Come visit the School of Medicine, Dentistry & Biomedical Sciences at the Queen’s University Belfast Postgraduate Open Day on Monday 1 December 2014 from 1pm – 8pm in the Whitla Hall.
Whether you are a professional in the workplace, in the final year of your Undergraduate Studies or looking at an Intercalated programme of study for September 2015, the School offers a range of both full-time and part-time Postgraduate Taught programmes which should be attractive to local, national and international students. Academic members of staff from within the school will be on hand to answer all of your queries.
For more information on the Postgraduate Open Day, please click here.
For more information on the Postgraduate programmes of study within the School of Medicine, Dentistry & Biomedical Sciences, please click here.
Healthcare professionals are encouraged to improve their understanding of the needs of women with diabetes in relation to planning for pregnnacy for World Diabetes Day. Babies born to women with diabetes are more likely to be affected by congenital anomalies, including spina bifida, heart and kidney anomalies. However, it is well established that good blood glucose control before and during pregnancy can reduce this risk!
Developed by researchers at Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, in conjunction with the South Eastern and Belfast Health and Social Care Trusts, the new website is aimed at women with diabetes and those who care for them. As well as a website helping women to prepare for pregnancy, the resource has an evidence based e-learning component aimed at all healthcare professionals who care for women with diabetes- GPs, pharmacists, practice nurses etc. The resource offers a unique opportunity to educate women and healthcare professionals on the importance of planning for pregnancy and also provides a direct link to local pre-pregnancy care clinics in Northern Ireland for those who are actively seeking to plan for pregnancy.
The project was preceded by a DVD “Women with Diabetes: Things you need to know but maybe don’t!” funded by Diabetes UK in 2010. Women who viewed the DVD resource were more likely to plan for pregnancy and to take folic acid. This online website adaption (www.womenwithdiabetes.net) aims to reach a larger audience of both women with diabetes and the healthcare professionals who care for them, and was supported by a Knowledge Transfer Award from the HSC R&D Division of the Public Health Agency.
Dr Valerie Holmes, Senior Lecturer at the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, Queen’s University Belfast who led the study, said:
“It is important that women with diabetes are aware of the importance of planning their pregnancy. Almost all women with diabetes can have healthy babies if good pre-pregnancy blood glucose control is achieved. Similarly, it is important that healthcare professionals have a better understanding of the risks to women with diabetes during pregnancy and be able to relay that information to their patients.”
Dr Aisling Gough, Women with Diabetes Champion, added: “World Diabetes Day is a global opportunity to raise awareness, and improve education about the importance of planning for pregnancy. By ensuring women with diabetes are aware of the risks of not planning for pregnancy, we can work together with women and healthcare professionals to reduce the number of unplanned.”
Dr Michael McBride, Chief Medical Officer, said: “The rate of diabetes is increasing in our population, including among women of childbearing age. It is therefore essential that women with diabetes are aware of how important it is to plan for pregnancy, and that healthcare professionals feel confident to respond to women’s requests for advice. If we can empower ourselves as healthcare professionals to discuss pregnancy planning and care with women who have diabetes, we can empower the women themselves to seek advice and support and to take ownership of their condition.”
Professor David McCance, Consultant Endocrinologist at the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, added: “Improving health and healthcare experience requires that healthcare professionals have access to education which is evidence based and clinically relevant so that we can continue to provide the best level of care for our patients.”
Every GP and pharmacy in Northern Ireland has received DVDs, posters and flyers about the resource. Find out more on our website- www.womenwithdiabetes.net or follow us on twitter- www.twitter.com/DiabetesWomen
Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Leeds have been granted £2.2 million by the Movember Foundation in partnership with Prostate Cancer UK, to lead a pioneering research project named ‘Life after prostate cancer diagnosis’. Announced as millions of people across the globe start sprouting the annual Movember campaign moustaches, the project will commit up to £2.2 million to identify what life is really like for the 250,000 men living with an beyond the disease in the UK, and what steps can be taken to improve it.
The largest study of its kind in the UK, researchers will analyse the experiences of more than 100,000 men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer between one and three years ago. They aim to identify how a diagnosis of prostate cancer impacts a man’s daily life, and work out which factors lead to poorer outcomes for some. By highlighting any gaps in support and care services, the results will help shape changes to improve prostate cancer care in the future.
The award has been granted to Dr Anna Gavin at Queen’s University Belfast and Dr Adam Glaser at the University of Leeds, who will be working with other researchers at Oxford Brookes University, the University of Southampton and Public Health England. Dr Anna Gavin is Director of the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry and Clinical Reader in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast. An expert in this type of investigative research and data analysis, Dr Gavin comments: “I am excited to be involved in this project which promises to shine a spotlight on what men are really experiencing throughout their journey with prostate cancer, and how they feel about it. Every man invited to take part in this study will have valuable information that they can share, whatever their experience, background or stage of treatment. Maybe even after the cancer is gone, some men have problems dealing with the side effects of treatment and don’t know who to talk to, or are embarrassed about doing so – they may not even know if they’re the only person feeling this way. By responding to this research they will be helping bring those issues into the open so that they can be effectively addressed for years to come. This research continues Queen’s commitment to advancing knowledge and changing lives.”
The ‘Life after prostate cancer diagnosis’ project will build on a pilot study led by the English Department of Health in 2012, which showed significant variation in how men were affected by prostate cancer, the level of impact of the disease on their lives, and how they coped with it. It will take the form of a confidential postal survey sent to men across all four UK nations. Questions will cover topics such as wellbeing and attitude towards their illness, impact of the cancer and its side effects on every day life, reflections on choice of treatment and impact of other long term conditions. The project itself is also part of a much wider global Movember initiative, with similar studies planned so far in Ireland and Australia. All the information will eventually be pooled to enable the teams to learn from men’s experiences across different countries.
Paul Villanti, Director of Programmes at The Movember Foundation said: “Right now we simply do not know enough about how prostate cancer is impacting on the lives of men following their diagnosis and treatment. We urgently need to know more if we are to ensure every man returns to feeling just as well as they did before their prostate cancer diagnosis and for the first time this unique initiative should enable us to discover the answers we need. It is thanks to the thousands of Mo Bros and Mo Sistas who raise funds every year that we are able to launch the project in partnership with Prostate Cancer UK today, and start the road to bringing about real change for the future.”
Dr Sarah Cant, Director of Policy and Strategy at Prostate Cancer UK said: “This exciting study is going to investigate the full range of issues that could affect a man after he’s been diagnosed with prostate cancer. It will also look to see if men of different ages, locations, ethnicities and socio-economic groups have different experiences. We will use the results to make sure all men in the UK can get the support they need, and help men and their doctors make the best decisions about treatment and care. Ultimately, we want to improve the lives of men with prostate cancer, and this research should help us do just that.”
Fungal diseases which are killing 150 people every hour across the world have become a worldwide catastrophe, according to researchers at Queen’s University Belfast.
They join researchers from several countries across the world in an effort led from University of Manchester in a global call for policy makers and health agencies to address the problem of fungal diseases which result in the death of 300 million people worldwide every year.
Dr Ronan McMullan from Queen’s University Belfast and Dr Eileen Dorgan from Belfast Health and Social Care Trust have been collaborating with GAFFI (Global Action Fund for Fungal Infections); an international organisation set up last year to highlight what doctors believe is a worldwide catastrophe that is growing year on year. Researchers believe that the problem could be halted with widespread access to diagnostics, antifungal medicines, medical training and better patient awareness.
Dr Ronan McMullan from the Centre for Infection and Immunity in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s, said: “Among Ireland’s population fungal infections are estimated to affect around 117,000 people every year. The majority of these infections are recurrent vaginal candidiasis (‘thrush’) with an estimated 95,000 episodes per year. Although life-threatening infections among patients in ICU, as well as patients who have undergone transplantation or had leukaemia, are less common with just over 1,000 infections per year these are an important problem.”
“The challenge in Ireland is mostly related to increasing awareness among both the public and doctors as well as developing and implementing cutting-edge diagnostic tests to enable these infections to be diagnosed and treated more promptly.”
GAFFI’s founding President is Dr David Denning, Professor of Infectious Disease in Global Health at the University of Manchester. He said: “Fungal disease is the Trojan horse – the silent, unappreciated global catastrophe on an scale no one has grasped until recently. For example, after TB as many as 20 per cent of patients develop lung fungal infection, which slowly progresses to death over five years, unless arrested with treatment, an estimated burden of 1.2 million people worldwide. Severe asthma with fungal allergy could account for half of the 350,000 deaths from asthma each year, yet it is treatable with antifungal drugs. Blindness caused by fungal infection of the eye affects over 1 million adults and children globally yet the tools are not available for rapid diagnosis and treatment for millions of people.
“Skin fungal infections affect a billion people worldwide. Fungal meningitis and pneumonia kills in excess of 1 million patients with AIDS every year, including many children, before treatment for HIV can begin to work. In its first year, GAFFI has drawn a roadmap for fighting fungal infections globally, for the first time.”
In the last 12 months GAFFI has identified and estimated the burden of fungal disease in almost 40 countries, including both NI and RoI, successfully lobbied the World Health Organisation to include two life-saving drugs on the Essential Medicines List and convinced the World Medical Association to address governments across the world to improve diagnostics and treatments of fungal disease.
Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast have been awarded a major, international grant to investigate if the perinatal condition of pre-eclampsia could be treated with cheap, everyday drugs.
Lead researcher Dr Jeremy Yongxin Yu from Queen’s Centre for Experimental Medicine will use the $250,000 to test around 300 drugs – many of them in common usage – which are considered relatively safe to administer to pregnant women.
If, as hoped, the two-year research project identifies an effective treatment for pre-eclampsia, it could save the lives of thousands of mothers and babies around the world.
Dr Yu described full-blown eclampsia as a “health crisis” which kills 500,000 babies and 75,000 mothers each year, mostly in developing countries. In the UK, it is still responsible for the deaths of 1,000 babies each year.
Mothers-to-be with diabetes are four times more likely to develop pre-eclampsia, which involves dangerously high blood pressure and damage to the placenta. There is no known cure, but if it can be diagnosed at the earlier, pre-eclampsia stage, babies can be delivered by emergency Caesarean section, although often prematurely.
Dr Yu, from the Centre for Experimental Medicine in School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, at Queen’s, said: “The placenta has to grow a huge amount of blood vessels in a short space of time. What we medical researchers have noticed is that certain molecules promote this growth, while others inhibit it. In the case of women who develop pre-eclampsia, there are too many inhibiting molecules. Following on from my previous research, I now want to see if I can halt these inhibitors with drugs. It’s important these drugs be cheap and widely available – the purpose is to come up with a treatment that can be used all over the world. That way, we will not only be advancing knowledge but changing lives.”
Co-researcher Professor Tim Lyons, also from the Centre for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s, said: “Pre-eclampsia can be fatal if not caught, but even when it is, there are long-term health effects: women who’ve had pre-eclampsia are at higher risk from developing kidney and cardiovascular disease later in life, as are their babies.”
Honorary Professor of Endocrinology at Queen’s, David McCance said: “Pre-eclampsia can be a devastating complication of pregnancy. This grant offers an exciting research opportunity and is another example of Queen’s being an international research leader and how local talent can have a global impact.”
The Queen’s research proposal was one of just 26 selected from over 500 applications from around the world to the Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development funding. The Saving Lives at Birth partnership, launched in 2011, includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the US Agency for International Development, the Government of Norway, and Grand Challenges Canada (funded by the Government of Canada). The Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development is a global call for innovative prevention and treatment ideas, approaches, and technologies that aim to reduce infant and maternal mortality around the time of birth.
This project, which will monitor the effect of a variety of drugs on placenta cells, is part of Queen’s expanding research efforts in pre-eclampsia that are being conducted in collaboration with a range of local and international academics, clinicians and NGOs.
Consultant obstetrician Alyson Hunter, from the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital in Belfast, said: “The prevention and treatment of pre-eclampsia remains a major challenge in obstetrics. Aspirin has been used with limited success in preventing pre-eclampsia but Dr Yu’s and Professor Lyons' research may discover another commonly used, cheap medication that may be much more effective and help save many lives worldwide.”
A full list of Saving Lives at Birth award-winners can be found at http://www.usaid.gov/news-information/press-releases/aug-1-2014-saving-lives-birth-grand-challenge-development-announces-round-4-award-nominees
Scientists from Queen’s University Belfast are in Brussels today to launch a ground-breaking initiative which could radically improve how research discoveries are translated into real benefits for patients across Europe.
Endorsed by all three of Northern Ireland’s Members of European Parliament (MEPs), the initiative is led by Professor Mark Lawler, Chair in Translational Cancer Genomics at Queen’s Centre of Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB). Known as the Roadmap for Personalised Medicine in Europe, the initiative is a collaboration involving patients, doctors and scientists, as well as the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. It is aiming to make personalised medicine available to all European patients.
Professor Lawler, said: “In many diseases, we have tended to use a ‘one size fits all’ approach and give every patient the same treatment, yet a significant proportion of patients don’t respond to this treatment and can develop serious side effects.
“Understanding the genetics of the disease, say for example, bowel cancer, has made us realise that all bowel cancers are not the same and therefore a ‘one size fits all’ approach cannot work for all patients. New technologies allow us to understand the type of disease based on the genetic make-up and therefore this information lets us personalise the treatment for each of those bowel cancer patients.
“Getting the right treatment to the right patient at the right time can greatly improve our chances in the fight against deadly diseases such as cancer.
“This personalised medicine approach holds great promise and has already shown benefit in many diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and respiratory disease. However, the real challenge is how to make sure that it becomes part of the standard of care for Europe’s citizens.
“Today we provide a blueprint of how this can be achieved and call on the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) here today and to national health ministers to embed personalised medicine into health systems throughout Europe.”
Suggestions in the blueprint include the development of a European Translational Research Platform to ensure the efficient conversion of exciting research discoveries into new diagnostics and therapies, and the creation of a new regulatory framework that ensures a more rapid take up of personalised medicine for the benefit of patients.
Commenting on the initiative, Queen’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Patrick Johnston said: “Today’s launch highlights how Queen’s is at the forefront of world-class medical research and how Queen’s scientists are taking a leadership role and making an impact in European healthcare by addressing the international challenges and needs of today’s society.”
Mr Jim Nicholson Northern Ireland MEP, who chairs today’s session in Brussels, said: “Personalised medicine gives hope for all our patients. I am proud to be chairing this session particularly as it is local research which is leading the way in this important initiative and it will make a real difference to patients’ lives.”
Mrs Diane Dodds MEP commented: “'I recently welcomed Professors Mark Lawler and Patrick Johnston to Parliament for the launch of the European Cancer Patient's Bill of Rights, and I am delighted to see Queen's University again leading the way in terms of European best practice with this innovative initiative on personalised medicine.”
Northern Ireland’s third MEP Ms Martina Anderson said: “I commend Professor Lawler for his tireless work to improve both patient and professional knowledge of cancer and its effects. During my time as an MEP, I have prioritised the fight against cancer in my own work on EU legislation on tobacco products.”
Professor David Waugh, Director of Centre of Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) in Queen’s University said: “This is another great example of how our researchers and scientists at Queen’s University are impacting on society, as this initiative creates a pathway to bring our best scientific discoveries to the clinic for the benefit of our patients and which may also lead to a new model of healthcare for Northern Ireland and beyond. A ‘personalised medicine’ approach allows innovative science to be translated into new diagnostics and treatments.”
Professor Paul Harkin, President and Managing Director of Almac Diagnostics said: “We welcome this Queen’s-led initiative. Personalised medicine has the potential to revolutionise medical diagnostics and contribute significantly to the growth of this sector in Northern Ireland. At Almac Diagnostics we are working closely with CCRCB researchers to realise this vision.”
Queen’s University scientists are helping to spearhead a new £6 million initiative to find better ways to prevent cancer.
The new initiative, led by Cancer Research UK with matching investment from the BUPA Foundation, aims to support cutting-edge research to find better ways to prevent cancer.
It is estimated that more than four in ten cancer cases could be prevented by lifestyle changes, such as not smoking, keeping a healthy body weight, cutting back on alcohol, eating a healthy diet, keeping active and staying safe in the sun.
Professor Frank Kee, who directs the UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health Research in Northern Ireland at Queen’s University, has been invited to join the International Advisory Board (IAB) of the new Cancer Prevention Science Initiative.
Professor Kee, from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s, said: “Advancing knowledge and changing lives is at the core of what we do at Queen’s University. I am honoured to be part of this initiative which aims to do just that. It is a tribute to the CRUK and BUPA that a bold new initiative like this has been developed. It shows how major research funders want to support prevention science and the value they place in the sort of collaborations across disciplines that are required to fight cancer. Building capacity in this area is vital if new discoveries are ever to be translated into better outcomes for patients and the population.”
“I am delighted to have the opportunity to work with Professor Linda Bauld, the new Cancer Research UK Prevention Champion and with the IAB, and I look forward to seeing the fruits of this initiative in years to come.”
Professor Kee also spoke on Creativity in Science at last week’s inaugural ‘Sandpit’ event for of the new Cancer Prevention Science Initiative in Oxford.
The sandpit provided an opportunity for early career researchers across the country from a wide variety of backgrounds to work with research users and stakeholders to generate novel ideas that could lead to new interventions for cancer prevention.
Dr Helen Coleman, Cancer Research UK Fellow and Lecturer in the UKCRC Centre of Excellence at Queen’s joined the ‘Sandpit’ as one of the mentors and facilitators for the participating early career researchers and was able to share her experience of working at the boundaries of different disciplines to drive new forward insights in prevention science.
Cancer Research UK research strategies are placing an increasing focus on prevention science in the battle against cancer and the new initiative will build upon their commitment to the UKCRC Centres of Excellence for Public Health Research.
For further information on the initiative visit: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/funding-for-researchers/how-we-deliver-research/our-research-partnerships/bupa-foundation-cancer-prevention-initiative
A major research project into respiratory illness, which reduces the need for animal testing, has been recognised internationally.
Leading the pioneering study, Rebecca Clarke from Queen’s Centre for Infection and Immunity, was awarded a €50,000 grant from herbal-medicine producer Bionorica to continue her research into respiratory illness, using human stem cells rather than traditional testing on mice, rats and guinea pigs.
The research grant will allow Rebecca to undertake further study of common ailments such as coughs and asthma within the Queen’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences.
She explained: “My PhD project was about establishing an alternative model for drug screening rather than using animal testing. It’s the first in-vitro model of its kind and it will be very exciting to work alongside Bionorica in applying it to plant-based therapies.
“What I did was to isolate cells from human dental pulp and differentiate them into neuronal cells. Using this model, I was able to demonstrate that they looked and behaved like nerves, particularly in their expression of channels that sense environmental irritants. That opened the door to me being able to explore the behaviour of sensory nerves in the airways of the human body – their response to stimuli such as cold air or cigarette smoke and whether these responses could be mitigated by plant-based medicines.”
Ms Clarke is due to complete her PhD in September but will use her prize money to fund a year’s post-doctoral research, using her neuronal model, at Queen’s. Her PhD was funded by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research. Although she acknowledges that animal testing has its place in medical research, she believes it’s important to develop models that will accurately predict human responses.
She said: “In this particular area of research, it has been noted that there are marked differences between species, so I wanted to develop a human model that would deliver more representative results. Human airway nerves are extremely difficult to study, making it hard to come up with cures for common respiratory ailments, so that was another reason for wanting to develop a new model.”
Ms Clarke was one of only 20 recipients worldwide of the Bionorica Global Research Initiative 2014 award and the only winner from the island of Ireland. Consultant Physician and Senior Lecturer in Respiratory Medicine at Queen’s, Dr Lorcan McGarvey said: “Rebecca has worked extremely hard and we are delighted with her award. She has helped develop an important model that will help us better understand the role of sensory nerves in chronic pain and cough.” Pharmacist and CEO of Bionorica, Dr Michael Popp said: “Such a large and high-quality response to the first-time call for submissions proves that herbal medicine is gaining further relevance among the scientific community.”
For more information on Queen’s Centre for Infection and Immunity see http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentreforInfectionandImmunity
A Queen’s University scientist has been awarded a grant worth around £100,000 by research charity Breast Cancer Campaign to investigate if the protein ‘PIN1’ could be used to provide new options to treat patients with more aggressive forms of breast cancer.
50,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with breast cancer each year on average and 12,000 women sadly die from the disease each year on average. Around 15 per cent of breast cancers are found to be ‘triple-negative’- a type of breast cancer that tends to be more aggressive and has limited treatment options.
In some cases of triple-negative breast cancer (and the related ‘basal-like’ breast cancer), a protein called BRCA1 does not work normally. Dr Niamh O’Brien, from the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s University Belfast, says: “Currently, there are drugs in development which could treat breast cancers that lack a working BRCA1 protein, but it is difficult to identify which patients would benefit from these drugs. Identifying the right treatment for a particular patient will greatly improve their chances of survival and help stop more people dying from breast cancer.”
“At Queen’s University we are committed to world leading research which advances knowledge and changes lives and thanks to the funding from Breast Cancer Campaign we are able to continue this.”
Dr O’Brien has previously identified that the production of the PIN1 protein is increased in breast cancer cells which have faulty BRCA1 genes. She believes that PIN1 might therefore be used as the basis of a test to indicate which patients would benefit from these drugs. Using lab-grown breast cancer cells, Dr O’Brien will find the link between the faulty BRCA1 genes and the increase in PIN1 protein production.
Using samples from breast tumours donated by patients, Dr O’Brien will also find out whether PIN1 could be used to predict the likelihood of a patient’s breast cancer spreading, and whether they will respond to existing treatments.
Katherine Woods, Research Communication Manager at Breast Cancer Campaign, said: “Triple-negative and basal-like breast cancer tend to be more aggressive types of the disease, but sadly there are currently no targeted treatments available.
“Dr O’Brien’s research could greatly improve the chances of survival for people with more aggressive forms of the disease and bring us one step closer to our goal that by 2025 more improved and personalised treatments for breast cancer will reduce mortality from the disease by half.”
Researchers at Queen’s University have made a significant breakthrough that may benefit patients with bowel cancer.
Dr Sandra van Schaeybroeck and her team have discovered how two genes cause bowel cancer cells to become resistant to treatments used against the disease. The research, which was funded by Cancer Research UK, was published this month in the prestigious international journal Cell Reports.
The activity of the two genes, called MEK and MET, was uncovered when the researchers looked at all the different pathways and interactions taking place in bowel cancer cells.
Dr van Schaeybroeck and her group found that these bowel cancers switch on a survival mechanism when they are treated with drugs that target faulty MEK genes. But when the researchers added drugs that also block the MET gene, the bowel cancer cells died.
The team are now testing a new approach to target these two genes in the most aggressive forms of bowel cancer in a European Commission funded clinical trial that is being led by Dr van Schaeybroeck.
Currently over 40,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK each year and over 16,000 patients die of the disease. More than half of patients develop the aggressive form of the disease which does not respond to standard therapy, the five year overall survival in this patient group is less than five per cent.
Study author Dr Sandra van Schaeybroeck, from the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queen’s University, said: “We have discovered how two key genes contribute to aggressive bowel cancer. Understanding how they are involved in development of the disease has also primed the development of a potential new treatment approach for this disease.”
Queen’s University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Patrick Johnston, said: “Understanding the genes that cause bowel cancer is a key focus of our research. Our discoveries in this deadly disease have identified a new route to clinical application for cancer patients.”
Professor David Waugh, Director of the CCRCB at Queen’s, said: “The publication of this research by Dr van Schaeybroeck and her team demonstrates our commitment to performing excellent science here in Belfast that can be directly translated to the clinic.”
The clinical trial, which is called MErCuRIC and is due to start in September, will deliver personalised medicine to Northern Irish patients and patients from other European countries. Overall, the pan European collaborative effort will involving 13 research/clinical teams from nine European countries.
A Queen’s doctor has played a key role in a major breakthrough to change the lives of cystic fibrosis sufferers.
Queen’s University’s Professor Stuart Elborn, an international authority in respiratory medicine, with colleagues from the United States and Australia have led pivotal studies of a new treatment for people with Cystic Fibrosis. The combination therapy, developed by Vertex (a Boston, USA company), improves lung function and reduces hospitalisations for patients with the most common type of cystic fibrosis.
Two Phase 3 studies of the drugs ivacaftor and lumacaftor, which included over 1,100 patients worldwide, built on previous studies of ivacaftor in patients with G551D and other related mutations. Ivacaftor is the first drug to treat the underlying causes of cystic fibrosis rather than just its symptoms and is currently approved for patients with the ‘celtic gene’ mutation carried by about four per cent of all patients and 10-15 per cent of patients in Ireland. This therapy is a leading example of precision medicine, where treatment is based on a test for genetic mutations.
This recent trial looked at the treatment of patients with two copies of the F508DEL mutation which is carried by roughly half of all cystic-fibrosis patients. It found that a combination of ivacaftor with lumicaftor was effective in improving lung function between 2.6 and 4 per cent.
Cystic fibrosis is a fatal lung disease affecting 75,000 children and adults world-wide, and is caused by inherited genetic mutations that vary among different patient groups.
Professor Stuart Elborn, Dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s University, and the European lead on the study, said: “This is a very significant breakthrough for people with cystic fibrosis. While we had previously found an effective treatment for those with the ‘celtic gene’ this new combination treatment has the potential to help roughly half of those with cystic fibrosis, those who have two copies the F508DEL mutation.
“This is another example of how Queen’s scientists are working internationally to change lives around the world.”
The study was led by a team from Europe – Dr Stuart Elborn, Queen’s University Belfast, the USA - Dr Bonnie Ramsey, and Dr Michael Boyle, and Australia - Dr Claire Wainwright. Twelve patients from the Northern Ireland Adult and Paediatric Cystic Fibrosis Centres participated in the study. The local investigators were Dr Damian Downey and Dr Alistair Reid from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.
Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast are calling for volunteers to take part in a new study to find out how best to support people in adopting a Mediterranean-style diet and thereby changing their eating habits.
Scientists at Queen’s Centre for Public Health are looking for 75 people to take part in the one-year study. Participants must be aged 40 or over and be overweight, but generally in good health with no history of diabetes or heart disease.
The TEAM-MED (Trial to Encourage Adoption and Maintenance of a Mediterranean Diet) study aims to determine whether different ways of giving dietary advice and support have an impact on people’s ability to change their eating habits.
Professor Jayne Woodside from Queen’s Centre for Public Health said: “As we all know, changing our diet is easier said than done. Despite all our good intentions, we often slip back into old habits. The question is, how can we best support people in making a real and lasting change to their eating behaviour?
“We are looking for 75 people, who are willing to try a Mediterranean-style diet for a year, to help us answer this question. Participants will be offered varying levels of advice and guidance, and we will monitor their progress to find out which support mechanisms work best and, ultimately, the impact on their health.”
A Mediterranean diet typically involves a high intake of fruit, vegetables, wholegrain cereals and bread, nuts, seeds, beans and olive oil, and with poultry and oily fish eaten in preference to red meat. Alcohol can be consumed in moderation. It has already been shown that people who follow this type of diet have a reduced risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes – chronic conditions which are on the rise in Northern Ireland.
The National Prevention Research Initiative are funding the study, which will be led by nutrition experts at Queen’s Centre for Public Health, which conducts cutting-edge research into how diet and lifestyle factor affect the risk of developing chronic diseases. The Centre’s ultimate aim is to translate their research findings into improvements in patient care and healthcare policy in Northern Ireland.
Explaining how the study will work, Dr Claire McEvoy said: “Volunteers will be randomly allocated to one of three groups, and each group is given a different level of support. The first group will be given some easy-to-follow written material, the second group will meet regularly with a dietitian and receive key Mediterranean foods such as olive oil and nuts, while the third group will meet regularly with other volunteers to share experiences and support one another to make changes to their diet.
“On four occasions during the year-long study, volunteers will be asked to complete some questionnaires and take part in a simple health assessment which involves giving a blood sample and having their blood pressure and cholesterol levels tested.
“At the end of the study, we hope to understand what type of support proves most successful in helping people make lasting changes to their diet, and have a better insight into the effects of a Mediterranean diet on health, particularly the risks of developing heart disease.”
Anyone who wishes to take part in the study should Dr Claire McEvoy at the Centre for Public Health, Tel: 028 9063 2764, Email: email@example.com
The Summer 2014 issue of the School Newslatter is now available online at the link below.
Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast have been awarded a £126,000 grant by blood cancer charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research for research to improve treatments for blood cancer patients.
The two year research project will be led by Professor Ken Mills, Dr Kienan Savage, Professor Mary Frances McMullin and Dr Fabio Liberante. They will develop new treatments that are more effective at seeking out and destroying abnormal white blood cells.
The research will focus on a genetic fault found in patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). MDS is a group of blood disorders where the balance of healthy blood cells in the body is disrupted by the growth of ‘master’ cells. Patients with these types of disease are usually elderly and are often unable to cope with intensive treatment like chemotherapy.
Professor Mills, from the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s University, said: “Several genetic abnormalities have been connected with MDS but we don’t know their role in the onset or progression of the disease. In particular a gene called SF3B1 is known to be mutated in the blood cells of around a third of patients with MDS. As many as 85% of patients with a type of MDS called refractory anaemia with ring sideroblasts (RARS) have the error. The ultimate aim of our research is to improve treatment for patients with MDS, particularly RARS, by identifying a specific drug that can target this SF3B1 mutation.”
The researchers will study this particular genetic fault and use cutting-edge genetic techniques to identify exactly how the mutated SF3B1 gene influences the development of MDS. They will look at how the abnormal SF3B1 affects the ability of the cell to repair damaged DNA, how this impairment influences disease progression, and whether it’s possible to block it with drugs.
Dr Matt Kaiser, Head of Research at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “The majority of patients diagnosed with MDS are over the age of 60 and most are unable to cope with the current treatments available. This research shed light on how a genetic error in SF3B1 affects blood cell development and behaviour. Improving treatments and tailoring them to target specific rogue cells will enable a safer and more effective way of combating the disease for patients.”
Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast are leading a €4 million international research project to develop new treatments for some of the world’s top killer infections.
The project aims to develop new ways of tackling antibiotic resistant bacteria, viruses and intestinal parasites which account for 6 million deaths worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organisation. Around half of these deaths are caused by respiratory infections, which will provide a major focus for the project which is known as INBIONET (Infection Biology Training Network www.inbionet.eu).
Professor José Bengoechea from Queen’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences is co-ordinating the four-year INBIONET project which is funded by the European Commission, under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions scheme. He is leading a team of researchers from ten partner organisations, including academic institutions and pharmaceutical companies across Europe.
Professor Bengoechea, who is Chair of Infectious Diseases at Queen’s University’s Centre for Infection and Immunity, said: “Infectious diseases are on the increase worldwide and represent a major threat to global public health.
“An increase in world travel, climate change and the continuous transfer of viruses to humans from other organisms have all contributed to the growth and spread of infections, and the growing number of so-called ‘superbugs’, which are largely resistant to antibiotics. The INBIONET project aims to develop new preventative methods and therapies to help protect the global population against these deadly infections.
“Our international team of scientists will follow an innovative drug discovery model, known as ‘host-directed therapeutics’. This approach is based on understanding how microbes manipulate the human body’s own defenses, leaving it unable to fight infection. We aim to identify the ‘achilles heels’ of the body’s defenses – the particular weaknesses that bacteria, viruses and parasites manipulate for their own benefit. By identifying these vulnerable pathways, we will be in a better position to develop new therapies to block the offending microbes and stop the infection in its tracks.
“The anticipated results of the research should initiate the development of drugs to treat infections caused by superbugs such as Klebsiella pneumoniae and Streptococci, and viruses such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus. We would hope to see new treatments being available to patients in 10 to 15 years. Crucially, these treatments would target pathways within the human body, helping boost its own defences against infection, rather than targeting the infection itself. Treatments that target the human body in this way are less likely to be met with resistance to conventional antibiotics.”
The research may also shed light on other inflammatory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as some of the pathways manipulated by the microbes are involved in both diseases.
The four-year INBIONET programme will train 15 European scientists, including 11 early-career research fellows, working at the interface between microbiology, immunology and cellular biology. The INBIONET training programme is designed to equip these scientists with the skills they will need for successful careers in academia or industry.
Academic partners in the INBIONET project include Trinity College Dublin, the University of St Andrews (UK), Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology (Germany), École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland), the University of Vienna (Austria), and Institut Pasteur (France). Industrial partners are Sanofi-Aventis (France), Preclin Biosystem (Switzerland), and ParcBit (Spain).
Professor Andrew Bowie, Head of Immunology at the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity College Dublin, said: "INBIONET presents exciting opportunities to engage with world-class infection biology labs across Europe. This provides my research with a broader appreciation of host-pathogen interactions and with unique opportunities to collaborate. The structure of the network provides a very rich training experience for the research fellows."
