North Staffs Researchers Boost Glaucoma Treatment Safety

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

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

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

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

Trabulectomy

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

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

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

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

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

Eye Cells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Research Funding

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

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

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

For more information, visit www.nsmedicalinstitute.co.uk, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

NSMI Staff Celebrate Defibrillator Fundraising Success

North Staffordshire Medical Institute is set to save lives after raising an incredible £1,999 to buy and install its own public defibrillator.

The emergency equipment has been mounted on the outside wall of the charity’s headquarters on Hartshill Road, Stoke, ready to be used if a member of the public has a cardiac arrest.

Sudden cardiac arrest is one of Britain’s biggest killers, causing the deaths of around 100,000 people every year.

But a victim’s chance of survival soars from just six per cent to 75 per cent if they are treated with a defibrillator within five minutes.

Shaughn O’Brien, chairman of the Institute, said: “I think this is the only defibrillator in the area and it has the potential to be of so much benefit.

“The community has raised the money for this equipment and we are very grateful to them for the success of this appeal.”

The Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) works by delivering a series of electric shocks through a casualty’s chest to help their heart rhythm return to normal.

It first automatically analyses their heart rate to make sure it can only be used when it is needed.

The state-of-the-art machine is one of 1,100 around the country supplied by Stone-based charity AED Donate.

A similar device mounted outside the Signal Radio offices on Stoke Road has been used on average once a month since it was installed.

Josh Cope, Community Fundraiser for AED Donate, said: “The idea that we want to push is that the community itself can be the fourth emergency service.

“We recently spoke to staff members at an air ambulance and they said that to get their helicopter just to take off takes three minutes. In that time you could have someone doing CPR and giving the first shock of a defib.”

Eventually, the group aims to make sure no-one in the UK is ever more than two minutes’ brisk walk away from a defibrillator.

Josh added: “We always aim to put a defib in high footfall areas. Believe it or not we’ve actually had a few installed at funeral parlours.

“We’ve got more than a thousand from Wales down to London and they’re all over the place, from high streets to the middle of nowhere.”

The AED has been mounted in vandal-proof, heat-regulated cabinet that opens with a security code available from the West Midlands Ambulance Service.

It is designed to be easy to use by members of the public, even without training, under guidance from 999 operators.

The device was installed after a year-long campaign to raise the funds, led by Institute manager Jacqui Robinson.

It was supported by councillor Sean Pender, Hartshill and Harpfields’ Occasions, the local Residents’ Association and the Rotary Club, as well as residents of the area.

The NSMI itself contributed the final £337.41 to the fundraising total.

North Staffs Researchers to Seek New Therapy for Chemo-Resistant Cancers

North Staffordshire researchers have been awarded £18,450 to develop a new treatment for chemo-resistant cancers.

The group, led by research pharmacologist Dr Alan Richardson, hopes to extend the lives of thousands of patients with breast, ovarian and lung cancers that have stopped responding to chemotherapy drug paclitaxel.

They aim to develop a new drug to stop cancer cells producing a protein that makes them resistant to the therapy.

Dr Richardson and his team will receive the grant from Stoke-on-Trent charity the North Staffordshire Medical Institute.

He said: “Patients who get ovarian cancer respond well to chemo, but they often suffer a relapse and when they come back they become resistant to treatment. At that point the number of options left are limited and there’s not a lot that can be done.

“Our goal is to discover drugs that make cells sensitive again to chemo.”

Ending Drug Resistance

Paclitaxel is normally given to patients through an intravenous drip and works by stopping cancer cells from dividing and growing.

The scientists, based at Keele University’s Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine (ISTM), have found that paclitaxel-resistant cells make too much of a protein called branched chain keto-acid dehydrogenase kinase (BCKDK).

They plan to test a range of chemicals in the lab with samples of pure BCKDK in a bid to block the gene that tells cancer cells to produce it.

Dr Richardson said: “I used to work at the Institute for Cancer Research in London and I started a screen to identify genes that contribute to drug resistance.

