Hospital charity funds over £1million into COVID-19 research
23 September 2020
Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust, the NHS charity for Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie, has recently been able to fund £1 million of research into treatments and diagnostics for COVID-19 or services impacted by coronavirus, thanks to generous donations from the public.
As we emerge from the pandemic’s initial grip, there is still so much about the disease we don’t know, with many patients experiencing long-term effects from the disease. Fortunately, Addenbrooke’s is a university hospital which means that, as well as treating and helping people, doctors and nurses also look to research ways to improve patient healthcare.
Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust works closely with the hospital’s team of medical experts to identify and fund new and novel ideas, research projects and technical innovations that are vital for improving patient care at Addenbrooke’s and across the NHS. The charity funds much more in the hospital than can be achieved with NHS funding alone. Its funding helps build research capacity across the clinical workforce and delivers transformational projects of high value to patients and the NHS. The charity also provides around £300,000 a year to support junior clinicians getting into research via fellowship programmes.
The recent crisis has accelerated the need for research to keep COVID-19 under control and to understand how to care for patients. The more medical research that is carried out the more it will help our understanding of the disease and in time, save lives. Around the world, scientists and healthcare professionals are developing ways to vaccinate against, diagnose and treat the disease, and importantly, as we now know that the disease has many long-term effects, how to help people recover. Donations from the public allowed the charity to rapidly direct funds to this much needed research. Dr James Lee, Clinician Scientist and Principal Investigator who received funding from Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust to carry out research on a cell-based therapy for COVID-19, said, “With the rapid emergence of COVID-19, it was clear that researchers would need to move quickly to develop new ways of detecting and treating infected patients. This need, however, is at odds with the usual way of obtaining funding for research, which is often slow and ponderous. This is why rapid funding that was made available by Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust was so important, as it facilitated a fast response to the pandemic, and enabled us to begin working on a cell-based therapy immediately. For this reason, the funding we were awarded has been truly invaluable, as it has not only enabled us to conduct the research but do so in a time-frame that could benefit the most people.”
Dr John Clark, Paediatric intensive care clinical fellow at Addenbrooke’s said, “With the support of Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust, our paediatrics team is working on our understanding of COVID-19 in children. Discovering what is different in the way children are affected compared to adults could unlock important information needed to treat this disease. We are also testing new rapid technology used to detect chest infections and antibiotic resistance markers in critically ill children. This will provide doctors with crucial information that will help decide the best possible infection fighting treatment in hours rather than the days it takes with standard tests. None of this work would be possible without the generous donations to the Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust, which drives innovation in practice for our patients.”
Dr Miles Parkes, Director of Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), has helped lead a team carrying out research on understanding the long-term effects of COVID. He said, “There is so much that is still unknown about the long-term consequences of this devastating new virus, but with Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust funding we have been able to fund a multifaceted approach to COVID-19 research that is hugely valuable in itself and also provides a major Cambridge contribution to the large-scale national research programme.”
As well as research into COVID-19, the need to provide answers for other diseases and conditions in the future has never been of greater importance. Coronavirus has had an impact across the hospital and the normal ways of diagnosing people stopped overnight. Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust was able to fund the research and development for two web-based testing apps – Digihear and DigiVis – helping patients to self-test for hearing and sight during telephone consultations. It also funded a third app to assess dizziness, hearing and balance disorders. It is hoped that these will provide an alternative to having to visit the hospital once life returns to normal.
Some of the COVID-19 research funded by Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust
- Dr Michael Weekes’ research that found up to 3% of hospital staff across the country could have been carrying SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease, without realising they were infected. The findings demonstrated that a rapid staff screening process needed to be implemented across the NHS and to introduce additional measures to better protect staff and patients within the hospital environment.
- Infectious disease expert Professor Paul Lehner researched repurposing existing medicines to see if they can treat COVID-19. Any which prove to be effective can then be tested in a clinical trial of patients with the virus.
- Professor Willem Ouwehand’s research looks to improve the triage process for admissions of COVID-19 patients to hospital. A small number of people with underlying health conditions do not show the usual symptoms of the virus. As these symptoms are so different, there is a risk of misdirecting patients to an ordinary ward when they are in fact COVID-19 positive. The research will determine whether information gained via blood tests can help clinicians classify patients with more certainty.
- The development of a new rapid COVID-19 test that builds upon an existing Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust-funded research project designed to provide quicker and accurate infectious disease testing in critically ill patients. Led by Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine and Anaesthesia, Dr Vilas Navapurkar, the new test will make it possible to screen for infections in four hours instead of two days. So far, the charity has funded testing for 200 patients, and is on track to provide testing for more.
Research beyond COVID-19
While the majority of non-COVID research was paused during the peak of the coronavirus, with vital research resuming, the charity needs to continue to fund it to ensure that advances to benefit patients are made in all areas. The charity accepts funding applications from researchers throughout the year. In 2019/20, the charity received around 40 applications with 20 grants and four fellowships awarded. So far 2020/21 looks very different, with 38 applications to date, of which twenty have been awarded already. These awards help in a variety of ways and one way is funding valuable proof of concept research. For example, Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust funded £1.1m towards the Personalised Breast Cancer Programme feasibility project, sequencing the genomes of volunteer patients from the Cambridge Breast Unit at Addenbrooke’s, to ensure treatment is personalised and the most effective. This was then rolled out as a major programme by Cancer Research UK, as well as changing the way genomic medicine is practiced on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.
More recently the charity has funded Dr Emma Beddowes research to use real-time genetic profiling to help make treatment decisions for patients with advanced breast cancer. It is not currently known which treatment will be best for an individual patient. All of the treatments have side effects and being able to discontinue ineffective treatments very quickly will avoid the patient enduring these side effects unnecessarily. With a £24,600 grant from the charity the study will explore whether a simple blood test could be used to predict treatment response. If this is successful it could lead to ineffective treatments being stopped early and a more effective treatment started more quickly, keeping side effects to a minimum.
The charity also funded Dr Mark Kotter’s lab research into the harmful effects of inflammation on the ability of brain cells to send signals and communicate. Inflammation causes the cells of the brain to ‘fire’ abnormally, and this has been associated with currently incurable conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and certain psychiatric disorders. Viral and bacterial infections, as well as traumatic injury, can also create inflammatory environments. The research is investigating this abnormal signalling, as well as restoring normal communication between cells, and if successful, these results will form the basis of a therapeutic approach. Dr Nataly Martynyuk, the lead researcher on the project, comments that, “Early-stage funding, such as the grant provided to us by Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust, is key to allowing junior researchers to take crucial steps in testing new hypotheses, which is necessary to devise transformative treatment strategies”.
Research projects like these can only happen with donations from the public. Donations help the Addenbrooke’s team develop the innovative ideas that will make the hospital even better and contribute to national research too. To view a recent webinar featuring Dr Miles Parkes talking about research at Addenbrooke’s please visit bit.ly/MilesParkes
Shelly Thake, CEO of Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust said, “Research is the cornerstone to improving patient care and treatment. The combination of the complexity of cases and world class doctors at Addenbrooke’s provides the best environment to drive leading research. Over 25 clinicians and professors volunteer their time to consult and advise the charity on our investment in research. This governance enables us to support research that impacts not just Cambridge but beyond, on a national and international scale. Supporting early research careers, developing the hypotheses for research projects and funding broader research roles and projects means that our donors make every difference to the course that healthcare takes today and in the future. This is an immensely important aspect of our support to Addenbrooke’s.”
To help fund more research and make Addenbrooke’s even better for patients please visit helpyourhospital.co.uk/donate
This article appeared in the 9 September edition of the Cambridge Independent.