Institute Chairman Shaughn O’Brien Bows Out

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After three long years as chairman, Professor Shaughn O’Brien is leaving the North Staffordshire Medical Institute. The obstetrician and gynaecologist takes a moment to reflect on his time at the helm.

“It’s a lovely building for meeting and conferences,” he says. “It’s a good focus for research, a good focus for postgraduate education, it’s a good focus for the community and it’s a good focus for people people putting on meetings an conferences of a high standard.”

During two separate tenures as chairman, Prof. O’Brien has seen the Institute through some challenging times. His first, from 2002 to 2005, included the biggest shake-up in the charity’s history when the hospital trust’s Clinical Education Centre, part of Keele University’s Medical School, was built at the University Hospital of the North Midlands.

The Institute, which had been the area’s main teaching centre for postgraduate medicine, was suddenly left with less purpose and little funding.

“The medical library was moved and all the funding went with it,” says Prof. O’Brien. “In the process of that we had to really set up the Institute as a conference centre. One of the key things we achieved was to make sure we took ownership of the land rather than leasing it from the NHS – and more importantly for conferences, the whole of the parking facilities.

“We also made a lot of changes to the structure of our grants, making them pump-priming for new researchers.”

Appointed vice chairman of the Royal College of Gynaecologists (RCOG) in 2004, Prof. O’Brien stepped back from the Institute to concentrate on the role and his own research. He found himself taking the reins again in 2015, admitting: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

The chairman went on to face another period of change with his trademark creativity and vision. His legacy at the Institute includes their support for the annual Firelighter Awards, organised by Keele University’s Dr Adam Farmer, which give NHS staff the chance to pitch for medical research grants in a Dragon’s Den-style competition.

He also arranged Institute funding for the ASPIRE programme at Keele University, designed to help medical students engage with academic research. The scheme is led by Professor Divya Chari and Dr Samantha Hider.

Prof. O’Brien is now behind plans to rebrand the Institute as part of a major refurbishment project. The facility will even be given a new name – as yet being kept under wraps.

He says: “We’ve had a significant donation to allow us to redevelop the Institute as North Staffordshire’s  high-profile, named conference centre. It should highlight our ability to hold conferences which are not only medical, while retaining the loyalty we’ve built up with our existing customers.”

While he hopes to remain involved with the building work, the father-of-two already knows how he will fill his semi-retirement. It will begin with his valedictory meeting at the RCOG in September.

As well as his continuing research and private practice, he plans to devote the extra hours to his artistic side.

He says: “I’ve already begun to go to sculpture school in London, I’ve got some pieces in the Medical Art Society’s Annual Exhibition at the Royal Society of Medicine in July. I also want to get back to playing the clarinet and saxophone some more.”

Prof. O’Brien has been replaced as chairman by Mr John Muir, the UK’s longest-serving NHS consultant.

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North Staffs Researchers Boost Glaucoma Treatment Safety

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North Staffs scientists have used a £10,000 charity grant to help make eye surgery safer for thousands of glaucoma patients.

The research team, based at Keele University’s Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine, were awarded the funding by charity the North Staffordshire Medical Institute.

They have used it to try and improve outcomes of the trabeculectomy surgical procedure, commonly used to treat the eye disease glaucoma.

The condition – which is Britain’s second biggest cause of sight loss – occurs when the optic nerve and retina are damaged, caused by a build-up of fluid that increases pressure inside the eye.


A trabeculectomy involves making a small hole in the wall of the eye so that fluid can drain away, relieving the excess pressure.

However up to 30 per cent of the operations fail due to the body’s natural healing processes, which cause the hole to heal up and close again.

The researchers, led by tissue engineer Professor Ying Yang, have been looking for better ways to stop the eye from forming scar tissue and closing the new drainage channels.

She said: “The surgical procedure is the creation of an opening to allow the draining of fluid, but the body is automatically programmed to react if there’s a wound to try and close it.

“If it closes, this kind of surgery will fail. But your body doesn’t realise there is a benefit to this wound.”