Professor Pavel Kovarik, from the Max F. Perutz Laboratories at the University of Vienna, said: "INBIONET is generating new and exciting collaborations that have already been hugely beneficial to the people involved. The network brings together a unique combination of renowned and experienced scientists and excellent young research fellows, facilitating the expansion of expertise, knowledge and ideas. INBIONET holds the potential to establish new pathogen systems for studying host-pathogen interactions and employ new approaches for assessing the activation of the immune system with promising implications for therapeutic exploitation. It is a pleasure and honour to be member of the INBIONET community."
Bettina Ernst, CEO of Swiss company Preclin Biosystems, said: "The INBIONET project is an excellent example of how academia and industry can work together to advance medical research and improve our understanding of infectious diseases.”
For more information about the Centre for Infection and Immunity at Queen’s visit http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentreforInfectionandImmunity
A Queen’s University Professor had been appointed Chair of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Public Health Research Programme.
Professor Frank Kee, Director of the Centre of Excellence for Public Health NI and Deputy Director of the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s University, joins Professor Martin White from Newcastle University who is the newly appointed Director of the programme.
The NIHR Public Health Research (PHR) Programme funds research to evaluate non-NHS interventions intended to improve the health of the public and reduce inequalities in health.
Queen’s University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Patrick Johnston, said: “I would like to offer my congratulations to Professor Kee on this significant appointment. This role reflects the ongoing contribution to public health that Professor Kee makes through his leadership in the world-class Centre of Excellence for Public Health at Queen’s.”
Speaking about his appointment, Professor Kee, said: “I am delighted and honoured to have been appointed to chair of the NIHR Public Health Research Programme over the next five years. The programme has become central to the public health landscape in the UK and has contributed to a major expansion of evaluation research. I look forward bringing my experience from the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s to this role and continue to make a meaningful impact on the health of the population.”
Professor Frank Kee and Professor Martin White succeed Professor Catherine Law, whose term of office is due to come to an end in 2014.
Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies FRS RMedSci, said: “I would like to express my thanks to Catherine Law for her superb leadership over the first six years of the NIHR Public health Programme. I am confident that Professors White and Kee are the perfect people to build on her work and ensure that the programme continues to fund high quality scientific research to support public health decision-makers.”
Professor Kee takes up his post in October 2014.
Further information is available online at http://www.nihr.ac.uk/Pages/default.aspx
Queen’s University Belfast has been named as a partner in a national research centre focussed on improving the lives of people with Asthma.
The Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research is the UK’s first integrated Centre for research into the illness, which affects 182,000 (one in ten) people in Northern Ireland - 146,000 adults and 36,000 children.
Researchers at the Centre for Infection and Immunity at Queen’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences are among experts from academic and NHS organisations across the UK who will work together to share expertise and insights to find better treatments for Asthma and making them available faster than ever before.
Queen’s Professors Mike Shields and Professor Liam Heaney are two of Northern Ireland’s leading experts on Asthma care. Professor Shields leads a programme of research into childhood asthma and wheezing disorders, while Professor Heaney conducts world-class research into ‘difficult to treat’ asthma.
Professor Mike Shields, Assistant Director of Queen’s Centre for Infection and Immunity said: “We are delighted to be a part of the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research. The Centre will provide a platform for high quality research initiatives and will help foster new partnerships between experts across academia and health.
“The ultimate aim of the Centre is to take research ‘from the lab bench to the bedside’ and implement new treatments for improved management of asthma. This should ensure that asthma attack rates and hospital admissions are reduced and patients’ quality of life improved.
“We are pleased that Northern Ireland is fully included in this initiative and we look forward to seeing the benefits for the one-in-ten people in Northern Ireland who are currently living with asthma.”
More than 5 million people in the UK are affected by asthma. There were 1,242 deaths from asthma in the UK in 2010 (21 of these were children aged 14 and under), and the NHS spends around £1 billion a year treating and caring for people with the illness. Yes research into this life-threatening condition is chronically underfunded, taking an average of 17 years currently to develop a new asthma treatment.
Asthma UK’s vision for this pioneering, multidisciplinary research initiative is to halve the time it takes to get innovations to people with asthma and to develop the next generation of world class applied asthma researchers. The new Centre is co-ordinated through the University of Edinburgh and Queen Mary, University of London.
Kay Boycott, Asthma UK’s Chief Executive, said: “The introduction into clinical use of the pressurised metered-dose inhaler (pMDI) - the first modern inhaler for asthma management – took over 40 years from initial lab discovery through clinical trials and into practice.
“More than half a century later asthma still kills and there are tens of thousands of people with asthma facing a daily struggle to breathe. This is why it is so vital for Asthma UK to invest significantly in the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research and to kick start a new era of improved discovery-to-treatment times.”
Professor Mark Lawler, Queen’s University and European Cancer Concord (ECC) will deliver a keynote lecture at the Active Citizens’ Network Conference as part of European Patients’ Rights Day in Brussels on 12 May 2014.
At the conference, Professor Lawler will highlight the campaign for a review of access to cancer drugs for patients in Northern Ireland as an example of how patients, patient organisations and healthcare professionals can make an impact by participating in discussion and debate around health policies.
Currently there are 39 drugs which are prohibited to cancer victims living in Northern Ireland which could significantly have a life-changing impact if patients could avail of these drugs.
Professor Lawler said: “Empowering patients has clear resonance with the European Cancer Patient’s Bill of Rights, a Queen’s University led initiative which we launched in the European Parliament on World Cancer Day.
“The Bill of Rights is gaining traction at European level and ECC is actively engaging in a number of Member States to help underpin improved access to cancer care for the European citizen. I am honoured to speak on behalf of the European Cancer Concord (ECC) at this important conference, which aims to empower patients to participate in their own care and to encourage and support patient advocacy organisations to play a leadership role in European health policies.
“This Conference represents a significant opportunity to engage with patients and their representatives and contribute significantly to the development of a patient centred European Health Manifesto for Chronic Disease,” he added.
Roisin Foster, Chief Executive of Cancer Focus Northern Ireland said: “Cancer Focus Northern Ireland are delighted to partner with the European Cancer Concord and we regard the European Cancer Patient’s Bill of Rights as a blueprint for improved cancer care. We are using it to help underpin our campaign for the establishment of a Cancer Drugs Fund for Northern Ireland.
“The debate on the introduction of a Cancer Drugs Fund in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the cross party support that was evident during the debate is encouraging and represents an important step forward for Northern Ireland cancer patients.”
Cancer researchers at Queen’s University Belfast have made a breakthrough which could signal new treatments for women at high risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Currently around one in 1,000 women in the UK carry what is known as a BRCA1 mutation - the same condition that prompted well-known actress Angelina Jolie to undergo a double mastectomy. They have up to an 85 per cent risk of developing breast cancer, and up to 40 per cent risk of developing ovarian cancer, in their lifetimes.
Until now, preventive surgery - mastectomy (breasts) and oophorectomy (ovaries) - has been the only way of reducing the risk of developing both types of cancers.
The new discovery by researchers in Queen’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) may mean women affected with BRCA1 could use drugs, which are already available, to reduce their risk of developing the disease, rather than undergo irreversible surgery. In turn, such treatments would open up the possibility of some of these women, who might otherwise have an oophorectomy, still being able to have children.
The new research by Dr Kienan Savage and Professor Paul Harkin at CCRCB proves there is a direct link between high levels of oestrogen and DNA damage, which causes cancer, in the breasts and ovaries.
Specifically, the scientists discovered that the cells of women with the BRCA1 mutation cannot effectively fight the very high levels of oestrogen that exist in all women’s breasts and ovaries, leaving them vulnerable to DNA damage.
While this link between oestrogen, breast/ovarian cancer and BRCA1 mutation has been suspected by the scientific community for years, it has not been proven until now.
Dr Kienan Savage, from the CCRCB, and who led the research, said: “This discovery is very significant in the management of women with the BRCA1 gene mutation. It’s the first really credible evidence that oestrogen is driving cancer in women with a BRCA1 gene mutation. Because of this discovery, we now have the opportunity to propose an alternative treatment to surgery. It also opens up the possibility of pausing treatment for a period in order for women to have children, if desired.
“What also makes this exciting is that there are drugs already on the market which turn off oestrogen production. In theory, we could use these drugs to chemically reduce oestrogen production in women which could negate the need for irreversible surgery.”
The Queen’s-led research, which has been ongoing for four years, was carried out with funding from Cancer Focus NI and Cancer Research UK. It is carried in the latest edition of the prestigious USA-based journal Cancer Research.
Professor David Waugh, Director of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s, said: “This breakthrough by researchers at CCRCB is great news for women with the BRCA1 gene and the cancer research community as a whole. It is pivotal in that it reveals more about the mechanisms behind breast and ovarian cancer.
“This work of Dr Kienan Savage and Professor Paul Harkin is further example of the world-leading research being undertaken at Queen’s which continues to advance knowledge and change lives.”
Roisin Foster, Chief Executive, Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, said: “Cancer Focus is delighted to fund this ground-breaking research into breast cancer, which has the potential in the forseeable future to benefit women all over the world. We are only able to support this vital work because of the generosity of our local community.”
The researchers are currently seeking funding to launch clinical trials and hope to do so within 12 months. It is envisaged that, in the first instance, a small control trial will be carried out using a combination of two drugs on 12 women for a period of three months, using biopsy, blood and urine samples to track DNA damage.
Professor Stuart Elborn has been appointed as the new Dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences.
Professor of Respiratory Medicine at Queen’s University and Consultant Physician in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, he will take up post with immediate effect. Professor Elborn founded and led the Regional Adult Cystic Fibrosis Centre in Belfast City Hospital from 1995 and was Director of the Centre for Infection and Immunity from 2010. He trained in Belfast, Nottingham and Cardiff where he developed Adult Cystic Fibrosis Centres and began his research in infection and lung disease.
Delighted to be accepting the role Professor Elborn said: “I am committed to delivering excellence in education and research in the School, so that when our students become doctors, dentists and scientists, they have a transforming impact on healthcare in Northern Ireland and beyond. Our international team of researchers will continue to be challenged to find innovative solutions to some of the difficult problems treating and preventing major diseases caused by cancer, infection and life style and I look forward to leading them in the coming years.”
Commenting on the appointment, Queen’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Patrick Johnston said: “Professor Elborn is the right man, at the right time, to lead the School as it enters the next phase of its development. He is an international leader, who, in the field of Respiratory Medicine and Cystic Fibrosis, has helped develop transformative new therapies for patients with Cystic Fibrosis. His vision and commitment will play a vital role within Queen’s, as we continue our transformational journey to enhance the University’s position on the global stage.”
In addition to his work in Belfast Professor Elborn has taken the lead in the writing of International Guidelines for the care of people with Cystic Fibrosis, is a Trustee of the UK Cystic Fibrosis Trust and President of the European Cystic Fibrosis Society. His research group in Queen’s University and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust have led in developing new treatments for Cystic Fibrosis and undertaken a number of key clinical trials into new drugs in this area. He was awarded a CBE for services to medicine in 2013.
Older people globally are being denied proper access to cancer care, according to an editorial by Queen's University academic, Professor Mark Lawler of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology.
In an editorial in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) Professor Lawler said: "there is increasing evidence from around the world that elderly patients are being 'undertreated', leading to a 'survival gap' between older and younger patients.
"We need a fundamental change in cancer policy for the elderly patient. Our current practices are essentially ageist, as we are making judgements based on how old the patient is rather than on their capacity to be entered into clinical trials or to receive potentially curative therapy. It is disappointing that we see different principles being applied for older patients when compared to younger patients, with these differences leading to poorer outcomes in the elderly patient population."
Professor Lawler's findings are published in an editorial in the BMJ entitled, 'Ageism In Cancer Care: We Need to Change The Mindset'. It states the need to redress the disparities in the policy on cancer for older patients, citing a recent position paper from the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer, the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology and the International Society of Geriatric Oncology recommending that clinical trials should be without an upper age limit.
A high proportion of older women with a certain form of breast cancer ('triple negative') receive less chemotherapy than their younger counterparts - despite evidence of the treatment’s efficacy in this patient cohort, the authors claim.
They also point out that more than 70 per cent of deaths caused by prostate cancer occur in men aged over 75 years, who usually have more aggressive disease. Few older patients, however, receive treatment for localised prostate cancer, and in most cases they are denied access to chemotherapy for advanced disease, they add.
"Colorectal cancer is another disease of older people, yet the evidence again suggests that optimal treatment is not being provided to this patient cohort," Professor Lawler continues.
The paper sets its argument within the context of an ageing society – both locally and globally. Estimates for the UK suggest that 76 per cent of cancers in men and 70 per cent of cancers in women will occur in the over-65 population by 2030.
In the US, the number of over-65s is set to double at least, from around 40 million in 2009 to 89 million in 2050. Cancer is mainly a disease of the elderly. Given our ageing demographic, the paper argues, this will lead to an exponential increase in the number of cancer deaths unless we change our approach towards the elderly cancer patient.
The International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership – a collaboration that compares clinical outcomes between Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, Northern Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Wales – has indicated decreased survival for patients older than 65 years. A EUROCARE 5 study confirmed this trend, suggesting that the survival gap was widening between older and younger patients in Europe.
The evidence provided highlights the 'urgent need' for a 'geriacentric' strategy that maximises clinical trial activity in older patients, makes existing treatments more available and develops new approaches that are well tolerated in older people, the paper says in its closing comments.
Professor Lawler concludes: "Such a strategy will also have to ensure that the principle of early diagnosis (underpinning more effective and less aggressive treatment) is applied in older patients as well as in their younger counterparts. Only then can we truly deliver a comprehensive cancer service to the elderly population in our society."
The editorial is by Professor Mark Lawler and two UK cancer experts, Professor Peter Selby and Sean Duffy (National Cancer Director NHS England), and Swiss oncologist and member of the executive of the International Society for Geriatric Oncology, Matti Aapro. It is available at www.bmj.com/content/348/bmj.g1614
Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast are embarking on a £600,000 bid to develop new treatments for a ‘superbug’ which causes around 10 per cent of all infections, including pneumonia.
Klebsiella pneumonia is one of a growing number of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, which collectively cost the NHS around £10 million and lead to approximately 1000 deaths each year. Professor José Bengoechea from Queen’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences will lead the three-year study, which is jointly funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).
Professor Bengoechea, who will conduct the research at Queen’s Centre for Infection and Immunity, said: “Klebsiella causes a range of infections, from urinary tract infections to pneumonia. The latter is particularly devastating with mortality rates between 25-60 per cent.
“Like all so-called superbugs, Klebsiella is largely resistant to antibiotics. With regard to pneumonia, the microbe manipulates the lung’s defence responses, leaving it unable to fight the infection. In particular, Klebsiella counteracts the lung’s inflammatory response, and this is key in allowing the potentially deadly Klebsiella microbes to attack the lung.
“This study aims to identify the ‘Achilles heel’ of lung defences – the particular weaknesses in the lung’s response to Klebsiella that the bug then manipulates for its own benefit. By identifying these vulnerable pathways within the lung, we will be able to develop new therapies to block the bug and stop it in its tracks.
“Crucially, these new treatments would target pathways within the lung, helping boost its own defences to the infection, rather than targeting the Klebsiella bug itself. Treatments that target the human body in this way are less likely to be met with the resistance that we are increasingly faced with when using conventional antibiotics.”
While this is initially a three-year study, Professor Bengoechea anticipates that it will initiate the development of drugs that will treat Klebsiella and other superbugs more effectively in the very near future.
He continued: “Our preliminary research suggests that there may be drugs that are already approved for use in humans, but for other purposes, that could help treat these infections. If that is found to be the case, this would take years off the drug development process, potentially leading to new treatments in less than 10 years.”
For more information about the Centre for Infection and Immunity at Queen’s visit http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentreforInfectionandImmunity
A Queen’s medical student has beaten off stiff competition to win the UK Student Volunteer of the Year award at a glitzy award ceremony in London.
22-year-old Aidan Bannon from Belfast was announced as the winner by award organisers Student Hubs, part of the National Union of Students, at a gala celebration at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster, last night.
Unfortunately, the fourth-year medical student was unable to attend the London ceremony but was presented with his award in Belfast by Wendy Osborne, CEO of local organisation Volunteer Now. She said it was in recognition of Aidan’s commitment to a wide variety of projects, including the Queen’s University Red Cross Society, which he founded. The society now boasts upwards of 60 members who, along with Aidan, have helped over 3,500 young people.
Aidan, who hopes to graduate in 2015, has also been involved in the student Volunteer Academy and spearheaded the Mind Your Mood campaign at Queen’s, which has engaged with 1,300 students this year, over 600 of whom attended a mental-health workshop.
At Queen’s University Red Cross, Aidan developed a three-month long community engagement project focusing on the personal development of young people aged 10-18 in Belfast.
The 22-year-old's achievements triumphed last night over a range of inspiring community projects around Britain and Northern Ireland including a scheme to support minors in custody and another aimed at inspiring young people through the performing arts.
The student medic, who is considering a career in paediatrics or public health, has previously won a number of awards including the UK Endsleigh Student of the Year award and the Belfast Community Impact Award.
Commenting on his latest accolade, Aidan said he was “delighted”.
He added: “It truly is an honour to represent student volunteers around the UK and to champion the excellent work they do. I hope the award encourages more students to volunteer and also raises the profile of Queen’s University Medical School as a hub of great volunteering and leadership opportunities. Community-based and charitable organisations are an important cornerstone of all areas of society and increased student engagement with them will undoubtedly help to diversify skill sets of students, generate fresh ideas and create valuable and valued relationships for all involved.”
Pro-Vice Chancellor at Queen’s, Tony Gallagher said: “Volunteering has become a key part of the student experience at Queen’s University and Aidan Bannon is one of our most inspirational volunteers. Aidan has already won a string of awards for his volunteering work and now adds the accolade of UK Student Volunteer of the Year. Aidan not only devotes a lot his time to volunteering, but has encouraged many others to sign up and help change lives. Queen’s University is very proud of Aidan’s success and the inspirational example he provides for other students and young people.”
Enterprise and Development Support Office at Queen’s Students’ Union, Lynne Weir, who nominated Aidan for the award, said it was “so well-deserved”.
She added: “I have worked with Aidan in the past and he has boundless energy. He’s an inspiration to students and staff alike about what’s possible.”
This week is Student Volunteer Week and saw Queen’s Students’ Union deliver a packed schedule of workshops and events to recognise the volunteering efforts of students and showcase opportunities available to them. Aidan Bannon said he would encourage anyone to take up volunteering.
“Volunteering will expand and increase your opportunities,” he said. “You can meet new people, develop your character and realise your own passion and ideas. My advice is to think carefully about what you are passionate about when getting involved.”
Find out more about the awards here: http://www.studentvolunteeringweek.org.uk/activities/student-volunteering-awards
Researchers from Queen’s University have received more than £400k to develop new treatments for prostate cancer.
Two leading research projects at Queen’s University were awarded grants from Prostate Cancer UK, with support from the Movember Foundation through a competitive process because of their extremely high quality and relevance to men with prostate cancer.
Dr Rich Williams, lead researcher at Queen’s University, has received £384,126 to examine whether reducing the behaviour of a particular protein can lower the development of prostate cancer.
Dr Williams said: "We have previously observed that supressing the activity of the protein, Legumain in prostate cancer cells has a significant impact on many of the hallmarks of cancer. With this generous grant from Prostate Cancer UK we aim to develop a drug which can directly target the activity of Legumain and in turn impact tumour development. This is exciting as in time this may lead to a new treatment for men in the advanced stages of the disease."
Dr Anna Gavin, Principal Investigator and Director of the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry has received £54,574 to advance understanding of men’s experiences and physical and emotional wellbeing following prostate cancer treatment. This is a joint grant with the Northern Ireland Public Health Agency which has matched the funding awarded by Prostate Cancer UK.
Dr Gavin said: “More and more men are living with prostate cancer, yet the needs of this increasing population remain poorly understood. We will use information already collected from thousands of prostate cancer survivors to inform the development of interventions, support services and policies aimed at helping men live better after prostate cancer. ”
This follows the announcement last week that Queen’s University in partnership with the University of Manchester will form the first regional Movember Centre of Excellence in partnership with Prostate Cancer UK as part of the fight against prostate cancer. This will see an investment of £5 million over a five-year period across Belfast and Manchester. Professor David Waugh, Director of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s, said: “These significant investments into prostate cancer research means we can continue to bring forward discoveries including developing new drugs and treatments which will have real benefits to men with this disease.
“We are delighted to be awarded these research grants to further our world-class research at Queen’s which continues to advance knowledge and change lives.”
Prostate Cancer UK has also announced a new campaign Men United v Prostate Cancer, which is calling on people across the country to sign for a new team – Men United, adding their weight to the new movement to fight the apathy and neglect surrounding one of the UK’s biggest man killers and beat the devastating ‘dads disease’ once and for all.
Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK said: “Each year almost as many men are diagnosed with prostate cancer as women are diagnosed with breast cancer. But research into prostate cancer is badly underfunded, leaving tests and treatments trailing behind other common cancers. Through funding ground breaking projects such as these, with the UK’s top research scientists, we hope to be able to drive forward the understanding, diagnosis and treatment for the disease so that more men can survive and have a better quality of life in the future.”
“Thanks to the support of the Movember Foundation, we have been able to rapidly accelerate our mission to find the answers to the many questions which still surround prostate cancer. While this provides a fantastic launch pad, we still need to dramatically increase awareness of the disease and support for the cause, if we are to truly deliver a better future for men. This is why through our new campaign - Men United V Prostate Cancer - we are calling on everyone, from all walks of life, to sign up and join us in the fight. Together we can and will beat prostate cancer.”
A Queen's University final year dental student has been ranked number one in the National Dental Foundation Training assessment procedure.
Leonard Maguire, from Dungannon, has been ranked first among more than 1200 final year dental students from across the UK's 16 Dental Schools and from Dental Schools in Europe who were assessed during this year's Foundation Training recruitment process. Last year's highest ranking student in the UK was also another Queen's dental student, Conan Mackle, from Derry.
National recruitment to Dental Foundation training was introduced for Wales and England for all dental graduates in 2011 with Northern Ireland joining the process in 2012. Students are assessed in their final year of study using professional, clinical and management scenarios and a Situational Judgment Test. Students are then ranked according to their performance in these areas.
On top of this individual success, all of Queen's University's final year dental students performed well with half of the Queen's dental students ranked in the top 20 per cent.
Speaking about his success, Leonard said: "I am really pleased to have been ranked number one in the UK in the recent Dental Foundation Training recruitment process. The teaching, training and continued support I received at Queen's means that I feel well equipped for the workplace. The Employability Programme at the Centre for Dentistry has been invaluable in terms of encouraging development of my skills."
Speaking about the results, Queen's Acting President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor James McElnay, said: "This is fantastic news for Dentistry at Queen's. The fact that Queen's dental students have been ranked top in the UK for the second year in a row is testimony to the high quality of education offered in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences. The performance of our final year dental students in the Dental Foundation Training selection process is evidence of the University's commitment to employability as a key component of the student experience."
Professor Donald Burden, Director of the Centre for Dentistry at Queen's, said: "We are delighted that for the second year in a row a Queen's dental student has been ranked first in the UK and that more than half our students are in the top twenty per cent. These results reflect not only the hard work and commitment of our students but also the high quality of teaching delivered by the dental teaching team. The Centre for Dentistry's Employability Programme run by Lorna Dysart, Clinical Teaching Fellow, has also played a key role in this national success."
This achievement comes at an exciting time for Queen's Centre for Dentistry; the completion of the first and second phases of an ongoing multi-million pound refurbishment programme means that the Dental School's clinical training facilities are already among the best in the UK. The quality of clinical education and training provided at Queen's Dental School is also attracting high quality undergraduate students from across the world with 25 per cent of the most recent student intake comprising of international students.
Queen’s University Belfast has announced it is to partner with the University of Manchester to form the first regional Movember Centre of Excellence in the fight against prostate cancer.
The radical development is in partnership with Prostate Cancer UK and the Movember Foundation and will see an investment of £5 million over a five-year period across Belfast and Manchester.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among males in the UK with 40,000 new diagnoses every year. Comprising an outstanding team of internationally recognised scientists from across different disciplines, the key focus of the Belfast-Manchester hub will be improving outcomes for men with advanced disease. The funding will ensure that lab breakthroughs are translated into clinical benefits as quickly as possible. The Belfast-Manchester nexus will also include the Manchester-based Christie NHS Foundation Trust, the largest single-site cancer centre in Europe. A second Centre of Excellence will be located in London and will also receive £5 million over five years.
The two Centres were selected after a rigorous, international peer-review process. To qualify for funding, lead scientists had to prove strong, international track records and their teams needed to demonstrate existing or planned cross-discipline collaborations between basic and clinical scientists.
Over the five-year programme, researchers in Belfast and Manchester will identify men at high risk of aggressive disease, and find which patients respond best to various treatment options – an approach often referred to as ‘personalised medicine’. Cancer specialists will also work on refining new and existing treatments such as radiotherapy to improve how well they work for advanced prostate cancer, including cancer that has spread to the bones. The Belfast-Manchester Centre will bring in expertise from outside of prostate cancer, using insights from the latest research into other cancers including melanoma, breast and lung.
Professor David Waugh, Director of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s, is one of two Scientific Co-Directors of the Centre, alongside Professor Richard Marais, Director of the CRUK Manchester Institute.
Prof Waugh said: “The Belfast-Manchester Centre of Excellence provides a rare opportunity to bring together an international team of experts in radiation, biomarker discovery, genetic modelling and tumour biology who will use their individual talents in a collective and focused manner to make significant discoveries to benefit and extend the lives of men with prostate cancer.
“The scale and duration of funding available through the programme enables clinicians and scientists to tackle major clinical problems and more importantly, the longer timeframe also enables the team to ensure that our scientific progress has a clear clinical line-of-sight, and that we can begin to apply this new knowledge into clinical practice – resulting in more immediate benefits for those affected.
“I am extremely excited about what we can achieve.”
Professor Joe O’Sullivan, chair of radiotherapy development and clinical lead for radiotherapy at the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre and Chair of the Uro-Oncology Multidisciplinary Team at the Belfast Trust will be one of two Clinical Co-Directors of the Centre.
Prof O’Sullivan said: “I am extremely excited about the prospect of working with a team of world class researchers and those who are bringing their expertise from outside prostate cancer research in to the field for the first time.
“Through this research programme we have the opportunity to increase the speed of clinical advances by taking a fresh approach to prostate cancer research involving state of the art technology and a genuine collaborative approach.”
Movember UK Country Manager Sarah Coghlan said the Centres of Excellence scheme was “one of the most significant and exciting milestones for the Movember Foundation and prostate cancer research in the UK”.
She continued: “We’re bringing the best in the research world together for a sustained period to have a real impact and to develop real understanding of how to fight this disease.
“These Movember Centres of Excellence are the first of their kind in the UK focussed on prostate cancer and they represent the Movember Foundation’s commitment to having an everlasting impact on the face of men’s health. We salute every one of the Mo Bros and Mo Sistas in the UK. This wouldn’t be possible without them.”
In addition to the funding from Movember, the HSC R&D Division of the Public Health Agency has contributed an additional £500,000 to the Centre. It will be used to fund two key posts within the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre – a research radiographer and a post-doctoral research scientist.
Dr Janice Bailie, Assistant Director of the HSC R&D Division at the Public Health Agency said: “I am delighted that we will partner with Movember/Prostate Cancer UK to support the Belfast arm of this new Centre of Excellence in translational prostate cancer research.
“I believe this project has the potential to bring significant benefits to those living with prostate cancer in Northern Ireland and beyond. The Movember award recognises the strong track record in prostate cancer research in Belfast and Manchester, and this investment from HSC R&D Division will further enhance the already close working relationship between the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre in Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s University Belfast.” Professor Richard Marais of the CRUK Manchester Institute, part of the University of Manchester, said: “We have established a unique collaboration that will bring together knowledge and insights from across different cancers and disciplines, which will enable us to tackle some of the complexities still surrounding this disease from a new perspective.
“Crucially, by working in partnership we also hope to increase the speed at which lab breakthroughs reach the man in the clinic and have a direct impact on patient outcomes.”
Queen’s has launched Northern Ireland’s largest ever public health research project. NICOLA – the Northern Ireland Cohort for the Longitudinal Study of Ageing – is hoping to provide the basis for future Government policy by following the lives of 8,500 over 50s as they grow older.
Officially announced by Junior Ministers Jonathan Bell and Jennifer McCann, participants in the Queen’s University-led project, supported by groups such as the Public Health Agency and the Commissioner for Older People of Northern Ireland, will be randomly selected from across Northern Ireland over the next 18-months. The findings will leave a lasting legacy for society by enabling policy makers to base Government strategy upon research.
Professor Ian Young, Principal Investigator of the NICOLA Project, said: “Northern Ireland is undergoing an ageing revolution. Today there are more people aged under 16 than over 65. By 2037 that will have completely reversed with predictions that there will be 122,000 more over 65s than under 16s. That is an unprecedented change in our society and we need to start planning for it.
“For the first time, through the NICOLA study, Queen’s will give policy makers in Northern Ireland the same level of information as their counterparts in Great Britain and Ireland, and it will help shape at least ten major Government policies. ‘NICOLA’ will help us change the way we live for the better and those participating in the study will leave a tangible legacy for future generations.”
NICOLA consists of three stages, an interview conducted in the home, a questionnaire and a health assessment which will take place at the new Northern Ireland Clinical Research Facility at Belfast City Hospital. The assessments, completed by registered nurses, will include blood pressure readings, brain function (thinking) tests, blood sample collection and a detailed eye examination using equipment not available elsewhere in Northern Ireland. Follow-up interviews will be conducted every two years.
Junior Minister Jonathan Bell said: “It is my privilege to help launch this important study today and to congratulate Professor Ian Young, Professor Frank Kee and their team for the work entailed in bringing it to this vital stage. I wish you well as you work to gather your data and to see the results in future years.
“It will be exciting to see how the data that is captured by NICOLA will assist Government to identify and deal with the barriers to ageing with quality of life here in Northern Ireland.”
Junior Minister Jennifer McCann said: “We must ensure ageing is a positive experience and not something to fear or be anxious about. The information obtained through this study will help us proceed on an evidenced based approach in the allocation of finite resources maximising independence, health and well-being at all stages of life.
“We are fortunate that more people are now living longer and, by sharing experience and skills across all walks of life, we ensure our strong sense of community which has sustained us in the past will continue to thrive.”
Queen’s Acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor James McElnay, said: “The NICOLA study is a fine example of how Queen’s research has a real and lasting impact on our society. The information gathered during the study will be vital in informing Government policy and ensuring that Northern Ireland is well equipped to meet the challenges of an ageing population. I commend Professor Ian Young and Professor Frank Kee from Queen’s Centre for Public Health for their extraordinary vision in leading this study, and on the positive impact it will have for generations to come.”
Northern Ireland’s Commissioner for Older People, Claire Keating, said: “Between 1982 and 2062 it’s estimated that the proportion of over 50s will increase by 70 per cent to 45 per cent of the total population. That’s an unprecedented demographic change that will have major ramifications for society. Meeting the challenges and opportunities of this change means basing good policy on good research – information which Northern Ireland currently lacks.
“NICOLA provides an opportunity to ensure that we are prepared to meet the needs of an ageing population. Apart from benefiting from a more detailed insight into their own health and wellbeing, people taking part in NICOLA will provide society with a treasure trove of data that will aid future generations. This is an incredibly worthwhile initiative and I encourage everyone randomly selected to seriously consider getting involved.”
Over the next few weeks the first potential participants in NICOLA will be contacted by letter and then approached by representatives from Ipsos MORI, the leading market research company which Queen’s University has appointed to conduct the home interviews. Everyone involved with NICOLA will carry ID clearly identifying their role with the project.
The 8,500 participants have been randomly selected from a database provided by Northern Ireland’s Health & Social Care Board. Participation is entirely voluntary and all data collected by NICOLA will remain confidential. Researchers will not have access to personal information.
It is expected that all participants will complete the home interview and health assessment by April 2015. The first findings from the study are due in 2015.
NICOLA is funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies; the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC); the Medical Research Council; Health and Social Care Research and Development (HSC R&D), a division of the Public Health Agency; the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI); and the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM).
For more information please email NICOLA@qub.ac.uk or contact 028 9063 3078.
Research charity, Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI, has announced a £1.5 million investment to support research into leukaemia, lymphoma and other related disorders. The organisation will make this investment over a three year period.
