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Helping our researchers to maximise their impact

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The ultimate goal of medical research is to advance human health by improving healthcare, treatments and behaviour.

But in order to have this level of impact, researchers need the necessary funding to share their results and recommendations with patients, healthcare practitioners and policymakers.

Our Changing Policy and Practice Awards provide this extra support to Foundation and Medical Research Council-funded (MRC) researchers twice a year. We award £30,000 to each successful applicant to help them communicate key messages from their research to a specific target audience.

We’re pleased to announce our latest cohort of awardees, including Dr Emma Baple from the University of Exeter, Professor Nicholas Harvey from the University of Southampton, Dr Natasha Howard from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and Professor Susannah Mayhew from LSHTM.

Find out more about these outstanding researchers and their projects below.

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Dr Emma Baple Dr Emma Baple

Improving genetic testing for epilepsy

Epilepsy is a neurological condition that affects approximately 1 in 100 people globally. A tool used to diagnose genetic types of epilepsy is known as a ‘gene panel’ which examines multiple different genes at the same time. The genes included in the panels are decided by reviewing published scientific studies, however, due to the current lack of consensus and international guidance, they can often contain genes of ‘research interest’ with incomplete or inaccurate evidence, which may lead to misdiagnosis and incorrect treatments being provided to patients.

Dr Baple and her team from the University of Exeter Medical School led the landmark 'Windows of Hope' study, which defined more than 150 different genetic disorders in North American Amish communities. This included a fresh appraisal of the association between the ‘SCN9A’ gene and epilepsy, which they proved did not exist, resulting in the recommendation for it to be removed from epilepsy gene panels.

Unfortunately, many genetic testing providers still include SCN9A in their gene panel tests, so Dr Baple and her team will use this new funding to develop genomic data sharing tools, platforms and policies to improve the accuracy of how gene panels are developed, aiding diagnosis and treatment for patients with epilepsy.

Nicholas Harvey Professor Nicholas Harvey

Preventing broken bones in older people

Every year over 500,000 older people in the UK break a bone due to osteoporosis (a health condition that weakens the bones), resulting in reduced mobility, independence and a decline in overall health, costing the UK economy over £5 billion annually. Of these fractures, hip fractures are the most life-limiting and costly, often requiring a major operation for their repair.

With funding from the MRC, Professor Harvey and the team at the University of Southampton’s MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Centre carried out the SCOOP trial. This demonstrated that routinely assessing fracture risk in older women at their GP surgery reduced the risk of hip fracture by 30 per cent over five years, equating to 8,000 prevented hip fractures each year overall.

Working with the UK Royal Osteoporosis Society, Professor Harvey and his team will disseminate the findings of the SCOOP trial. Together, they will gather evidence and produce a new policy report that supports the identification of individuals at high fracture risk in primary care. The report will be presented to the UK Screening Programme Committee and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, with the aim of altering UK policy and standards of care.

Natasha Howard1 Dr Natasha Howard

Tackling COVID-19 misinformation among displaced communities in Syria

Due to long-term conflict, Northwest Syria hosts an estimated 2.8 million internally displaced people from across the country, who are living in displacement camps. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, living conditions inside these camps were very difficult, including severe overcrowding, inadequate access to food or clean water, and insufficient healthcare infrastructure.

Dr Howard and her team from the LSHTM interviewed camp residents to explore challenges and potential solutions surrounding COVID-19. They found that widespread misinformation on social media, fatalism, and difficult living conditions made COVID-19 avoidance irrelevant to displaced families. Mistrust in COVID-19 responses, including vaccination, was heightened due to misinformation, most commonly spread using social media.

Using this award, Dr Howard and her team will help to tackle COVID-19 misinformation for displaced communities in Syria, with a particular focus on women and young people. The team will translate key findings into Arabic and produce inclusive, tailored communications for the communities, including infographics, blogs, and social media posts. The team will also conduct webinars to engage decision-makers and policy stakeholders in their research.

Susannah Mayhew Professor Susannah Mayhew

Optimising pandemic responses in Sierra Leone

With funding from the MRC, Professor Mayhew and colleagues from the LSHTM found that responses to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone needed more rapid coordination with local frontline responders, yet subsequent pandemic responses showed that humanitarian and outbreak responses have been slow to change.

With this new funding, Professor Mayhew aims to reshape approaches and guidelines surrounding outbreak and humanitarian policy and practice, by improving engagement with communities and frontline health responders. The team will produce a range of dissemination materials informed by local knowledge, including short films of successful community-led responses; a policy brief summarising key findings and implications for policy; and a “How To” guide for ministries and agencies to re-design crisis-response.

These will be presented, debated and validated at a workshop bringing local wisdom and voices into dialogue with key decision makers.

Look out for our Changing Policy and Practice Award re-opening for applications in April.