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

Research , Wade Conference Centre

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.

To find out about our world-class conference facilities, visit http://www.nsconferencecentre.co.uk

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Physics star Jim Al-Khalili is a quantum hit at the North Staffs Medical Institute

Events , Wade Conference Centre

By Meg Jorsh

TV physicist Jim Al-Khalili revealed the baffling world of quantum biology in a talk at the North Staffordshire Medical Institute.

The BBC star – best known for his Radio 4 show The Life Scientific – joked if the insanely complex subject did not give his listeners a headache, he would not have been doing his job.

Professor Al-Khalili spoke to a sold-out audience of 150 at the medical research charity’s 48th annual Wade Lecture.

He told them: “If you haven’t got a headache then clearly you don’t understand quantum mechanics. If you think ‘maybe I’ve got it’ then you haven’t. It’s meant to be confusing.”

Prof Al-Khalili explained that the quantum theory of physics, when applied to biology, could potentially reveal how the atoms in animals and plants behave differently to those in inanimate objects.

But he admitted the new field – which looks at the behaviour of subatomic particles – was a controversial topic for many traditional biologists.

He added: “Quantum biology is still in its infancy; it’s still speculative. Quantum mechanics is weird and very sensitive, it’s hard to understand and biology is complicated enough as well.

“There’s still widespread scepticism among biologists, mainly surrounding the question of ‘so what?’

“It does seem that there are some mechanisms within living cells that need some help from the quantum world, but we don’t know how this happens.

“To observe quantum mechanics in the non-living world you need to cool things down to near-absolute zero in a vacuum and even then the quantum effects don’t last very long.

“Has nature hit upon shortcuts to give it an advantage? Can we learn from nature to develop new or more efficient quantum devices?”

Having wrapped up his hour-long presentation, the popular scientist stopped to sign autographs and take selfies with dozens of fans.

Prof. Al-Khalili, who was awarded an OBE in 2008, explained that respect for his audience was key to his success as a science broadcaster.

He said: “I’m of a generation when I first started doing science communication it was just becoming acceptable for science researchers to talk to the public. Before that you had to do one or the other.

“Richard Dawkins, brilliant though he is, once he wrote The Selfish Gene he was no longer seen as an academic. But people like me and like Professor Brian Cox, I still spend half my time at the University of Surrey, I still have PhD students, I still publish papers. It was still only my generation that it’s become acceptable to do both.

“Public engagement in science acknowledges that it has to be a two-way process. Part of that is acknowledging that the audience you talk to is no less clever than you, they’ve just not devoted their lives to studying this stuff.

“I couldn’t perform an operation – I can’t even do my own bank statements.”

The professor, who still spends half of his time teaching at the University of Surrey, later joined Institute members, staff and supporters for a formal dinner.

He decided to attend in part because he had never visited Stoke before.

“So far it’s been very pleasant,” he added. “If tonight is indicative of the good people of Stoke then it’s a lovely place.”

Institute bosses hope to welcome Professor Al-Khalili back in 2021 to speak at a series of talks planned for the Year of Culture.

The event on Thursday, October 5th, came just a week after the Institute’s annual awards evening, at which more than £100,000 was handed over to top local researchers.

The money will be used to fund groundbreaking studies into a range of health conditions, including childhood asthma and sleep apnoea, lung disease and brain injuries.

Experts in prostate and bladder cancer, bowel disease and health literacy will also profit from the funding injection.

The North Staffordshire Medical Institute, based on Hartshill Road, Stoke, is a medical charity funded by public donations and the revenue from its purpose-built conference facilities.

For more information about their work, visit https://nsmedicalinstitute.co.uk/, like them on Facebook @nsmedicalinstitute or follow them on Twitter @nsccentre.

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