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  1. Impact Philanthropy
November 2, 2011

Richard Ross of Rosetrees Trust and Nick Athanasou on medical philanthropy

By Spear's


Sophie McBain speaks to Richard Ross, whose Rosetrees Trust funds a variety of medical research, and Professor Nick Athanasou, a Rosetrees beneficiary who has himself become a donor

My parents set up Rosetrees in 1987, to mark their golden wedding anniversary. I was quite young to get involved in the charity, but I suppose I’ve always been interested in it. We started off funding a range of causes, particularly care for the elderly, but following a grant application from a medical researcher we began to see the logic in funding the prevention of illnesses, rather than paying for care.

I now work with a team of people, and we try to find and support the best medical researchers. This country is really good at medical research and we should really be promoting it.

Rosetrees is supporting around 130 projects at the moment, sponsoring both established professors and promising newcomers. For instance, we support the Royal College of Surgeons, and give a prize each year for the best research projects. We supported someone who worked out why the common wisdom that you shouldn’t eat or drink before an operation is wrong. Now people are given glucose before an operation so they recover quicker. Someone else we supported tested a machine that made it faster to diagnose soldiers’ injuries on the field. 

As a businessman, I have a real business approach to my giving and make sure I choose projects that can offer the best value. We’ve formed an advisory panel of professors to advise the best approach to research. They said that often if PhD students were funded for an extra six months after a three-year PhD, they’d discover as much that final half-year as in the last three because of all the knowledge they’ve built up. That made business sense to us, so we fund this. That’s also why I’m looking for co-donors: if others co-donate with Rosetrees, using their expertise (at no cost), their leveraged donations to medical research could reach £100 million by 2016 and with the support of others could reach £1 billion, which would do wonders for new health benefits.

The best compliment I’ve had this year was when Professor Athanasou, whose research we sponsor, sent Rosetrees a donation. I phoned and asked him, ‘Why have you done this?’ and he said, ‘Because I think what you do is fantastic, and I want to support what you do.’ That’s a bit like a top chef coming to eat at your restaurant — and it’s great to know that Rosetrees is funding the best projects.

Pictured above: Richard Ross
My research focuses on discovering the mechanisms that lead to bone loss in ageing and many common diseases such as osteoporosis and arthritis, as well as other conditions including bone cancer. What I’ve found is that the cellular mechanisms causing bone loss in many diseases involve a number of common molecular factors which can be targeted by drugs to halt or control this process.

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I’ve been working with Rosetrees for around ten years, ever since they stepped in to provide financial support to charities funding my research into osteoarthritis. Without this support I would not have been able to carry out this research. Rosetrees helped to fund some of my large projects and also provided relatively small amounts to fund pilot projects in which research ideas are tested. Some of these projects have been very successful and led to large grants being obtained from organisations such as Arthritis Research (UK) and the EU to continue the research initially funded by Rosetrees.

One quality that distinguishes Rosetrees is that they actively follow through the money they give to a researcher. They regularly call to check on the progress of your work, arrange visits and develop a genuine dialogue with the researcher. I found this very unusual for a charity. It’s something I really appreciated: they were interested in my work and I was able to explain to them my research aims and what I was doing with their money.

These are some of the reasons I decided to make a small donation to Rosetrees. It was not because Rosetrees had given money to me in the past or I was seeking more funding for my research; it was because I believe it is a very well-run charity. I appreciate the way Rosetrees employs funds for research and the fact that it takes a great deal of personal interest in the work it funds.
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Sophie McBain is a staff writer at Spear’s 

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