Improving sustainability in medical research and practice

Fresh green leaf covered with raindrops and highlighted by the sun.

Projects awarded up to £100,000 each to look at ways to improve the environmental sustainability of medical practices and to promote sustainable research.

Funding has been awarded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) for seven projects looking at a range of issues.

From how the environmental impact of prescribed drugs should be considered in their selection, to best practices for human brain imaging and use of disposable gowns in operating theatres.

Medical and life science research and innovation bring huge health, social and economic benefits, including improving wellbeing and prolonging life.

However, research activities and medical practice can also have a significant ecological and environmental impact, particularly through intensive energy use and creation of waste.

Projects aim to reduce environmental impact

MRC developed the funding opportunity in partnership with:

  • Natural Environment Research Council
  • Department of Health and Social Care
  • NHS England

MRC-funded projects are looking at ways of improving medical research and practice, minimising waste and contributing to net zero targets.

Funded projects

The funded projects include:

  • NHS Highland looking at ways of incorporating environmental impact into the selection of which drug to prescribe to patients
  • the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine examining the feasibility of using drones to transport clinical samples and supplies in The Gambia
  • the University of Sussex looking at reducing the carbon cost of human brain imaging
  • King’s College London looking at ways to improve the environmentally sustainable storage of tissue samples
  • the University of Sussex carrying out a study on attitudes to disposable clothing in operating theatres and barriers to the use of reusable clothing
  • Imperial College London looking at reducing the environmental impact of operating theatres, which are three to six times more energy intensive than other areas of a hospital
  • the University of Surrey and Institute of Cancer research investigating how medical research laboratories can be more sustainable without compromising the quality of science

The projects will run for 12 months.

It is intended that the results will be shared so that researchers and practitioners across the country can benefit from insights towards promoting and improving research and clinical practices.

MRC environmental sustainability programme

The research projects are funded as a component of MRC’s commitment of achieving net zero by 2040 and a wider environmental sustainability programme, as part of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) sustainability strategy.

The programme focuses on MRC’s science estate, laboratory operations and supply chain, in addition to supporting research into improving environmental sustainability.

MRC also convenes a ‘green group’ of interested individuals with diverse experience from our institutes and units.

The group will draw on the experience of the entire research community, continuously sharing knowledge to ensure impact and change.

World-class medical and life science research

Susan Simon, Chief Environmental Sustainability Officer at MRC and Interim Programme Director UKRI Environmental Sustainability Programme said:

We all know the huge benefits that the UK’s world-class medical and life science research and practice bring.

As in every other area of life and work in the UK, the sector must look at ways to minimise waste and environmental impact.

We believe there is widespread enthusiasm among medical researchers and practitioners to play their part in reaching the UK’s net zero target by 2050 and supporting MRC’s ambition to improve environmental sustainability in the research we fund.

Environmental sustainability of UK medical research

MRC is interested in hearing from those working within medical research, to better understand challenges and barriers when it comes to improving environmental sustainability in their work.

We’re seeking initial views via an online survey, from those who conduct, support, or manage UK-based medical research.

Please do share your thoughts, the survey is anonymous, with the option of supplying contact details if you wish.

Further information

The funded projects

Developing frameworks for eco-directed sustainable prescribing: towards reducing environmental pollution from healthcare practices

Professor Sharon Pfleger, NHS Highland

ICF: unmanned aerial vehicles (‘drones’) for sustainable vaccine research and improving equity in vaccine delivery: a feasibility study in The Gambia

Dr Ed Clarke, The Gambia Unit at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Developing environmentally sustainable best practices for human brain imaging

Dr Charlotte Rae, University of Sussex

Environmental impact assessment of biobanking strategies: creating a sustainable biobanking roadmap for sample storage

Dr Gabrielle Samuel, King’s College London

Changing behaviours towards single-use textiles in the operating theatre

Professor Mahmood Bhutta, University of Sussex

GoGREEN: reducing the environmental impact of operating theatres, a behavioural science approach

Dr Tayla Porat, Imperial College London

Environmental life cycle assessment of research laboratory protocols

Professor Richard Murphy, University of Surrey

Top image:  Credit: banjongseal324, iStock, Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

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