“Since then we’ve identified one gene and if we inhibit it, it makes the cancer cells more sensitive to paclitaxel. So we’re going to make drugs to inhibit this gene and hopefully extend people’s lives.”

Dr Richardson’s team will use the money to buy the state-of-the-art equipment they need to set up the initial tests. This will help them to apply for more funding to develop the drug further and eventually test it in patients.

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

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

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

For more information, visit 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The same problem gene can manifest with different severities.

Genetic Engineering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NSMI Funding

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

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

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

For more information, visit 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grant

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

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

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

For more information, visit www.nsmedicalinstitute.co.uk, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Award recipients

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, visit www.nsmedicalinstitute.co.uk, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Institute set to announce research grant winners

Researchers across the region will find out this week if their projects will be funded by the North Staffordshire Medical Institute.

A committee of experts has been sifting through applications for the charity’s annual research grants and is set to announce its decisions following a meeting on Monday, February 19th.

It will award sums of up to £20,000 towards three schemes designed to enhance understanding of disease and create more effective treatments. Previous recipients have included research groups investigating cancer, diabetes, heart disease and premature birth.

Jacqui Robinson, manager at the Institute, said they were keen to attract as many applications as possible to ensure the best possible quality. She said: “There’s only a limited amount of funds available so we consider what’s most appropriate and in line with the Medical Institute’s guidelines.

“The committee is made up of established scientists and researchers so they know whether or not it’s going to work and whether it’s feasible.”

The committee also includes several lay members to provide a different perspective on which projects are worth funding.

They sift through up to 20 applications each year, which must already have been through an independent peer review process and gained approval from a local ethics committee if patients will be involved.

She added: “If they need ethical approval and we don’t receive a copy they won’t get any money.

“We encourage as many people as possible to apply and it’s open to any allied health professionals in North Staffordshire. We need to be sure that the quality is there though.”

Researchers are invited to apply for the annual awards – normally worth around £60,000 a year – via the Institute’s website every autumn.

Applications are now closed for the 2018 research awards, but are due to open shortly for the Firelighter Awards in collaboration with the University Hospital of the North Midlands NHS Trust.

For more information keep an eye on our website, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @nsccentre

Institute Reaches Fundraising Target for Community Defibrillator

NORTH Staffordshire Medical Institute is thrilled to announce it has reached its fundraising target of £1,999 for a community defibrillator.

The lifesaving machine, supplied by Stone-based charity AED Donate, will be mounted on an outside wall of the Institute’s premises in Hartshill Road, Stoke-on-Trent, for members of the public to use in an emergency.

It is due to be installed following a year-long campaign to raise the funds, led by Institute manager Jacqui Robinson.

She said: “I’m delighted because it’s such a good cause and it’s great to see how the community have come together to help. It has been very rewarding.

“We’ve had support from AED, councillor Sean Pender, Hartshill and Harpfields’ Occasions, the local Residents Association and the Rotary Club, as well as local residents.”

Installation

The Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) will be mounted in a vandal-proof, heat-regulated cabinet that will open with a security code available from West Midlands Ambulance Service.

It is designed to be easy to use by members of the public, even without training, under guidance from 999 operators.

The equipment will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, should anyone suffer a cardiac arrest in the Institute or surrounding area.

Jacqui added: “So many people die from cardiac arrests every year – you just have to look at the statistics.

“The defibrillator will be of benefit to the whole community as well as visitors to the Institute. We would like to thank everyone for all their kind donations.”

The Medical Institute recently contributed the final £337.41 to the fundraising total.

Around 30,000 people suffer Out of Hospital Cardiac Arrests in the UK each year, of which 20% take place in public places.

If a defibrillator is used and effective CPR is performed within three to five minutes of a cardiac arrest, survival chances increase from just 6% to 74%.

For more information about AED Donate, visit their website at https://aeddonate.org.uk/.

NSMI conference manager is fired up for fundraising challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Training regime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To sponsor Spencer, visit http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SpencerSmith3 .

North Staffordshire scientists invent new home test for diabetics

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

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

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

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

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

Time-saving innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preventing Complications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Meg Jorsh