Research and innovation

Research in neurology and neurological disease includes a wide range of approaches tackling basic neurobiology through to applied healthcare. From a health service perspective it is important to develop, establish and evaluate the best evidence to support patient care and therapy. Translational research is used to refer to research which directly involves patient evaluation.

Neurologists in research

Most consultant neurologists in the UK have spent time dedicated to research during their MD or PhD degree. There is a close relationship between research undertaken as a neurological trainee and development of subspecialty expertise. For example, a trainee who completes a PhD in multiple sclerosis (MS) therapeutics is likely to develop particular clinical expertise in MS and may support or lead an MS service as a consultant. Around 10% of consultant neurologists in the UK are employed by universities to pursue research and teaching in neurology and usually spend between 20 and 90% of their time on research. NHS neurologists participate in research in a variety of ways – from contributing to the British Neurological Surveillance Unit (BNSU) through to initiating and running multicentre studies. Usually NHS neurology research is carried out in supported professional activity (SPA) time or in specific additional sessions for research.

Types of research include:

  • systematic observational research – collecting clinical data and biosamples from patients with neurological disease
  • epidemiological – studying the frequency, patterns and risk factors for disease
  • biological – studying neurobiology, using for example brain scans or cell models
  • clinical trials – studying the impact of disease interventions, usually in randomised controlled trials.

Information on research studies for specific diseases is available via the US clinical trials database  and the UK clinical trials gateway.

Support for research

Research is supported by the NHS National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) who fund clinical research nurses to help with trial recruitment, and a number of research programmes and support activities. Some centres have separately funded research nurses to assist with clinical research. Maintaining a portfolio of active research studies is an NHS priority. The Academy of Medical Sciences provides support and mentoring for junior academics. The Association of British Neurologists runs a clinical research training fellowship scheme and a national surveillance scheme for rare neurological diseases. Some centres host NIHR Biomedical Research Centres and Biomedical Research Units that enable themed research. 

Funding and commissioning

Research into neurological disease is an important priority for patients and patient charities (eg Alzheimer’s Society, Parkinson’s UK, Motor Neurone Disease Society) commission a significant amount of research in the UK. This encompasses laboratory research, small clinical projects and large multi-centre studies. Neurological research is also supported by the Medical Research Council and Wellcome Trust who fund both basic and applied/translational research and the NHS National Institute for Health Research who focus on translational research.

Patient engagement

Patient engagement in research is an important part of neurological research projects. Patient engagement is facilitated by patient charities and the NIHR clinical research network