Greater Manchester. On top of that, we also have numerous specialist centres and institutes, and this can often lead to groups working in silos, in isolation from each other.
However, we’re all aiming towards a common goal: to prevent, diagnose earlier, and better treat cancer. The challenge is therefore how to unite these potentially disparate groups.
In order to develop our ambitious strategy, and to ultimately achieve our objectives, we therefore recognise that we need to bring large numbers of people together and break down any potential barriers. To us, Team Science is essential.
Our ‘teams’ are based around disease sites, breast cancer for example, or themes, such as radiotherapy, and the catalyst of MCRC Team Science is our ‘town hall’ meetings.
We invite the members of each team to come together, in our lecture theatre, and to introduce themselves. Many of them will be familiar with each other, but there will also be new faces in the room. The group could include oncologists, nurses, lab scientists, surgeons, project managers, pathologists, clinical trial coordinators and other clinicians, such as respiratory or haematology specialists - and most importantly, patient advocates.
To start the session, a nominated lead provides a brief overview of existing strengths and historical achievements. We then allow everyone to have input into the discussion. What’s possible? What are the stumbling blocks? How can MCRC funding be best utilised to change the way we treat patients?
This process is truly multidisciplinary and maximises the expertise of those working in various specialties, as well as the experience of cancer patients themselves. Equally important is that we give space and time to more junior investigators and staff, including PhD students.
The overall aim is to identify a unique practice-changing project that could only be possible in Manchester. Whilst a smaller group will then be involved in the future research project itself, we hope that everyone still has a sense of ownership through their involvement in the MCRC town-hall.
There are no doubt challenges. We must encourage the less confident to speak, and make sure that all voices are heard. Different personalities and specialties need to come together, but with diplomacy and leadership these can be brought on board and harnessed to provoke useful debate.
We are really excited about the potential of Team Science. Some of the concepts are not a dramatic change from how many groups work already, but we think that by breaking down any barriers, we can ensure our research has a real impact for cancer patients, both here and around the world.
Previously: What is Team Science?
Next: The Science of Team Science