As part of the £1.5 million package, the organisation has launched a £500,000 Golden Anniversary research programme, one of the major scientific and awareness initiatives that the charity has planned for its 50th anniversary year. The investment and research programme will enable researchers and clinicians in Queen’s University Belfast and across Northern Ireland to expand their internationally recognised research.
Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI is the only charity in Northern Ireland solely dedicated to funding research into leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma and other related conditions. All of the funds raised by the organisation remain in Northern Ireland to promote research into the causes and cure of these conditions.
New cases of leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma account for over 9% of all types of cancer. This makes this group of blood cancers the 5th most common type of cancer, with more males (55% of cases) affected than females. Around 94% of all leukaemia and 99% of all lymphoma cases occur in adults.
Figures from Northern Ireland, which are very similar to those across the United Kingdom, show that around 7 out of 10 acute myeloid leukaemia patients under 60 years will be alive after 24 months. This decreases to only 2 out 10 if the patients are aged over 60 years old. The reported incidence of one type of lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, has increased nearly three-fold in the past 20 years.
The Golden Anniversary research programme will enable research into aspects of leukaemia, lymphoma and other related blood cancers to improve our understanding of these diseases leading to better therapies and patient outcomes. One of the projects will be the ‘Victoria Montgomery/Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI studentship’ which will focus on research into acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and is named after a young mother from Portadown who lost her life to an aggressive form of leukaemia in November 2012.
Mr Bill Pollock, Chair of Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI, said that “Over the past 50 years, the charity has supported leukaemia research and I very pleased that we are in a position to make this major investment to support the valuable and innovative research into blood cancers being undertaken in Northern Ireland.”
Professor Ken Mills, Chair of Experimental Haematology in Queen’s University Belfast, said "Our scientists are highly respected experts in their field and their research aims to understand how leukaemia and other related diseases develop. From this we can discover better ways of treating all of these diseases and ultimately improve the outcome and quality of life for patients. This exciting announcement by the Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI of a £1.5M commitment to research will greatly enhance the ability of our researchers in Northern Ireland to undertake globally significant research."
Professor David Waugh, Director of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queen’s, said "The funding of this research programme by Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI demonstrates their continued confidence in the high quality research being undertaken in Belfast to identify novel therapies and improve patient outcomes. It is crucial funding such as this that allows researchers at Queen’s, along with our partners, to change and improve lives."
For more information on Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI click www.leukaemiaandlymphomani.org.
Cancer patients in Northern Ireland are set to benefit from a landmark investment of nearly £1 million in cancer research from the Friends of the Cancer Centre Charity.
The Charity, based at the Cancer Centre at Belfast City Hospital, has partnered with Queen’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) to provide a £900,000 funding injection for research into clinical trials – medical research trials involving patients - over the next three years. The investment, which will be delivered through an annual grant of £300,000 over a three year period, will allow the CCRCB to increase the clinical capacity of the specialist team that plans and delivers clinical trials, through a number of critical new staff posts. This increased capacity of the clinical trials research team will allow for further research and development of world leading cancer trials, an increase in patient recruitment numbers by consultants and clinical academics within the Cancer Centre at Belfast City Hospital and ultimately improved outcomes for cancer patients.
Colleen Shaw, chief executive of Friends of the Cancer Centre, said: “This is not a donation in our eyes; this is a financial investment in the future of local cancer research and in the future of cancer care in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has become a world leader in cancer care and the Cancer Centre at Belfast City Hospital provides the highest level of treatment available.
“Northern Ireland, through the team at CCRCB, has been at the forefront of the drive to find the latest and best ways to treat all kinds of cancer and clinical trials have become a vital weapon in this. As a charity whose focus is on supporting those affected by cancer, we recognise the potential that lies in clinical trials and the direct benefits they can have on a patient’s life. For us, this investment is also hugely important as this is not money that will disappear into the often unseen world of cancer research, as it will directly impact people affected by cancer, here and now.”
The investment will fund a number of vital posts within the clinical trials team, including a clinical research nurse, research radiographer, senior data manager as well as dedicated pharmacy support. These posts are vital in the development and implementation of clinical trials, as they provide the essential infrastructure to offer a more comprehensive and innovative trial portfolio, as well as more readily available access to trials.
David Waugh, Director of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queen’s University, said: “We cannot emphasis enough how important this funding is. It permits us to increase the capacity of specialist staff we need to implement these world leading and life changing clinical trials. Thanks to the support of Friends of the Cancer Centre, the next three years are set to be a very exciting time for us as we now have a dedicated resource in the Cancer Centre to conduct these trials that take forward innovative discovery from our research and strive for better outcomes for patients.
“We have been at the forefront of some of the most ambitious and ground breaking research in recent years and some of our own trials have been adopted by leading cancer centres across the UK and Europe. We can now continue to drive this transition from being a follower to an internationally recognised leader in individualised cancer treatment with research born in Belfast, led by Belfast.”
Professor Joe O’Sullivan, consultant clinical oncologist at the Cancer Centre and head of the clinical research programme in radiotherapy and prostate cancer at the CCRCB, said: “As a clinical researcher, I am very keen to have a large number of trials available to my patients and it would not be possible to achieve this without the support of Friends of the Cancer Centre.
“From the patients’ perspective, this investment is also hugely significant. I see people every day who are faced with a life changing diagnosis and whilst for many the outlook is good with treatment, others need major improvements in our currently available treatment options. This is where clinical trials come in. I have seen first-hand how a trial can impact and often improve a patient’s outlook. This is very exciting for me as a consultant, especially when the trial is home grown and developed in Belfast, but most importantly this can be life changing and indeed lifesaving for the patient.”
Friends of the Cancer Centre is one of the leading cancer charities in Northern Ireland working to support cancer patients, their families and carers through key projects in the areas of research, patient comfort and care, clinical care and equipment. In addition to the investment in clinical trials, Friends of the Cancer Centre also supports cancer research through funding a number of other projects, including the Northern Ireland Cancer trials Centre and the Northern Ireland Biobank. Over the next three years, Friends of the Cancer centre has committed over £2 million to local research alone.
The January 2014 issue of the School Newslatter is now available online at the link below.
Researchers at Queen’s University and the Belfast Trust are appealing for volunteers to take part in a new study investigating whether or not improving vitamin D levels can reduce the risk of developing type two diabetes and heart disease.
Funded by the Public Health Agency, the study will take place over a six month period and researchers are appealing for those who are overweight or at risk of developing type two diabetes or heart disease to take part in the study.
There are three million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK and an estimated 850,000 people who have the condition, but don’t know it. It is estimated that by 2030, 438 million people worldwide will have the condition, with approximately 90 per cent of new cases diagnosed as type two diabetes.
Insulin resistance is a state where the body does not respond as it should do to the insulin it produces. Individuals who are insulin resistant are at increased risk of both heart disease and type two diabetes. Interventions that prevent or reverse insulin resistance may help to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. There is evidence that vitamin D may improve insulin resistance but further study is required.
Dr Helen Wallace, from the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s University, said: “This trial is important as type two diabetes is on the increase and as a result is placing increased pressure on the health service.
“Individuals involved in the trial will be given a vitamin D supplement or a placebo tablet every day for six months. At the beginning and the end of the study volunteers will be asked to go to the Regional Centre for Endocrinology and Diabetes at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast to undertake a number of assessments to examine risk of heart disease and type two diabetes. We would encourage anyone who is concerned that they may be at risk of developing type two diabetes or heart disease to get involved in the study.”
Anyone interested in taking part should contact Dr Helen Wallace on 028 9063 4462/ 07912 042 848 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Those taking part will receive £150 on completion of the study.
A Queen’s University Professor has received international recognition for her research into male infertility.
Professor Sheena Lewis fought off competition from more than 70 innovators, researchers and business women from across Europe to win the Gold Award for Innovation at the European Women Inventors & Innovators Network (EUWIIN) awards last week in Stockholm.
The award also means that the next EUWINN event in 2015 is likely to be in Professor Lewis' home city of Belfast.
EUWIN was launched at the European Parliament in 2006. Since then EUWIIN winners have been entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, technologists or designers from all sectors across Europe and beyond. Each winner has created a new device or system or process capable of impacting millions of people for the better.
Professor Sheena Lewis, from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s, said: “I am delighted and honoured to have won the gold award for innovation at the European Women Inventors & Innovators Network awards. It is great to have my work recognised at an international level by such a prestigious award. It is testimony to the high level of research being undertaken at Queen’s University and the opportunity to translate this research into the benefit of society as we have been able to do through Queen’s spin out Lewis Fertility Testing Ltd with the help of our business hub QUBIS.”
Diane Morris, Chair of the EUWIIN Judging Panel, said: “The EUWIIN Judging panel, who represented different countries and professional expertise reviewed over 70 nominations, were impressed by Professor Lewis’ research and her enthusiasm for it’s potential.”
The Sperm Comet test, developed in 2011 is a ground-breaking test for male infertility, which saves time, money and heartache for couples around the world. The SpermComet provides unique information that no other test offers. By measuring damaged DNA in individual sperm, it can predict the success of infertility treatments and fast-track couples to the treatment most likely to succeed, leading to significantly reduced waiting times and improved chances of conception.
For further information on Professor Lewis’ work visit: http://lewisfertilitytesting.com/
Queen’s University has announced it is to lead a €6 million European study to find new treatments for bowel cancer.
The research, which involves 13 partners in eight different European countries, will look at two major genetic factors which make bowel cancer difficult to treat.
Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is the second major cause of cancer mortality. It is the third most common cause of cancer in Europe, with over 200,000 deaths per year. Currently over 50 per cent of colorectal cancer patients develop an aggressive form of the disease which spreads quickly and does not respond to standard therapy. Patients’ survival more than five years after diagnosis of this form of colorectal cancer is less than five per cent.
The new research, which takes place under a recently established European Consortium (MErCuRIC), led by Queen’s University and funded by the European Commission’s Framework VII Programme, will build on recent studies which have increased the understanding of what goes wrong in the colorectal cancer cell.
The new study is aiming to develop new diagnostics and therapies through a programme of research which will include a translational clinical trial of over 1000 people and involving a number of SME and industrial partners including Pfizer.
Dr Sandra van Schaeybroeck, Co-Ordinator of the Research Programme from the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queen’s, said: “Our research has identified two key genes that are contributing to the aggressive spread of colorectal cancer. The research being carried out by MErCuRIC will allow us to bring this research to the next level by developing and conducting a clinical trial that targets the products of these two genes in patients with metastic or aggressive colorectal cancer.”
The pan European clinical trial component of the Programme of Research is being led by the University of Oxford. Professor Tim Maughan from the University of Oxford and who has led a number of key clinical trials programmes in colorectal cancer, said: “This is an important study which has the potential to develop new approaches to treat patients who have what is essentially an incurable disease. Bringing together world leading researchers from across Europe has the potential to make important developments in the war against this very aggressive form of cancer.”
Professor David Waugh, Director of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s, said: “At a local level, the collaborative nature of the research that led up to the successful grant award, involving the CCRCB and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, emphasises the importance of a bench to bedside continuum linking the researcher and the clinician, with the patient at the centre of this process.”
The Consortium brings together world leading researchers from the UK, Ireland, Spain, Belguim, France, Italy and the Czech Republic
For further information visit http://mercuric.eu/
Northern Ireland has the highest breast cancer survival rates in the UK and Ireland, and is among the highest for melanoma survival in Europe, according to Queen’s Northern Ireland Cancer Registry.
The data for Northern Ireland was provided by the Queen’s Northern Ireland Cancer Registry to the EUROCARE 5 study. It analysed survival of over 10 million cancer patients diagnosed between 2000 and 2007 and followed up through 2008.
The research, which was part of a European-wide study into cancer survival rates, found that survival rates for breast cancer in Northern Ireland were 81.9 per cent, compared with 79 per cent in the Republic of Ireland, 79.3 per cent in England, 78.2 per cent in Wales and 78.5 per cent in Scotland. The overall survival rate for breast cancer across Europe is 82.4 per cent.
Skin melanoma survival rates in Northern Ireland were 90.7 per cent, which is 7 per cent higher than the European average, compared with 86.4 per cent in the Republic of Ireland, 85.3 per cent in England, 80 per cent in Wales and 88.8 per cent in Scotland.
The Europe-wide study found that cancer survival rates are improving across Europe but still vary widely between European countries. Northern Ireland’s survival rates for breast, rectum, prostate and non-hodgkins lymphoma are similar to the European average. Northern Ireland’s survival rates for stomach, colon lung, ovary and kidney cancers however are lower than the European average.
Dr Anna Gavin, Director of Queen's Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, said: “While this study shows that cancer survival has improved in Northern Ireland and across Europe there is still a lot of work to be done. Survival among the elderly remains poor and late diagnosis is dragging our survival rates down. Survival rates of tobacco related cancers remains very low, and therefore efforts to reduce smoking need to continue. Reports like these show the value of data from high quality cancer registries like the one based at Queen’s University and funded by the Public Health Agency.”
Edwin Poots, MLA, Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, said: “I am delighted to see that the latest cancer survival rates indicate that Northern Ireland is performing very well in terms of UK and European performance, particularly so in terms of breast cancer survival where we have the best rate in the UK and Ireland.
“We work continuously to raise our standards and keep cancer services here up to modern quality standards – it is particularly encouraging to see that these figures indicate that we have been doing just that.
“However there is no room for complacency in meeting the challenge of cancer and I would continue to encourage people to take greater responsibility for their own wellbeing and avoid the lifestyle choices, such as smoking, which increase the risk of cancer. It is also important that we should all be vigilant making full use of the screening programmes for breast, cervical and bowel cancer that are available and seeking medical advice at the first signs or symptoms of cancer – early detection is clearly linked to improved outcomes for cancer and we must continue to do all we can to build on this success.”
The full study is available at http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(13)70546-1/abstract
Researchers at Queen’s University aim to find out if a drug for blood pressure could be effective in treating vascular dementia in a new £2.25million clinical trial.
The trial, which is funded jointly by the Alzheimer’s Society and the British Heart Foundation, is the first ever large clinical trial for patients with subcortical vascular dementia.
Vascular dementia is caused by problems with the blood supply to the brain and affects over 150,000 nationwide and 18,000 people in Northern Ireland. Those with high blood pressure, heart conditions, high cholesterol and diabetes are especially at risk, and it can be triggered by a stroke. There are currently no available treatments for vascular dementia.
Researchers from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s will recruit nearly 600 people with vascular dementia for the trial. The researchers, led by Professor Peter Passmore, hope to show that 10mg a day of the drug can significantly improve memory and cognitive health. As amlodipine is already licensed and known to be safe, the treatment – which costs the NHS just £1.07 a month – could be in use as a treatment within five to ten years.
Amlodipine belongs to a class of drugs known as calcium channel blockers, which are widely used to treat high blood pressure. This will be the largest study to specifically test the drugs in people with vascular dementia, the most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. This trial will test the drug on people with the most common form of vascular dementia, but not in those whose condition was triggered by stroke.
Amlodipine is used to treat high blood pressure, a major risk factor for vascular dementia. It is known to enter the brain and researchers think it might work by protecting brain cells from damage when blood supply to the brain is poor. Professor Peter Passmore from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, and lead investigator, said: “Vascular dementia is a very common disease and to date no major trial has been successful in developing an effective treatment for this disease. We hope, using evidence from previous research, and by trialling the drug amlodipine we may get a step closer to improving the outcomes of patients with vascular dementia within the next decade.”
Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive at Alzheimer’s Society said: “It’s scandalous that despite affecting 150,000 people there are no effective treatments for vascular dementia and very few new treatments under investigation. This groundbreaking trial could be the best hope we have to get an effective treatment in use in the next decade.
“Developing new drugs from scratch can costs hundreds of millions and take up to twenty years but our flagship Drug Discovery programme aims to test existing drugs in people with dementia, fast-tracking the process and bringing new treatments to market faster and more cheaply.”
Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation said: “The 2.3 million people living with coronary heart disease in the UK are at increased risk of developing vascular dementia. Unfortunately, as yet, there are no effective treatments for this devastating condition.
“Amlodipine is a widely prescribed, blood pressure lowering treatment that has shown some promising effects in vascular dementia. The BHF and Alzheimer’s Society have joined forces to fund this definitive study. If positive, it would pave the way for an affordable treatment for vascular dementia in the near future.”
Queen's Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) is bidding to become a new Centre of Excellence dedicated to research into brain tumours. If successful, Queen’s will enter a funding partnership with the charity Brain Tumour Research, defining a new chapter in long term sustainable research. Currently brain tumours receive less than one per cent of the national spend on cancer research, despite more children and adults under 40 dying of a brain tumour than any other cancer.
Brain Tumour Research’s vision is to establish a network of seven brain tumour research centres throughout the nation, placing the UK at the forefront of research. The funding partnership will secure key salaried positions at the new Centre of Excellence, freeing the team from the limitations of applying for one specific project grant after another. As specialist brain tumour expertise and knowledge builds across the seven centres, experienced researchers will be able to move between them, collaborating on best thinking at the cutting edge of research. It is anticipated that, with greater job security through sustained funding, promising researchers will be trained up through the ranks to fulfil their potential, rather than being tempted into other areas of cancer research which currently attract greater funding.
The Belfast application is led by Queen’s University’s Dr Tom Flannery (Consultant Neurosurgeon with a subspecialty interest in Oncology) and Professors Kevin Prise & Chris Scott, who in partnership with colleagues in the CCRCB and the local brain tumour charity (Brainwaves NI) have developed a Glioma research group in Belfast. The focus of this research programme has been to identify mechanisms of brain tumour invasion and how this can be blocked with targeted therapies to stop tumours from spreading into the brain. Not only will these novel therapies potentially help with surgical removal but also help eradicate tumour cells by making them more sensitive to subsequent radio/chemotherapy treatments.
Commenting on the bid Dr Flannery said: “With the existing expertise at Queen’s, we know we can make a significant impact for patients suffering from these currently incurable tumours. The support of Brain Tumour Research will provide the funding that will help us make the breakthrough in this field. We are delighted to have the opportunity to bid for this support in conjunction with our colleagues in Brainwaves NI and to be considered is such a fantastic endorsement of our work.”
Internationally acclaimed scientific experts in the world of cancer research and neuro-oncology in particular are currently reviewing the applications. Brain Tumour Research will announce the name of the successful institution later this month.
Brain Tumour Research is currently supporting a Centre of Excellence based in The University of Portsmouth, which is the biggest brain tumour laboratory in the UK. Here a dedicated team is looking at the mechanisms that cause tumour cells to invade healthy brain tissue, with the aim that this work will improve survival times for patients and potentially, one day, lead to a cure.
As Chair of Brainwaves NI, Sandra McKillop commented, “The efforts to date of everyone, right across Northern Ireland, who supports Brainwaves NI in its mission to fund brain tumour research in Belfast has to be commended. As the local brain tumour charity, we know only too well of the devastation that the diagnosis of a brain tumour brings. With research into brain tumours receiving less than one per cent of UK national cancer research funding and brain tumours killing more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer, the opportunity for a brain tumour Centre of Excellence to be opened in Belfast is indeed excellent news.”
Alan Williams (aged 46) of Ballywalter, Newtownards, is battling with an aggressive brain tumour under the care of the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast and the Cancer Centre in Belfast City Hospital. The same disease took his younger brother James in 2002, aged 31. Alan’s wife Michelle said: “When Alan was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2007, it was a devastating blow to the family, coming just five years after losing James. During our journey through this illness, Brainwaves NI has been our rock, offering advice and information when needed and, of course, invaluable support.
“Nothing can prepare you for the devastation that the diagnosis of a brain tumour brings to your family, and when you hear that research into brain tumours receives less than one per cent of UK national cancer research funding and that brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer things can feel even more desperate. All our hopes are pinned on the amazing work carried out at places like the Portsmouth Centre of Excellence, and it’s great to hear that there is a chance of a second centre opening right on our doorstep.”
Sue Farrington Smith, Chief Executive of Brain Tumour Research, said: “Opening a second Centre of Excellence will dramatically increase the chances of a researcher having that ‘eureka moment’ which could dramatically improve outcomes for brain tumour patients. Only 18.8 per cent of those diagnosed with a brain tumour survive beyond five years, compared with an average of 50 per cent across other cancers, and we are determined to do all we can to change this.
“Helping to raise the £7 million a year needed to run seven Centres of Excellence will be a huge challenge, but we are backed by thousands of loyal and committed fundraisers. We will continue to encourage the public to support us, as well as lobbying for a larger share of UK cancer research funding, with the aim that one day we will be able to defeat this disease that claims many more lives than it should.”
Brain Tumour Research was launched in April 2009 to raise the awareness of and funding for scientific research into brain tumours and improve outcomes for brain tumour patients. It is the only national charity in the UK that is dedicated to granting 100 per cent of its funds to continuous and sustainable scientific research into brain tumours.
In collaboration with its member charities and fundraising groups, the charity jointly raised over £2.5 million in 2012 and Brain Tumour Research now supports an annual £1 million programme of research into brain tumours at The University of Portsmouth. The research team are gleaning new layers of understanding about this disease and are continually publishing their peer-reviewed results in leading international scientific journals.
Brain Tumour Research has evolved to become a leading voice calling for greater support and action for research into brain tumours in the UK. Funding for this research has been woefully inadequate for far too long.
Further information on the work of Queen’s CCRCB is available online at http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentreforCancerResearchCellBiology/
Research led by Queen’s University to improve pregnancy outcomes for women with diabetes has received national recognition.
The innovative pre-pregnancy care resource, which informs women with diabetes about how best to plan and manage their pregnancies, has been awarded the Best Improvement Programme for Pregnancy and Maternity at the UK Quality in Care Diabetes Awards.
Known as Women with Diabetes: things you need to know (but maybe don’t!), the resource was first made available in 2010. It is now embedded into routine care in Northern Ireland with two thirds of women with diabetes who attended for antenatal care between 2011 and 2012 receiving the resource as an aid to planning for pregnancy.
Dr Valerie Holmes from the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s University led the project. She said: “While women with diabetes are at increased risk of poor pregnancy outcomes, including pre-eclampsia, and their babies are at risk of congenital malformations including Spina Bifida, heart and kidney anomalies, it is well established that good blood glucose control before and during pregnancy can reduce this risk.
“It is important that women with diabetes are aware of the risks involved and of the importance of planning their pregnancy. Almost all women with diabetes can have healthy babies if good pre-pregnancy blood glucose control is achieved. At Queen’s we are committed to advancing knowledge and changing lives and winning this award is recognition that we are doing just that.”
Women with Diabetes: things you need to know (but maybe don’t!) was developed by Queen’s, along with healthcare professionals from the Belfast and South Eastern Health and Social Care Trusts and funded by Diabetes UK.
Professor David McCance, Consultant Endocrinologist, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, said: “Only one third of women currently receive optimal preconception care and the lack of awareness about pregnancy planning and reproductive health may be one reason why women are not seeking pre-pregnancy care before becoming pregnant.”
Professor Fiona Alderdice, Director of Research in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s University, said: “There are many health professionals involved in the care of women with diabetes in the perinatal period so there is much to communicate. It is great that women have a comprehensive resource that they can digest in their own time and that also facilitates an informed dialogue with their health care team.”
Originally produced as a DVD the resource is now available as a website to women with diabetes and their healthcare professionals. The Women with Diabetes team remain committed to ensuring sustainability of the resource and have recently secured HSC Public Health Agency Knowledge Transfer funding to maximise the beneficial impact of this work both within and beyond Northern Ireland. For further information and to view the resource online visit: http://go.qub.ac.uk/womenwithdiabetes
Queen's is is a lead partner in a new €6 million (euro) global research programme to develop new ways to treat Cystic Fibrosis.
Affecting more than 10,000 people in the UK, Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is one of the most common life-threatening inherited diseases. Symptoms include repeated chest infections, the major cause of death for patients.
The new global programme, known as CF Matters, aims to develop personalised antibiotic treatments for these chest infections. The work could revolutionise the practice of antibiotic prescription and limit resistance to the drugs globally.
The study brings together renowned CF clinicians and scientists from 12 academic institutions and hospitals across Europe and the USA. It is led by University College Cork with Queen’s as a lead partner. It will involve lab-based research and clinical trials with 252 patients in seven countries, including around 40 in Northern Ireland.
Queen's lead on the study is Professor Stuart Elborn, Director of Queen's Centre for Infection and Immunity. An internationally recognised CF expert, he led the original trial for a drug which has now been approved for use by CF patients with the G551D gene mutation or 'Celtic Gene'.The drug Ivacaftor, also known as Kalydeco, treats the root cause of CF for people with the Gene.
Professor Elborn said: "When patients have a flare-up they are treated with several antibiotics but it isn’t always effective and can lead to antibiotic resistance. In this study we will use molecular next generation DNA sequencing methods to detect all the bacteria present in the sputum of CF patients and use this knowledge to determine what antibiotics should be used in individual patients.
"This personalised antibiotic treatment will be compared with standard therapy for CF patients. We will determine the patient’s immune response to all the different bacteria present in the sputum. Using models of infection we will also discover the effect of these bacteria on lung inflammation and infection. The overall impact will be to determine if all bacteria present contribute significantly to lung infection in CF patients and subsequently identify the most effective antibiotic treatment for patients infected with these bacteria."
The study will involve a team of scientists from Queen's Centre for Infection and Immunity including Professor Cliff Taggart, Dr Rebecca Ingram and Dr Sinéad Weldon and Dr Michael Tunney from the School of Pharmacy.
They will collaborate with Dr Damian Downey, Co-Director of the Regional Adult Cystic Fibrosis Centre in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. Dr Downey said: "This important collaborative study with our colleagues in Queen’s University will investigate the use of directed antibiotic therapy to treat lung infections. The aim of a more focused treatment plan is to limit the damage that occurs to the lung."
The CF Matters grant comes just weeks after Queen's work on managing Bronchiectasis, another chronic lung condition affecting thousands of people in the UK, was published in leading scientific journals.
The three papers by Dr Michael Tunney from Queen's School of Pharmacy and Professor Elborn, address key issues in the management of the condition, including the detection of bacteria that cause lung infection and how long-term antibiotic use to treat Bronchiectasis can result in antibiotic resistance.
Commenting on the work, Dr Tunney said: "We found that large numbers of different types of bacteria were present both when bronchiectasis patients were stable, and during a lung infection. The results clearly demonstrate that routine diagnostic techniques do not detect many of these bacteria.
"Further studies are required to better understand the relationship between the presence of the bacteria found in the lungs of Bronchiectasis patients and the severity of the condition. More research is also needed into the effects of long-term antibiotic use and development of antimicrobial resistance."
For more information on the Centre visit http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentreforInfectionandImmunity
Queen’s University Belfast’s next President and Vice-Chancellor will be Professor Patrick Johnston, the University announced today. Professor Johnston, who is Dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s, will take up post early in 2014.
His appointment was approved this morning at an additional meeting of Senate, Queen’s governing body. Professor Johnston becomes the 12th Vice-Chancellor in the University’s 168-year history.
Queen’s Pro-Chancellor Sir David Fell, who chaired the appointment panel, said: “I am delighted to announce the appointment of Professor Patrick Johnston as our new President and Vice-Chancellor. Professor Johnston, a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, is an outstanding academic with a distinguished record of achievement. Throughout his career, he has led transformational projects, and combines vision with a determination and passion to deliver change which will benefit society as a whole.
“As one of the world’s foremost experts in cancer research, he has shown extraordinary leadership in making Queen’s and Northern Ireland a truly innovative world-leading centre for medical research.
“I know that as President and Vice-Chancellor he will be an inspirational leader for the whole University and that exciting times lie ahead. I wish him every success.”
Speaking about his appointment, Professor Johnston commented: “This is a proud day for both me and my family and I thank Queen’s University for choosing me to be its next President and Vice-Chancellor. I very much look forward to leading this distinguished institution and working alongside its exceptional staff and students. It is an honour and privilege to be given this opportunity to further develop and enhance the reputation and standing of Queen’s.
“In an environment that throws up many significant challenges, both at home and abroad, Queen’s objective is to become an international leader in both education and research. I will work tirelessly to achieve this objective, which will bring benefits not only to the University but to the local economy and to everyone who lives in Northern Ireland.”
Professor Johnston, originally from Derry/Londonderry, is married with four grown-up sons. Since 2007, he has led the development of a new international Medical School at Queen’s and a world-leading Institute of Health Sciences. He is also former Director of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s.
In 2012 he was recognised for excellence in medical science when he was elected to the Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences. Also in 2012 he accepted a Diamond Jubilee Queen’s Anniversary Prize awarded by Her Majesty The Queen, for the University’s leadership of the Comprehensive Cancer Centre and its achievement in reducing cancer mortality rates in Northern Ireland over the last decade.
Professor Johnston was also appointed chair of the Translational Research Group of the Medical Research Council (MRC) in 2012. Last week, he was awarded the 2013 international Bob Pinedo Cancer Care Prize, recognising his pioneering work in translating discovery science for the benefit of cancer patients. He also currently serves on the Cancer Research UK (CR-UK) Science Executive/Advisory Board.
In addition to his academic work Professor Johnston is also a founder of Almac Diagnostics, with its headquarters based in Northern Ireland.
Belfast surgeon and Queen’s University Professor Roy Spence is set to tell US medics about his experience of treating hundreds of victims of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’.
Professor Spence in addressing several thousand US surgeons will reflect on his time working through ‘The Troubles’ and also reflecting on the latter years of more peaceful times.
He will deliver the prestigious I.S Ravdin Lecture in Washington on 7 October. This has never been offered to a surgeon in Ireland before.
A surgeon for 35 years in Northern Ireland throughout most of the country’s conflict, which came to be known as ‘The Troubles’, Professor Roy Spence, OBE, JP, MD, LLD (Hon), FRCS, (Edin, Irel), FRCS (End, Glas) (Hon), will reflect on his professional life during this time period when he presents Reflections of a Surgeon in Troubled Times.
From the late 1960s until 1998, when the Troubles ended with the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, more than 3,600 were killed and more than 47,500 were injured in 36,900 shootings and 16,200 bombings. Professor Spence will discuss how those incredibly tough circumstances brought advances to trauma practice in Northern Ireland.
Professor Roy Spence, said: “I will pay tribute to my colleagues in vascular surgery who used shunts in injuries to limb arteries and veins caused by gunshot wounds and, in particular, the unique injury knee-capping in Northern Ireland. I will recall the work of colleagues in neurosurgery who proposed early ventilation of patients with gunshot wounds of the head and the replacement of missing skull fragments, caused by bullets, with titanium plates.”
In the second part of his lecture Professor Spence will discuss the changes to cancer services in Northern Ireland. He will discuss the Campbell re-organisation, the excellent data produced by the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry at Queen’s (Professor Spence is the Chairman of the Council of the Cancer Registry), the work of Cancer Focus (Professor Spence is Chairman of Cancer Focus) which raises £3 million per year for cancer research and to support services for cancer patients and their families. He will present the cancer data of the Registry showing significant improvement in cancer survival in Northern Ireland over the past 15 years.
Professor Spence will also pay tribute to the cancer research led by Professor Johnston, Dean of School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen's University, who has been instrumental in the building of research centres at Queen’s which led to the award to the University of the Queen’s Anniversary Prize by Her Majesty the Queen in 2012.
Finally, Professor Spence will acknowledge the leadership shown by Senator Mitchell and President Clinton in the Peace Process and also to Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers, who as the Peace Process matures, have allowed Northern Ireland to attract bright clinicians and scientists from all over the world to work in Belfast to improve the outcome for all patients.
Queen’s University Belfast is to lead a £139,000 study into the way cystic fibrosis patients are affected by a superbug that destroys lung function.
The research, funded by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust will investigate how the immune cells of cystic fibrosis patients are infected when they contract Burkholderia Cepacia (B.cepacia). The superbug can colonise in people with cystic fibrosis causing serious lung damage.
The two-year study will be coordinated by Professor Miguel Valvano, Chair of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at Queen’s Centre for Infection and Immunity. There are around 500 people living with cystic fibrosis in Northern Ireland, and the B.cepacia bug affects around six per cent of people with the illness.
Professor Valvano said: “We have reached a point in which it may be possible to directly identify molecules that can help immune cells, especially those that engulf bacteria to deal with the intracellular B.cepacia. Our research effort will be focused on developing the appropriate procedures that will enable us to screen libraries of chemical compounds to find molecules that can help cystic fibrosis patients’ immune cells clear invading bacteria.”
Professor Valvano aims to develop a better understanding of how cystic fibrosis affects the normal functioning of cells and how B.cepacia disrupts cell breakdown in people with cystic fibrosis. The second stage in the project will involve developing a quick and efficient way of testing large numbers of compounds with a view to finding a drug that can effectively treat B.cepacia.