Eye Cells

To address the problem, Prof. Yang’s research team have used conjunctival cells to create a mimic of human eye tissue under lab conditions.

They have tested the tissue with various drug doses to find the most reliable way of preventing inflammation and wound healing, without damaging the surrounding cells.

She added: “It’s difficult to work with a human eye and if you use an animal eye they’re not very representative. So we’re able to generate material in the lab that you can use to test whatever you wish – generate artificial wounds, add different growth factors and cytokines or test drug treatments.

“This will help us to predict what will happen in the patient’s eye after glaucoma surgery.”

The team has also been testing a new medical device to treat glaucoma called the XEN gel stent, which involves injecting a tiny gelatin tube into the eye to keep the drainage channel open.

They hope to use the results of their research to attract funding for a larger study.

Prof. Yang said: “The value of the Institute’s grant is that it’s kind of like a seed. We’re not just relying on this funding – through this we’re able to generate the proof of concept to attract more clinicians to participate in our research.”

Research Funding

The original grant was allocated in 2014 as part of the NSMI’s annual awards, which are funded by a combination of public donations, bequests and the income from room hire at the charity’s base on Hartshill Road, Stoke.

Once Britain’s first postgraduate centre, the iconic building is now used as a conference facility.

While the annual funding for 2018 has now all been allocated, researchers will soon be able to apply for the Institute and UHNM’s Firelighter Awards of up to £10,000.

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North Staffs Scientists Seek Cure for ‘Silent Killer’ Heart Defect Affecting 620,000 Brits

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North Staffordshire researchers have been awarded £20,000 to help cure a heart defect that causes thousands of sudden deaths each year.

The experts hope to understand and control arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) – a condition that affects around 620,000 people in the UK and causes up to five per cent of young adult deaths.

Sufferers often fail to notice any symptoms, which can mean they do not know they have the genetic disease until it is too late.

While ARVC cannot be prevented, group leader Dr Vinoj George believes it could be controlled in the early stages through genetic engineering to stop it becoming lethal.

His pioneering study will receive the funds from local charity the North Staffordshire Medical Institute.

Dr George said: “This disease manifests with different severity. In some patients even a little bit of stress can trigger it, often resulting in sudden cardiac death.

“There are other people who live perfectly well with it and it can be controlled by drugs or devices that can be put in to maintain heart rate.”

He explained that ARVC is caused by a genetic mutation affecting the cell protein that ‘glues’ the heart muscles together. This leads to the death of cardiac cells, stopping the heart from pumping properly and causing an irregular heartbeat.

The same problem gene can manifest with different severities.

Genetic Engineering

Dr George’s team, based at Keele University’s Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine (ISTM), will create the ARVC mutation in human stem cells in the laboratory, before converting them into cardiac muscle cells.

They will then use optogenetic technology – which uses light to change the behaviour of mutated cells – to look for the genetic triggers that make the disease more severe.

He said: “We’re taking stem cells, we’re creating the protein mutation in the cell and then we’re making the cell behave like it would in the heart. Then what we’re doing is trying to use genetics to control how the disease can be reproduced and modified at the cellular level.

“Once we identify the genes that are responsible, then it will help us to find drugs or strategies to control that mechanism.”

Patients are usually diagnosed with ARVC on the basis of their symptoms, but the underlying genetic cause can only be confirmed by a test in a specialist clinic. This is often reserved for severe cases and the relatives of known sufferers, who have a 50 per cent chance of passing the disease on to their children.

Dr George’s study will use genetic data provided by St George’s Hospital in London, which treats a range of ARVC patients with various mutations and severities.

He added: “We hope to translate our work to benefit clinicians at the Royal Stoke Hospital in devising treatment strategies to control ARVC severities, potentially at a younger age.”

NSMI Funding

The grant was allocated as part of the NSMI’s annual awards, which are funded by a combination of public donations, bequests and the income from conferences and room hire facilities at the charity’s base on Hartshill Road, Stoke.

Once Britain’s first postgraduate centre, the iconic building is now used as a conference facility.

