MRC Investigator Award will enable Rising Star to improve use of antibodies in research

Posted by: Jamie Sharp - Posted on:

Huge congratulations to one of Leicester BRC’s Rising Stars, Dr Harvinder Virk, who has been granted a new Investigator Award from the MRC Better Methods Better Research Panel.

The grant will fund Dr Virk’s work: ‘Improving the integrity, reproducibility, and usability of biomedical research that utilises commercial antibodies’ and follows on from Dr Virk’s previous work where he identified more reliable antibodies to study potential drug targets in pulmonary fibrosis, leading to the discovery of a previously unknown cell death resistance mechanism that may be important in lung fibrosis. 

The focus of this new project is to improve how researchers choose antibodies.

Harvinder said: “Our project will benefit researchers by supporting their use of high-quality antibodies in experiments and enabling them to generate reliable research findings. It will benefit research funders and the wider scientific community by promoting good research practice and ensuring that funding is used efficiently. It will benefit biotech and pharmaceutical companies, which rely on sound research data for drug development, and the healthcare systems and patients who use those medicines.

“Finally, it will benefit overall society by reducing the waste of resources in biomedical research and making sure that scientific findings are meaningful, trustworthy, and replicable.”

He added: “I’m passionate about improving biomedical and clinical research for the benefit of patients, researchers, and society. My long-term research goal is to improve the efficiency of biomarker and drug development in respiratory research, by leading ambitious cross-cutting programmes with experts in other disciplines.”

NIHR Leicester BRC Manager, Dr Aarti Parmar, said: “This career development award recognises Harvinder’s incredible progress to date, and his ambitions to making a meaningful difference to research in the future.

“Harvinder has identified that to ensure robust data quality in biomedical research, like those into interstitial lung diseases, that we require good antibodies to give reliable reproducible data. This project is sure to bring benefits to researchers and the public in the future.”

More on the project

Dr Harvinder Virk founded the Only Good Antibodies community to engage end-users and stakeholders to overcome a key challenge for reproducibility in preclinical research and drug development.

He said: “Our partnership, called the Only Good Antibodies community, engages with stakeholders to improve the use of antibodies in research.

“Our findings show that scientists are not aware that many antibodies perform poorly and/or they find it unfeasible to carry out antibody quality control experiments. When deciding which antibodies to use in their research, they often depend on unreliable factors such as colleagues’  recommendations, rather than on quality control data.

“That’s why the focus of this project is to improve how researchers choose antibodies.

“The second part will make finding, using, and sharing antibody quality control data easier.

“We will use a case study of proteins important to lung disease, to gather evidence about data availability, accessibility, and ease of sharing. This will allow us to develop an efficient strategy for using existing databases, and will help us design an e-learning module and user guides for all biomedical researchers. We will work with database providers so that they can make the databases easier to use for all biomedical researchers, and with a specific new resource for lung disease researchers.

“Finally we will make using, and sharing, antibody quality control data more rewarding. We will gather the opinions of experts, including those in research funding and publishing. These opinions will be used to modify the guidelines that researchers use when applying for funding or submitting a paper, so that the researchers will be asked to share information about antibody use. The modified guidelines will be trialled by several scientific journals to determine whether they are feasible to use.

Also part of the project will be: Eva Krockow Project co-lead (UK) University of Leicester & Michael Biddle, Research and Innovation Associate at the University of Leicester.

Dr Virk received support from Biocompare, Center for Research in Biomedical Systems at the University of California, SciCrunch, Ycharos, Wiley, CiteAb, GeneTex, F1000 and AstraZeneca in support of his application.