Dr Janet Allen, Director of Research at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, said: “Professor Miguel Valvano is one of the world’s leading experts in this field. His molecular research aimed at dissecting key bacterial components that directly interact with host cells to cause infections is internationally recognised.
“A key part of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust’s research strategy is supporting research aimed at finding new ways to treat chronic infection and inflammation in people with cystic fibrosis. In people with cystic fibrosis certain bugs are able to turn the body’s immune system against itself by disrupting the normal processes for dealing with invaders and causing harmful levels of inflammation. They are also very difficult to treat because they are able to block conventional antibiotics.”
A new £4M clinical research hub opening in Belfast today will enable more patients than ever before to take part in clinical trials in Northern Ireland.
Known as The Wellcome Trust-Wolfson Foundation Northern Ireland Clinical Research Facility (NICRF), it will concentrate on four main research themes; cancer, nutrition and metabolism, vision science and respiratory research.
The facility will also benefit those with rare conditions, who, until now, have had to travel to England to participate in trials.
It is a joint venture between Queen’s University Belfast, The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, The University of Ulster and Health and Social Care Research and Development (HSC R&D), a division of the Public Health Agency (PHA).
Based in Belfast City Hospital, the NICRF has the infrastructure to support clinical trials from conception to completion. With dedicated staff, the NICRF now allows researchers to access a specialised area for clinical research, including equipment not available in the NHS. It contains ten clinical rooms, a blood processing facility and a diet kitchen for nutrition studies.
Researchers hope that hundreds of patients will be offered the chance to take part in clinical trials each year, leading to a major increase in numbers previously enrolled in research studies in Northern Ireland.
Speaking ahead of the launch today, Health Minister, Edwin Poots MLA, said: “This new state-of-the-art facility is an important element of Northern Ireland’s health research infrastructure and will enhance our ability to produce valuable, useable results.
“Across the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Trusts, we have invested significantly, especially in the past five years, so that our professional staff can undertake research directly relevant to their patients and practice and can use the knowledge gained from that research.
“Research, development and innovation are essential for modern healthcare systems so we can advance the quality of our services, whether in disease prevention, diagnosis or treatment. Research also provides vital knowledge that can improve the cost –effectiveness and value for money of our health services.”
A number of programmes are already underway. These include studies on asthma, cystic fibrosis and bronchietasis. Others are focusing on cardiovascular conditions including stroke and rare genetic conditions including Morquio syndrome. Professor Danny McAuley from Queen’s Centre for Infection and Immunity, and acting director of NICRF, said: “Researchers throughout Northern Ireland are making some of the most important scientific discoveries in the world today. Until the NICRF there was no dedicated area with such an array of specialist equipment to support clinical research in Northern Ireland. Now, we will be able to translate laboratory discoveries into advances in patient care. We are tremendously grateful to the Wellcome Trust, the Wolfson Foundation and Health and Social Care Research and Development within the PHA for their vision and support in funding the facility which is already bringing real benefit to patients here.”
Aidan Kearney, a patient with Morquio syndrome, who has been one of the first to be treated in the new facility, said: “Already the NICRF is having a positive impact to my life. I now don’t have to go outside of Northern Ireland for my treatment and that means it takes much less time. I’m not tired from the travelling and I also now have the reassurance that the location and staff treating me will be the same every time. It has made a real difference to me.” Welcoming the opening of the new facility, Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, said: “This new state of the art facility represents a fantastic step forward in clinical research trials. It provides a base for our medical researchers to carry out their important and ground breaking work.”
Dr John Williams, Head of Clinical Activities at the Wellcome Trust, said: "Working with patients is a crucial part of the Wellcome Trust's mission to turn laboratory discoveries into improvements in human health. This new facility will act as a focus for clinical studies in Northern Ireland, providing core resources for internationally recognised research.”
Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive of The Wolfson Foundation, said: “The Wolfson Foundation's funding is focussed on excellence, and so we are delighted to be involved in this outstanding new facility. We hope that the research undertaken will be of significant benefit to patients in Northern Ireland - and beyond." Colm Donaghy, Chief Executive, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, added: “Having this facility in Belfast City Hospital means we will see more patients enrolling in clinical trials. They will learn more about their diseases and as a result help to define how we go about treating them. The NICRF also provides new opportunities for the doctors, nurses and other health professionals, including physiotherapists and nutritionists, within Belfast Trust, to take part in training programmes, all of which will enhance their skills and further enhance our patients’ treatments and outcomes.”
Professor Hugh McKenna, Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Ulster, said: “This facility is very much a collaborative venture and we look forward to working with our partners to produce research findings that have global impact.”
The facility will have four core staff as well as a Director and Deputy Director but more staff can be accommodated depending on the needs of the trial.
Professor Bernadette Hannigan, Director of HSC Research and Development, said: “People throughout Northern Ireland, including patients of our Health and Social Care Trusts, will benefit from the opportunity to take part in clinical research in the high quality, safe environment of this new Clinical Research Facility.”
Researchers who would like to use the NICRF or members of the public who would like to participate in research can contact 028 9504 0342. Further information is also available online at www.qub.ac.uk/nicrf.
Nine out of ten people diagnosed with the most dangerous form of skin cancer in Northern Ireland now survive the disease, compared with eight out of ten people in the rest of the UK. That’s according to the latest figures from Queen’s University’s Northern Ireland Cancer Registry.
The Northern Ireland figures are included in UK-wide report on malignant melanoma rates published today (Monday 22 July) by Cancer Research UK. Northern Ireland has seen a slight increase in survival rates for the disease, despite a large increase in the number of cases being diagnosed, particularly among men.
The data from the Queen’s Northern Ireland Cancer Registry shows that 89.9 per cent of those diagnosed with malignant melanoma between 2002-2006 were still alive five years after their diagnosis. This is a slight increase on the 89.3 per cent five-year survival rate for those diagnosed between 1993-1996. Survival is better in women than men. This improved survival means there were almost 3,000 people living in Northern Ireland who had a diagnosis of cancer in the past 18 years (1,078 men and 1,779 women).
The total number of cases of the disease diagnosed in Northern Ireland has increased from 182 in 1993 to 296 in 2011. Number of cases diagnosed among men more than doubled from 58 in 1993 to 126 in 2011. Despite this, women still account for the majority of cases diagnosed. Of the 296 cases identified in 2011, 57 per cent were in women and 43 per cent were in men.
Dr Anna Gavin, Director of Queen’s Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, says today’s report from Cancer Research UK is a timely reminder of the importance of staying safe in the sun. She said: “Northern Ireland’s survival rates for malignant melanoma are among the best in Europe. That is largely due to improvements in treatment, awareness of symptoms and early diagnosis.
“Skin cancer is one of the fastest rising cancers in the UK, and Northern Ireland is no exception. This is likely due to sunbathing habits and the increase in the availability of cheap package holidays. But as the last few weeks have shown, you don’t have to go abroad to be exposed to the sun’s harmful rays. Even on a cloudy day here in Northern Ireland, the sun will cause damage to the skin, and that damage can lead to cancer.
“People can reduce their risk of developing malignant melanoma by following this advice: seek the shade between 11am-3pm when the sun is at its strongest; cover-up with a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses; and always wear sun cream with a minimum SPF 15.
“Malignant melanoma is one of the most treatable forms of cancer. But early diagnosis is crucial. That’s why it is important to get to know your skin, and if you notice anything unusual get it checked by your GP. Things to look out for are a change to a mole or a blemish the size of the blunt end of a pencil, or bigger, that has changed in colour, size or texture, or is bleeding or itching.
“More and more people in Northern Ireland are surviving skin cancer, but it is important that we continue to work together to develop better treatments for the one person in ten - that’s around 50 people per year - who do not survive the disease. Our colleagues in Queen’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, are at the centre of this work, with 300 researchers from around the world developing innovative cancer diagnosis and treatments and pioneering advances in patient care.”
For more information on Queen’s Northern Ireland Cancer Registry visit http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/nicr
An anti-cancer drug has been proven to be equally as effective in treating the most common cause of blindness in older adults as a more expensive drug specifically formulated for this purpose.
The results of a two-year trial, led by Queen’s scientist Professor Usha Chakravarthy, and published in The Lancet today (Friday 19 July), show that two drug treatments Lucentis and Avastin are equally effective in treating neovascular or wet age-related macular degeneration (wet AMD).
Wet AMD is a common cause of sight loss in older people with at least 23,000 older people diagnosed with the condition in the UK each year. Without treatment two thirds of people with this condition will experience severe loss of sight within two years of being diagnosed.
Lucentis, the drug most commonly used in the UK at present to treat wet AMD, costs about £700 per injection and Avastin costs about £60 per injection. The NHS could save £84.5 million annually based on injecting 17,295 eyes each year by switching from Lucentis to Avastin. Avastin is already used to treat wet AMD in some parts of the UK and extensively elsewhere in the world and also for other eye conditions.
Over the past five years, a team of scientists and eye specialists from 23 hospitals and UK universities, including Queen’s University Belfast, University of Bristol, University of Liverpool, University of Southampton and University of Oxford, have investigated whether Lucentis and Avastin and the way they are given are equally effective and safe.
610 people with wet AMD entered a two-year trial known as IVAN which is one of the largest ever carried out in the field of eye disease in the UK. Patients received injections of the drug into the affected eye every month for the first three months. Patients were then subdivided to receive the injections at every visit (monthly group) or only if the specialist decided there was persistent disease activity (as needed group).
The IVAN study’s two year results show that sight was equally well preserved with either of the two drugs. Giving the treatment regularly every month, resulted in slightly better levels of sight which was detected through testing of near visual acuity and contrast sensitivity. The ‘as needed’ group received on average 13 injections over the two year period compared to 23 for the monthly treatment group. However, continuous treatment caused a higher proportion of eyes to develop a condition known as geographic atrophy which is a thinning of the retina and its blood supply.
Professor Usha Chakravarthy of Queen’s University Belfast’s Centre for Vision and Vascular Science, who led the research study team said: “The IVAN results at the end of year two show that Lucentis and Avastin have similar functional effectiveness regardless of the drug received. With respect to monthly versus as needed treatment, while there was marginally better eyesight in the former, the development of atrophy is a matter of concern in the longer term.”
The IVAN study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment (NIHR HTA) programme. The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust sponsored the clinical trial. Professor Ian Young, Director of Research and Development at the Trust said: "The findings of the IVAN study will be of great importance for the management of patients with wet AMD throughout the world. Research to improve patient care is a key aspect of the work of Belfast Trust, and we are committed to sponsoring and leading important clinical trials of this kind which allow our patients early access to new treatments."
Dr Janice Bailie, Assistant Director, Health and Social Care Research and Development Division of the Public Health Agency, which supported the trial said: “With increasing life expectancy and a growing proportion of older people in the population, slowing the progress of conditions like AMD is key to maintaining their independence. The IVAN trial is an example of research led from Northern Ireland with international significance - the findings have the potential to influence how AMD is managed in the future.”
The IVAN study also monitored the drugs for serious adverse events which included death, heart attacks, strokes, and any other event that was life threatening, disabling or resulted in hospitalisation. These were similar for the two drugs. However, deaths occurred less frequently in the group that received monthly treatment, although there were fewer deaths overall among people taking part in the trial than were expected based on their age and gender and national death rates. When these safety results were combined with those of a similar study called the CATT trial which was performed in the USA, the resultant findings continued to indicate fewer deaths when treatment was given monthly.
The researchers state that their findings will be of relevance to the next round of technology appraisals by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and could lead to important changes to the way wet AMD is treated. In the meantime, for an older person starting a course of Lucentis or Avastin, it will be important to explain the trade-off between the number of injections, and the chances of developing geographic atrophy and risk of mortality in two years.
Research into public health including ageing, mental wellbeing and children’s health in Northern Ireland has been given a £9 million boost.
The funding has been awarded to the UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health Northern Ireland (CoE NI) at Queen’s University Belfast, which was one of the UK’s first Centres of Excellence for public health research.
The Centre was formed to help create significant improvements in the wellbeing and health of the UK population. Researchers at the Centre have already made an impact by actively involving the policy makers, practitioners and the public in all stages of their research, in projects like the evaluation of the Connswater Community Greenway, in schools-based trials and in the way they disseminate their results in easily understood language.
The new funding will enable the UKCRC team to undertake further research on what shapes the health and wellbeing of adolescents in schools, on developing better interventions to improve public health and on the broader social and economic forces that help us all "age" well.
The Centre was launched in 2008 as part of a £20 million investment across the UK to strengthen research into complex public health issues such as obesity and health inequalities. The latest round of funding has been received from the UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC), the HSC Research and Development Office, the University of Ulster, Queen’s University, and the Atlantic Philanthropies.
Health Minister Edwin Poots who officially re-launched the Centre of Excellence said: “It is a testament to the quality of public health research here that the Centre is to receive further investment for the next five years. I congratulate all involved.
“Going forward, the aim is to build additional strength in tackling the public health issues affecting both the young and the older population.”
The Director of the Centre of Excellence for Public Health NI, Professor Frank Kee, said: “Issues such as obesity and an increasingly ageing population are just some of the factors that are set to impact hugely on society in years to come. Thanks to the funding from all of our sponsors, The UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health Northern Ireland can continue to build capacity in research that will help counter these problems and extend the evidence base that will inform policy and practice in public health.”
Queen's University Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Peter Gregson, added: “At Queen’s we are committed to undertaking research which benefits the community. This funding is recognition of the vital work of the Centre over the last five years. It will ensure Queen’s can continue to work with its partners on an integrated approach to health and social services, help to tackle the inequalities in health in the community and to study the economic, social and biological factors which cause chronic diseases.”
The UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health Northern Ireland will be officially re-launched at an event at Riddel Hall on Tuesday 18 June. For further information on the Centre visit: www.coe.qub.ac.uk
Leading Queen’s University scientist, Professor Patrick Johnston, has been named as recipient of the 2013 Bob Pinedo Cancer Care Prize.
The award recognizes Professor Johnston’s pioneering work in translating discovery science for the benefit of cancer patients. His determination and leadership in establishing a Comprehensive Cancer Care and Research Programme in Northern Ireland is testament to his dedication to improving both clinical outcomes and quality of life for cancer patients.
This year's Pinedo Prize of $50,000 will be presented at the Society for Translational Oncology’s Fourth Annual meeting, to be hosted by the VU University Medical Center Cancer Center Amsterdam (VUmc CCA) at the ING House in Amsterdam on the 1st of October, 2013. Prof. Johnston will deliver the keynote lecture at the meeting which will be published by The Oncologist, STO's official journal.
In 2012, the success of Professor Johnston’s overarching vision was recognised when he was honoured to accept a Diamond Jubilee Queen’s Anniversary Prize awarded by Her Majesty, The Queen, for The Queen’s University Belfast-led Comprehensive Cancer Centre and its achievement in reducing cancer mortality rates over the last decade. This significant improvement in cancer outcomes, underpinned by best quality care and innovative research, is a direct result of Professor Johnston’s philosophy of placing the cancer patient at the centre of the cancer care and research agenda.
Speaking about the award, Professor Johnston said: “I am delighted and humbled to have been awarded The Pinedo Prize. It is a great honour to have my work and that of my research team recognised by the international cancer research community in this way.”
Queen’s University’s President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Peter Gregson, said: “Queen’s is bringing some of the finest minds in clinical and scientific research together to take medical translational research to new levels. It is developing a new £175M Institute of Health Sciences. This is happening under the leadership of Professor Patrick Johnston who has devoted his life to improving the lives of others. The Society’s award is testimony to his foresight and commitment and is recognition of the work he is undertaking on a global scale.”
Professor Johnston’s research has focused on understanding the cellular signaling pathways in gastrointestinal tumors (with a particular emphasis on colorectal cancer), and using this information as a foundation to identify novel prognostics and diagnostic biomarkers, and molecular targets to rationalize and improve patient care. His many significant papers on both cytotoxic and targeted therapies have expanded knowledge of the treatment of colorectal cancer and provided new insights on mechanisms of drug resistance.
“Professor Johnston is a unique physician-scientist and leader in the cancer field”, commented Dr. Bruce Chabner, editor-in-chief of The Oncologist. "He fulfills the traditional tripartite image of excellence in research, patient care, and teaching, but adds the extra measure of organisational skill and personal passion in his leadership of the remarkable medical centre at Queen’s University Belfast.”
Professor Johnston currently sits on the Cancer Research UK Scientific Executive Board. His other professional roles include being a member of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Strategy Board and Chair of the MRC Translational Research Group. He is a Founder and Director of Almac Diagnostics. He is a member of the American Society for Clinical Oncology Scientific Program Committee, Chair of the International Academy for Advanced Oncology, Japan, and Board Member of Medical Schools Council UK. As a Senior Editor for The Oncologist, Co-Editor of The Oncologist European Edition, and Co-Chairman of the Society for Translational Oncology, Prof. Johnston advocates for ways to speed the discovery and translation of important new treatments in the field of cancer medicine to the practice of global oncology.
The Pinedo Cancer Care Prize honors Professor H.M. (Bob) Pinedo, founder of the VU University Medical Center (VUmc) Cancer Center Amsterdam (CCA), who weds world-class cancer research with a devotion to his patients and their families.
There are 15,000 cases of ALI every year in the UK. The main causes are road traffic accidents and infections, and many with the condition die as a result of lung failure.
ALI patients can become critically ill and develop problems with breathing when their lungs become inflamed and fill with fluid. These patients frequently require ventilators to aid breathing within an ICU hospital unit. An ICU bed costs the NHS in excess of £1800 per day.
There are currently no effective treatments for this serious condition, but in a joint collaboration between the School of Pharmacy and Centre for Infection and Immunity at Queen’s, a team of scientists and clinicians have developed a new drug that could revolutionise clinical management of patients in intensive care units.
Their new drug is a nanoparticle, measuring around one billionth of a metre. The patient can inhale it, taking the drug directly into the lungs and to the point of inflammation. Current treatments are unable to target directly the inflammation and can result in unpleasant side effects.
Speaking about the development, Professor Chris Scott from the School of Pharmacy, who is leading the research, said: “Nanoparticles are perhaps one of the most exciting new approaches to drug development. Most research in the area focuses on how the delivery of drugs to the disease site can be improved in these minute carriers. Our own research in this area focuses on how nanoparticles interact with cells and how this can be exploited to produce therapeutic effects both in respiratory disease and cancer.”
The new nanoparticle from Queen’s has a surface which allows it to recognize and bind to immune cells called macrophages in the lungs - key to the uncontrolled inflammation that occurs in ALI. This binding induces a rapid reduction in the inflammation, and has the potential to prevent the damaging effects that will otherwise occur in the lungs of ALI patients.
The project is developing the new nanomedicine towards clinical evaluation within the next three years, and is currently sponsored by a £505,000 grant for two years from the Medical Research Council Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme.
Professor Danny McAuley from the Centre for Infection and Immunity, a partner in developing the new nanomedicine, added: “This funding allows us to evaluate a completely novel therapeutic approach to the treatment of ALI and if successful, this nanomedicine could also have application in other common lung disorders such as COPD and Cystic Fibrosis.”
Some 70,000 people in Northern Ireland are living with a diagnosis of cancer made within the last 18 years (69,377 people as of 31st December 2010), according to a report being launched today by Queen’s University’s Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, in association with Macmillan Cancer Support.
Living with and beyond cancer provides the first ever detailed picture of cancer prevalence in Northern Ireland, which is defined as the number of living people who have ever had a cancer diagnosis.
The report reveals that the number of people living with cancer in Northern Ireland has risen by 3.5 per cent annually since 1993.
Excluding the rarely fatal Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer (NMSC), the number of people who are living in Northern Ireland following a diagnosis made within the last 18 years was 45,265.
The report also analyses the change in prevalence over time. It noted that the number of male cancer survivors (excluding NMSC) increased by 6.2 per cent per year between 2002 and 2010, while for females it was 3.2 per cent per year.
Most common prevalence
The cancer that most people are living with is NMSC due to its high incidence and excellent survival rates. After this, prostate cancer is the most prevalent among men (6,646 persons) while 11,393 women are living in Northern Ireland having had a diagnosis of breast cancer. Lung cancer, which is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers, is only the ninth most prevalent cancer due to its poor survival rate.
The greatest percentage increase in ten year prevalence between 2002 and 2010 was among male prostate and oesophageal cancer patients, both of which saw the number of survivors more than double over the eight year period. Among females the greatest percentage increase was for uterine and kidney cancers.
Most common cause of cancer death
The report highlights that lung cancer was the most common cause of cancer death between 2006-2010, with an average of 887 people dying from the disease in each of those years, out of a total of 1,030 cases diagnosed per year.
For breast cancer during the same time period, there was an average of 1,155 breast cancers diagnosed each year, with an average of 301 people dying. Survival from breast cancer is rated very good, with 94.9 per cent of women diagnosed in 2001-2005 surviving one year, and five-year relative survival for female patients standing at 81.3 per cent.
Speaking about the report, Dr Anna Gavin, Director of Queen’s University’s Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, said: “This report lets us see that cancer is no longer a death sentence for everyone who receives a diagnosis. There are many people in Northern Ireland with cancer who live their normal lifespan. Importantly the information in this report will help those working to improve services for those living with cancer.
“The increases in cancer prevalence can be attributed to several factors, including an increasing numbers of cancers diagnosed as the population ages, the increasing rise in lifestyle-related risk factors including obesity, and also changes in diagnostic procedures for example the rise in diagnosis of prostate cancer due to PSA testing. In addition, improvements in survival related to treatment advances and screening and also reductions in the number of deaths from other diseases such as heart disease have also contributed to the increase in the number of cancer survivors.”
Heather Monteverde, general manager of NI Macmillan Cancer Support said: ““Cancer remains a major public health issue in Northern Ireland but the cancer story is changing. It used to be the case that either people were cured of their cancer or they died, often very quickly. With the number of cancer survivors increasing, we now know that many people need more support after treatment to meet their ongoing needs and to live with cancer as a long term illness.”
A report on the care of ovarian and cervical cancer patients diagnosed in Northern Ireland 2010, with comparisons to 1996 and 2001 will also be launched by Queen’s Northern Ireland Cancer Registry today. This highlights late diagnosis as a problem with ovarian cancer and poor uptake of cervical screening as a risk factor for cervical cancer, a preventable disease, young women are also encouraged to take up the offer of the cervical cancer vaccine against HPV.
The report on ovarian cancer, funded by Guidelines and Audit Implementation Network (GAIN) and the Public Health Agency (PHA) it will allow Northern Ireland to provide local data for the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership which includes eleven other countries examining reasons for cancer survival differences.
Both reports are available online ‘Living with and Beyond Cancer: A report on cancer prevalence in Northern Ireland 2010’ is available from http://go.qub.ac.uk/h2bbc while ‘Care of ovarian and cervical cancer patients diagnosed in Northern Ireland 2010’ is available from http://go.qub.ac.uk/j2bbc
The School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences has been awarded the prestigious Athena SWAN Silver award in recognition of its outstanding progress in promoting gender equality and addressing the unequal representation of women in science.
The Athena SWAN Charter was introduced in 2005 to advance the representation of women in science, engineering and technology and to address gender inequalities and improve career progression for female academics. The Athena SWAN awards recognise and celebrate good practice in recruiting, retaining and promoting women.
More information on the Athena SWAN Charter can be found at http://www.athenaswan.org.uk/
The latest issues of the School Newslatter and the School Corporate Brochure are now available online at the links below.
Corporate Brochure: http://www.med.qub.ac.uk/newsletter/MDBS-CorpBrochure-Apr13.pdf
Overweight and obese women are more likely to require specialist medical care during their pregnancy due to the increased risk of adverse neonatal and maternal outcomes, according to a new study carried out by a team from Queen’s University Belfast and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.
Published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, the study, found that maternal obesity has significant health implications contributing to increased morbidity and mortality for both mother and baby.
This study categorised women according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) body mass index (BMI) classifications. The categories included women who were underweight (BMI <18.5), normal weight (BMI 18.5-24.9), overweight (BMI 25-39), and three obese sub-categories including obese class I (BMI 30-34.9), obese class II (BMI 35-39.9) and obese class III (BMI >40). It looked at the impact of BMI on maternal and neonatal outcomes in 30,298 singleton pregnancies, from a referral unit in Northern Ireland, in the UK over an 8 year period (2004-2011). Within this cohort, 2.8 per cent of women were categorised as underweight, 52.5 per cent normal weight, 27.8 per cent overweight, 11 per cent obese class I, 3.9 per cent obese class II and 1.9 per cent obese class III.
Results showed that, when compared to normal weight women, women in the overweight and obese class I category had an increased risk of hypertensive disorders, gestational diabetes, induction of labour, caesarean section, post-partum haemorrhage and macrosomia (large birthweight baby), with all risks significantly increasing for obese class II and III women.
The study found that women in obese class III were four times more likely to develop gestational diabetes compared to normal weight women. Women in obese class III were identified to be at the most risk of additional adverse outcomes including having a preterm delivery, a newborn requiring neonatal admission, and stillbirth, which was three times more likely among these women.
In overweight and obese women there was also an increased likelihood of postnatal problems, such as unsuccessful breastfeeding, which has also been shown to increase the risk for long-term health implications for both mother and baby in relation to obesity.
Conversely, underweight women were at an increased risk of anaemia and were more likely to have a low birthweight baby, when compare to normal weight women.
Dr Valerie Holmes from the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast, and co-author of the study said: “This large-scale study clearly demonstrates that being overweight or obese during pregnancy increases the risk of adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes.
“By having obesity in sub-classifications, we were able to highlight the relationship between increasing BMI and the increasing risk of adverse outcomes, with women most at risk in obese class III requiring specialist medical care during pregnancy.”
Dr Dale Spence from the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s University Belfast, and co-author of the study highlighted: “We found that the majority of overweight women fall into the overweight or obese class I categories and while they are still at an increased risk of gestational diabetes and hypertensive disorders in pregnancy, they may not be offered the same level of specialist care under current guidelines.”
Mike March, BJOG Deputy-Editor-in-Chief, added: “We know that maternal obesity has significant health implications including an increased risk of developing pregnancy-related disorders, poorer labour outcomes and adverse neonatal health. This study further shows the relationship between obesity and these adverse outcomes by linking rising BMI with the likelihood of adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes associated with pregnancy. Further research is needed to optimise management for overweight and obese women during pregnancy.”
A Queen's University medical student has won a UK-wide surgical skills competition run by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd).
Third-year student Jamie Clements, from Lisburn, was crowned the winner of the Student Surgical Skills Competition after competing against 19 other finalists from across the UK at the Grand Final in Edinburgh.
The 21 year old, who studies at Queen's School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, demonstrated exceptional skills in surgical techniques such as knee arthroscopy, anatomy, cross infection control and laparoscopy.
Sponsored by Johnson and Johnson Medical Companies, Jamie's prize is a two-day trip to their European Surgical Training Institute in Hamburg where he will get the opportunity to undertake further practical hands-on surgical skills training, as well as shadow and interact with delegates in a tailored programme designed specifically for him.
Jamie said: "I feel ecstatic and surprised to win. There were some new and difficult skills being tested at the Final that I had never experienced before, but I suppose everyone was in the same boat. I'm just overwhelmed that I won.
"The arthroscopy was the first station of the morning – I knew what arthroscopy was, but to actually get to do it was a great experience. I found the anatomy station very challenging - I’m very used to spot tests - in that you get a specimen and you tell them what it is - but when you have a consultant surgeon asking you what it is, it's a very different experience.
"I can't wait to go to the Johnson and Johnson Surgical Training Institute in Hamburg. The experience and training I will gain from such an opportunity is inestimable and an experience that not many people get. In terms of future career and building up my portfolio and CV, I'm certainly heading in the right direction for a career in surgery.
"I'm quite overcome by the amount of opportunities that are now available to me through this competition and affiliating with RCSEd. If I had known from the off what doors can be opened by becoming an Affiliate of RCSEd, I would have tried to become an affiliate of RCSEd earlier in my medical training.
"My thanks to the RCSEd Outreach Team and all those involved in organising the competition.
"It has been great to meet other medical students and share experiences of other medical courses at other universities. I've learnt so much from the experience which I will take back to Belfast with me. It has been amazing."
Professor Pascal McKeown is Director of the Centre for Medical Education at Queen's, which oversees the delivery of a world-class training system for future doctors. He said: "Jamie's success is testament to his hard work and aptitude for surgical skills, and also to the quality of teaching and clinical skills experience offered to medical students at Queen's. Our approach combines classroom-based learning with clinical teaching across all medical and surgical disciplines in teaching hospitals and general practices across Northern Ireland and at our purpose-built Clinical Skills Education Centre. I congratulate Jamie on his achievement and wish him well for the remainder of his studies at Queen's and for a promising career in medicine."
Explaining more about the competition, the President of The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Mr Ian Ritchie said: "The RCSEd Student Surgical Skills Competition is a magnificent opportunity for medical students to join us at the College to showcase their surgical skills and gain valuable surgical experience they would not necessarily have received at medical school. It was fantastic to witness this generation of medical students' vibrant enthusiasm for surgery.
"Jamie stood out by showing flair and dexterity when he undertook the surgical challenges set for him. I am confident - should he so choose – that he will have a promising career as surgeon. All the finalists of the competition were outstanding, and now that they are Affiliates with The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, we look forward to guiding and supporting these aspiring doctors, where we can, on their journey towards a rewarding career in surgery."
Mark Thomas, Director of Professional Education, Johnson & Johnson Medical Limited said: "Johnson and Johnson Medical Companies is delighted to partner with The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh for the 2012/2013 Surgical Skills Competition. We believe this unique event provides valuable practical experience to support the early skill development of the aspiring surgeons of tomorrow. Many congratulations to all the students who competed in the Grand Final. We look forward to welcoming the winner, Jamie Clements, to our European Surgical Institute in Hamburg to participate in a tailored surgical skills educational programme which we believe will be an inspirational learning experience in preparation for their future surgical career."
Queen’s University today announced that it has appointed O’Hare & McGovern as the main contractor for its £32M Centre for Experimental Medicine (CEM).
At the peak of construction the building of the Centre will support 400 jobs in the sector, including O’Hare & McGovern staff and other construction-related jobs. Work begins on site this week and is due for completion in spring 2015.
More than 110 new jobs will also be created for scientists and allied professions when the Centre opens.
The new CEM is being built on Queen’s Institute of Health Sciences campus on Jubilee Road, Belfast, where a number of dedicated, high quality research centres focused on cancer, infectious disease, public health and population genetics are already based.
The facility, which will have an internal area of 9,000m², will provide accommodation for some 330 members of staff specialising in research into finding cures for eye disease and diabetes, and the development of a global programme to aid understanding of the genetics of complex chronic diseases. The work of the Centre is a focus of Queen’s ambitious £140M Beyond fundraising campaign which will provide philanthropic funding to support research of global significance and importance.
The four storey building will be co-located with the existing Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology to encourage joint working and discovery between researchers.
Speaking at the announcement, Gary Jebb, Queen’s Director of Estates, said: “O’Hare & McGovern is one of Northern Ireland’s leading construction firms, and as such, Queen’s is delighted to appoint it as lead contractor for our new Centre for Experimental Medicine. In the last year, the University has invested over £35M in building projects, creating over 700 construction-related jobs in the local economy, and we are proud that today’s announcement reinforces Queen’s continuing commitment to supporting the Northern Ireland economy and especially the local construction sector.”
Eamon O’Hare, Managing Director of O’Hare & McGovern, said: “The construction industry is currently a very difficult sector to be operating in. We are delighted to have been awarded this contract to continue our longstanding relationship with Queen’s. The new centre will offer world class facilities for the University with exceptional design, construction and engineering. This announcement will help to secure jobs and offers an impetus to the local construction industry.”
Professor Patrick Johnston, Dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences added: “This new Centre will be a key driver for change in a range of health and biotechnology activities in Northern Ireland and further afield. Today’s announcement that construction is due to begin is good news for everyone in Northern Ireland as we can all look forward to benefitting from improved diagnosis and treatments of debilitating diseases."
Other companies who will be working on the CEM build as part of the design team include: Ostick and Williams, Belfast, and Ashen and Allen, London (Architect and Lead Consultant); WYG, Belfast (Mechanical and Electrical Engineer); Albert Fry Associates, Belfast (Civil and Structural Engineer); Turner and Townsend, Belfast (Quantity Surveyor); Faithful and Gould, Belfast (CDMC Co-ordinator); and Delap and Waller, Antrim (BREEAM Assessor).
The CEM is being funded through a series of grants and philanthropic donations from the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF), The Atlantic Philanthropies, The Wellcome Trust, The Wolfson Foundation, The Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust, Insight Trust for the Visually Impaired and The Queen’s University of Belfast Foundation.
Health workers and patients across Northern Ireland are to benefit from a new initiative at Queen’s University which better prepares trainee doctors to safely move patients.