While the annual funding has now all been allocated, researchers will soon be able to apply for the Institute and UHNM’s Firelighter Awards of up to £10,000.

For more information, visit, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. Anyone interested in making a bequest is asked to email manager Jacqui Robinson at

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NSMI-funded scientists seek genetic treatments to fight frailty in older people

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North Staffs researchers have won a £19,985 grant to investigate whether gene therapy can stop older people becoming frail.

The group, led by Dr Adam Sharples, hopes to pave the way for new treatments that will reduce falls and weakness in the elderly by switching off the genes that cause muscle wasting.

They will study tissue samples donated by hip and knee replacement patients to find which genes cause unused muscles to break down – with the help of the funding from local charity the North Staffordshire Medical Institute.

Dr Sharples said they expect to find these genes are ‘marked’ by special chemical ‘tags’ that tell them to be active or inactive, known as epigenetic modifications.

The discovery could eventually allow doctors to give patients medication that will replace the effects of exercise.

He said: “It’s very difficult to persuade an older person who’s never exercised in their life to take up a fitness regime. If we identify genes that we already know there are drugs for we can give them to people who don’t want to or can’t exercise due to frailty.”


The team, based at Keele University’s Institute of Science and Technology in Medicine, has previously found muscles can remember periods of growth, so they can grow larger later in life.

They will investigate whether the opposite applies after wasting – meaning muscles may break down more quickly if an injury is repeated.

If so, the muscle memory could potentially be ‘switched off’ in older people hurt in a fall, slowing down the wasting process that makes them more likely to fall again.

He added: “Can we intervene if a patient has had a fall and lost muscle to prevent that from happening again and make people less frail? The cost of frailty to the NHS is on the increase, especially with an aging population.

“The thing it impacts on is quality of life, so people can’t do simple tasks like walking upstairs or opening a can of beans. So our aim is not necessarily to extend life but to improve quality of life as people get older.”

Using the latest genome wide techniques, the team will study more than 850,000 sites on the DNA of patients with muscle wasting after an operation. They will then compare them to a control group of normal muscle samples.

Dr Sharples said: “What we’re going to do is take a chunk of muscle about the size of a broad bean, usually from the quadricep, and look at the difference between someone who’s had a trauma or an injury and had to have an operation and someone who hasn’t.

“Normally those people have some kind of muscle wasting in a very short period, even in two or three weeks where the limb is suspended.”


The grant was allocated as part of the NSMI’s annual awards, which are funded by a combination of public donations, bequests and the income from room hire at the charity’s base on Hartshill Road, Stoke.

Once Britain’s first postgraduate centre, the iconic building is now used as a conference facility.

While the annual funding has now all been allocated, researchers will soon be able to apply for the Institute and UHNM’s Firelighter Awards of up to £10,000.

For more information, visit, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

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NSMI Charity’s £58,000 cash boost for local medical research

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Charity the North Staffordshire Medical Institute has announced a £58,000 cash injection for three “outstanding” local research projects.

The money will support new studies based at Keele University and the University Hospital of the North Midlands (UHNM), designed to improve treatments for cancer, heart disease and muscle wasting in the elderly.

A panel of experts led by Institute chairman Professor Shaughn O’Brien allocated the funds after reviewing applications for their annual grants.

Prof. O’Brien said: “We were very impressed by the research proposals we received on a wide range of topics, all of which could have been funded.

“The reasons for our choices were the outstanding quality of the applications, the importance of the disease areas and the strong track records of the departments involved in delivering research.”

The professor, a leading obstetrician and gynaecologist, oversaw the award process alongside colleagues from a range of medical disciplines.

They included gastroenterologist Dr Adam Farmer, clinical biochemist Professor Richard Strange and Professor of Biomedical Imaging Melissa Mather.

He added: “We are confident these projects will be of great value to the community of Staffordshire and to medicine as a whole.”

Award recipients

The panel awarded £18,450 towards a study into treatment-resistant cancers, led by Dr Alan Richardson at Keele’s Institute of Science and Technology in Medicine (ISTM). His team aim to restore the sensitivity of cancer cells to chemotherapy drug paclitaxel.

