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Healthy global population | 2 February, 2017

MAKING CONNECTIONS: A NEW VISION FOR HEALTH

Alan-stitt Professor Alan Stitt
Dean of Innovation and Impact, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences | Institute for
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Alan-stitt

A pillar of Queen’s University’s Global Institute for Health Sciences is the Centre for Experimental Medicine (CEM).

Opened in 2015 in the brand new and award-winning Wellcome Wolfson building, it involved an investment of £32m – and the effort and dedication of a lot of people.

One of them is Professor Alan Stitt. 'Over three years, I devoted a large part of my life to this project by driving the research strategy and working with University colleagues on the fundraising and operational planning; but it has been absolutely worth it.'

IMPACTUL DEVELOPMENT AND THE 'ULTIMATE GOAL'

Alan, McCauley Chair of Experimental Ophthalmology and Dean of Innovation and Impact in the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences, sees the building as ‘an Institute of Health Sciences in micro. Its floor plan has been designed so that researchers working in different disciplines can interconnect and collaborate. It creates an exciting environment in which impactful discoveries can be made.’ 

Alan’s own research is focused on one of the world’s major sight-threatening diseases, diabetic retinopathy. His team is seeking to understand the precise molecular basis of the condition and advance new treatments. One approach they have developed is to harness the regenerative capacity of vascular stem cells.

'My team’s ultimate goal is to translate our basic science discoveries into the clinic arena as soon as possible and make these therapeutic cells available for patients.'  

He points to other developments in which he collaborates closely with clinical and basic scientists within international consortia in diabetic retinopathy. One example is a €2.25m international project shared with CEM colleagues, Drs Tim Curtis and Reinhold Medina, in which they lead a collaboration with Ireland and the USA on a gene therapy approach to reverse diabetes-linked blood vessel damage to the retina.  

EXCITING NEW DISCOVERIES

The team is also making exciting new discoveries with the potential to improve the treatment of diabetic macular oedema (DMO), one of the major sight-threatening end points of diabetic eye disease.  

The team has identified how blockade of an enzyme which metabolises fats in the blood can prevent blood vessel leakage and progression to DMO. This discovery by Queen’s scientists demonstrates that a tablet can be taken which has the potential to reduce the need for monthly injections and protect against vision loss in a much wider group of patients with diabetes.  

‘We could soon see an alternative, pain-free and cost-effective treatment for diabetic-related blindness.’   Eye health is one of the priority themes of the Institute for Health Sciences, alongside cancer, respiratory disease, diabetes-related vascular disease and antibiotic resistance. 

‘Our medical School has key strengths in these internationally competitive areas. We are concentrating our efforts to achieve high quality research that has global impact.  

MULTI-DISCIPLINARY RESEARCH IS KEY

clinicians and basic scientists, including biologists, physicists, chemists and pharmacists all working towards one goal. Getting all these people to work together creates an endeavour that’s greater than the sum of its parts.  

‘One of my roles as Dean of Innovation and Impact in the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences is to encourage connections between researchers and a range of stakeholders who can help translate what we do into something that helps people. Queen's is already making a major contribution to global health, whether it’s improving access to good nutrition, maintenance of a healthy lifestyle, developing and delivering new drugs for important life-limiting diseases.  

‘The Institute will promote better connections between our researchers through activities such as “sandpits”, thereby enhancing lateral thinking and radical approaches to global health issues. These will bring researchers from distinct areas together around a common theme, with encouragement for free thinking and uncovering inventive solutions to major problems. 

‘And it’s fun. Researchers like nothing better than to talk about research and this is their opportunity. But at the heart of everything we do is finding really meaningful treatment for patients. Making it work. Having local and global impact.’

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