In addition to the risk to patients from incorrect handling, back injuries suffered by healthcare workers are estimated to cost the NHS around £400 million and account for 40 per cent of staff absences every year.
Now a third year Medical student at Queen’s, Matthew Anderson, under the direction of Dr Nigel Hart from Queen’s Centre for Medical Education, has developed an innovative, interactive e-learning package to train fellow students how to minimise the risk of injury when moving or handling patients.
Developed in collaboration with physiotherapists and nurses from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, the package uses text, image and video to demonstrate the correct techniques for moving and handling patients, as well as interactive questions to test the student. There are also personal accounts from people who have suffered lifting and handling injuries and the devastating impact this has had on their lives.
Dr Nigel Hart said: “This package delivers a complete message for all healthcare professionals to ensure a consistent approach to training. Previously training was delivered in a more piecemeal fashion through the various clinical attachments. Moving and handling has probably been under-prioritised in the medical curricula across the UK, evidenced by the specific inclusion of it as an item to be covered in the most recent version of the General Medical Council’s document Tomorrow’s Doctors.”
More than one third of NHS staff absences lasting over three days are caused by moving and handling injuries, resulting in significant costs to the health service through lost work days and, in some cases, early retirement due to ill health.
Director of Queen’s Centre for Medical Education in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, Professor Pascal McKeown, said: “Training is essential to reduce the risk to both patients and staff. While it may not be the most glamorous of clinical skills, patient moving and handling is an essential component of high quality healthcare. This multimedia training package is a valuable resource for our Medical students. We hope to share it with colleagues across the health professions and with other Medical schools in the UK.
“E-learning is an important aspect of the medical curriculum at Queen’s, complementing traditional approaches to teaching and enhancing the learning experience for students. While patient handling has been successfully taught through traditional lectures for many years, this online resource provides a more reliable, verifiable and easily managed way to deliver this training to large numbers of students.”
Matthew Anderson, who is originally from Randalstown but now lives in South Belfast, led the project during a summer studentship at the Centre for Medical Education. Earlier this week, Matthew presented the project to some of the leading figures in the education of healthcare professionals at the Irish Network of Medical Educators annual meeting in Dublin.
Matthew said: “The back is one of the most likely places for an injury to occur through poor manual handling, so it is important to know how the spine works, the injuries that can occur, and how posture and biomechanics can have an effect on your spine.
“The online training has already been well received among Queen’s medical students and I hope it will be a valuable resource to those across the healthcare professions who assist patients with movement on a daily basis.
“The project gave me a valuable insight into the benefits of e-learning as a medical education tool, and I hope to develop this project further through another summer studentship later this year.”
The Centre for Medical Education at Queen’s oversees the delivery of a world-class training system for future doctors. The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust is now a Queen’s Hospital Campus and seven hospitals through Northern Ireland enjoy Queen’s Teaching Hospital status. For more information visit www.qub.ac.uk/schools/mdbs/medicine .
A study by Queen’s University Belfast has found that the dispensing of psychotropic drugs to older people in Northern Ireland increases on entry to care homes.
According to the study, due to be published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, antipsychotic drug dispensing in older people more than doubled from 8.2 per cent before entry to care homes to 18.6 per cent after entering care.
The study was carried out by researchers from Queen’s Centre for Public Health in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences. It analysed prescribing data for over 250,000 people, aged 65 years and over living in Northern Ireland from 2008 to 2010, and looked at drug uptake within the older population during the transition from community to care.
The study revealed that psychotropic drug use was higher in care homes than the community, with 20.3 per cent of those in care homes dispensed an antipsychotic in January 2009, compared with 1.1 per cent of those in the community.
Lead researcher on the Queen’s study, Aideen Maguire, who is based in the Centre of Excellence for Public Health Northern Ireland said: “Although drug dispensing is high in older people in the community, we have found that it increases dramatically on entry to care. This study showed that the high uptake of psychotropic drugs observed in care homes in Northern Ireland cannot be explained by a continuation of drug use initiated in the community prior to entering care.
“With an ageing population globally it is important that we look at the reasons behind this type of increase following admission to care. Antipsychotic uptake in Northern Ireland is similar to that in the rest of the UK and Ireland, and this study highlights the need for routine medicines reviews especially during the transition into care.”
Other key findings of the study included:
Professor Carmel Hughes from the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s added: “This is an important study of national and international relevance, as with an ageing population, quality of care for older people is an ongoing public health concern.
“The number of older people entering care across Ireland is predicted to increase in the next 10 years, and studies further predict a 69 per cent increase in the Irish population aged over 65 years from 2006-2021, and a 40 per cent increase in the those aged over 65 years in Northern Ireland in the same time frame. With a globally ageing population, it is vitally important that we look at the reasons behind the increase in the prescription of psychotropic drugs in care homes.”
For further information on the Centre for Public Health and Centre of Excellence for Public Health Northern Ireland is available online at http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentreforPublicHealth/
Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast are hoping to develop a novel approach that could save the sight of millions of diabetes sufferers using adult stem cells.
Currently millions of diabetics worldwide are at risk of sight loss due to a condition called Diabetic Retinopathy. This is when high blood sugar causes the blood vessels in the eye to become blocked or to leak. Failed blood flow harms the retina and leads to vision impairment and if left untreated can lead to blindness.
The novel REDDSTAR study (Repair of Diabetic Damage by Stromal Cell Administration) involving researchers from Queen’s Centre for Vision and Vascular Science in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, will see them isolating stem cells from donors, expanding them in a laboratory setting and re-delivering them to a patient where they help to repair the blood vessels in the eye. This is especially relevant to patients with diabetes were the vessels of the retina become damaged.
At present there are very few treatments available to control the progression of diabetic complications. There are no treatments which will improve glucose levels and simultaneously treat the diabetic complication.
The €6 million EU funded research is being carried out with NUI Galway and brings together experts from Northern Ireland, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Portugal and the US.
Professor Alan Stitt, Director of the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science in Queen’s and lead scientist for the project said: “The Queen’s component of the REDDSTAR study involves investigating the potential of a unique stem cell population to promote repair of damaged blood vessels in the retina during diabetes. The impact could be profound for patients, because regeneration of damaged retina could prevent progression of diabetic retinopathy and reduce the risk of vision loss.
“Currently available treatments for diabetic retinopathy are not always satisfactory. They focus on end-stages of the disease, carry many side effects and fail to address the root causes of the condition. A novel, alternative therapeutic approach is to harness adult stem cells to promote regeneration of the damaged retinal blood vessels and thereby prevent and/or reverse retinopathy.”
“This new research project is one of several regenerative medicine approaches ongoing in the centre. The approach is quite simple: we plan to isolate a very defined population of stem cells and then deliver them to sites in the body that have been damaged by diabetes. In the case of some patients with diabetes, they may gain enormous benefit from stem cell-mediated repair of damaged blood vessels in their retina. This is the first step towards an exciting new therapy in an area where it is desperately needed.”
The research focuses on specific adult stem-cells derived from bone-marrow. Which are being provided by Orbsen Therapeutics, a spin-out from the Science Foundation Ireland-funded Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI) at NUI Galway.
The project will develop ways to grow the bone-marrow-derived stem cells. They will be tested in several preclinical models of diabetic complications at centres in Belfast, Galway, Munich, Berlin and Porto before human trials take place in Denmark.
Queen’s Centre for Vision and Vascular Science is a key focus of the University’s ambitious £140m ‘together we can go Beyond’ fundraising campaign. It is due to expand its Vision Sciences programme further when the University’s new £32m Wellcome-Wolfson Centre for Experimental Medicine opens in 2015. Along with vision, two new programmes in Diabetes and Genomics will also be established in the new Centre which is set to stimulate additional investment, lead to further global collaborations and create more opportunities for new health and biotech companies in Northern Ireland.
Further information on the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science at Queen’s is available at http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentreforVisionandVascularScience/
Over 8,300 new cases of cancer (4,250 in men and 4,100 in women) were diagnosed on average each year in Northern Ireland between 2007 and 2011, according to the latest statistical release from Queen's Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, Cancer Incidence and Survival Statistics for Northern Ireland 2007-2011.
These statistics reveal that the latest figures are up almost a third from an average of 6,300 cases per year between 1993 and 1997. In addition, there were on average 3,050 cases per year of non-melanoma skin cancer.
According to Dr Anna Gavin, Director of Queen's Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, an ageing population is the main reason for the increase, with the risk for most types of cancer being greater in older people.
Speaking about the latest figures, she said: “In another study just last week we revealed that only 11 per cent of those surveyed in Northern Ireland were aware that cancer risk is generally much higher among older people. We all need to do what we can to raise awareness of this increased risk by talking to our older friends and family members and encouraging them to go to their GPs when they first become notice anything out of the ordinary. ”
Dr Gavin also revealed that five-year survival rates have improved by almost ten per cent. She added: “Between 2002 and 2006 51 per cent of patients diagnosed survived five years or more, compared with 41.6 per cent of patients diagnosed between 1993-1996.”
The statistics also reveal that cancer levels are different in different social groups. A large proportion of the difference is due to lung cancers and caused by smoking. Lung cancer rates were almost three times higher in deprived areas – 80 out of 100,000, as opposed to 30 out of 100,000 in non-deprived areas.
Dr Gavin said, “Lung cancer is a preventable disease if tobacco use was reduced. The release has shown a fall in numbers among men but not among women”
“If the lung cancer incidence rates of the most deprived areas were the same as in the least deprived, there would be 180 fewer cases of lung cancer in women and 220 fewer cases in men diagnosed each year.”
Other key findings included in the release are as follows:
The full release is available online at: http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/nicr/CancerData/
According to a study involving academics at Queen's University Belfast over a third of people surveyed in Northern Ireland (34 per cent), do not present to their doctor immediately on noticing a cancer symptom because they are worried about wasting the doctor’s time.
The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer this week, was carried out by the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership (ICBP), which examined differences in cancer awareness and beliefs between Northern Ireland, England, Wales, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
Along with their international colleagues, researchers from Queen's Northern Ireland Cancer Registry in the University's Centre for Public Health wanted to find out whether survival rates for a country might be influenced by the population’s cancer awareness and beliefs.
The study reveals that almost a fifth of people in Northern Ireland (18 per cent) reported embarrassment as a barrier to going to see the doctor upon noticing a cancer symptom. This was significantly higher than in all other jurisdictions surveyed, with as few as six per cent reporting embarrassment as a factor in Denmark.
A higher proportion of people in Northern Ireland (30 per cent) also stated they were worried about what the doctor might find, compared to 20 per cent in Norway. Only 11 per cent of those surveyed in Northern Ireland were aware that cancer risk is generally much higher among older people in comparison with Australia, 16 per cent; Denmark, 25 per cent; Norway, 29 per cent and Sweden, 38 per cent.
Speaking about the importance of the study’s findings, Dr Anna Gavin, Director of Queen's Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, said: “The good news for Northern Ireland is that overall, the study reported a high level of general knowledge regarding many symptoms and signs of cancer among people living here, with Northern Ireland participants recognising 8.53 out of a possible 11 symptoms for cancer, with only Canada doing better than us.
“What is of concern, however, is that while 90 per cent of people in Northern Ireland agreed that ‘cancer can often be cured’, only 70 per cent disagreed with the statement ‘a diagnosis of cancer is a death sentence.’ This is important because there is evidence to suggest negative attitudes can be linked to delayed presentation.
“Further work is required to understand and address barriers to people presenting with symptoms which could be caused by cancer. We need to raise awareness of cancer as a curable disease and of its higher levels in older people.”
Researchers also revealed that in Northern Ireland there is lower awareness of symptoms such as unexplained persistent pain, coughs, hoarseness, tiredness, sores that do not heal and night sweats, and that those groups with lower symptom knowledge included men, the very elderly and those with primary level education only.
The study was carried out in partnership with Cancer Research UK, Ipsos MORI, and in Northern Ireland, the Public Health Agency, and the team surveyed 19,079 men and women aged 50 including 6,965 in the UK of which 2307 were in Northern Ireland.
The opening of a new cancer facility at Queen’s University Belfast today (Wednesday, 9 January), the first integrated laboratory of its kind in the UK and Ireland, is to revolutionise cancer research and diagnosis for thousands of patients across Northern Ireland.
The new facility is a partnership between Queen’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.
The opening of the Northern Ireland Molecular Pathology Lab (NI-MPL) and Northern Ireland Biobank (NIB), means oncologists are now better placed to decide on the best treatment for their patients thanks to improved diagnoses.
The improved diagnoses are as a result of solid tumour samples being examined at a molecular level. This new level of testing helps oncologists tailor individual treatments to individual patients, offering a new era of personalised medicine in Northern Ireland. It will also advance meaningful research in new cancer diagnostics and new cancer treatments.
Professor Manuel Salto-Tellez, Professor of Molecular Pathology at Queen’s and Clinical Consultant Pathologist, BHSCT said: “Each cancer is unique in its genetic make-up. Testing at the molecular level allows us to identify changes in the cancer’s genome that are associated with better outcomes, and better lives, for the patients who suffer from certain types of cancer.
“Our distinctive combination of molecular diagnostics and research under the one roof, supported by the Biobank, makes this facility unique in these islands. We are now routinely delivering a number of diagnostic tests for the patient and along with our colleagues in the Belfast Trust, and across Northern Ireland, we are taking yet more significant steps on the journey, started by our oncologists years ago, which has seen us make significant improvements in cancer survival over the last 15 years.”
Explaining the difference the new facility will make to patients, Professor Joe O’Sullivan, Professor of Radiation Oncology, said: “This new Molecular Pathology facility at Queen’s will improve outcomes for patients by providing more detailed information to doctors about a particular cancer and facilitating the delivery of more individualised cancer treatment.”
Colm Donaghy, Chief Executive, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust said: “Already, over 1,000 patients in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust have had their tumours analysed by the new laboratory. The diagnostic activity of the laboratory is under the direct governance of the Trust, making sure that it meets the highest standards of quality in healthcare. Once fully operational, several thousand people with cancer of the colon, breast, lung and skin, among others, will benefit each year from the new facility. Together with Queen’s we are developing new models that may define the way medicine will be delivered in the future.”
Queen’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Peter Gregson added: “The opening of this facility is yet another important illustration of how the research programme within Queen’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology is benefiting patient care in Northern Ireland. Along with our partners in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Queen’s is committed to ensuring that the advances made in our laboratories can continue to revolutionise patient care and bring new hope to people everywhere.”
An important new aspect of the MPL is the creation of the Northern Ireland Biobank (NIB).
The NIB provides researchers with the ability to access human tissue and blood samples for their research within a firmly regulated framework. This means that researchers can access tissue samples and progress their work at an increased pace, sharing their knowledge with colleagues across the globe.
Dr Jackie James, Scientific Director of the NIB, Senior Lecturer in Pathology and Consultant in the BHSCT, explained how it will benefit researchers at home and around the world. She said: “To carry out research that is meaningful, good quality clinical material with good quality clinical and pathological information is essential. The NIB provides all of this within a timely and strict ethical framework.”
Professor Bernie Hannigan, Director of Health and Social Care Research and Development (HSC R&D), a division of the Public Health Agency (PHA), who helped fund the NIB, said: “The Northern Ireland Biobank is evidence of the important contribution that HSC R&D funding makes to current and future research and patient care both in Belfast and across Northern Ireland. We are delighted to support this facility as it is vital that the services patients receive are underpinned by world-class research. In addition, we are committed to the future expansion of the Biobank so that patients with illnesses other than cancer can also benefit from its innovative services.”
Professor Nic Jones, Cancer Research UK’s chief scientist, said: “This unique resource provides an example to the world by bringing together scientists, doctors and patients to make targeted treatments available sooner for cancer patients in Northern Ireland.
“Cancer Research UK is proud to support a team of scientists who have expertise in using this essential tissue resource to understand how to classify patients into groups so that they can receive the most effective treatment targeted to the faults in their DNA, and avoid unnecessary treatment with difficult side effects. We believe that nurturing world-class research in Northern Ireland will accelerate progress in research leading to increased survival from the disease.”
Charity Friends of the Cancer Centre supported the setting up of the Management Information System within the Northern Ireland Biobank. It’s Director Colleen Shaw, said: “Friends of the Cancer Centre are delighted to support the Northern Ireland Biobank by supporting the setting up of the Management Information System (MIS). The MIS will be instrumental in supporting tissue collections for new and innovative cancer research in Northern Ireland, benefitting both the NI clinical cancer research community and future cancer patients. The charity is also committed to the future expansion of the Biobank.”
Further information on Queen’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology in which the new facilities are based is available at www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentreforCancerResearchCellBiology/
Congratulations to two members of School staff who have been named in the Queen's New Year Honours list.
Professor Stuart Elborn, Director of the Centre for Infection and Immunity, has been awarded the CBE for services to
Healthcare in Northern Ireland.
Andree Best in the Centre for Medical Education has also been awarded an MBE for voluntary services to Young People
in Ulster though Girl Guiding.
New research from Queen’s University Belfast has uncovered the cause of infertility for 80 per cent of couples previously diagnosed with ‘unexplained infertility’.
At present some 50,000 couples require fertility treatment across the UK each year, with the figure reaching one million worldwide. Up to one third of these couples are diagnosed with unexplained or idiopathic infertility. This means that, using current tests, neither partner has been diagnosed with any detectable problem.
Published in Reproductive Biomedicine Online, and carried out by Professor Sheena Lewis from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s, the new research reveals 80 per cent of couples with unexplained or idiopathic infertility in the large study of 239 couples have a detectable cause known as high sperm DNA damage.
The new study is the first of its kind and will lead to better treatment for these couples, saving them time, money and heartache.
Explaining the research, Professor Lewis said: “The majority of couples experiencing problems with fertility are able to receive an explanation for their infertility. These causes range from low sperm count, poor sperm motility in the man to blocked fallopian tubes or endometriosis in the woman. Once the causes for infertility have been established the appropriate course of assisted conception treatment can be undertaken.
“For almost one third of couples, until now, there has been no obvious cause for infertility and these couples are given the diagnosis of ‘unexplained fertility’. These couples often invest a lot of time and money in fertility treatments like intrauterine insemination (IUI) unlikely to be successful. In our study we have now had a breakthrough which explains the cause of infertility for many of those couples. Now that we have found the cause of infertility for these couples suitable treatments can be tailored for them which will direct them straight to the best treatment and increase their chances of having a baby.”
The study also has a second major finding. It is the first study to show that the chances of having a baby after IVF is closely related to the amount of DNA damage a man has in each of his sperm. A little damage is normal (under 15 per cent per sperm), as is seen in the sperm of fertile men. But if the damage reaches clinically important levels (high sperm DNA damage more than 25 per cent per sperm) it will reduce the couples’ chances of a family, even with some forms of fertility treatment. These findings are the latest in a series of studies performed by the internationally recognised male fertility research team based at Queen’s Centre for Public Health involving over 500 couples.
The research was carried out using a unique test for male fertility called the SpermComet™. Professor Lewis said: “We at Queen’s have developed the SpermComet™, which is a unique test for male infertility that measures damaged DNA in individual sperm – providing all couples with specific information about the causes and extent of their infertility. This test can predict the success of infertility treatments and fast-track couples to the treatment most likely to succeed, leading to reduced waiting times and improved chances of success.
“With one million couples worldwide requiring fertility treatment, these new research findings will give many fresh hope of having a family.”
Professor Lewis, in partnership with Queen’s venture spinout arm, QUBIS, has now set up a company called Lewis Fertility Testing Ltd which is already marketing the test. For more information visit www.lewisfertilitytesting.com
Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast are aiming to help counteract the threat of bioterrorism by undertaking new research to develop a vaccine against anthrax.
Dr Rebecca Ingram from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s is working with scientists from Cardiff University, the Republic of Georgia, Turkey and the USA in a €255,000 NATO funded project to tackle the potential misuse of anthrax. The research project is expected to take three years to complete.
Dr Ingram is based in Queen’s Centre for Infection and Immunity which, last year, developed the first ever drug to treat the ‘Celtic Gene’ in Cystic Fibrosis sufferers. Speaking about the research, she said: “Currently the majority of the world’s population is susceptible to infection with Bacillus anthracis the bacterium which causes anthrax. The US postal attacks in 2001 highlighted the vulnerability of civilian populations and brought home the need to develop effective, rapid, robust medical countermeasures to combat the threat posed by terrorist use of this organism.
“We at Queen’s will be working with lead investigator Professor Les Baillie from Cardiff University and colleagues in the US, Turkey and Georgia to develop effective vaccines to tackle the problem.
“Within the study we will be testing the antibodies and immune cells from the blood of people who have been exposed to anthrax. Either people known to have been previously infected who live in endemic regions of Turkey and Georgia, or people who have been vaccinated with the licensed UK, US or Georgian vaccines. This research will allow identification of key protective targets for the immune system on the bacteria helping to underpin the development of future vaccines capable of conferring broad-spectrum, rapid, robust protection following minimal dosing.”
Professor Les Baillie from Cardiff University and who leads the multi-national research collaboration said: “It is the growing concern over the threat posed by bioterrorism that has prompted world authorities like NATO through its Science for Peace and Security Programme to support efforts to develop more effective vaccines and medical countermeasures.
“Such vaccines would impact on two levels, locally they would directly improve the lives of workers at risk of contracting anthrax such as farmers in Georgia and Turkey, and globally they would contribute to the protection of citizens from the use of anthrax as an agent of bio-terrorism.”
An additional benefit of this work will be the establishment of a vaccine research centre in Georgia. Scientists from the research institute in Georgia will spend a period of time training at Queen’s in order to learn the cellular immunology techniques required in this project. This capacity building will support infectious disease research and ultimately improve the lives of all of the people in the region.
Queen’s University today announced that it had secured £32 million to establish a world-leading Centre for Experimental Medicine, a Centre which will help transform health care in Northern Ireland and beyond.
The new Centre will specialise in scientific research into finding cures for eye disease, diabetes and developing a global programme into understanding the genetics of complex chronic diseases.
Thanking those funders who have made the Centre possible Queen’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Peter Gregson said: “Queen’s University is well advanced in creating an internationally recognised Institute of Health Sciences that will become a global leader in medical research and education. This will be further enhanced through the creation of the Centre for Experimental Medicine, a Centre that will transform healthcare in Northern Ireland and beyond. This exciting new development has been made possible through generous philanthropic support with leveraged investment through the UK Research Partnership Infrastructure Fund. The philanthropic support has included £15 million from The Atlantic Philanthropies, the largest gift that Queen’s has ever received.
“Queen’s is celebrating this announcement today, but so too should the citizens of Northern Ireland as they will be the real winners from improved diagnosis and treatments of debilitating diseases."
Commenting on the importance of this new initiative Queen’s Dean of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences Professor Patrick Johnston said: “As a key driver for change and future development Queen’s has established an Institute of Health Sciences made up of a number of dedicated, high quality Research Centres focussed on Cancer, Infectious Disease, Public Health and Population Genetics. We have created the critical mass to deliver cutting edge research, improvements in the quality of life and health care, a deeper understanding of disease, leading to the creation of new therapies, and new diagnostic approaches.
“The Centre for Experimental Medicine will allow the expansion of the Vision Sciences programme and the establishment of two new programmes in Diabetes and Genomics. It will also stimulate additional investment, lead to further global collaborations and create more opportunities for new health and biotech companies. Five new bio-tech companies, employing more than 200 people in Northern Ireland, have already been set-up by investigators within the Institute of Health Sciences at Queen’s.
“To achieve this vision over £90 million has already been invested with a further £85 million expenditure anticipated over the next five years in academic leadership, research, buildings, equipment and facilities.
“Today’s announcement will take us further along this journey and help provide a synergy between clinicians and scientists ensuring that laboratory discoveries translate into advances in patient diagnosis and treatment.”
The Centre is being funded through a series of grants and philanthropic donations from the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF), The Atlantic Philanthropies, The Wellcome Trust, The Wolfson Foundation, The Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust, Insight Trust for the Visually Impaired and The Queen’s University of Belfast Foundation.
The new Centre will build on established research quality in vision science by bringing it alongside new programmes in diabetes and genomics and will be open in 2016.
David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said: "It is fantastic that our top businesses and top charities are queuing up to collaborate with our world-class universities. They want to work together to deliver innovation, commercialisation and growth, which will help make sure the UK competes and thrives in the global race.
"This excellent project between Queen's University Belfast and its co-investors will tackle the key issues we face."
A Queen’s medical student will represent Northern Ireland in a UK-wide Student Surgical Skills Competition, after winning the Northern Ireland regional heat of the contest.
Jamie Clements from Lisburn made it through to the final of the nationwide Surgical Skills Competition after competing against 15 fellow students from Queen’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Science at the regional heat of the competition, by demonstrating a range of surgical skills, from suturing and knot-tying to anatomical tests.
Organised by The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd), the Student Surgical Skills Competition sees medical students from across the UK competing in regional heats to be in with a chance of making it through to the grand final in Edinburgh on 9 March 2013. The overall winner will win a trip to sponsors’ Johnson and Johnson Medical Companies’ European Surgical Training Institute in Hamburg later in the year.
Commenting on making it through to the grand final of the competition, Jamie said: “I was honestly surprised when I was announced as the winner of the Northern Irish heat. My colleagues showed great aptitude and capacity, so to have triumphed in such a competitive heat felt really rewarding. Now I just can’t wait to compete against the other finalists and test myself with new skills and challenges.
“I thought the heat was enjoyable, but at times quite demanding. I found myself tackling a new technique at almost every station, and the challenge of employing that technique whilst processing relatively fresh instruction proved quite difficult. It was a very new experience though and one I would recommend to any medical student with an interest in surgery.
“I think the affiliation with the RCSEd and competing in the final later in this academic year will certainly broaden my understanding of surgery as a profession, and offer me the greatest chance to develop some of the core skills required in this very competitive field of practice. The experience and training I might obtain from such an opportunity is inestimable. It is very rare for a medical student to be faced with this prospect and I intend to do my best to make it a reality.”
Explaining more about the competition, RCSEd Regional Surgical Adviser and Consultant Breast Surgeon at Belfast City Hospital, Mr Stuart McIntosh said: “The surgical skills competition gave a group of medical students a unique opportunity to hone and show off their surgical skills, and hopefully provided some insight and inspiration towards a career in surgery. It was refreshing to see the energy and enthusiasm that the group as a whole displayed.
“The standard of technical (and non-technical) skills that the students showed was high, but Jamie just edged out the other students in a close contest. I am pleased to see a worthy winner go forward from the Northern Ireland heat to the Grand Final, and I hope that Jamie goes on to do well in Edinburgh. Personally, I was delighted to see the success of the contest, as I feel that the regional heat in Northern Ireland demonstrates the commitment of the RCSEd to surgical training and education in the region.”
For Further information about the Student Surgical Skills Competition, visit www.rcsed.ac.uk.
Queen’s academics are among a team of international researchers to have discovered two genes that increase the risk of developing diabetes-associated kidney disease.
Kidney disease is a common and serious complication of diabetes and it is associated with a greatly increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Globally, diabetic kidney disease is now the leading cause of kidney failure requiring dialysis or kidney transplant, but up to now scientists and clinicians were aware that some patients developed kidney disease but not why this happened.
In the largest study of its kind, the investigators recruited 4,750 patients with diabetic kidney disease and almost 7,000 patients with long-standing diabetes but without kidney disease.
Professor Peter Maxwell of Queen’s University Centre for Public Health, one of the principal investigators on the study, commented: “Currently available drugs cannot cure the kidney failure but may slow its progression. Knowing which patients are most at risk of kidney complications will be helpful in managing their diabetes.”
Researchers analysed over two million DNA markers per person and found that changes associated with two genes (AFF3 and ERBB4) increased the risk of kidney disease. Findings were published in the journal PLoS Genetics
This ‘GENIE consortium’, led by researchers from Queen’s; University College Dublin; Harvard University and the University of Helsinki, is supported by the US-Ireland R&D Partnership with funding from the Health and Social Care R&D Division of the Public Health Agency, Science Foundation Ireland and the US National Institutes of Health.
Professor Bernie Hannigan, Director of HSC R&D congratulated the researchers on their success, saying: “This research consortium is tremendously productive. Their dedicated work will immediately benefit patient management and in the longer term can lead to new treatments with both health and economic impacts. Such international research collaboration can result in gains for all partners involved.”
Professor Catherine Godson, lead investigator of the UCD group observed: “These new research findings are very important as they help accelerate development of new and effective therapies”.
A major breakthrough by scientists at Queen’s University Belfast could lead to more effective treatments for throat and cervical cancer.
The discovery could see the development of new therapies, which would target the non-cancerous cells surrounding a tumour, as well as treating the tumour itself.
Researchers at Queen’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology have found that the non-cancerous tissue, or ‘stroma’, surrounding cancers of the throat and cervix, plays an important role in regulating the spread of cancer cells.
The discovery opens the door for the development of new treatments which, by targeting this non-cancerous tissue, could prevent it being invaded by neighbouring cancer cells.
The research, led by Professor Dennis McCance, has just been published in the European Molecular Biology Organization Journal. Professor McCance said: “Cancer spreads as the result of two-way communication between the cancer cells in a tumour and the non-cancerous cells in the surrounding tissue.
“We already know that cancer cells are intrinsically programmed to invade neighbouring healthy tissue. But the cells in the non-cancerous tissue are also programmed to send messages to the cancer cells, actively encouraging them to invade. If these messages – sent from the healthy tissue to the tumour - can be switched-off, then the spread of the cancer will be inhibited.
“What we have discovered is that a particular protein in non-cancerous tissue has the ability to either open or close the communication pathway between the healthy tissue and the tumour. When the Retinoblastoma protein (Rb) in non-cancerous tissue is activated, this leads to a decrease in factors that encourage invasion by cancer cells. And so, the cancer doesn’t spread.”
The Rb protein is found in both cancer and non-cancerous tissue. Its importance in regulating the growth of cancer cells from within tumours is already well-documented, but this is the first time scientists have identified the role of the Rb found in healthy tissue, in encouraging or discouraging the spread of cancer.
The research was conducted using three-dimensional tissue samples, grown in Professor McCance’s lab, to replicate the stroma tissue found around cancers of the throat and cervix.
Speaking about the potential implications for cancer treatment, Professor McCance continued: “Current treatments for cancer focus on targeting the tumour itself, in order to kill the cancer cells before they spread. This discovery opens the door for us to develop new treatments that would target the normal tissue surrounding a tumour, as opposed to the tumour itself. By specifically targeting pathways controlled by the Rb protein, it would be possible to switch-off the messages that encourage cancer cells to invade, and inhibit the spread of the tumour.
“Our research has focussed on cancers of the throat and cervix. But it is possible that Rb or other proteins in the healthy tissue surrounding other types of cancer, may play a similar role in regulating the spread of tumour cells. Therefore, the implications of this discovery could go far beyond throat and cervical cancer, and that is something we plan to investigate further.”
The research was funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre and the National Institutes of Health (USA), and was supported by the Northern Ireland Biobank.
The research paper, entitled ‘Inactivation of Rb in stromal fibroblasts promotes epithelial cell invasion’ can be found online at http://www.nature.com/emboj/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/emboj2012153a.html
A novel study at Queen’s University Belfast which could eventually lead to new treatments for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) has been awarded £425K by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
Currently some 100,000 people in the United Kingdom have MS which affects the ability of nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord and eye, to communicate with each other effectively.
The new study, based in Queen’s Centre for Infection and Immunity, will investigate how parts of the immune system can help repair the damage caused by MS attacks.
The project is being led by Dr Denise Fitzgerald, who herself experienced a condition similar to MS, called Transverse Myelitis when she was 21. As a result of inflammation in her spinal cord, she was paralysed in less than two hours.
Dr Fitzgerald had to learn to walk again as the damage in her spinal cord repaired itself over the following months and years. It is this natural repair process that often becomes inefficient in MS, a chronic life-long condition, and this failure of repair can lead to permanent disability.
Boosting this natural repair process in the brain and spinal cord is the next frontier in treating MS, as currently there are no drugs that are proven to do so.
Speaking about the importance of the new study, Dr Fitzgerald said: “The central goal of our research is to identify new strategies to treat MS and other inflammatory and demyelinating disorders.
“Nerve cells communicate by sending signals along nerve fibres which are contained within a fatty, insulating, protective substance, known as Myelin. In MS, Myelin is attacked and damaged (demyelination) which can lead to either faulty signalling by nerves, or death of the nerve cells. As a result, patients experience loss of nerve function in the area of the brain/spinal cord that has been damaged. This research project centres around understanding Myelination, a process of insulating the nerve fibres with Myelin, and Remyelination, a natural regenerative process that replaces damaged Myelin.
