MTIF Fellow Dr. Livia Santos

MTIF Fellow Dr Lívia Santos speaks with Iona Baker from NTU’s School of Science at Technology. They discuss how important it is to remember that grant success can take a while to come and to not focus on potential rejection, focus instead on things which you can control.

Congratulations on securing funding from the Humane Research Trust. How did you feel when you found out you had been successful? Thank you! It was an emotional moment because I had been trying for a grant for several years and had faced more than 10 rejections from various funders. I felt incredibly happy and at the same time very grateful to The Humane Research Trust for this opportunity.

Can you tell me about your research project? In a nutshell, we will develop a human muscle model that can be used to better understand an age-related muscle condition called sarcopenia and also discover safe and effective treatments for it. How this model will be developed is very important –  we will be using a patented technology invented by my colleague Yang Wei and I. All the reagents will be animal-free which means that no animal needs to die to provide us with the serum, antibodies and other reagents we traditionally use in the lab.

What are the main objectives of the project? The main objective is to advance basic and applied sarcopenia research in an ethical manner which means that no animal-derived products will be used.

What impact do you think this research will have? The expectation is to provide sarcopenia patients earlier access to medicines, which are currently lacking. This will help to reduce falls, disabilities and death associated with this condition.

What’s next for your research? Soon, we will focus on refining the technology mentioned above to increase the likelihood of adoption by pharmaceutical companies and in parallel develop a human heart model aiming to improve cardiac drug discovery and regenerative medicine.

Going back to the application process now, were there any moments of doubt or challenges that you needed to overcome and if so, how did you overcome these? I try not to focus too much on my doubts or the prospect of failure, otherwise I would feel overwhelmed and perhaps stop applying. Instead, I ask myself – am I doing the best I can to secure this grant? If the answer in no, I try to address that gap. It also helps to realise that if the grant success rate is 10% or even lower, so statistically you need to submit 10 or more grants to get one.

Can you share any resources or sources of support that you found particularly helpful during the grant application process? Reading all the information available on The Humane Research trust website and engaging with grant holders really helped me understand what the funder wants to support as well as the funding application process.

Can you share some of the key takeaways or lessons you’ve learned from the grant application process? A conversation with your line manager and/or mentor about your grant application strategy can be very helpful since they may provide you with specific advice; prepare your grant in advance to allow ideas to mature and refine; share your application with multiple colleagues from different research areas to help you detect flaws or weaknesses and suggest points of improvement ahead of the submission; include enough and relevant preliminary data and try to really understand what the funder wants and develop your grant accordingly.

Finally, what advice do you have for researchers who are considering applying for external grants but may be hesitant or unsure about the process? I would suggest to start with a small grant application to help developing skills and confidence.