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.

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.

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