A second group based at the ISTM, led by Dr Vinoj George, were awarded £20,000 to investigate heart condition Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC). They hope to identify those at most risk from the disease, which can cause sudden death.

Cell and tissue engineer Dr Adam Sharples and his colleagues, also from the ISTM, were given £19,985 to research muscle wasting in the elderly.

The awards were funded by a combination of public donations, bequests and the income from room hire at the Institute’s base on Hartshill Road, Stoke. Once Britain’s first postgraduate centre, the iconic building is now used as a conference facility.

While the annual grants have now all been allocated, researchers will soon be able to apply for the Institute and UHNM’s Firelighter Awards of up to £10,000.

For more information, visit, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

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NSMI conference manager is fired up for fundraising challenge

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STOKIE superhero Spencer Smith will don his fire kit for the challenge of a lifetime in 2018.

The conference manager at the North Staffs Medical Institute, who also works as a retained firefighter, is set to run an incredible marathon and a half in his full gear to raise money for four charities.

But even that isn’t enough of a challenge for the 43-year-old, who last year raised £800 when he ran two half marathons in two weeks wearing the heavy protective clothes.

To make things even harder, this time he’ll be wearing breathing apparatus that weighs in at a backbreaking three stone.

Spencer explained: “It’s challenging, but in a good way if that makes sense. As much as I’m fearful of it, I’m also excited because how much do we know about ourselves unless we push ourselves to the limit?

“I know it’s going to be difficult. Last time I made the mistake of setting myself the target of finishing in under two hours and I don’t think I appreciated how difficult it would really be.

“There’s nowhere for the air to ventilate at all – the fire kit is designed to keep it inside. I’ve got to be very wary of the risk of heat exhaustion, so keeping well-hydrated is key.”

Spencer, from Hartshill, eventually finished the Liverpool Half Marathon in two hours, 16 minutes and the Potter’s ‘Arf Marathon in two hours, 29 minutes.

He has pledged not to set himself a time goal this year when he runs the Liverpool Rock N’ Roll Marathon on May 20th, followed by the Potter’s ‘Arf again on June 10th.

Training regime

The dad-of-one has already embarked on a gruelling training regime with the help of his girlfriend Lucy Corbett, a fellow running enthusiast.

He said: “I’m going to the gym three times a week and training, similar to what I did for the last half marathon in terms of trying to increase the distance a bit each time.

“Last year I went out to do a few test runs and it was quite humorous to see people’s faces when they spotted a firefighter just jogging around the streets of Stoke, but the support was amazing.

“The encouragement on the day at each race was out of this world, just people showing support and shouting alongside me. Whenever I was struggling it just gave me that lift.”

Spencer, who is based at Newcastle Community Fire Station, plans to start training in his breathing apparatus as the first race draws closer.

The runner is raising money for four charities – Cancer Research for his late grandad, Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) in memory of fellow firefighter Mark Hancock and the Peter Pan Centre for children with special needs in Newcastle.

He is also fundraising for the Donna Louise Starlight Fund in memory of two-year-old Oscar Schonau, the son of his friends Dave and Lynette, who died suddenly from sepsis in 2016.

Spencer said: “He developed chicken pox, they thought he would be alright but then I think he got blood poisoning because of it.

“It saddened me not just as their friend, but also because I’m a parent myself.”

To sponsor Spencer, visit .

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In their own words: NSMI-funded scientists on their groundbreaking work

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North Staffordshire Researchers undertake innovative brain injury study involving surgeons and scientists

In a new study started in 2017, a North Staffordshire research team has succeeded in keeping adult human brain tissue alive in a dish outside of the body, using samples of tissue donated by living patients undergoing surgery for a brain condition called ‘Chiari malformation’.

Clinical lead for the study, consultant neurosurgeon Mr Nikolaos Tzerakis explained: “The Chiari malformation is a fairly common problem in Neurosurgical practice. Simply put, the part of the brain at the back of the head which is called the cerebellum, lies lower than the normal level.

