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.

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.


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, 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.

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, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

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 .