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Leeds’ research excellence transforms care for people with long term health conditions

Leeds’ research excellence transforms care for people with long term health conditions

Millions of people suffering with multiple, long term health conditions are benefiting from breakthroughs in treatment thanks to world-leading research in Leeds.

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The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Leeds Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), part of the city’s outstanding research infrastructure, has achieved widespread acclaim for advancing healthcare over the last 15 years, most notably for those suffering with musculoskeletal diseases.  

As an example, the BRC’s previous work transformed care for people suffering with rheumatoid arthritis, showing early treatment of inflammation prevented joint damage and improved patient outcomes.  

For the musculoskeletal group, the work in rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis has moved to detecting disease before it is clinically obvious, to enable disease prevention.  

As well, the group are focusing on developing new treatments for the pain of osteoarthritis, which affects an estimated 10 million people in the UK, causing them serious, long-term and life-limiting symptoms.  

Repurposing an existing drug (methotrexate) and working with novel therapies from industry partners, the team have demonstrated pain benefits in preliminary osteoarthritis trials, with some therapies progressing to more definitive large trials.  

Director of the NIHR Leeds Biomedical Research Centre and Professor of Musculoskeletal Medicine at the University of Leeds Philip Conaghan, explains: “Our work on musculoskeletal conditions has enabled early detection and intervention of disease, changing treatment strategies and pathways to vastly improve healthcare and health outcomes.  

“We are world leaders in this, for the first time moving healthcare further towards prevention of this type of disease.” 

Solving tomorrow’s challenges today 

Based on the successful track record and with increased support from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), in the last two years Leeds’ BRC has vastly expanded its research portfolio to include five new themes: cardiometabolic disease, surgical technologies, haematology, pathology and antimicrobial resistance and infection. 

All six themes closely relate to the complex and growing challenge of supporting people who have multiple long-term health conditions. These affect around 14 million people in England, occurring 10 – 15 years earlier for people living in the poorest areas.  

As well as causing long term health and life-limiting challenges for individuals, the increasing prevalence of people living with multiple long-term conditions is placing a huge demand on the NHS.  

“With increasing numbers of people living with multiple long term health conditions and the simultaneous skyrocketing pressures on our limited healthcare resources, focusing research on disease prevention is vital,” says Philip.  

“What clinical challenges today do we want to solve for tomorrow? And how can we be confident that we are understanding and solving the real, daily challenges for people who are least able to access healthcare or participate in research?” 

Reaching those who are least heard and least served  

Philip believes rigorous, multidisciplinary science and positive results for patients and for the NHS are essential components of research excellence. But equally important, says Philip, is including in research the very people you are trying to help.  

“We are proud of our strong track record of public and patient engagement and have strengthened it significantly, offering a template approach for our partners across the city. 

“We involve patients in all steps of our thinking and include people who experience the health conditions we’re focusing on. But perhaps most importantly, we seek those people from our least served communities,” says Philip. “Only they can tell us what the real challenges are. 

“That means investing more in how we reach and involve people. It takes time and care, but we’ve have invested and are seeing excellent results.” 

And it’s not just the research subjects who should represent the issues. The Leeds BRC team has redesigned its recruitment process to attract a much more diverse and representative cohort of researchers.  

Diversifying researcher recruitment  

The Leeds BRC team offers a radically new approach to recruiting and supporting researchers, with a view to creating a research culture that is inclusive and considers people more holistically.  

“We consider science, research and culture as a whole,” explains Philip.  

“For example, in our recent recruitment for PhD students, we removed what was traditionally accepted bias from our recruitment processes, such as candidates’ qualification kudos or institutional elitism.  

“Instead, we looked for qualities in candidates that demonstrate the aspiration, skills and experience that we want to nurture.  This attracts candidates from more diverse communities and backgrounds, strengthening that representation in academia and in the research they do.  

“We are recruiting clinical and non-clinical candidates, including from diverse health professions such as radiography and clinical sciences (microbiology). 

“In turn, that makes our research findings more relevant to those communities and disciplines, more meaningful and better able to solve intractable health challenges.” 

Partnership and collaboration across the city, the North and the nation 

Leeds BRC is part of an overall ‘NIHR@Leeds’ infrastructure comprising specialist clinical research facilities which are international centres of excellence*. They enable and deliver world-leading health and social care research to improve people’s lives.  

Working in partnership is fundamental to ensuring potentially life-changing discoveries are developed then trialled in real world, clinical settings. 

“We’re located at the heart of the city’s emerging Innovation Arc alongside the city’s internationally leading healthtech industry hub. That gives us easy access to cross-sector collaboration across the innovation journey,” says Philip.  

 “And the population diversity of our city and region is representative of the country as a whole. That makes Leeds an ideal place in which to do research.” 

We collaborate closely with health innovation organisations across the North, including our ‘sister’ BRCs, to shape the future direction of research. And we are influencing national thinking and policy via members of our antimicrobial team’s work with NHS England. 

Looking ahead 

It typically takes around 17 years from discovery by research to deployment of new treatments, and Leeds BRC is keen to accelerate this significantly.  

“The challenges are now and need addressing now,” says Philip. “We want to be the leading place for NHS research: for our scientific rigour, our ideal location and infrastructure, and our local population, whose diversity reflects that of the UK.  

“And we want to continue to strengthen the collaboration between academia and health and care, so we can have an even greater and faster impact on people’s lives through advances in care.” 

Click here to return to the spotlight series, in which we explore groundbreaking activities which set new, exemplary standards in making research everyone’s business for everyone’s benefit, especially for those most in need.

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*Leeds’ NIHR infrastructure comprises Leeds Clinical Research Facility, Leeds Biomedical Research Centre and the new Leeds Healthtech Research Centre. Leeds also hosts the NIHR National Research Delivery Network Coordinating Centre and the NIHR Yorkshire and Humber Regional Research Delivery Network.

Image credit: iStock.com/Alex Potemkin

Discover more about Leeds Academic Health Partnership:

 

Health Innovation Leeds represents the city’s internationally-renowned health and care research and innovation. It is supported by Leeds Academic Health Partnership, one of the biggest partnerships of its kind in the UK. Its members work together to solve the city’s hardest health challenges. Partners include:   Leeds Teaching Hospitals, NHS Trust,   Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust,   Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust,   Leeds Health and Care Partnership   Leeds City Council, University of Leeds, Leeds Beckett University, Leeds Trinity University , Health Innovation Yorkshire and Humber , St Gemma’s Hospice, Leeds City College, Yorkshire Cancer Research , West Yorkshire Combined Authority

For more information, visit www.healthinnovationleeds.com

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