“We already know that the immune system is implicated as a potential culprit in MS, as the damage is thought to be caused by inflammation in the central nervous system (CNS; brain, spinal cord and optic nerve). But in recent years we have learned a great deal about how the immune system also supports tissue repair in the CNS.
“In particular, there is a group of immune cells called T cells which have recently been shown to support remyelination. There are different subsets of T cells, however, and little is still known about which subsets are beneficial in this process. In our study we aim to discover if these different T cell subsets influence remyelination of the CNS, and if ageing of the T cells impairs remyelination in older individuals.
“The outcomes of this study will include new knowledge of how the immune system, and T cells in particular, influence remyelination in the Central Nervous System. We will also learn a great deal about how ageing affects the ability of T cells to help tissue repair.
“Given the profound neurological impairments that can accompany ageing, and our growing aged population, is it imperative that we understand how normal CNS repair can become impaired with age.
“By understanding this process of CNS repair in detail. we will also gain an insight into other inflammatory and demyelinating disorders.”
Further information on Dr Fitzgerald’s research group within the Centre for Infection and Immunity at Queen’s University Belfast can be found online at http://go.qub.ac.uk/FitzgeraldGroup
One of the UK’s leading medical researchers has been recognised for excellence in medical science. Professor Patrick Johnston, Dean of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast has been elected to the Fellowship of the Academy of Medical Sciences.
Professor Johnston has been honoured for outstanding contributions to the advancement of medical science and, in particular, his work on cancer research and treatment of patients.
Commenting on the prestigious accolade, Professor Johnston said: “I am delighted to have been elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. It is an honour and privilege to have had my contribution to medical science, in particular my contribution to cancer research and cancer patients recognised in this way.”
Welcoming the announcement, Queen’s University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Peter Gregson said: “This is a tremendous personal accolade for one of the UK’s finest cancer researchers. Professor Johnston’s award is further recognition of the outstanding work he is doing at Queen’s University as he continues to build an internationally recognised School and Institute of Health Sciences that will have both a local and global impact.
The Academy’s Fellows are the United Kingdom’s leading medical scientists and are elected for outstanding contribution to the advancement of medical science, for innovative application of scientific knowledge or for their conspicuous service to healthcare. Professor Johnston will be formally admitted to the Academy at a ceremony in London on Wednesday 27 June 2012.
The one year results from a study into whether two drug treatments (Lucentis and Avastin), are equally effective in treating neovascular or wet age-related macular degeneration (wet AMD), have been reported today at an international research meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.* The findings will also appear online shortly in the leading journal Ophthalmology.
Wet AMD is a common cause of loss of vision in older people. In the UK, around 70 per cent of people will experience severe loss of sight within two years of being diagnosed.
For four years, a team of scientists and eye specialists from 23 hospitals and UK universities, including Queen’s University Belfast, University of Bristol, University of Liverpool, University of Southampton and University of Oxford, have worked to investigate whether Lucentis and Avastin are equally effective.
610 people with wet AMD entered a trial, known as IVAN, which is one of the largest ever carried out in the field of eye disease in the UK.
The IVAN study’s one year results show there was no functional difference in the effects of both drugs and that the effects of Lucentis and Avastin on preventing vision loss were similar.
The study also indicates that in the UK, the NHS could save £84.5 million annually, based on injecting 17,295 eyes each year, by switching from Lucentis to Avastin, and administering the treatment on an as-needed basis.
Patients received injections of the drug into the affected eye every month for the first three. Groups were then subdivided to receive either injections at every visit thereafter or only if the specialist decided there was persistent disease.
The study also investigated whether treatment as needed is as effective as monthly treatment, and revealed that giving the drugs as needed, compared to regularly every month, resulted in almost identical levels of vision. The ‘as needed’ group received on average seven injections over the first year compared to 12 for the monthly treatment group.
Professor Usha Chakravarthy of Queen’s University Belfast’s Centre for Vision and Vascular Science, who led the research study team said: “The IVAN results at the end of the first year show that Lucentis and Avastin have similar effectiveness. Regardless of the drug received, or treating monthly or as needed, sight in the affected eye improved by between one and two lines on a standard eye test.”
The one year results from the IVAN study complement the one year findings of a sister study, CATT, performed in the United States which reported last year. In addition, people in IVAN had their ability to read small print and their reading speed tested, and these tests also showed no difference between drugs or methods of treatment.
With respect to possible adverse effects of the drugs, in IVAN a slightly higher rate of arteriothromboembolic events (mainly heart attacks and strokes) or heart failure was observed among people treated with Lucentis compared with Avastin, which was not observed in CATT. When the results of the two trials were combined no difference in heart attacks or strokes was observed between the two drugs.
Both IVAN and CATT have consistently shown no difference in mortality between the groups receiving different drugs in the elderly study populations, but both found a slightly higher rate of other serious adverse events in those who received Avastin. This evidence became stronger when the results were combined.
The researchers state that the findings in relation to adverse events may not be attributed to Avastin directly due to a number of reasons, including that events were more common in patients treated less frequently, and that they arose mainly from hospitalisations for a wide variety of causes not previously associated with either drug.
The IVAN study was funded by the National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment (NIHR HTA) programme.
Belfast Health and Social Care Trust sponsored the study. Professor Ian Young, Director of Research and Development at the Trust said: “Clinical trials of this standard and breadth are of vital importance to the NHS, and our clinicians, in enabling us to provide optimal patient care. I congratulate the research team in reaching this milestone in such a challenging study.”
The IVAN study is continuing to follow participants to two years. A more detailed analysis will be presented when the two year time point is reached.
The hospitals and universities involved in the trial include: Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge; Aintree University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; Aston University Day Hospital, Birmingham; Blackburn Royal Infirmary; Blackpool Victoria Hospital; Bradford Royal Infirmary; Brighton and Sussex University Hospital; Bristol Eye Hospital; Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey; Maidstone Hospital; Manchester Royal Eye Hospital; New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton; Oxford Eye Hospital at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust; Queen Elisabeth Hospital, King’s Lynn; Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham; Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast; Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle; Southampton General Hospital; Southend Hospital; St Paul’s Eye Unit, Royal Liverpool University Hospital; Sunderland Eye Hospital; The Birmingham and Midland Eye Centre; The Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield and Torbay Hospital.
Queen’s University and NUI Galway and are leading a clinical trial to investigate the possibility that statins, a drug commonly used to combat cholesterol, might help patients with acute severe respiratory failure.
150 patients have been recruited into the trial, which is being run in collaboration with the Irish Critical Care Trials Group, across multiple intensive care units on the island of Ireland, and in England and Scotland, with a target number of 540 patients.
The research is being funded by the Health Research Board, and the Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation programme which is funded by the Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), with contributions from the CSO in Scotland, NISCHR in Wales and the HSC R&D, Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland, and is managed by the NIHR.
When people become critically ill, for various reasons including major surgery or following injury in a road traffic accident, or infections such as H1N1 influenza, their lungs often fail, which is termed ‘Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome’. This condition, which is primarily caused by the body’s immune system response to the injury, is common, can affect any age group, and is often fatal. Furthermore, even after recovery from lung injury, patients subsequently experience a poorer quality of life. Many survivors of this condition are unable to return to work or look after themselves.
“Unfortunately, to date there is no effective treatment for this lung injury”, said Professor John Laffey who is Professor of Anaesthesia at NUI Galway and Consultant Anaesthetist at Galway University Hospitals. “We are investigating if the drug simvastatin, commonly used to treat high cholesterol, is safe and effective in the treatment of this lung injury. A unique feature of this study is that it is a study generated from Irish research efforts, and is an Irish-led multi-national study, being conducted across the island of Ireland, and also in intensive care units in England and Scotland.”
Professor Laffey continued: “This study builds on a series of studies using simvastatin, including a smaller clinical trial funded by the Health and Social Care Research and Development Division, Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland and REVIVE, carried out by Professor Danny McAuley and his team in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, who are our partners in this study. These studies offer considerable hope that simvastatin might help sufferers from this devastating disease. The study may take up to five years to complete, but if simvastatin is effective, it would help save the lives of these sufferers, improving the quality of life of survivors and potentially reduce costs, by reducing time spent in intensive care units.”
The study team comprises experts in study design based at the HRB Galway Clinical Research Facility and at the Clinical Research Support Centre in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, as well as senior doctors who work in critical care units, and experts in acute lung injury.
Professor Danny McAuley, who is Professor of Intensive Care Medicine at Queen’s University Belfast and Consultant Intensivist at the Royal Victoria Hospital, explained: “We will also take blood samples to measure markers of inflammation which will allow us to determine if simvastatin can reduce the immune response which causes the lung injury. In addition, we will determine how severe the damage to the patients’ lungs is, and how fast they recover.”
People will be randomly divided into two groups; one group will be given the active drug and the other a placebo. This design means that any difference in the experience of patients will be due to whether or not they received simvastatin and not to any other difference that could influence the outcome of treatment.
Frank Giles, who is Professor of Cancer Therapeutics at NUI Galway, is also Director of the HRB Clinical Research Facility at NUI Galway, which is helping co-ordinate the clinical trial in Ireland: “Participants in this trial are helping address a vital and difficult medical problem. This study is typical of an increasing number of multi-center trials that are possible because of increasing collaboration between Ireland’s HRB-funded Clinical Research Facilities. The studies involve patients with a very broad spectrum of health challenges. The conduct of these studies, which involve our patients and their families, community health-care staff, hospitals, research institutes and industry partners, improves health care and ensures that Ireland continues to make a significant increasing contribution to global medical progress.”
Cold-like infections make ‘cough receptors’ in the airways more sensitive, making asthmatics more prone to bouts of coughing and wheezing, reveal scientists presenting their findings at the Society for General Microbiology’s Spring Conference in Dublin. The work could lead to drugs that reduce virus-induced coughing in those suffering chronic lung diseases.
Asthmatics often report bouts of coughing, wheezing and breathlessness when they have a cold and there is no current medicine that sufficiently treats this problem. Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast are investigating ‘cough receptors’ that line the cells of the airway and how these are affected by rhinovirus – a virus frequently responsible for the common cold. The team showed that rhinovirus infection caused an increase in the number of these cough receptors– making the airways more sensitive.
Dr Hani’ah Abdullah, who is working on the project, explained how these receptors, called transient receptor potential (TRP) receptors, work. “TRP receptors respond to chemical and physical stimuli in the environment such as pollutants in the air, a change in air temperature and some of the toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke. Once activated, these receptors cause the individual to cough and wheeze.” she said.
Professor Louise Cosby and Dr Lorcan McGarvey from the Centre for Infection and Immunity, Queen’s University Belfast, are jointly leading the research team of scientists and clinicians. Their group took airway cells from mild asthmatics and healthy individuals and infected them in the laboratory with rhinovirus, which is the most common virus to exacerbate symptoms of asthma. The results showed that rhinovirus infection caused an increase in the number of TRP receptors in the airway cells and that this effect was most pronounced in the mild asthmatics. “The increase in receptor numbers makes individuals more sensitive to environmental stimuli, making them more likely to suffer from prolonged bouts of coughing,” explained Dr Abdullah.
The findings of this study may lead to new drugs that reduce virus-induced cough and wheeze in asthmatics and those with other chronic lung diseases. “It’s feasible that therapies could be developed that block either the sensitivity of cough receptors or their increase in number. This would keep symptoms under control and ultimately improve the lives of asthmatics,” said Dr Abdullah.
A new research network which hopes to deliver better health benefits in Northern Ireland is being launched by Queen’s University and the Public Health Agency (PHA).
The Northern Ireland Public Health Research Network aims to tackle significant public health challenges such as rising levels of obesity, sedentary living, alcohol and substance abuse.
The new network will see scientists and public health researchers engaging more closely than ever before to improve policy and practice and contribute to better public health outcomes.
The launch of the network, which has been established by the UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health at Queen’s University, in conjunction with the PHA and the University of Ulster, will be attended by the Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride and representatives from the Public Health Intervention Research Network in Wales.
Professor Frank Kee, Director of the UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health at Queen’s University said: “At present there is no single forum in Northern Ireland to support research in public health. This Network is well placed to support new partnerships to address Northern Ireland’s priorities for public health research.
“We hope by bringing together academics involved in public health research from both universities, and interested public health professionals/practitioners across the HSC and beyond, that we will improve health outcomes in Northern Ireland through improved research, policy and practice.”
Dr Carolyn Harper, Director of Public Health, PHA, said: “The Public Health Agency is working with a wide range of professionals, universities and other interested parties to form a new Public Health Research Network in Northern Ireland. This new network will increase the quantity and quality of public health research in Northern Ireland, improve policy and practice and contribute to better public health outcomes.
“The workshop, organised by the UKCRC Northern Ireland Centre of Excellence for Public Health, based at Queen’s University, provides the opportunity to learn from similar research networks in other parts of the UK and to get people talking and working together to forge a local research network that can start to deliver benefits for all of us.”
The first audit of leukaemia treatment and survival in Northern Ireland by the Cancer Registry (NICR) at Queen’s University Belfast has shown that survival rates for the disease here are at the highest levels since data collection began in 1993.
For children with the disease, survival has improved dramatically from under 10 per cent in the 1960 to1970s, to the current level of over 80 per cent for five year survival.
The NICR researchers also examined the changes in service and outcome for patients with pancreatic cancer.
While pancreatic cancer has very poor survival, the Registry has documented a doubling in survival for patients diagnosed in 2010 compared with 2008 (18 per cent from 9 per cent), which the researchers say could be due to the changes in service provision including centralising the service to one site, the Mater hospital in Belfast.
The leukaemia audit further revealed that while each year approximately twelve children under the age of 14 are diagnosed with acute leukaemia, there are at least 200 people alive in Northern Ireland who were diagnosed as a child, reflecting the improved survival prospects. People diagnosed as children make up 20 per cent of the over 900 people alive here, who at some stage in the past 18 years, have been diagnosed with leukaemia.
Survival for non Hodgkin lymphoma has also improved dramatically since the introduction of new drug therapies - from 64 per cent for one year and 45 per cent for five year survival in 1993, to 77 per cent for one year and 58 per cent five year survival in 2008. Hodgkin lymphoma has a higher survival than non Hodgkin and has remained steady since the 1990s at 89 per cent for one year and 79 per cent for five year survival.
The figures have been revealed today as part of the Cancer Care in Northern Ireland: A decade of change event at Queen’s University Belfast organised by the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry and attended by Edwin Poots, MLA, Minister for Department of Health, Social Services & Public Safety.
The audit results follow last week’s recognition for Queen’s at Buckingham Palace, when the University was awarded a Diamond Jubilee Queen’s Anniversary Prize for its leadership of the Northern Ireland Comprehensive Cancer Services programme. The programme has led to improved cancer survival rates in Northern Ireland and is a collaboration led by Queen’s in partnership with the Department of Health and the five Northern Ireland Health Trusts with support from the medical research industry.
Speaking at the conference, Dr Anna Gavin, Director of the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, said: “Examination of data for pancreatic cancer patients diagnosed in 2010 shows a doubling of survival, a real breakthrough for this disease. If such a survival improvement was seen from a new drug, it would hit the headlines internationally.
“Today we are documenting and celebrating such improvements in cancer services in Northern Ireland, which have come about since service reorganisation was recommended by the then chief medical officer, Dr Henrietta Campbell. The Northern Ireland Cancer Registry has, with clinicians, been monitoring the care and survival of cancer patents and recommending chance for future service improvements and will continue to do so.”
Speaking at the conference, Minister Poots took the opportunity to again congratulate the University on being honoured with a Diamond Jubilee Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education at Buckingham Palace for the work of the Registry and other areas in Queens University. He said: “I wish to congratulate Queen’s University on receiving this prestigious award for a comprehensive cancer centre and I am delighted that patients in Northern Ireland are benefiting from innovative approaches to delivering cancer services.
“The longstanding partnership between my Department, the Health and Social Care Trusts and Queen’s University illustrates the importance of investing in research and development and the contribution that clinical research can make to our health and to our local economy.”
Mr Poots said that his Department was proud of the achievements of the University and their health service partner and he was confident that leadership in research is informing improvements in treatment, and to leading clinicians and other health professionals choosing to work in Northern Ireland. The Minister concluded: “It is a real credit to Northern Ireland to have this recognition and great news for cancer sufferers that they have a greater chance of recovering.”
Further information on the work of the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry is available online at www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/nicr/
Despite the rising incidence of cancer in Northern Ireland, the number of people surviving the disease here is increasing significantly year on year.
Each year there are between 50-60 men and women who survive the deadly effects of cancer who previously would have died.
The survival rates in Northern Ireland for cancers including breast and colorectal are among the best in the UK, and its patients are benefiting from improved treatment outcomes by up to four per cent better than those for England and Wales.
The figures have been revealed today as Queen’s University Belfast is presented with a Diamond Jubilee Queen’s Anniversary Prize at Buckingham Palace, in recognition of its leadership of the Northern Ireland Comprehensive Cancer Services (CCS) programme.
The CCS programme has been credited with driving forward the improvements in cancer survival in Northern Ireland. It is a collaboration led by Queen’s University in partnership with the Department of Health and the five Northern Ireland Health Trusts with support from the medical research industry.
The programme has resulted in the reorganisation of cancer services across Northern Ireland, and investment of more than £200 million in infrastructure and personnel for treatment and research by the University and the health service.
The CCS programme was also recently described by the distinguished medical journal, The Oncologist, as ‘life-extending research that is emblematic of the way cancer medicine should be conducted in the 21st century.’
Accepting the prize today, Professor Patrick Johnston, Dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, said: “Despite the rising incidence rates of cancer, between 1993 and 2009, the number of men dying from cancer has gone down by 1.3 per cent and the number of women by 0.9 per cent. Some of our survivors are currently alive and well a significant number of years after the kind of cancer that not so long ago would have taken them from us.
“Cancer no longer needs to be seen as an inevitable death sentence. In many instances it can now be viewed instead as a chronic disease.”
He added: “This award underpins our reputation as a global centre of excellence for cancer care. To receive it is a singular honour, not just for Queen’s but for the whole of Northern Ireland and in particular all the fundraisers, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the five Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Trusts and our supporters from the national and international medical research industry.
“Our strength lies in a multidisciplinary approach – teams of scientists and clinicians working together across academic and NHS boundaries on behalf of cancer patients and their families.”
Queen’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Peter Gregson said: “Queen’s is committed to high quality translational research. We are seeing innovations which are providing life-saving and life-enhancing results, reflecting our drive to become a global force in the fight against cancer.”
The pillars of the CCS programme are the Clinical Cancer Centre at Belfast City Hospital, the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, the Cancer Research Programme at Queen’s and the University’s Northern Ireland Cancer Registry which provides vital information about research and outcomes.
An investment of £4.4m in a unique academic-business collaboration between pharmaceutical development company Almac and Queen’s will help develop better tests for diagnosing and treating prostate, ovarian and breast cancer.
The research initiative, based at the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queen’s, will be led by Professor Richard Kennedy, one of Almac’s experts in personalised medicine - which tailors specific treatment to each cancer patient.
Invest Northern Ireland and The McClay Foundation, the charitable trust established by the late Sir Allen McClay, are partnering to fund the lab facilities and staff costs. Invest NI has offered the Almac Group and Queen’s £1.5m of support towards the collaboration, which includes part funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
The collaboration was announced ahead of CCRCB’s 3rd International Cancer Symposium tomorrow (Wednesday and Thursday 7-8 September), which has attracted leading cancer experts from around the world to focus on how academia can interact with industry to improve cancer treatment.
Professor Kennedy, the newly appointed McClay Chair of Experimental Cancer Medicine at Queen’s University - a joint appointment with Almac - said the project was an excellent example of how business and academia could work together in the fight against cancer, the leading cause of death in Western civilisations.
He explained: “The research will involve using cutting-edge technology developed by Almac which will allow us to analyse large numbers of patient tumours collected by Queen’s.
“We will develop these tests to help clinicians to better understand prostate, ovarian and breast cancer and prescribe the appropriate treatments tailored to the specific patient.
“We hope this will then improve the chances of cure using chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
“Queen's and Almac will also use this information to design new therapies that could improve the chances of response and cure for these cancers in the future.
“More effective treatments will be good news for patients and also for reducing the pressure on the overburdened healthcare system.”
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said: “Almac remains at the cutting edge of drug development and delivery for specific types of cancer and with Invest NI support, has invested heavily in research projects which have delivered significant economic benefits and advancements in cancer treatment worldwide.
“The company is globally respected for its commitment to innovation and this collaboration project will build upon a successful and longstanding research relationship between Almac and Queen’s University Belfast. Such academic and industrial linkages are vital to the growth of our economy as they strengthen our knowledge base and enhance Northern Ireland’s reputation as an international research and development hub.”
At this week’s symposium Professor Kennedy will present new research on better tailoring chemotherapy for breast cancer. He will also introduce the speaker of the 2011 McClay Foundation Lecture, Richard M Goldberg from the University of North Carolina and North Carolina Cancer Hospital.
Smoking doubles the risk of developing oesophageal cancer in people with Barrett’s Oesophagus, according to scientists at Queen’s University Belfast and the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry.
Affecting one in every 100 people in the UK, Barrett’s Oesophagus is a disorder in which the lining of the oesophagus is damaged by stomach acid and is changed to a lining similar to that of the stomach.
The research, published in Gastroenterology, the official journal of the American Gastroenterological Association, was carried out over 13 years and involved over 3000 Barrett’s patients. It found that those who smoked tobacco were twice as likely to develop cancer of the oesophagus, than those who did not.
Dr Helen Coleman from the Centre for Public Health in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences led the study. She said: “We found that tobacco smoking emerged as the strongest lifestyle risk factor for cancer progression for patients with Barrett’s Oesophagus. The risk of developing this cancer doubled for those who were smoking tobacco. One of the most interesting observations was that someone who smoked less than one pack a day was still as likely to develop cancer as those who smoked many more.”
The study was the first of its kind worldwide in terms of size by taking a sample of over 3000 patients. Researchers were able to get information about smoking at the time a person was first diagnosed with Barrett’s Oesophagus to see how this influenced cancer risk years later. This is important for reducing bias known to be associated with asking patients about their smoking habits in the past.
Although these findings need to be confirmed in future studies, the study’s researchers suggest that tobacco smoking should be discouraged and smoking-cessation strategies considered in Barrett’s Oesophagus patients in order to reduce future cancer risk.
A new three year research project aimed at improving the effectiveness of radiotherapy treatment for men affected by prostate cancer is taking place at Queen’s.
With new and improved treatments needed for men with advanced prostate cancer, it is hoped the project will identify a new approach using radiotherapy, a commonly used treatment, to treat the disease more effectively.
Funded by a £99,273 PhD research grant awarded by The Prostate Cancer Charity, the project will first seek to understand how a man’s prostate cancer becomes resistant to radiotherapy. Following this, the researchers will test a combination of existing drug treatments alongside radiotherapy to overcome this resistance. It is hoped that the cancer will become more sensitive to radiotherapy and thereby improve the success of the treatment to stop the disease in its tracks.
Lead researcher at Queen’s University Belfast’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, Professor of Radiation Biology Kevin Prise, said: “The use of radiotherapy to treat prostate cancer is currently restricted by the cancer’s ability to develop resistance to the treatment. Drugs exist which can help to ‘sensitise’ the cancer cells to radiotherapy, and in this study we will use these drugs in combination with radiotherapy to try and improve the success of prostate cancer treatment, using techniques that are already available.”
The grant has been awarded, as part of The Prostate Cancer Charity’s ongoing programme of investment in research to help tackle this disease. This year, the Charity has awarded over £2 million – its largest research investment to date – to institutions across the UK to improve the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer.
Dr Kate Holmes, Research Manager at The Prostate Cancer Charity said: “Radiotherapy has been used for a number of years to treat prostate cancer. In some cases, however, the tumour develops resistance and does not respond well to this treatment. We hope that this new research will be able to improve the success of radiotherapy, so that it can be used to kill more cancer cells and further delay the spread of the disease. We are looking forward to working closely with the team and eagerly await the results of the study.”
Research into a ground-breaking treatment for bowel cancer at Queen’s has received a massive funding boost from Cancer Research UK.
Dr Sandra Van Schaeybroeck, whose research aims to identify ways to increase survival from bowel cancer, has received a prestigious £688,000 Cancer Research UK Clinical Scientist Fellowship.
The award, which is one of only four fellowships awarded to UK clinical investigators, renews Dr Schaeybroeck’s current funding from the charity for another three years. Her research aims to develop new treatment strategies to improve bowel cancer patients’ response to treatment and increase survival of particular groups of patients with bowel cancer.
Dr Van Schaeybroeck, from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s, said: “Bowel cancer affects more that 35,000 people a year in the UK. A major barrier in the treatment of bowel cancer is drug resistance with more than half of patients not responding to standard chemotherapy treatment. I’m specifically aiming to identify the molecular reasons this happens in cells with specific gene faults. My ultimate goal is to increase survival in particular groups of patients with bowel cancer.
“I’m delighted to have received the renewal of the Cancer Research UK Clinician Scientist Fellowship. It is a major recognition of my research so far and the world-class cancer research ongoing at Queen’s University.
Speaking about the selection process, Professor Philip Johnson, Chair of the clinical interview panel and a world leader in cancer trials at the University of Birmingham, said: “We saw oncologists, surgeons, haematologists, public health specialists and more. It was a tough decision, but we have found five great post-doc clinicians. These are people who see clinical problems that need solving, and then do research to find solutions. They have an exciting and rewarding career ahead of them.”
Dr David Scott, Cancer Research UK’s Director of Science Funding, said: “The doctors receiving this funding are carrying out world-class research to develop new ways to diagnose and treat patients more effectively. We hope this funding will be an important boost to develop new approaches which we hope will ultimately increase survival from cancer.”
The funding is part of a total three million pound funding pot awarded to the five UK researchers - an important investment from Cancer Research UK, with the aim of identifying the next generation of clinical research leaders in the UK.
People in Northern Ireland have a lower risk of developing some cancers than those living in the Republic of Ireland, according to the All-Ireland Cancer Atlas - a collaborative publication by the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry at Queen’s University Belfast and the National Cancer Registry in Cork.
The first ever All-Ireland Cancer Atlas analysed 18 types of cancer by electoral division over a 12-year period.
Those cancers which were significantly higher for both sexes in the Republic of Ireland were:
For men, the risk of prostate cancer was higher in the Republic of Ireland and, for women, cancer of the oesophagus and cervix were higher.
Lung cancer, however, was higher in Northern Ireland compared with the Republic.
The following cancers were higher for women in Northern Ireland:
The Atlas also found that the following cancers were more common in areas of higher unemployment and/or lower levels of degree attainment across the island:
The following cancers were lower in areas of higher unemployment and/or lower levels of degree attainment:
Other findings include:
Commenting on the findings in the Atlas, Dr Anna Gavin, Director of the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, said: “Mapping the incidence of cancer geographically in Ireland is hugely important in our quest to understand factors that increase cancer rates and also to provide appropriate treatment and cancer services.
“While it is generally accepted that geographic variations in cancer risk are predominantly the result of factors such as tobacco smoking, alcohol drinking, obesity, diet and sexual behaviour there are also a number of findings which we cannot explain yet including the band of increased stomach cancer incidence from Donegal to Dublin. The launch of the first All-Ireland Cancer Atlas today will enable us to further identify different contributing factors to cancer in Ireland."
Dr Harry Comber, Director of the National Cancer Registry, said: “The Atlas shows major variations, sometimes more than two-fold, in the risk of several cancers, across the island. Understanding the reasons for this geographical variation, and taking appropriate action, would reduce the cancer burden significantly in Ireland. Areas with unexplained higher than average risk should now be studied in detail and a comprehensive programme of research into already known determinants of cancer risk in Ireland is needed to inform cancer control.”
The full report is available at http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/nicr/Publications/AllIrelandReports/
Northern Ireland’s Comprehensive Cancer Services programme – a major partnership between Queen’s University and Health and Social Care services, which has led to improved survival rates for patients – is to be honoured by Her Majesty the Queen.
Queen’s, in partnership with the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and other Trusts providing cancer services in Northern Ireland, has led the way in significantly reorganising cancer services across Northern Ireland. The University and its health partners have invested over £200 million in infrastructure and personnel for cancer treatment and research in Northern Ireland over the past 10 years. During the same period, the survival rates for cancer patients have improved year on year, despite the increasing incidence of cancer.
At a special ceremony in St James’s Palace, the programme was announced as one of the winners of the Queen's Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education. The awards – part of the national honours system – recognise and honour outstanding achievement by universities and colleges in the United Kingdom.
Welcoming the announcement, Queen's Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Peter Gregson said: “We are delighted to learn of the award of a Queen's Anniversary Prize for Northern Ireland’s Comprehensive Cancer Services programme, and I congratulate all those involved.
“This recognition of Northern Ireland’s Comprehensive Cancer Services reflects the excellent partnership between Queen’s, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety , Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and the other Trusts providing cancer services in Northern Ireland. The University’s commitment to high quality translational research has led to new techniques for early detection, diagnosis and therapy, and improved outcomes for cancer patients.
“It has already produced life-saving and life-enhancing results, reflecting the drive by Queen’s and Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care services to become a global force in the worldwide fight against cancer.”
Health Minister Edwin Poots said: "I would like to congratulate Queen’s on receiving this prestigious award and I am delighted that patients in Northern Ireland are benefiting from innovative approaches to delivering cancer services. This longstanding partnership between my Department, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and Queen’s illustrates the importance of investing in research and development and the contribution that translational clinical research can make to our health and to our local economy.
“As well as honouring Queen’s, this prize honours all the people, in the University and the Belfast Trust, who have worked so hard over so many years to improve the outcomes for cancer patients through research. Our cancer research network, based in the Comprehensive Cancer Centre, offers cancer patients across Northern Ireland the opportunity to participate in clinical trials of novel treatments. I am personally committed to encouraging innovation, research and development as part of the wider knowledge economy and my Department will continue to invest in cancer research and to encourage the NHS to collaborate with our local universities to deliver future improvements in cancer care."
Jennifer Welsh, Director of Cancer and Specialist Services for Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, said: “Our Trust has valued the importance of research in enhancing standards of care and outcomes in the management of patients with cancer. We have worked with our colleagues in Queen's University to make the support of research a key goal of our service development in Oncology. We look forward to continued collaboration with our University colleagues to keep this momentum and achieve greater benefits in the years to come.”
The University-led Comprehensive Cancer Centre (CCC), based on the United States National Cancer Institute model, is recognised nationally and internationally for its excellence and is seen as a flagship for health research in Northern Ireland. It comprises the Clinical Cancer Centre at Belfast City Hospital, and the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology and Northern Ireland Cancer Registry at Queen’s.
Professor Patrick Johnston, Dean of the University’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, said: “The CCC’s strength lies in its multidisciplinary ethos, through teams of scientists and clinicians working together across academic and NHS boundaries on behalf of cancer patients and their families.
“In research terms the CCC has pioneered the concept of developing personalised therapeutic approaches for patients, an approach which has revolutionised cancer care. Queen’s Medical School is honoured to be part of this initiative which has led, and continues to lead, to direct benefits for the cancer patient population in Northern Ireland and around the world. It has partnered with local companies such as Almac, as well as with the international pharmaceutical and biotech industry, in delivering new drugs and diagnostics for cancer treatment.”
Queen’s has won an award in five rounds of the Queen’s Anniversary Prizes. The University was previously honoured for world-class excellence in law, environmental research, palaeoecology and green chemistry. The Queen's Anniversary Prizes will be presented at a ceremony in Buckingham Palace in February.
Scientists including those from Queen’s University have discovered that taking regular aspirin halves the risk of developing hereditary cancers.
Hereditary cancers are those which develop as a result of a gene fault inherited from a parent. Bowel and womb cancers are the most common forms of hereditary cancers. Fifty thousand people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel and womb cancers every year; 10 per cent of these cancers are thought to be hereditary.
The decade-long study, which involved scientists and clinicians from 43 centres in 16 countries and was funded by Cancer Research UK, followed nearly 1,000 patients, in some cases for over 10 years. The study found that those who had been taking a regular dose of aspirin had 50 per cent fewer incidences of hereditary cancer compared with those who were not taking aspirin.
The research focused on people with Lynch syndrome which is an inherited genetic disorder that causes cancer by affecting genes responsible for detecting and repairing damage in the DNA. Around 50 per cent of those with Lynch syndrome develop cancer, mainly in the bowel and womb. The study looked at all cancers related to the syndrome, and found that almost 30 per cent of the patients not taking aspirin had developed a cancer compared to around 15 per cent of those taking the aspirin.
Those who had taken aspirin still developed the same number of polyps, which are thought to be precursors of cancer, as those who did not take aspirin but they did not go on to develop cancer. It suggests that aspirin could possibly be causing these cells to destruct before they turn cancerous.
