Supporting medical excellence in Scotland | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - March 2011

Supporting medical excellence in Scotland

It is a place at the forefront of scientific advances and its research institutions are very well respected. Scotland is where Action Medical Research has invested over £6 million in more than 70 projects during the last 30 years alone. Here we look back at what your support has helped to achieve in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews.

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 many 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.
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.
Chair of Orthopaedic Surgery
In 1989, Action Medical Research awarded the University of Aberdeen a five-year grant of £346,338 to establish the Sir Harry Platt Chair of Orthopaedic Surgery. This ran until 1995 with Professor Richard Porter, a highly influential spinal surgeon, in the post, after which the university supported the position. This initiative resulted in the establishment of the university’s Academic Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.
Both the undergraduate curriculum and postgraduate training benefited, and an orthopaedic science laboratory was set up allowing surgeons and scientists to work together. Also, spinal research was expanded, surgical techniques were studied and research was conducted on subjects such as arthritis, hip replacement and bone lengthening in children.
First institute for 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. It was 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.
Research Training Fellowships
Each year, the charity awards these prestigious grants to help the brightest and best doctors and scientists develop their career in medical research. Action has funded 12 Research Training Fellowships in Scotland since 1977. Recently completed grants are paving the way for progress in areas such as pre-eclampsia, childhood Crohn’s disease (supported by The Stafford Trust) and premature labour.
Action’s continued commitment
Our investment is continuing in urgently needed work to help improve the lives of babies and children. Currently funded grants are, for example, working on vision problems in children and life-threatening infections such as meningitis. We are also investing in a study on the devastating, developmental disorder that causes profound physical and learning disabilities, Rett syndrome. This is supported by The R S Macdonald Charitable Trust and The Henry Smith Charity.
As Scotland continues to carry out truly groundbreaking medical research, Action remains committed to supporting this work, helping to bring the benefits to babies, children and their families.
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