“This creates crowding in a tight bony space called foramen magnum, which then causes some difficulty in the circulation of the brain fluid. Patients with Chiari malformation present with headaches mostly during coughing, laughing and straining.

“When surgical treatment is required the usual operation is called Foramen Magnum Decompression, during which we remove a small part of the bone at the back of the head and the spine. On a few occasions, some cerebellar tissue has to be removed to allow adequate decompression and circulation of the brain fluid.

“This sample would have been of no use until now because according to the classical surgical protocol it is removed and disposed. However, this tissue has living nerve cells and they can be grown in the laboratory without any additional risk to the patient.”

Patients with Chiari malformation are widely believed to have essentially healthy (viable) tissue because the brain tissue is misplaced rather than diseased. In the past, scientists studying the human brain have been limited by the difficulty in obtaining tissue for such studies.

Their options have been limited to samples removed post mortem – which can quickly die – or tissue from cancerous or diseased brains.

Proving the successful use of Chiari tissue in a dish has the potential to be a very useful new scientific development, which could help in the study and discovery of new treatments for brain injuries and diseases which could be investigated using such a model.

Before they could start their research, the scientists went through a three-year planning process including an exhaustive review within the NHS to make sure their methods were ethical.

They sought consent from a number of patients, some of whom agreed for their cerebellar tissue to be kept for the research study, rather than be incinerated, as would be the normal practice.

Clinical Lecturer Mr Jon Sen, a neurosurgeon, said: “It made me think ‘why has no one thought of doing this before?’ The simplest ideas are often some of the best ones, but it still took a lot of banging our heads together in the neurosurgery department to reach the idea of trying to obtain tissue from our Chiari patients.

“A key issue is that Chiari is the only surgery we ever do where we take out brain tissue that we could consider within a ‘normal’ enough limit that we could develop a meaningful tissue injury model from.”

The study – supported by a grant from the North Staffordshire Medical Institute – is being led by Professor of Neural Tissue Engineering at Keele’s medical school, Divya Chari.

This new scientific advance also has the potential to reduce the need for animal testing, and could allow the Keele University scientists to simulate the effects of injuries on brain tissue in a laboratory environment.

Prof. Chari said: “I feel passionate about the need for models to reduce animal experimentation. In my early training, I learned to reproduce brain and spinal cord injuries in rodents so I know first-hand the major ethical and technical difficulties these have.

“In animal models there’s potential for substantial suffering – they can lose movement and bladder control, become quadriplegic.

“Our aim is to develop a successful dish model for use in laboratories, that’s relevant to human injuries. We’ve previously proven we can develop models in a dish using tissue derived from rodents, but this is the first time we’ve done it using human tissue.

“Make no mistake, this is a huge undertaking and the success of the work relies on collaboration of a big team working across the hospital and laboratory units. This includes neurosurgeons Mr Nikolaos Tzerakis and Mr Rupert Price, research nurse Holly McGuire and scientists Dr Jacqueline Tickle and Dr Christopher Adams at Keele University.”

The study was a long time in the planning, however, the process accelerated rapidly when the team finally received their first tissue sample this summer.

Researcher Dr Jacqueline Tickle said: “The time for collection from the patient and processing in the laboratory was less than an hour. It has to happen very quickly so there’s less time for the tissue to die and it remains viable.”

The tissue samples were cut into slices of varying thickness to examine the tissue survival and observe major brain cell types.

At first the researchers had no idea what to expect.

Prof. Chari said: “The fact that we have seen tissue survival for well over two weeks made us excited because we had no idea whether we could get it to remain viable for even 24 hours. The fact that we can detect the major cell types present in the brain is very positive”

When an incision was made in one of the samples to replicate an injury, the researchers believe they can see some changes that are typical of genuine brain injuries.

Prof. Chari and Mr Sen added: “This is still very, very early. We’ve only got the tissue from two patients so far. Getting the tissue depends on many factors- whether the patient consents to donating the sample, whether the surgery goes ahead as planned, and ultimately whether the surgeon makes the decision to remove the tissue.”