Over 1,000 people were diagnosed with bowel cancer in Northern Ireland last year; 400 of these died from the disease. Ten per cent of bowel cancer cases are hereditary and by taking aspirin regularly the number of those dying from the hereditary form of the disease could be halved.
Professor Patrick Morrison from Queen’s University in Belfast, who led the Northern Ireland part of the study, said: “The results of this study, which has been ongoing for over a decade, proves that the regular intake of aspirin over a prolonged period halves the risk of developing hereditary cancers. The effects of aspirin in the first five years of the study were not clear but in those who took aspirin for between five and ten years the results were very clear.”
“This is a huge breakthrough in terms of cancer prevention. For those who have a history of hereditary cancers in their family, like bowel and womb cancers, this will be welcome news. Not only does it show we can reduce cancer rates and ultimately deaths, it opens up other avenues for further cancer prevention research. We aim now to go forward with another trial to assess the most effective dosage of aspirin for hereditary cancer prevention and to look at the use of aspirin in the general population as a way of reducing the risk of bowel cancer.
“For anyone considering taking aspirin I would recommend discussing this with your GP first as aspirin is known to bring with it a risk of stomach complaints, including ulcers.”
The research was published in The Lancet Online.
Scientists at Queen’s have pioneered a new combination treatment for prostate cancer. The treatment, which has been successful in phase one of trials, will now be tested for efficacy in a second phase.
The treatment, aimed at men with an advanced and aggressive form of prostate cancer which has spread to the bone, is the first of its kind to be developed. It combines traditional chemotherapy treatments with two doses of a radioactive chemical which can target areas of the bone affected by prostate cancer.
Aggressive and advanced prostate cancer is responsible for around 10,000 deaths each year in the UK. Chemotherapy is often used to treat the disease; however, benefits of this treatment are usually short-lived. An ability to combine two different types of drugs against prostate cancer may help improve outcomes including survival for these men.
The results of the first phase of the trial, which are published in the European Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, demonstrate that it is safe and feasible to combine multiple injections of the radioactive chemical (Rhenium-186 HEDP) along with standard chemotherapy in men with an aggressive form of prostate cancer.
Dr Joe O’Sullivan, Consultant and Senior Lecturer in Clinical Oncology at the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s University, and leader of the study, said: “This is a significant development in the fight against prostate cancer. While this combination treatment still has to go to phase two of trials, to know that this combination is safe and feasible as a treatment is a huge step forward.
“Traditional chemotherapy treatments aren’t always effective in treating aggressive and advanced forms of prostate cancer, so we needed to develop a new treatment which will provide better outcomes for patients with this type of cancer. The combination of chemotherapy with the radioactive chemical Rhenium-186 HEDP has the potential to improve outcomes, including survival, for men with this form of cancer.
“The second phase of the trial has already commenced in The Netherlands and will start in the UK within six months. The trial will involve up to 100 patients from Northern Ireland and the Netherlands and it is hoped that results should be known within two years.”
MDBS newsletter - Issue 2 (Summer 2011)
Issue 1 - Winter 2010
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An international research team led by Queen’s University have developed a ground breaking treatment for Cystic Fibrosis sufferers. The new drug will benefit sufferers who have the ‘Celtic Gene’, a genetic mutation which is particularly common in Ireland.
The study, which was carried out by scientists at Queen’s University Belfast, the University of Ulster, the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and teams of researchers in Europe, USA and Australia found significant improvement in lung function, quality of life and a reduction in disease flare ups for those receiving the new treatment.
The drug (VX-770) is a significant breakthrough not only for those with the ‘Celtic Gene’, known as G551D, but also for all other Cystic Fibrosis sufferers as it indicates that the basic defect in Cystic Fibrosis can be treated. This is the first drug aimed at the basic defect in Cystic Fibrosis to show an effect. It is still too early to determine whether this treatment will improve life expectancy but the improvements in the breathing tests and the reduction in flare-ups would suggest survival will be better.
Stuart Elborn, Centre Director in the Centre for Infection and Immunity at Queen’s University and co-leader of the study said: “The development of this drug is significant because it is the first to show that treating the underlying cause of Cystic Fibrosis may have profound effects on the disease, even among people who have been living with it for decades. The remarkable reductions in sweat chloride observed in this study support the idea that VX-770 improves protein function thereby addressing the fundamental defect that leads to CF.”
Dr Judy Bradley, from the University of Ulster said: “This drug opens the defective channel in the lung cells of people with Cystic Fibrosis and allows proper lung clearance of bacteria. This is a ground breaking treatment because it treats the basic defect caused by the gene mutation in patients. Correcting the cells with this mutation shows that treatments aimed at the basic mutation can work leading to improvements in lung function and symptoms.”
Dr Damien Downey, from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust said: “The success of this study illustrates the benefits that come from collaborative work here in Northern Ireland. Not only will this breakthrough help patients in Ireland and the UK but it has the potential to change the lives for those with Cystic Fibrosis around the world. As a result of the recent work researchers from Queen’s University, University of Ulster and clinicians from Belfast Health and Social Care Trust have been selected to join the European Cystic Fibrosis Society Clinical Trials Network. This means Cystic Fibrosis researchers in Northern Ireland will be collaborating with their European counterparts to work toward improved treatments for Cystic Fibrosis on a global level. ”
The new drug will be submitted for licensing in the Autumn of this year and is expected to be available to patients by as early next year.
Biology teachers from around Northern Ireland will have the opportunity to become involved in the latest cancer research techniques at a special event at Queen’s on Friday 10 June.Over 50 AS and A-level teachers will visit the high-tech laboratories at the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queen’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences.
One of the world’s top cancer clinician scientists has been appointed Chair of the Translational Research Group of the Medical Research Council (MRC), which is responsible for developing and implementing the MRC’s research strategy in the UK.
Professor Patrick Johnston, Dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast, will Chair the influential body, which invests in high-quality medical research across a wide range of diseases and disciplines.
Announcing the appointment at Queen’s University, Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, said: “Professor Johnston’s appointment is extremely important. The role as chair of the Transitional Research Group is key to its success in the UK, which is one of our main objectives. The MRC has to deliver the economic benefits from its investments and getting the right strategy to achieve that is essential. Professor Johnston is very committed to translational research; he has particular expertise in cancer and is clearly someone who has chosen a very receptive translational research environment at Queen’s.”
Commenting on his appointment, Professor Johnston said: “This appointment is not only an honour for me but also for Queen’s University and Northern Ireland. It is also a major recognition of the research work undertaken in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences.
“It will allow me to further develop translational research across the UK and also direct research at Queen’s into areas that will be more successful.”
Professor Peter Gregson, Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University, said: “Queen’s University is delighted that Professor Johnston has been honoured through his appointment to this key strategic role within the Medical Research Council. It is testament to his research reputation and his contribution, made through Queen’s, in the area of translational research. Importantly, it places Northern Ireland at the heart of strategy and policy development in the MRC.”
Scientists from the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s University are teaming up to develop a cure to an illness that can lead to blindness in premature babies, thanks to funding from children’s charity Action Medical Research.
Two teams from the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science at Queen’s are taking different approaches to a condition called Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). The condition can lead to blindness in premature babies, putting the youngest, sickest and smallest babies most at risk, including over 3,000 babies who are born more than 12 weeks early each year in the UK.
ROP is caused by blood vessels in the eye growing abnormally and causing damage to the retina – the light-sensitive inner lining of the eye. Evidence suggests it develops in two stages:
The first team, led by Dr Denise McDonald, has the aim of tackling the disease at a very early stage, which will minimise the damaging effects of ROP.
The second team, led by Dr Derek Brazil, is investigating whether stem cells from babies’ own umbilical cords might have the power to repair their damaged eyes and save their sight.
About one in ten babies with ROP develops severe disease, which threatens his or her sight. If this is detected early enough, laser treatment can save the most important part of a baby’s vision – the sharp, central vision we need to look straight ahead. However, this causes permanent loss of a baby’s peripheral vision and may induce short-sightedness. What’s more, it doesn’t always work, meaning some babies still go blind.
Dr Brazil believes it may be possible to protect babies from ROP, and save their sight, by treating them with a special type of stem cell taken from their own umbilical cords. Dr Brazil and his colleagues Dr Michelle Hookham, Dr Reinhold Medina and the Centre Director Professor Alan Stitt, were awarded a two-year grant by Action Medical Research, to undertake this important work.
He said: “We hope our laboratory work will reveal whether vascular stem cells have the potential to repair damage to babies’ eyes and save their sight. If so, it is possible that in the future vascular stem cells could be taken from a baby’s own umbilical cord just after birth and then grown in the laboratory in case treatment is needed.
Taking a different approach, Dr McDonald and her team are exploring a key step in the early stages of the disease process. While laser treatment tackles stage 2 of the disease process, by stopping abnormal blood vessels from growing, by this stage the disease can already be quite severe.
Dr McDonald and her team are looking for possible new treatments which will protect the retinal blood vessels from the effect of high oxygen which occurs in stage one.
Evidence suggests that certain cofactors protect and encourage normal growth of the delicate blood vessels that supply the retina, as long as they are present in sufficient quantities. In contrast, low levels of these cofactors seem to be linked to the destruction of blood vessels. The researchers are investigating the role of specific cofactors and ways to enhance their function as a possible treatment for ROP.
Dr Denise McDonald and her colleague, Dr Tom Gardiner, were awarded a two-year research grant from Action Medical Research for the project.
Dr Alexandra Dedman, Senior Research Evaluation Manager from Action Medical Research, said: “We are delighted to be funding these two expert research teams in Belfast who both have longstanding track records, recognised internationally. Their work in this area has the potential to change the lives of babies around the world suffering from this condition.”
Both Dr Brazil’s and Dr McDonald’s teams are based at the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science at Queen’s University Belfast, which contains state-of-the art facilities and equipment. The centre has a long history of successful research into many of the leading causes of vision loss. Both projects involve collaboration with Dr Eibhlin McLoone, consultant paediatric ophthalmologist at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
Scientists at Queen’s University are playing a key role in a new, national centre of excellence to train the next generation of researchers in technology which could improve cancer therapy and strengthen homeland security.
Queen’s has joined forces with the Universities of Strathclyde, Huddersfield and Surrey to set up a new Centre for Doctoral Training. The Centre will train more than 30 PhD students in the practical applications of innovative accelerators – powerful, compact devices driven by lasers or by intense high-frequency electric fields.
The CDT is to receive £2 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), with matching support from the universities and industry.
This is the first time that a Northern Ireland university has been involved in a Doctoral Training Centre, which is one of the main postgraduate funding routes in the mainland UK.
The CDT will involve academics across Queen’s Centre for Plasma Physics and the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology.
Professor Marco Borghesi, from the University’s School of Mathematics and Physics, said: “This is a very exciting development in an area which has the potential to make a very real social impact.
“It builds on two world-leading areas of research at Queen’s – plasma accelerators in the Centre for Plasma Physics and radiobiology in the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology. The expertise and the excellent resources available to the two centres will provide a unique training environment and a key contribution to the CDT.”
The intensive training will cross traditional academic boundaries, combining physics with biology and medicine. It will also offer students the opportunities to work with industry and health authorities, and to gain experience in leadership, entrepreneurship and management.
The Northern Ireland Cancer Trials Centre (NICTC), formerly known as the Northern Ireland Cancer Clinical Trials Unit, launches its new name, logo and web-site today.
The co-ordinating centre for cancer clinical trials in N. Ireland, NICTC based at Belfast City Hospital, is a joint project between Queen’s and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. The work of the Centre is funded by the Health and Social Care R&D Division of the NI Public Health Agency and by the charities Cancer Research UK and the Friends of the Cancer Centre.
Professor Bernie Hannigan, Director of HSC R&D, welcomed the launch saying “Cancer clinical trials are essential for continued progress towards even more effective treatments and care for patients with cancer. We are very pleased to continue supporting this important activity and we applaud the very significant achievements being made by clinicians and researchers based in Northern Ireland”.
Dr Richard Wilson, the Centre’s Clinical Director said “Our patients with cancer who take part in clinical trials are helping us to develop better and safer treatments. They also help us through translational research to identify who is most likely to benefit from a given therapy, and who is most at risk of side-effects.
“This allows us to develop personalized medicine specifically targeted to each individual and their cancer.
“Last year over 1,100 patients in N. Ireland took part in our clinical trials or other high quality cancer research studies.”
The NICTC is also launching a strategy to increase personal and public involvement in cancer research in Northern Ireland.
Anyone living with or beyond cancer, or relatives or carers of someone with cancer may want to consider getting involved in helping to influence cancer research.
If you are in one of these groups and interested in finding out more, you are invited to get in touch with NICTC. You can find details at the web-site, or by contacting Ruth Boyd, Cancer Research UK Senior Nurse at the NICTC Tel: 028 9026 3903 or e-mail email@example.com.
Belfast Health and Social Care Trust has been nominated a Queen’s University Hospitals Campus in recognition of its contribution to delivery of a world-class training system for Northern Ireland’s future doctors.
And seven hospitals – Altnagelvin, Antrim, Causeway, Craigavon, Daisy Hill, Erne and Ulster – are to be awarded Queen’s University Teaching Hospital status, in recognition of their major contribution to medical education.
The new arrangements, to be announced at Queen’s later today, include the launch of educational sub-deaneries in each Trust to co-ordinate and implement the delivery of the undergraduate clinical educational programme within the Trusts.
The sub-deaneries, and their close partnership with Queen’s Medical School, will ensure that the NHS is able to engage fully in undergraduate medical education.
The initiatives – part of a major new partnership between the University, Northern Ireland Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, and local Health Trusts – will ensure an integrated approach to medical education across Northern Ireland.
Queen’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Gregson said: “Today’s announcement re-affirms the position of Queen's Medical School as a leading provider of medical education in the UK and Ireland.
“These developments provide an integrated framework which enables clinical academics and health service clinicians to work in partnership to deliver the highest standards of medical education. They also specifically recognise the role of Northern Ireland’s acute hospitals, which perform a critical role in delivering high-quality clinical placements for our students.”
Professor Patrick Johnston, Dean of the University’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, said: “The Medical School at Queen’s is driven by a commitment to enhance and improve the quality of life and health care provision for patients across Northern Ireland.
“The designation of Queen’s Teaching Hospitals and the development of educational sub-deaneries within the NHS Trusts reflects this commitment, by creating a world-class educational structure and training system for our future doctors.”
A breakthrough by scientists at Queen’s could help reduce heart failure in cancer patients around the world, and ultimately increase survival rates.
Scientists at Queen’s Centre for Vision and Vascular Science have discovered the role of an enzyme which, when a patient receives chemotherapy, can cause life-threatening damage to the heart. This has, until now, restricted the amount of chemotherapy doses a patient can receive; but while protecting the heart, this dilutes the chemotherapy’s effectiveness in destroying cancerous tumours.
By identifying the role of the enzyme - NADPH oxidase - work can now go ahead into making chemotherapy treatments more effective and reduce the toxic effects of cancer treatment on the heart.
Dr David Grieve, jointly leading on the research at Queen’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences said: “While chemotherapy drugs are highly effective in treating a wide range of tumours, they can also cause irreversible damage to the heart. This means that doctors are restricted in the doses they can administer to patients. In recent years, scientists have been searching for new drugs to prevent these side-effects.
“Although we have known about the NADPH oxidase enzyme for many years, until now, we were not aware of its crucial role in causing heart damage associated with chemotherapy. Our research findings hold clear potential for the creation of new drugs to block the action of the enzyme, which could significantly reduce heart damage in cancer patients.
“Ultimately, this could allow for the safer use of higher doses of chemotherapy drugs and make the treatment more effective against tumours. Despite improved treatments, cancer is currently responsible for 25 per cent of all mortality in the western world. By reducing the risk of heart failure associated with chemotherapy, patient survival rates could be significantly increased.”
Scientists at Queen’s are now concentrating their efforts on further studies to define the precise role of NADPH oxidase in the development of heart failure associated with cancer therapies. It is hoped that these may lead to the development of a drug which would have the potential to save lives among cancer patients.
The research by Dr David Grieve and Professor Barbara McDermott was funded by the British Heart Foundation in Northern Ireland and published in leading international journal, Cancer Research.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride has launched the 2011 Medics in Primary Schools programme at Queen’s. The joint initiative, run by Queen’s and Sentinus and supported by the Education and Library Boards, offers undergraduate medical students the opportunity to spend time in primary schools, giving pupils a better understanding of their own health.
Dr McBride said: “This programme is extremely important. Not only does it give medical students the opportunity to enhance their communication skills, it also makes a real difference to the lives of children by teaching them how to adopt a healthy lifestyle.”
Dr McBride praised the aims of the initiative, which includes encouraging children to take up STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) that help provide the basis for future health-related study and jobs. He said: “It is important that we look forward to the doctors, nurses, dentists, scientists and other professionals who will be needed in our health service in the years to come.”
Professor Patrick Johnston, Dean of the University’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, said: “We are delighted to once again collaborate with Sentinus on delivering this programme.
“Medics in Primary Schools is a unique initiative, which is expanding year on year. It not only introduces schoolchildren to the benefits of healthy living and encourages them to think about a career in health or life sciences, but it also helps our medical students to gain valuable communications skills.”
Bill Connor, Sentinus Projects Director, said: “As Northern Ireland’s leading promoter of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects in schools, Sentinus aims to provide educational experiences that will engage the younger generation and enrich their future career decisions.
“The Medics in Primary Schools programme helps to raise awareness of health and lifestyle issues in school children through interactive learning that departs from the standard classroom routine – it’s by making learning exciting that we will help younger students discover firsthand the benefits of pursing study in STEM. During the programme the medical students act as positive role models who can help shape primary children’s decisions regarding their future career while also developing their own communication skills.”
Since its inception in 2000 almost 450 medical students have taken part in the initiative. More than 10,000 pupils have benefited. This year, 70 second-year medical students will be in 47 primary schools in the Greater Belfast area. The young medics will guide the participating school children through a health education programme including Healthy Body, Healthy Heart and Lungs, Healthy Skin and Healthy Brain.
One of Northern Ireland’s leading scientists has received a top UK award, to support ground-breaking research into vascular stem cells and eye disease at Queen’s.
Professor Alan Stitt, McCauley Chair of Experimental Ophthalmology and the Director of the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science (CVVS) at Queen’s, has been awarded the prestigious Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award. The award supports respected scientists of outstanding achievement and potential, with the aim of retaining their expertise within the UK. Only 30 of these awards are made each year to researchers in all areas of the life and physical sciences, including engineering.
On receiving the award Professor Stitt said: “This links to my research in the area of vascular stem cells and treatment of important sight-threatening eye diseases. At Queen’s, we hope to continue to make significant discoveries in this field and improve the treatment of eye diseases for those with diabetes.”
He added: “As an individual, it is very flattering to be recognised in this manner but this also reflects the talent and hard work of my research team. This Merit Award also underscores the excellent environment and international standard of research in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Science at Queen’s.”
This Merit Award will support Professor Stitt’s research in the area of vascular stem cells and treatment of important eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy. This research is pioneering the application of “cell therapy” using a very rare population of cells that promote repair of damaged blood vessels within the retina.
The award is presented by the Royal Society and jointly funded by the Wolfson Foundation and the UK Office of Science and Technology.
Scientists at Queen’s have begun work into improving the lives of thousands of Cystic Fibrosis sufferers thanks to the award of a £1.74 million US-Ireland Research and Development Partnership grant.
The grant has been approved by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the USA with funding for the Queen’s component provided by Health and Social Care Research and Development (HSC R&D Public Health Agency), Northern Ireland and the Medical Research Council. The grant is the largest ever to be awarded in the UK to study the microbiology of Cystic Fibrosis pulmonary infection.
The study is a collaborative US-Ireland international study with researchers in the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, Dublin, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA and the School of Pharmacy and the Centre for Infection and Immunity at Queen’s University, Belfast.
Leading the study, Professor Stuart Elborn, Director of the Centre for Infection and Immunity in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s said: “The key goals of this study are to find out the role of anaerobes in causing damage to the lungs of people with Cystic Fibrosis. Anaerobes are bacteria that do not need oxygen to survive and we will determine whether their presence in the lung contributes to infection there.
"We will also examine whether the bacteria are able to produce chemicals that can damage lung tissue and break down antibiotics given to treat lung infection. We will also look at how effective different antibiotics are in treating them.”
He added: “The results of the study will be of important clinical relevance to people with Cystic Fibrosis because if we show that these anaerobes are contributing to infection and inflammation in the lungs of Cystic Fibrosis patients, in the future, patients could potentially be given more appropriate and effective antibiotics which should improve their clinical outcome and quality of life.”
The research project has been funded for five years with an aim of recruiting a total of 450 Cystic Fibrosis patients across the three sites. The work will be performed in the ‘US-Ireland Anaerobe Laboratory’ in the Medical Biology Centre which has been recently refurbished - specifically to facilitate the delivery of this project.
Researchers at Queen’s are working towards new therapies to prevent irregular heart rhythms - known as cardiac arrhythmia - following a £200,000 grant from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) Northern Ireland.
Over the past two years the BHF Northern Ireland has pumped almost £800,000 into research at Queen’s to tackle heart disease, Northern Ireland’s biggest killer.
Dr Anthony Collins, from the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science in Queen’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences is leading the new research project.
He explained: “The pumping action of the heart has to be very regular in order to pump blood around the body efficiently. In a diseased heart this pumping action can become irregular which means the blood is not delivered to the vital organs.
“This research is looking at the changes that take place in the muscle of a diseased heart – the changes that cause the irregular heart beat. Our long-term aim is to look at ways of making the heart muscle better by developing gene or drug-based therapies.
“Our team is determined to do its part in translating the generosity of British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland supporters into real advances in cardiovascular medicine and we are also committed to enhancing Queen’s reputation as a world leader in biomedical research.”
The Queen’s team includes Dr David Bell, Dr David Grieve, Professor Barbara McDermott and Dr David Simpson.
Marjory Burns, BHF Northern Ireland Director said: “Thanks to the generous donations of our supporters across the UK we’re able to fund vital research to fight diseases of the heart and circulation. Funding to local researchers supports our ever-increasing portfolio of world-leading research to improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care of heart disease.”
Further information on the work of the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science at Queen’s can be found online at www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentreforVisionandVascularScience/
Queen’s and RNID Northern Ireland have won a national award for their work in ensuring future doctors are better equipped to communicate with deaf patients.
Queen’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Life Sciences received the Organisational Achievement accolade at the annual Signature Awards for its Specialist Module on Deafness. The awards, hosted by leading deaf charity Signature, recognise those who have made a significant contribution towards achieving a society in which deaf and deafblind people have full access to society.
Second year medical students at Queen’s are offered the specialist module which is delivered by the RNID in British Sign Language (BSL). It ensures that future doctors are better equipped to communicate with deaf patients, and includes information on deaf awareness, deaf culture and healthcare issues for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Students also work to develop a health-related video British Sign Language Directory.
Speaking at the awards, Signature Chief Executive Jim Edwards said: “Queen’s University Belfast has shown great commitment to helping the deaf community overcome communication barriers, and great credit should go to the team. These vital skills will ensure a legacy of inclusiveness for deaf patients in Northern Ireland. They thoroughly deserve the recognition this accolade brings and should be very proud.”
Following the success of the module, both Queen’s and the RNID now intend to make the module available to all healthcare-related undergraduates at the University, through the development of a website funded by the Higher Education Academy.
Dr Jayne Woodside, who runs the specialist module and is developing the new website, said; “This course is an important opportunity for medical students to develop deaf awareness and communication skills, and we are very keen to both maintain and develop these links with RNID. Following its success, in the future, we are planning to make our new website available to undergraduates in all healthcare disciplines.”
Director of RNID NI, Brian Symington added: “We are campaigning for improved access to healthcare for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Having doctors who are able to communicate effectively with their deaf and hard of hearing patients is a major step forward in making healthcare services in Northern Ireland accessible. The success of this course is due to the excellent partnership working between Queen’s, RNID and Signature.”
Ahead of World Diabetes Day on Sunday 14 November, leading eye research charity Fight for Sight is urging people with diabetes to have regular eye tests to check for signs of diabetic eye disease.
Fight for Sight funds a number of research projects at the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science at Queen's University Belfast, looking at ways to prevent diabetic retinopathy.
Fight for Sight Research Officer, Dr Dolores Conroy, says: "Regular eye tests and screening can detect the early signs of diabetic eye disease - a complication of diabetes which, if left untreated, can lead to sight loss.
"World Diabetes Day is an opportunity to remind people of the importance of regular eye tests especially those at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy and other diabetic eye disease.”
There are 2.8 million people in the UK diagnosed with diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes, is the leading cause of sight loss among working age people in the UK. Although many people don’t show symptoms in the early stages of the disease, it can cause blood vessels in the retina to weaken and break leading to bleeding and potential scarring in the retina.
As the disease progresses, new blood vessels continue to grow and break causing scar tissue to develop on the retina. Without treatment, it can lead to loss of vision and to other eye conditions including retinal detachment and glaucoma.
Over the last year, Fight for Sight has committed funding to a number of research projects at the Centre for Vision and Vascular Science at Queen's School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Science.
Professor Graham McGeown and Dr Tim Curtis are investigating the effects of diabetes on sight including the disruption of blood flow to the retina; Dr Reinhold Medina Benavente is looking at a potential new cell-replacement therapy which can be used to halt the progression of diabetic retinopathy by replacing damaged blood vessels; and, based on recent findings linking inflammation to the progression of diabetic retinopathy, Professor Alan Stitt is investigating the causes of inflammation which can damage the retina in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy.
“Fight for Sight is funding ongoing research into the prevention of diabetic retinopathy but at the moment, early detection is still the best way to prevent sight loss from this and other diabetic eye diseases."
Fight for Sight is urging people to talk to their doctor or optician about eye tests and screening to detect diabetic eye disease. A screening programme launched by the NHS in 2005 offers free screening for everyone with diabetes aged 12 years and over.
For more information about Fight for Sight see www.fightforsight.org.uk
For more information about World Diabetes Day, visit www.worlddiabetesday.org
For more information call Louise Elliott, Fight for Sight, 020 7929 7755 or the visit website: www.fightforsight.org.uk
Leaders from the public and private sectors are joining forces at Queen’s today to focus on stimulating opportunities for economic growth within the social economy.
They are taking part in one of a series of masterclasses aimed at promoting best practice to social entrepreneurs, policy-makers, business leaders and public sector managers. Today’s event is highlighting activity in the Health Sector.
The event will feature two case study presentations, given by Margaret Elliott OBE, founder of Sunderland Home Care Associates and Ciaran Sheehan, MD of Care Circle Group Ltd. The series is funded by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and Invest Northern Ireland.
Professor Paddy Johnston, Dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Life Sciences at Queen’s, who is chairing today’s masterclass, said: “A focus on ideas, entrepreneurship and venture capital is the way forward and is a sustainable way for Northern Ireland to prosper.
“At Queen’s we have exciting plans to create a new Institute of Health Sciences research centre. This will place Northern Ireland as a world leader in the fields of medicine and biomedical research – a strategy that will stimulate business activity in Belfast and further afield. This initiative is sure to have a massive impact on health service provision in Northern Ireland and Ireland and place the region in a position to create a whole range of jobs.”
Ciaran Sheehan, who was recently named IoD Director of the Year for a Large Company, said: “There is an opportunity to promote and explore the potential synergy between the Health and Social Economy sectors and to develop thinking on how the two can work in partnership to deliver real benefits for all. The social economy sector is well-positioned to help the Executive meet many of its social and economic goals and has a unique contribution to make to the broad health service in Northern Ireland”.
He added: “Our business has generated £1.5m in sales, paid out over £1m in local salaries and now employs almost 40 people many of whom were previously long-term unemployed. It is a great example of how local people can deliver home care services in their area while also receiving excellent training and development. According to Ciaran this model could be rolled out across all Health Trust areas in Northern Ireland”.
The series is the brainchild of the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ireland – a joint venture of the Flax Trust and the University of Ulster. The SSEI has organised the events with the support of partner organisations UCIT, the Social Economy Network, Enterprise NI and Charity Bank.
The masterclass takes place in The Canada Room on Wednesday, 27 October from 6.15pm-8.15pm.
Attendance at the masterclass is free, although pre-registration is essential. For more information on the event, visit www.podiem.com/socialeconomy.aspx or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your place.
Queen’s University, in collaboration with the British Red Cross, has become the first medical school in the UK to provide compulsory first aid training, resulting in the award of a First Aid certificate, to over 320 first year medical and dental students. Red Cross trainers deliver a seven hour, Basic First Aid course in two sessions, which covers a wide range of essential, life-saving skills.
The move follows a successful three-year pilot, which saw the British Red Cross provide an optional training module to the school’s third year students. Feedback from this pilot revealed that the acquisition of first aid skills was rated highly by participating students.
Course Director, Dr Nigel Hart, explains why the medical school was so keen to ensure that all students received first aid training during their first semester; “We have been eager to include a compulsory first aid module for students for a number of reasons. We have seen how the training gives students greater confidence in dealing with unexpected situations, even at an early stage in their medical and dental careers. In addition, the provision of first aid training to medical students was a key recommendation of the GMC’s ‘Tomorrow’s Doctors’ report of 2009, and this is our response to that recommendation.”
Medical student, Mary Elizabeth Finnan, who has just finished the training said: “I found the first aid training very beneficial as a first year medical student. After completing the course I feel confident to react in emergency situations, which is essential as I am studying medicine. I thoroughly enjoyed the course and found the first aid trainers extremely helpful.”
Paula Powell, the Red Cross’ Project Manager for community based first aid, said: “We’re delighted to be working so closely with Queen’s Medical School. Of course we believe that first aid is a skill that everyone should learn. You don’t have to be a medical professional to provide appropriate help in an emergency and we’d encourage ordinary members of the public to either enrol for one of our courses, or at the very least, to go to the Red Cross website and read up on some basic common-sense advice that could make all the difference in a crisis.”
The University and the Public Health Agency (PHA) were informed at the weekend of a case of meningococcal meningitis in a Queen’s University student. Since then a second suspected case of the disease has been reported. The Senior Medical Officer of the University has been working closely with the PHA since the weekend to ensure the effective implementation of necessary actions.
All appropriate Public Health and University measures have been taken and preventative antibiotics have been organised for contacts. Both students are in first year Dentistry and steps have been taken to offer antibiotics to all students in first year Dentistry and first year Medicine who share lectures, as a precautionary measure.
Although not particularly common in this age group, all young people aged 16-24 years old, particularly those attending University need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of meningitis.
Staff and students who may experience symptoms including severe headache, dislike of bright lights, vomiting, neck stiffness, a non-blanching rash and drowsiness should contact their GP or local A&E department immediately. Staff, students and young people should also watch out for these signs and symptoms in their friends.
The Public Health Agency and the University continue to work together to monitor the situation and will take further action if necessary.
Students should note that all classes are continuing as normal.
Further meningitis information can be found on the Health Protection website at www.hpa.org.uk or www.meningitis.org/news-media/are-students-clued-up-on-40089
Researchers at Queen’s are investigating a potential new treatment for lung disease that could help save many lives each year.
The research team are studying how statins, drugs which are commonly used to treat high cholesterol, can be used to treat lung disease.
There is currently no effective treatment for acute lung injury. The team hopes the work could boost survival rates for those who become critically ill and suffer lung failure after incidents such as road traffic accidents or severe infections.
Leading the research is Professor Danny McAuley from Queen’s Centre for Infection and Immunity. He said: “When people are critically ill their lungs can fail. This is termed ‘acute lung injury’ and means that the lungs fill with water instead of air. Breathing becomes difficult and a ventilator is needed to take over.
“Statins have the potential to improve lung injury by reducing inflammation in the lung, reversing the damage and therefore decreasing the amount of water in the lungs. This helps fight infection.”
The team includes Queen’s researchers, Dr Celia O’Kane and Professor Cliff Taggart, along with Professor John Laffey from National University Ireland, Galway.
The research has the potential to free up healthcare resources and allow more people to return to the workplace sooner following spells in hospital.
Professor McAuley added: “There may be up to 45,000 cases of acute lung injury each year in the UK and Ireland and up to 22,000 deaths. Only around half of those who survive are able to return to work 12 months after discharge from hospital. After recovery from lung injury, patients can go on to experience a poorer quality of life and many are unable to look after themselves.
“But this treatment has the potential to reduce the impact of acute lung injury and the time patients need to stay in intensive care units. It could also significantly reduce the strain on hospital beds.”
The study is being managed by staff from the Clinical Research Support Centre in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and has been supported by the infrastructure provided by the Northern Ireland Clinical Research Network. The Clinical Research Facility at NUI Galway is providing additional support. The study is taking place over four years in approximately 25 other intensive care units throughout the UK and Ireland.
