Successes in Scotland

The Duncan Guthrie Institute of Medical Genetics

In 1975, the charity contributed £150,000 to Professor Malcolm Ferguson-Smith of the University of Glasgow to help build an institute for genetics. The Duncan Guthrie Institute of Medical Genetics opened in 1980 as the first institute built specifically for medical genetics in Europe. In 1980 and 1982, the charity gave further awards to complement the equipment and facilities already provided.

The institute is an important centre for research and teaching, and provides genetics clinics and diagnostic services. Its laboratories conduct tests for many conditions. For example, they test samples from newborn babies all over Scotland for conditions such as cystic fibrosis, congenital hypothyroidism and phenylketonuria, a disorder that can cause problems with brain development. They process about 52,000 of these samples each year, aiming to diagnose early so babies can be given appropriate treatment.

Ultrasound scanning in pregnancy

Ultrasound is used during pregnancy to monitor the baby’s development and diagnose possible problems. The medical application of ultrasound began in the first half of the 20th century, but it was during the 1950s that Professor Ian Donald of the University of Glasgow, credited with pioneering the development of obstetric ultrasound, began experimenting with the technology. Ultrasound evolved rapidly and a big leap was made with the development of real-time scanners, which could produce a moving display and allowed study of fetal movement.

Action Medical Research funded Professor Donald’s work in 1978, awarding him and colleagues at the Western General Hospital, Edinburgh a grant for a real-time scanner to assess structural defects and potentially disabling conditions in pregnancy. In 1981, the charity gave further funding for a videotape recorder system – many fetal movements are too fast for meaningful analysis and the recorder enabled them to be videotaped and viewed in slow motion.

Over the years, the charity has supported over 30 ultrasound-related grants across the country, around a third specifically linked to obstetric ultrasound.

The Glasgow Coma Scale

Every year, more than 100,000 people are admitted to UK hospitals with a primary diagnosis of head injury. Around a quarter are children under 15. During the late 1960s and 70s, Action Medical Research awarded grants to Professor Bryan Jennett at the University of Glasgow to investigate head injury. As a result, Professor Jennett and colleague Professor Graham Teasdale developed the Glasgow Coma Scale.

The scale is used to assess consciousness after head injury, helping with initial assessment, subsequent monitoring and clinical decision making. A paediatric version has been developed for children and babies.

The scale revolutionised the way consciousness was measured. It has been translated into multiple languages and is used around the world on a daily basis. In the UK, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines recommend that head injury assessment be guided primarily by the scale, and that ambulance crews be fully trained in its use.