“So we are in it for the long haul, but we all believe it is worth the effort, because the first results are pretty exciting. The main outcome at this stage is that we’re confident that the tissue can remain viable for a relatively long time, if the conditions are kept right.  It suggests that we could make an injury model in these tissue samples and then look at responses to therapeutic manoeuvres.”

Professor Shaughn O’Brien, chairman of the North Staffordshire Medical Institute, said: “This is an outstanding research project and a unique and clever approach to the study of neural/brain tissue which will attempt to replicate the real life situation in human tissue but without being in any way additionally invasive for any patients.”

The North Staffordshire Medical Institute is a charity funded by public donations that provides grants for vital medical research in the Staffordshire area.

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North Staffordshire scientists invent new home test for diabetics

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A North Staffordshire research team hopes to save patients time and the NHS millions with a new home testing kit for diabetics.

The scientists, led by Clinical Biochemist Dr Chris Duff, want to end the need for Britain’s four million patients with diabetes to visit a clinic for routine haemoglobin testing every four months.

Their DIY version of the HbA1c test will be similar to the finger prick kit some diabetic patients currently use to monitor their own blood sugar.

Patients will be shown how to collect tiny samples of blood using the kits, which will be delivered to their homes at regular intervals then returned by post for laboratory testing.

The project, based at Keele University and University Hospital of North Midlands, has been funded in part with a £7,515 grant from the North Staffordshire Medical Institute.

Time-saving innovation

Researcher Kathryn Ford explained: “We’re trying to help patients do their diabetes monitoring at home rather than coming into hospital because it’s inconvenient.

“At the moment they have to take time off work, then they have to go to the hospital, they have to park.

“We want them to be able to do a finger prick at home and send it in on a card rather than coming in to have their blood taken.”

The team have already developed the test and shown that the dried blood can survive the postal system until it is reconstituted in the laboratory.

Their next step will be to create the kit itself and recruit patients to take part in a pilot scheme.

She added: “I need to get a focus group of about 20 patients with diabetes and ask them if they would like to take part in the trial.

“We can then get patient feedback and hopefully roll it out.”

Preventing Complications

The HbA1c test measures the levels of glycated haemoglobin in a patient’s blood to see how well they have been controlling their diabetes over the previous months.

A healthy level for non-diabetics is below 42 mmol/mol, whereas diabetics are told to aim for around 48mmol/mol.

Higher levels of the substance show a patient’s diabetes is badly-controlled, putting them at risk of serious complications like blindness, heart disease and limb amputations.

Kate said: “You can end up with kidney disease, heart disease, eye problems, numbness in your hands. It’s all very unpleasant.

“We want them to test every three to four months but to get patients to test every three to four months is very difficult.

“By sending the kits out at the right time we can better control the frequency of the testing and by doing that we can optimise monitoring.”

Professor Shaughn O’Brien, chairman of the North Staffordshire Medical Institute, said: “I expect this to be a very real advance in diabetic care.

“As well as the convenience for the patients improved blood sugar control is likely to be very much improved.

“I look forward to seeing the data on the cohort being presented at next year’s annual research awards event.”

The North Staffordshire Medical Institute is a charity funded by public donations that provides grants for vital medical research in the Staffordshire area.

To find out more about our work, visit

By Meg Jorsh


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Sunshine vitamin D holds the key to beat childhood asthma, North Staffs scientists claim

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A North Staffordshire research team hopes to prove spending time in the sunshine is the key to improving childhood asthma.

The experts, led by consultant paediatrician Dr Will Carroll, believe many asthma attacks in children can be linked to a deficiency in vitamin D – a substance produced by the body when it is exposed to sunlight.

Their preliminary research has found asthmatic youngsters are hospitalised more often in less sunny parts of the country.

Controlled trials

Dr Carroll now hopes to prove that giving children vitamin D supplements will cause asthma complications to fall, in a study part-funded with a £19,884 grant from the North Staffordshire Medical Institute.

He said: “We know from the analysis that in regions of the UK that are more sunny they have lower rates of childhood asthma.

“But between October and February each year, the sun doesn’t get high enough in the sky in the UK to produce vitamin D anyway, so we have to rely on supplementation in those months.