The research is being funded by the Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation programme (www.eme.ac.uk) which is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and managed by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The Health Research Board and the Intensive Care Society of Ireland have also provided additional funding.
Professor McAuley’s previous research, which lead to this study, has been funded by the Health and Social Care Research and Development Division, Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland and REVIVE.
The debate around ‘designer babies’ will be centre stage at Queen’s this week as the University takes a new approach to medical education.
Trainee doctors and drama students are coming together, along with a theatre director, a choreographer and a medical ethicist to explore the ethics of reproduction.
The result is PERFECT, a unique performance in the University’s Brian Friel Theatre (22- 24 September at 6.30pm and 8.30pm).
The performance brings together students and staff from Queen’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences and the University’s Centre for Excellence in the Creative and Performing Arts. It builds upon the success of last year’s project, Dead Man Talking, which focused on the issue of body donation to medical science. The project was awarded an Award of Excellence for Innovation from the Dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s.
Dr Melissa McCullough, Lecturer in Medical Law and Ethics at the Centre for Medical Education at Queen’s, will present the project’s outcomes at the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities conference in San Diego next month. She said: “This is an extremely innovative and successful approach to medical education. We are taking medical students out of a clinical setting and putting them on the stage. This is a new forum in which students can explore medical ethics and express scientific and ethical arguments through performance art.
“PERFECT will explore the ethics of reproduction, and the controversial idea of using genetic engineering to artificially select the genetic makeup of embryos. It will look at the reasons why parents may choose to have a so-called ‘designer baby’, the public image of this practice, and the experience of doctors and researchers who work in this field.
“Tomorrow’s doctors need to be more than just medics. They must be good managers and excellent team players, with an ability to adapt quickly to any situation. From team work and public speaking, to working within a completely different discipline and adjusting to a new environment, this project has helped our medical students develop a range of skills they will need for a successful career in medicine.”
Anna Newell from the Centre of Excellence in the Creative and Performing Arts at Queen’s will direct the performance. She said: “Many of the medical students involved in the project haven’t been on stage since they left primary school. This has thrown them out of their comfort zone and encouraged them to look at medicine and medical ethics from a new perspective. All those involved – twelve students from Medicine and five from Drama Studies – have thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
“This project has brought science and art together in a new way at Queen’s. It is the latest in a series of initiatives by the Centre to develop more inter-disciplinarity across the creative and performing arts at the University and increase interaction with professional arts practitioners.
“Our drama students have been excellent role models for the medical students in relation to professionalism, teamwork and creativity. The student mix has been integral to the project’s success.
“I would encourage anyone with an interest in either medicine or the arts to come along to the performance. Tickets are free and can be reserved through Juliana Licinic on 028 9097 5034 or at email@example.com.”
The Barcroft Lecture was established by The Wellcome Trust to honour Henry Barcroft FRS, a distinguished Trustee who was the Dunville Professor of Physiology at Queen's University. The Barcroft Lecture and Medal are awarded for major contributions to research in the fields of physiology or medicine. This year's Barcroft Lecturer is Professor Eric Newman, whose work has advanced our understanding of how blood flow is controlled to meet changing metabolic need in the retina.
The Barcroft Lecture will be held on Monday 18 October 2010. For further details please click here.
Researchers at Queen’s and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust have developed a groundbreaking test for meningitis which could help save lives.
A rapid diagnostic test for meningococcal bacteria that can produce results within an hour has been developed by scientists from Queen’s Centre for Infection and Immunity and the Trust. The speed of this new test is a vital factor in the treatment of young children with meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia who become very ill over a short period.
Professor Mike Shields, of Queen’s and the Belfast Trust, explained: “The first symptoms of meningococcal infections are the same as a simple viral infection, making it difficult to diagnose in the early stages. Parents often use the ‘tumbler test’ on their children’s bodies, but the non-blanching rash that is associated with a positive outcome of this test is a late sign and is not always present in children who have meningitis.
“Currently doctors will admit and treat with antibiotics any child that they suspect of having meningococcal disease while they await the traditional test results that take between 24 and 48 hours. Some children are not diagnosed in the early stages while others are admitted and treated ‘just in case’ when they don’t actually have the disease.
“With the development of a small piece of equipment, which resembles a portable home printer, a sample of blood or a secretion such as saliva, can be tested quickly by the machine. This produces a colour reading that determines if the patient has meningitis or not.”
Alongside saving lives, early detection can potentially improve outcomes for meningitis patients who are often left with life-altering conditions such as deafness and cerebral palsy.
The machine is now being trialled in the A&E Department of the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast.
Professor Shields explained how the breakthrough is a great example of research benefitting patients.
“There is no other rapid test that can confirm the diagnosis in such a short time. The current tests are expensive and take up to two days to obtain. Speedy identification of the cause of infection can enable doctors to make life-saving decisions about the treatment of patients. If we have the results within an hour we will be able to start the appropriate course of treatment right away.”
The new test is very different to standard culture based detection methods that have been used up until now.
Professor Shields: “In recent years molecular diagnostic tests, that use the DNA finger print from ‘bugs’ for diagnosis, have been developed, but they still require the specimen sample to be transported to the laboratory and takes a considerable time to get the result back to the doctor. This means that doctors have to make clinical decisions before results are available.
“The new test called ‘loop mediated isothermal amplification’ also utilises a molecular method to detect genes that are common to all strains on the meningococcus. The real advantage of the new LAMP test is that it has the potential to be a simple bedside test that is rapid, cheap, easy to use and doesn’t require laboratory trained staff.”
Currently there are 1,200 to 1,500 laboratory confirmed cases of meningococcal disease in the UK each year and it is thought that actual numbers could be higher.
The medical team behind this breakthrough was recognised for its work in June of this year when they won an Elevations Diagnostics idea of the year award, organised by HSC innovators, a panel of experts from industry, healthcare and business support organisations.
A new report published by medical journal The Lancet this weekend, reveals women with type 1 diabetes, who are at high risk of pre-eclampsia and preterm delivery, will not have their risk lowered by taking vitamin supplements C and E.
The report, involving researchers from the Centre for Public Health and the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s University Belfast and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust also found, however, that vitamin supplementation could be beneficial in those women with low levels of dietary antioxidants in their blood and that this possibility needs further investigation.
The causes of pre-eclampsia are not known, but it has been suggested that oxidative stress, (where free radicals harm cells), might play a key role in the development of the condition.
In 1999, a small trial suggested that vitamin C and E might reduce pre-eclampsia in all pregnant women, not just those with type 1 diabetes. Since then however, subsequent larger trials found no benefit of vitamin C and E supplementation during regular pregnancies.
Several previous research studies had also previously suggested that because type 1 diabetes is associated with both increased oxidative stress (and a reduction in antioxidants), antioxidant vitamin supplements could improve outcomes for these women.
To investigate further, the Diabetes and Pre-Eclampsia Intervention Trial (DAPIT) study group examined the benefits of 1000mg vitamin C and 400 IU (international units) vitamin E in 762 pregnant women with type 1 diabetes, recruited from 25 UK antenatal clinics in the UK. Women were randomly assigned to vitamins (379) or placebo (383) daily from between 8 and 22 weeks until delivery.
Overall, findings showed that the rate of pre-eclampsia was similar in both groups (15 per cent vs 19 per cent). In women with low antioxidant status at the start of the study however, taking vitamins was associated with a significantly lower risk of pre-eclampsia.
There was no evidence of harm from vitamin supplementation to either mothers or babies. Antioxidant vitamins did not increase the likelihood of developing high blood pressure during pregnancy (11 per cent vs 11 per cent) and actually tended to reduce the risk of having a low birthweight baby (6 per cent vs 10 per cent). Additionally, fewer babies were born preterm to women taking vitamin C.
Professor Ian Young from the Centre for Public Health, Queen’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences said: “Dietary intervention rich in various antioxidants might have benefits that cannot be replicated by individual supplements. Alternatively, prescription of antioxidant vitamins at 8–22 weeks’ gestation might be too late to affect the pathological process for most patients with diabetes.”
“In principle, the notion that oxidative stress is implicated in the cause and development of pre-eclampsia remains plausible, but the benefit of vitamin supplementation might be limited to women with vitamin depletion; however, this idea needs confirmation.”
Baha M Sibai from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, said: “The causes of pre-eclampsia might be multi-factorial. Some cases might be caused by immunological factors, others by dietary factors, and others because of pre-existing medical conditions, or by a combination of these factors. Therefore any single intervention is unlikely to be effective in prevention.”
The research is being presented at the American Diabetes Association meeting in Florida this weekend. The article will be published online first in The Lancet.
Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast have secured funding to investigate ways of preventing vision loss in premature babies.
Fight for Sight has awarded the researchers £92,000 for the study which aims to find a therapy that will protect the eyes of premature babies from the damaging effects of the high oxygen levels needed by premature babies.
Recent advances in neonatal care mean survival rates of premature babies, and especially babies born before 28 weeks, have increased considerably. These babies are very vulnerable and dependent upon high oxygen for survival, yet paradoxically can suffer damage to their eyes as a result.
The name of this condition is Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) and is a major cause of visual impairment and blindness in young children.
The three year research programme is being supervised by Dr Denise McDonald and Dr Tom Gardiner at Queen’s. The leader of the project, Dr McDonald, explained that the levels of oxygen given to the premature babies can at times be detrimental to their developing eyesight.
“Oxygen given at high levels is damaging to the delicate blood vessels in the eye and can lead to permanent vision loss. The aim of this research is to investigate ways to protect these vessels from the effects of high oxygen in order to preserve sight in premature babies.”
The condition occurs in two stages, as Dr McDonald explained: “In phase one, exposure of premature infants to high oxygen damages the immature retinal blood vessels, resulting in the light sensitive cells in the retina becoming starved when the oxygen treatment is discontinued. During the second phase of the disease, in an attempt to rescue the tissue, there is an overgrowth of new blood vessels that break out of the retina and invade the clear gel at the back of the eye. In that situation the blood vessels may bleed and cause scarring that leads to permanent loss of vision.”
“Current treatments focus on the second phase with limited success and significant side effects. The aim of our research is to find a therapy that will protect the vessels in phase one so that the second sight threatening phase of the condition is prevented.”
Globally the incidence of the disease shows evidence of a resurgence due to improvements in neonatal care in low to middle income countries and the overall increased survival of very young babies.
New research by Queen’s University funded by the Public Health Agency has revealed the quality of treatment for cancer patients in Northern Ireland has improved, despite the number of cases increasing.
The research is contained in three reports launched today (Wednesday 2 June) by the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry (NICR) at Queen’s. The reports examine cancer care and outcomes for patients diagnosed with either prostate, breast or colorectal cancer between 1996 and 2006, across Northern Ireland. These together account for over 3000 cancers each year.
The reports highlight the need for continued work to prevent these diseases but points to improvements such as more centralised treatment, closer working between clinicians, early diagnosis and better treatment options as having had a significant impact on positive patient outcomes.
The quality and breadth of data gathered by the NICR team for the reports is such that it is to be used in a global benchmarking programme looking at reasons for differences in cancer survival rates in 14 international areas including several states of Australia, Canadian provinces, Norway, Sweden, Wales, England and Northern Ireland.
Dr Anna Gavin, Director of the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry and co-author of the Registry reports, said: “The Northern Ireland Registry’s work at Queen’s focuses on monitoring cancers occurring in the population including their care and outcome.
“Such analysis is vitally important as it can highlight increasing service demands, inequalities and areas for further improvement. We work with clinicians and service providers to influence those who make the decisions about how patients with cancer are treated. It is rare for a country to have such depth and quality of data, and as a result our work has been recognised internationally. It will now be used as part of a global benchmarking tool which could help identify aspects of services which improve cancer survival and so save lives.
“Crucially, our work is carried out alongside the clinicians on the ground through the Northern Ireland Cancer Network. We bring to their attention any areas of concern, and, of course, those areas which are working well. The collation and examination of data such as this is vital and we are pleased to say this reflects improved services being provided to patients in Northern Ireland.”
Dr Gavin also feels the latest reports should help reassure people who have fears about cancer: “Survival rates for breast cancer patients diagnosed in 2006 were excellent and have improved from 2001 and 1996. Observed survival was 94.3 per cent after one year and 90.6 per cent after two years. In 1996 these figures were 91.0 per cent and 84.5 per cent respectively. More patients are gaining access to diagnostic tests, and for breast cancer over twice as many women were having chemotherapy in 2006 compared with 1996, with increases also in radiotherapy and the availability of reconstructive surgery after treatment.”
The reports also illustrates an unprecedented change in health care delivery, with professionals involved in cancer care across Northern Ireland working together to bring real changes to the lives of those with the disease.
Dr Gavin added: “We have excellent facilities at the Cancer Centre and Cancer Units and there is now a more joined-up approach to patient care with, for example, the centralisation of breast cancer services in each Trust area. Another important step forward is that we now have better communications between health care professionals and their patients. And alongside this there is an increased use of multidisciplinary team meetings attended by a range of healthcare staff dealing with patients.
"There has been a doubling in the number of patients being treated for prostate cancer in Northern Ireland over the 10 years examined in the report. This is explained by the increased use of diagnostic tests such as PSA. The services however have continued to provide a good service despite increased demand. Treatments for prostate cancer are however not without serious side effects. The NICR has recently received a major three year grant from the ‘Prostate Cancer Charity’ to study the side effects of this treatment and effects on quality of life. The study will begin in late 2010.”
Dr Gavin has also welcomed improved survival for patients with rectal cancer. She said: “This improvement reflects changes in service organisation, improvements in investigation with increased use of MRI and CT scans, changes in surgical practice and increased use of radiotherapy.”
Volunteers are to have chocolate delivered to their homes and be encouraged to eat 50g of it every day for eight weeks as part of a new research study.
Researchers at Queen's, funded by Northern Ireland Chest, Heart & Stroke and the NI Research and Development Office, are to study 110 people with high blood pressure for the opening stage of a three-year project starting in August.
The aim is to discover if a high fruit and vegetable diet incorporating dark chocolate and berries - which are all rich in important compounds called polyphenols - is better for the cardiovascular system than a diet low in fruit and vegetables.
Dr Pascal McKeown from Queen’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences who is leading the study, said: "The important thing to stress is that the chocolate we will be using will be very high in cocoa - at least 70 per cent. Standard milk chocolate has nothing like the polyphenol content of dark chocolate.
"One group of patients will be put on a low polyphenol diet - probably the average UK diet, since most people tend to eat only two portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Another group will be encouraged to eat six portions of fruit and vegetables, including one portion of berries, each day, together with the 50g of dark chocolate. We will examine people's blood vessel health and the stickiness of their blood at the start and end of the study to discover whether a diet rich in polyphenols can reduce the risk of developing heart disease."
Andrew Dougal, Chief Executive of NI Chest, Heart & Stroke (NICHS), said: "This is a great example of high quality research which has the potential to benefit first and foremost the people of Northern Ireland, but also has applications further afield. We hope it will provide a solid evidence base for fine-tuning the government's advice on healthy eating."
NICHS has provided funding of £32,000 for the project. One of the researchers, Dr Rebecca Noad, has also secured a Fellowship award from the Department of Health's Research and Development Office.
A Queen’s researcher has been awarded funding from Breast Cancer Campaign to further investigate the role of the BCRA1 gene in the development of the disease.
Dr Konstantin Panov from the School of Biological Sciences and Centre for Cancer Research & Cell Biology at Queen’s has been awarded a £20,000 pilot grant. The grant forms part of £5 million awarded by Breast Cancer Campaign in 2009.
Dr Panov believes that the BCRA1 gene could be crucial in a process called ribosome production. Ribosomes are produced in large numbers when cells become cancerous and are vital as they generate molecules required to help them grow and multiply. This pilot project aims to establish the role of the BRCA1 gene in this process.
Dr Panov will study breast cancer cells grown in the laboratory that either have no BRCA1 gene or one that doesn’t work well. He will investigate the effect this has on the cells’ ability to produce molecules that are building blocks for the ribosomes; enabling him to determine at what stage BRCA1 could be involved.
Dr Panov said: “I am grateful to Breast Cancer Campaign for this grant. I hope the study will provide vital knowledge about the BRCA1 gene that could help us stop ribosome production spiraling out of control and causing cells to become cancerous.”
Arlene Wilkie, Director of Research and Policy, Breast Cancer Campaign said: “There are many genes involved in breast cancer development and we need to find out their role in starting the disease in the first place. This pilot grant could be the first step in finding urgently needed new treatments to help beat breast cancer and increase the chances of survival for thousands of people.”
Researchers at Queen’s have discovered a link between sugar intake in the teenage years and risk factors for diabetes and heart disease in later life.
The findings were announced at the Diabetes UK annual conference in Liverpool earlier this month by Dr Steven Hunter, an Honorary Senior Lecturer at Queen’s and Consultant in Endocrinology and Diabetes at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
For the first time, the Queen’s researchers have extended their observations to cover childhood. Dr Hunter said: “Other studies have investigated the impact of high sugar intake in adulthood on health, but this study extends the observation to childhood. This means we can look towards planning preventative strategies.
“What this study emphasises is that there may be long-term consequences of an unhealthy diet and lifestyle in childhood, and that efforts to improve health need to start in childhood to try and stop the development of diabetes and heart disease.”
The group of volunteers involved in the research were initially studied in adolescence and then followed up 10 years later when the effect of diet on heart and bone health was examined.
Dr Hunter explained: “Individuals with higher intakes of sugar had higher blood sugar levels and greater insulin resistance, a feature which contributes to the development of diabetes and heart disease, compared to individuals who had a lower sugar intake. This association was not related to total calorie intake, body weight or activity levels.
“In order to examine the association between sugar intake and risk of diabetes further, more robust prospective randomised studies are being carried out in overweight and obese adults.”
Those involved in the research were Dr Michelle McKinley, Dr Jayne Woodside and Professor Ian Young from the Nutrition and Metabolism group, Queen’s University Belfast and Dr Anthony Lewis from the Royal Victoria Hospital.
A Queen’s researcher has been crowned ‘Young Investigator of the Year’ by The British Lung Foundation. The award was made at the annual British Thoracic Society’s conference which sees scientists from around the globe come together to discuss current respiratory research.
Dr Surendran Thavagnanam from the Centre for Infection and Immunity was awarded an £800 prize fund for his work, which investigated the use of nasal cells as surrogates for lung cells when studying inflammation in children’s lungs.
His work was significantly interesting as cells from the nose are easier to obtain for research than lung cells. Dr Thavagnanam’s team found significant differences between the nasal and lung cells both in normal and asthmatic children, and have therefore questioned the use of nasal cells for investigating asthma in the future.
Dr Thavagnanam said: “I am delighted to be announced as young investigator of the year. I have been working on my research for the last two years and it was extremely interesting as there are not many studies that look into asthma in children. I’m very keen to pursue a career in academic medicine and so, by winning this award, I have proved that I can confidently work in this field. I’m now looking forward to building on the results that I have produced so far.”
In conjunction with the British Thoracic Society and the British Association for Lung Research, the British Lung Foundation organises the Young Investigator of the Year competition to find young researchers who have conducted innovative studies. Researchers were invited to submit applications, which were judged and narrowed down to just six. Six of these candidates present their work at the BTS winter meeting to a panel of scientific experts and a winner is picked on the day.
The application process for this year’s Young Investigator of the Year is now open and closes at midnight on Thursday 29 July 2010. Please see the following website for further information www.brit-thoracic.org.uk/education-hub/winter-meeting-2010/abstract-submission.aspx
Cancer researchers at Queen’s have benefitted from the sale of Mother's Day cards thanks to funding of £15,000 from Hallmark’s Cards for a Cure™ to support the Breast Cancer Campaign.
The campaign, which has seen £1 million being donated to research projects, has now pledged £15,000 to Queen’s for a project led by Dr Jennifer Quinn and her PhD Student, Elisabeth Lamers, from the University’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology.
The project is investigating why some people are resistant to chemotherapy for breast cancer treatment, with a hope of one day being able to tailor treatment to the patients that it will definitely benefit.
Dr Quinn said: “This is a huge sum of money and we are extremely grateful to Hallmark for continuing to support Breast Cancer Campaign, which in turn benefits the important work that we do.
“With previous Breast Cancer Campaign funding, we discovered that people who have a working copy of the breast cancer susceptibility gene BRCA1 do not respond well to some chemotherapy drugs. This new research is therefore hoping to find out why this happens so that patients could be tested for this gene prior to receiving chemotherapy, to ensure only people who are likely to respond to treatment actually receive it.”
Tamsyn Johnston-Hughes from Hallmark Cards, said: “Breast Cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and affects many thousands of women and a number of men every year, as well as impacting on the lives of friends and family.
“It is for this reason that the research being carried out by Queen’s is significant as it may one day help to find a cure for people with breast cancer worldwide. Our Cards for a Cure™ campaign donation directly benefits this on-the-ground research and is vital to ensuring that it can continue.”
Dr Damian Fogarty, Senior Lecturer in Renal Medicine at Queen’s and a Centre for Public Health principal investigator, has been appointed Chairman of the United Kingdom Renal Registry.
The Renal Registry is the National Audit arm of the UK Renal Association and undertakes quarterly reviews of activity and performance standards which are published in its annual report. It has 18 permanent staff covering database roles, statistical analyses and project management in addition to research students.
The chair is the outward face of the Registry, leading the management team strategically and is responsible for liaising with a wide range of national bodies such as the Department of Health and the NHS Information Centre on matters related to kidney disease.
Commenting on this role Dr Fogarty said: “This type of work highlights the huge potential of integration across the higher education and health care sectors. Such projects are often impossible to do away from the NHS but need the protected time and academic resources that Universities can offer to healthcare.”
Dr Fogarty will spend on average one day a week in the Registry offices which are housed beside colleagues and collaborators in the University of Bristol/North Bristol Trust. He hopes to develop further collaboration with the world-renowned Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol.
More information on the Centre for Public Health at Queen's can be found online at www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentreforPublicHealth/
A new incentive-based loyalty card scheme has the potential to improve the health of thousands of people in East Belfast, according to those behind a similar scheme currently being rolled out in Manchester.
Experts from The Points4Life Scheme – a collaborative effort between the NHS and Manchester City Council – are in Belfast today to discuss how the scheme could be piloted in Northern Ireland thanks to a partnership between the UKCRN Centre of Excellence for Public Health (NI) and Business in the Community.
At today’s event, community representatives and health experts will discuss the potential for the Manchester model to be developed in East Belfast, and how the area’s regeneration through the Connswater Community Greenway initiative offers clear opportunities for encouraging and improving levels of physical activity.
Professor Frank Kee, from Queen’s University Belfast, Director of the UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health (NI), said: “We hope that a pilot scheme in the Connswater area could work in the same way as many of the well-known loyalty schemes in the market today and along similar lines to the Points4Life scheme in Manchester. Members of the public who join the scheme would use their loyalty card to collect points which could be redeemable for “healthy” products and services. Local businesses in the East Belfast community could also benefit from having increased interaction with local customers”.
“If we are to meet the challenges posed by the rising tide of obesity, at a community level we must increase our levels of physical activity. Though public health practitioners are showing the necessary leadership, the challenge requires concerted action across all sectors. Creating a platform for incentive-based loyalty card schemes for positive behaviour change will, hopefully, deliver lessons applicable across the UK and Ireland”.
Business in the Community, through its Business Action on Health campaign, is working with employers to improve workforce health – both as a benefit to the business and to wider society.
Tanya Kennedy, Workplace Director with Business in the Community said “People spend more than a third of their time at work, so it makes sense to communicate with them through the workplace about the benefits of good health and wellbeing.
“Physical activity is a key aspect of wellbeing and if we can find innovative ways to engage employees and incentivise them to improve their fitness through loyalty schemes such as this – we have a duty to explore them further and learn from good practice in other areas.”
To find out more about the Points4Life scheme, visit http://www.points4lifeojeu.co.uk/index.php
Hundreds of primary school pupils from the greater Belfast area are set to benefit from healthy living advice, thanks to medical students from Queen's.
The 2010 Medics In Primary Schools’ scheme, which takes place over 12 weeks, is being run in partnership with Sentinus, the largest provider of science and technology programmes to schools in Northern Ireland. As part of the initiative, primary schoolchildren study four topics including healthy skin, heart and lungs, brain and general well-being.
Professor Paddy Johnston, Dean of the University’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, said: “Medics in Primary Schools is a unique teaching programme offered by second year medical students at Queen’s. We are delighted to welcome Sentinus as our collaborators for this year’s programme. Medics in Primary Schools offer both partners an opportunity to promote engagement in science-based subjects among P7 pupils in schools in the Greater Belfast Area.
“During the next 12 weeks medical students will guide schoolchildren through a health education programme that will focus on the heart, lungs, skin and the brain. The medical students will act as positive role models encouraging primary school pupils to consider a career in medicine or science. The students, in turn, will gain experience in communicating information to schoolchildren from a variety of backgrounds.”
Jim Stewart, Chairman of Sentinus, said: “Throughout the programme the primary school children gain awareness on a number of health related issues – they also get exposure to inspiring role models who can help shape decisions regarding their future career. The Medics in Primary Schools programme grows in popularity year on year with more schools wanting to get involved. It offers fantastic learning opportunities for both the graduates and young students. ”
The programme is offered as a student selected module within the medical students’ second year course. Students have a placement one afternoon a week throughout February, March and April in a primary school, during which they deliver a short science and health education programme to P6 or P7 pupils.
The MIPS Teaching and Learning Guide can be downloaded at www.sentinus.co.uk/product.php?id=35.
Increases in levels of physical activity by residents in the Connswater area of east Belfast will be the target of a new five year £800,000 Queen’s University study launched on Tuesday 24th November.
It is hoped that by encouraging members of the community to do more exercise they will reduce their risk of serious conditions including obesity, heart disease, cancer and depression.
Under the PARC project - Physical Activity and the Rejuvenation of Connswater - researchers from the Centre of Excellence of Public Health NI, based at Queen’s, will consult with the East Belfast Partnership and community groups to find out what can be done to help people become more active.
PARC, funded by the National Prevention Research Initiative which supports research on health behaviour, aims to help community groups introduce new initiatives to encourage people to be more active. These could include a ‘walk to school’ club and other neighbourhood walking schemes, better amenities for cyclists and guidance to local employers about how the working environment can help support people taking a little more exercise.
The announcement comes after the East Belfast Partnership’s Connswater Community Greenway, was awarded a grant from the Big Lottery Fund, the Department of Social Development and Belfast City Council in 2007, totalling £32m, to carry out a major environmental improvement and rejuvenation project, connecting 379 acres of public open space, building 43 bridges and 19 kilometres of cycles and walkways. It aims to give around 40,000 people living nearby, and thousands of visitors more opportunities for exercise and recreation and support for a healthier lifestyle. PARC’s role will be to evaluate the effects of the project on people’s health.
The main focus of the research will be face-to-face surveys with nearly 2,000 people living in the Greenway area. One will be conducted in early 2010 and another in 2013/4, to coincide with the beginning and end of the Greenway construction.
Questions will include some on the participants’ physical activity and attitudes to exercise, health, smoking and drinking habits, as well as those on their social life, housing, employment and education.
Professor Frank Kee, the Director of the Centre of Excellence for Public Health, said: “This is a groundbreaking study looking at the effects of the built environment on physical activity and the health of people in east Belfast. It will involve the creation of new opportunities for physical activity through the improvement of physical amenities and green space in the area and a variety of innovative community initiatives.
“One of the strengths of this exciting project is the partnership between an international team of researchers, the East Belfast Partnership and members of the local community.
“Research shows that increased physical activity can help reduce the risks of many diseases, including obesity, heart disease and cancer.
“As well as helping to inform policy on future redevelopment projects, we anticipate the study will have direct benefits to the communities in east Belfast, including new amenities and an increased range of opportunities for physical activity delivered by local groups. These will be designed according to what the local community wants, and so we hope that local people will come on board.
“The results of the project will help other groups across the UK to develop their own plans to promote more active lifestyles.”
Project Manager of the Connswater Community Greenway Wendy Langham added: “In addition to the improvements to the physical environment, the Connswater Community Greenway will provide opportunities for everyone, young and old, families, commuters and visitors to embrace a more active lifestyle.
“Improved, accessible green and open spaces, cycle and walking paths alongside rivers running through the heart of east Belfast will be a catalyst for the community to enjoy the natural environment, right on their doorstep.”
Lord Mayor, Councillor Naomi Long, acknowledged the importance of the study and welcomed the opportunity it offers to involve Belfast City Council.
"Hopefully our involvement will maximise the impact of the Connswater Community Greenway project on the health and wellbeing of local people.
"Congratulations to Professor Frank Kee and the team of researchers from Queens University, as well as the wide range of partners involved in this initiative. We can all look forward to the results of this study being published in due course, and there is no doubt that this will make a significant contribution to the design of future initiatives and services in our city".
Male infertility and tackling falling birth rates across Europe will be among the topics addressed at this year’s British Andrology Society’s annual conference at Queen’s.
World leaders in the field of andrology – the study of male reproduction – will meet at Queen’s this week (Thursday and Friday) to discuss the latest developments in the field of fertility including the potential to create artificial sperm from stem cells.
The conference organiser, Professor Sheena Lewis from the Centre of Public Health in the University’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences, says research into male fertility is vastly underfunded.
Professor Lewis said: “Male infertility is now a public health issue. Infertility affects one in six couples around Europe and the male partner is responsible for 40% of these problems.
“DNA damage to sperm is a major cause of male infertility. “We know sperm DNA damage is closely associated with all fertility check points and also longer times to get pregnant and increased pregnancy loss.”
Over the past 50 years birth rates have declined at an unprecedented rate so that instead of the 2.1 children a couple necessary to maintain population replacement current rates stand at 1.5 births per woman. Only a minimal increase to 1.6 is expected by 2030.
Last year the European Parliament acknowledged for the first time that falling fertility rates were a major cause of demographic decline.
There are many possible reasons for the fall in the European birth rate including changes in women’s roles in society and the choice of some couples to be childfree. But research shows that European couples of child-bearing age would like to have more children but are unable to.
As social trends have not altered significantly over the past 50 years researchers, say it is more likely that falling birth rates are impacted more by an increase in infertility. Over mortality and migration, infertility is the major determinant of Europe’s future population.
Professor Lewis explained: “We are trying to develop diagnostic tests to give couples more information about the causes of their infertility and how to improve their chances of a successful conception.
“We need to do this through multi-centred trials and this can only be done with increased government funding.
“Sperm DNA can be damaged by lifestyle factors including smoking, alcohol, drugs and obesity
Sperm DNA tests have a huge potential as they can determine the basis of damage so we can find ways to protect it.”
A major component of the solution to falling birth rates is through assisted reproductive technology (ART) but Professor Lewis says that for ART success rates to be improved much more research, including the prognostic sperm tests, needed to be carried out.
“Research into infertility has not been deemed strategic to health services or governments over the past three decades and so had been dogged by lack of funding.
“This is illustrated by UK statistics where research councils or charities spend less than one per cent on reproductive research compared with nine per cent on cardiovascular research and 27 per cent on cancer studies.
“Stemming the tide with ART techniques including IVF and ICSI – where one sperm is injected into an egg - will make a significant contribution to tackling the falling birth rates.”
Individualised radiotherapy treatment based on a person’s genetic make up could soon become a reality thanks to work being carried out at Queen’s and other institutions which is being funded by Breast Cancer Campaign.
Professor Kevin Prise, Associate Director of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, has been awarded a three year project grant by the charity to study how genes are involved in the effectiveness of radiotherapy treatment for breast cancer.
The grant, worth more than £160,000, is part of £2 million awarded to 20 projects in the UK and Ireland.
Radiotherapy is given to women with breast cancer to destroy any remaining breast cancer cells after surgery and limit the chance of the disease returning. However, it is believed that a range of genes including BRCA1, BRCA2 and Fanconi Anaemia work together to prevent the cells being destroyed by radiotherapy, as they appear to repair the damage caused to the DNA of breast cancer cells.
In the laboratory at Queen’s, Professor Prise and his team will treat breast cancer cells with radiotherapy to see why this is happening and find out why these genes have an impact on the success of the treatment.
Professor Prise said: “We are grateful for this funding from Breast Cancer Campaign. We hope our findings will lead to methods to predict which patients will gain limited benefit from this treatment. The course of radiotherapy could then be adapted to the individual to ensure they receive a more effective dose.”
Arlene Wilkie, Director of Research and Policy, Breast Cancer Campaign said: “There are many different genes which are important in both the development and treatment of breast cancer. “Identifying them and finding out more about their role is a vital area of breast cancer research and we are delighted to be funding this project.”