The challenge of funding migraine research
By: Dr Anna Andreou, Director of Headache Research at the Headache Centre, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, and Senior Lecturer, Wolfson CARD, King’s College London
21st March 2021
Not long ago, I was invited to give an interview to a journalist about recent scientific advancements in migraine research. The interview went very well but his last question took me by surprise: “Now that the treatment of migraine has been found (meaning the new calcitonin gene-related peptide – CGRP – antibody migraine medication), in what other conditions will you focus your research on?”
Have we really found the migraine cure? I am afraid to report that we haven’t yet, despite the significant progress with the CGRP antibodies and other new treatments, that can overall reduce the migraine days in about 50% of the patients.
However, his question did not come as a shock because of misinformation on the use of new migraine treatments, but rather due to the risk such a question poses. And I was not wrong. A few weeks later, a funding application I submitted to a health organisation on investigating a novel treatment for migraine was rejected, with the comment from the review panel that this line of research is no longer needed for migraine.
Being able to undertake migraine research
Personally, I have been very lucky in being able to expand my scientific enquiries in the field of migraine research. I started as a PhD student funded by The Migraine Trust. Afterwards however, when I started my post-doctoral career, I could not find any research position in the UK in the field of headache. For the next two years I used all the skills I acquired during my The Migraine Trust funded PhD to work in stroke research. Luckily, through a fellowship funding award from The Migraine Trust, I managed to return to the field of migraine research in which I work industriously ever since.
But not everyone is as lucky. Looking back at other The Migraine Trust funded researchers, not everyone is still involved in migraine research. The problem remains; non-headache related funding bodies will rarely fund research on headache conditions. Not only does migraine not life-threaten patients, but also it seems that nowadays further treatments “are no longer needed”.
I recently became the proud supervisor of Joe Lloyd who was awarded his The Migraine Trust funded PhD at King’s College London. Through his PhD in migraine mechanisms and novel treatments, Joe became a new migraine expert. Every day he comes to the headache research lab with new ideas to explore. Ideas that will aid migraine patients’ lives, new ideas about the cause and cure of migraine.
The importance of supporting migraine researchers
But what will happen if Joe cannot remain in this research field due to lack of funding? Well, in that case, me and The Migraine Trust invested time and money in training a brilliant researcher who will achieve significant advances… for another disease.
The challenge, and unfortunately the responsibility of funding migraine research in UK, remains with The Migraine Trust and everyone who supports the charity. And to my opinion, the first milestone for this challenge is not to fund another PhD student who after his/her training will move on to a different field, but rather to maintain the currently trained researchers in migraine and to help them establish their future career in migraine research in UK.