Institute Chairman Shaughn O’Brien Bows Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community Fun Day to Celebrate Diversity in Stoke-on-Trent

Different cultures will come together to celebrate Stoke-on-Trent’s diversity at a vibrant community event.

Hartshill International, organised by Hartshill and Harpfields Occasions (HAHO), will celebrate the 50-plus nationalities of the people who live, work, study or worship in the area and the wide range of languages spoken.

Locals from all over the world will share their costumes, food and flags at the North Staffordshire Medical Institute on Saturday, May 5th from 10am to 3pm.

There will be music, singing and dancing, information stalls and craft demonstrations as well as Traidcraft toys, gifts and homewares for sale.

HAHO chair Joe Andrew said: “According to recent research, Hartshill is the most diverse area in the city. There’s something like 50 languages spoken in the area.

“It’s partly because of all the hospital and university staff living around here, but for other reasons as well.”

Maps, jigsaws and language guides will be available to buy on the bookstall, while refreshments will be provided by Bentley’s Catering.

He added: “There are all kinds of displays illustrating international life, there are stalls with food from all around the world, there are flags and games for children to play.”

Now in its fifth year, the event at the NSMI’s Hartshill Road site will be officially opened by the Lord Mayor of Stoke-on-Trent, Councillor Ross Irving.

Programme of Events

The family fun day is just one of a packed programme of events organised by HAHO throughout the year, many of which use the Institute’s facilities.

Joe said: “We organise a series of activities on an annual schedule. The very first one was celebrating the centenary of the federation of the six towns of Stoke-on-Trent.

“We also do more low-key things – we have four seasonal quizzes, we have a Christmas fair and an annual lecture.”

This year’s lecture, taking place at the Medical Institute on October 16th, will be given by Archbishop Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

HAHO was founded in 2010 with the aim of “promoting community cohesion and inclusion” and gained an official constitution in 2012.

It has received funding from local councillors Randy Conteh and Sean Pender, as well as the Big Lottery Fund.

The community group is a generous supporter of the NSMI charity, which provides grants to support pioneering medical research in the North Staffordshire area.

The NSMI has awarded more than £58,000 so far this year to fund studies into heart disease, cancer and muscle wasting in the elderly.

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

For more information on HAHO, visit www.haho.org.uk or drop in to the Institute for a leaflet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patients with Chiari malformation are widely believed to have essentially healthy (viable) tissue because the brain tissue is misplaced rather than diseased. In the past, scientists studying the human brain have been limited by the difficulty in obtaining tissue for such studies. Their options have been limited to samples removed post mortem – which can quickly die – or tissue from cancerous or diseased brains.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At first the researchers had no idea what to expect.

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

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

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

“So we are in it for the long haul, but we all believe it is worth the effort, because the first results are pretty exciting. The main outcome at this stage is that we’re confident that the tissue can remain viable for a relatively long time, if the conditions are kept right.

“It suggests that we could make an injury model in these tissue samples and then look at responses to therapeutic manoeuvres.”

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

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

To find out more about their work, visit nsmedicalinstitute.co.uk.