10:59pm Sunday 31 May 2020

Research Making a Worldwide Impact

Research from PCMD in Exeter has hit the headlines around the world. With the University of Exeter, its work looking at the affect on health of bisphenol A (used in everyday plastics) and PFOA (used in non-stick and water-resistant materials) has led to governments around the world revising their risk ratings for such substances.

Its work in genetics has resulted in oral tablet treatment for some diabetes sufferers (as opposed to injections), as well as the discovery of the so-called ‘fat gene’ and ‘tall gene’. Just recently the genetic team’s discovery of a genetic test to predict when a woman is likely to experience the menopause caught the imagination of the media around the globe.

In another link to diabetes, researchers have shown that a simple home urine test is just as effective as a traditional, hospital-based series of blood test to measure insulin production in those with diabetes – with huge ramifications for diabetes sufferers around the world.

A systematic review carried out by a team at PCMD analysed existing studies relating to human health and the environment and concluded that there are benefits to mental and physical well-being from taking exercise in the natural environment.

The study found that most trials showed an improvement in mental well-being: compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalisation, increased energy and positive engagement, together with decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression. Participants also reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity and stated that they were more likely to repeat the activity at a later date.

PCMD’s epidemiologists and statisticians have analysed internationally gathered data to investigate the effect of vitamin D on human health. The team was the first in the world to identify that higher levels of vitamin D can reduce the risk of dementia, a disease that is growing throughout the world and is already draining health care resources. The team is currently working on research that will identify the best way to administer vitamin D as a supplement – it is cheap and safe, but so far there has been no research to guide governments on the most effective ways administer the vitamin to their populations.

Research at PCMD employs over 620 scientists and represents an annual investment of £13.5m. Around £20m is being invested in a new Centre for Translational Medicine in the city. The new Centre will focus on research aimed at improving our understanding of the origin and causes of diabetes and related conditions, translating that understanding into stratified patient care.

The project will bring together, in one building, clinical and biomedical scientists working in human genetics, cell biology, human physiology and interventional studies (eg: treatments, therapies, behaviour change) of diabetes. It will consolidate a wide range of Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry research which currently takes place at various locations. It will allow the institution to significantly expand the quantity and variety of the research it carries out in Exeter. As a joint venture between the universities and NHS in the South West, research carried out by PCMD in Exeter sees healthy collaborations between PCMD, the University of Exeter and the Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust.

But PCMD and health research in the city is also reliant on support from the local community – and there are ways in which members of the general public can contribute directly to research projects.

Researchers need input from healthy individuals to help them understand the mechanisms of such diseases, by investigating the genetic and cellular differences between healthy people and those affected by disease. Such investigations are key to finding possible therapies and cures.

The Peninsula NIHR Clinical Research Facility (CRF), part of the Peninsula Medical School and the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust and funded by the National Institute for Health Research, has launched a campaign to recruit 10,000 people from within Exeter and a 25-mile radius of the city with a view to getting them involved in medical research.

All that is required is for individuals to answer a questionnaire about their health and lifestyle, provide a urine sample and approximately 50ml of their blood, have their blood pressure and body measured and wear a wrist-worn accelerometer for a week to measure their activity levels. Individuals must also be willing to take part in specific research projects on a voluntary basis.

Those wishing to take part can do so by calling 01392 406769.

Members of the public can also get involved via the various research networks in the city and the NIHR Peninsula Collaboration for Applied Health Research and Care, which brings together academics, clinicians and members of the general public to help bridge the gap between research, knowledge and health care practice.

More information about research at the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry is available by logging on at www.pcmd.ac.uk.

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