“Previous studies have shown that small doses of vitamin D can reduce asthma exacerbations in children.”

The team, based at Keele University, plans to start with a small study in which asthmatic children will be given either vitamin D or a placebo and the progress of their asthma will be monitored.

They will use this to help them design a much larger controlled trial to take place in several locations around the country.

Dr Carroll, an expert in paediatric lung disease, added: “The purpose of the programme is to show that it’s more effective to give vitamin D to children than a placebo.

“The vitamin D available now is colourless and odourless, so that helps us to do our research. What we’re hoping to find is that it reduces asthma exacerbations in children.”

Health advice

If the programme proves a success, it could mean dramatic changes to the official health advice around taking children out in the sun.

At the moment, parents are advised to cover kids up as much as possible and use high-factor sunscreen to prevent the risk of burns, heatstroke and ultimately skin cancer.

But if vitamin D is important for respiratory health doctors may start advising that children spend short periods outdoors without sun protection.

He said: “If you cover yourself in sun cream you don’t get vitamin D because you need to have exposure to UVB rays.

“Nearly all children in the UK have insufficient levels of vitamin D. We’re designed as human beings to be semi-clothed and to live outside, we’re not meant to be indoor creatures.”

There are currently 5.4million people living with asthma in the UK – one of the highest rates in Europe – including 1.1million children.

The lung condition killed 1,468 people in 2015 and costs the NHS an average of £1billion a year.

The North Staffordshire Medical Institute is a charity funded by public donations that provides grants for vital medical research in the Staffordshire area.

By Meg Jorsh

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Heart surgery safer thanks to £250,000 North Staffs research project

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By Meg Jorsh

North Staffordshire scientists are making heart surgery safer with a groundbreaking £250,000 study.

The research team, led by Professor Mamas Mamas, hopes to revolutionise the way patient health records are used by the NHS to prevent complications after coronary stent procedures.

Patients often have a stent – a short wire-mesh tube – inserted to treat angina or following a heart attack. It works by stretching open a narrowed or blocked artery.

Although a common procedure, it carries a small risk of complications ranging from bruising to heart attacks, strokes and even death.

Prof. Mamas and his team hope to cut this risk even further by analysing millions of records to identify the patients who experience the best outcomes and those with greatest chance of their operation going wrong.

He explained: “It’s a programme of work and my ultimate aim is that we use this data to more efficiently in a way that provides insight for the whole patient journey rather than just the short time they’re in hospital.

“Ultimately it’s about getting the right outcomes, getting the right procedures to the patient in the safest manner.”

Using ‘big data’

The massive study, which started in 2011, was funded in part with a £249,983 grant from the North Staffordshire Medical Institute.

It involves millions of local, national and international records, which makes the data exceptionally accurate compared to an average-sized medical trial.

Prof Mamas said: “We’ve looked at the procedure to see if there is an optimal way of doing it, which may be related to drugs or how you actually perform the operation.

“The other thing that it’s told us is how commonly complications occur. If you’re looking at a rare outcome it’s very difficult to study that in a randomised trial – getting three complications in a thousand cases wouldn’t tell you very much.

“If you have half a million patients you can get a lot more information.”

The Professor of Cardiology, based at Keele University, has already used the data to give each UK doctor performing the procedure a safety rating, which is available for patients to view online.

His team now hopes to provide a longer-term picture of surgery outcomes by combining the separate records held by hospitals and community-based services.

Their research has already shown that post-operative bleeding is far more common than previously recognised – affecting around one in five patients compared to the previous statistic of one in 20.

He added: “In the past this information wasn’t collected electronically. You wouldn’t have the whole of the UK’s collected data on a particular procedure, the computers simply weren’t there.

“The challenge that still remains is comingling the data. I can tell you what are the outcomes of these procedures in hospitals, but I can’t tell you what happens after patients are discharged, because it isn’t shared across the data sets.”

The North Staffordshire Medical Institute is a charity funded by public donations that provides grants for vital medical research in the Staffordshire area.

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