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Report: Inaugural Health Protection Research Unit PhD Academy

By Lareb Dean & Kirsty Meldrum


On the 30th and 31st January 2017 the inaugural Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) PhD Academy was held at the University of Liverpool in London. The National Institute for Health Research created the HPRUs with a view for collaborative research between universities and Public Health England (PHE). The event aimed to stimulate discussion and collaboration across the HPRUs, which include priority areas ranging from blood-borne and sexually transmitted diseases, to the health impact of environmental hazards.

“We think it’s very important to understand where your research fits into the wider picture and world around you and what patients and the public actually think is important”

Held over two days, the academy consisted of oral presentations by students introducing their HPRUs and individual projects. In addition delegates from each HPRU were invited to present posters and discuss their ongoing research.

Tom Solomon
Professor Tom Solomon, University of Liverpool

On the first day guest speakers from Public Health England (PHE) covered topics including the importance of the students’ contribution to PHE and developing a career in public health, as well as conducting an outbreak workshop. Topics covered by the PhD students included evaluating the burden of antimicrobial resistance, a review of Salmonella and determining patient outcome following acute Ebola virus infection.

Dr Ruth Ruggles
Dr Ruth Ruggles, Public Health England, leading an outbreak response exercise

Each unit was asked to give a brief introduction to their HPRU and the students involved, before two presentations on work within that HPRU. The presentations were kicked off by the HPRU in Health Impact of Environmental Hazards. As a student with this HPRU, I (Kirsty Meldrum) was joined by Alex Cooper (PHE) to give an introduction to our work. Within this unit we are looking at the hazards particles and chemicals may have on the population through the use of wet lab and in silico modelling methods.

Crowd look at posters
Poster presentations

The next unit to present was the HPRU in Emergency Preparedness and Response. These presentations were really interesting as they discussed vaccinations and the reasons behind why the uptake of them might be poor. They also presented interesting work on the side effects of medications that might prevent people taking them, and the “nocebo” effect where volunteers are given a placebo and still experience these side effects.

Third to present was the HPRU in Environmental Change and Health who discussed the potential for tick-borne diseases in urban green spaces. The government currently wants to increase ‘green spaces’ yet the potential for these diseases to increase is something that hasn’t been investigated.

“Overall the two days were informal, but very informative – definitely something that would be brilliant to repeat in the future”

The final talk was from the HPRU in Evaluation of Interventions who initially talked about the implication on changing vaccination policy on BCG vaccination, and then went onto to discuss looking at Meningitis B vaccine development at different phases and densities of colonisation.

After a short break there were then further invited speakers that talked about ethics, research integrity and governance (a valuable talk on what is actually required for a clinical trial and the various avenues that could be used to start one) and a talk about getting patients and public involved in research. This talk used personal examples to demonstrate why getting patients and public involved was important and how to go about doing it. Both these speakers were very informative and opened our eyes to the larger world of research, not just being in the lab!

Winners

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NHLI New Scientists Day 2016

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The annual NHLI New Scientists Day took place on Tuesday 19th of April and brought together staff and students from NHLI and beyond to hear about the exciting research our new academics are doing. All three speakers – Dr Jenni Quint (Clinical Senior Lecturer in Respiratory Epidemiology), Dr James Ware (Clinical Senior Lecturer in Genomic Medicine) and Dr Zach Whinnett (Clinical Senior Lecturer in Cardiac Electrophysiology) – were well received by the audience. Jenni (pictured above) talked about her research into using electronic health records to study respiratory diseases such as COPD and asthma, and what data sources currently exist and how they are used, whereas the talk by James focused on his research into the impact of genetic variation on the heart and circulation, and how to use genome information to improve patient care. Zach’s presentation was on novel therapeutic device treatments for heart failure and ventricular arrhythmias, and the recent improvements his group have developed for implantable cardioverter defibrillators.

This year’s New Scientists Day also saw two new features: a visit from Dr Jonny Gibbons from Imperial Innovations and a session on social media (Engaging online audiences and increasing impact using social media). The social media session included talks from Mr Al McCartney (FoM Senior Digital Communications Officer), Dr LJ Smith (Clinical Research Fellow) and Dr Mike Cox (Research Associate) on how researchers and clinicians can benefit from using social media. The talks were quite illuminating and will hopefully get more of us blogging and tweeting.

We hope all attendees and speakers enjoyed the event!

The New Scientists Day talks are available to NHLI staff and students via this link.

By Dr Maija Maskuniitty, NHLI Career Development Coordinator

Challenges facing society and science in the 21st Century

Last month I attended the annual Cara Science & Civilisation Lecture at The Royal Society, given this year by Lord Martin Rees.  He focused on the challenges facing society and science in the 21st Century from climate change to artificial intelligence.  Couching scientists firmly as members of society, rather than separate from it, he used examples of successes such as stem-cell research, where scientific advice led in the UK to a working legal framework for the use of embryos and stem-cells in research.  He also highlighted GM crops as a topic on which scientists failed to engage early enough with the public, resulting in a polarisation of the debate with eco-campaigners on one side and commercial interests on the other.

The theme of scientists as world citizens was particularly appropriate for Cara, the Council for At-Risk Academics, a charity that started in 1933 in order to support academics Hitler expelled from Germany on racial grounds.  Since then it has gone on to support numerous academics and universities at risk.  Cara fellows are qualified academics at immediate risk, which the charity helps to place in universities, arranging visas if necessary, financial support for academics and their families, and support from the universities such as fee waivers or donations in kind.

In case you are interested in finding more about Cara, their website has more details about the charity and how to support their work .  Lord Rees’ lecture has also been transcribed with a video to follow .

By Dr Michael Cox

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