Our fellowship scheme is 40! | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - March 2013

Our fellowship scheme is 40!

Action Medical Research has been awarding prestigious fellowships to promising doctors and researchers for 40 years. The scheme helps to develop future leaders in children’s research. As Research Training Fellows, these high-fliers carry out a key piece of research to help children and undertake training to develop their research expertise. Two recent fellows are Dr Despina Eleftheriou and Dr Lily Islam.

Around 25,000 children in the UK are blind or partially sighted, like Jack (pictured above).
Yet it is often unclear exactly what causes these children’s eyesight problems, which makes it difficult to identify the best treatment. Dr Islam, a talented doctor who trained at Cambridge University, is determined to help give families an explanation. Dr Lily Islam’s fellowship for £138,300 was given to fund her two-year study into the genetic causes of blindness in babies and children, with the longer-term aim of developing better treatments. “I have found a number of genetic changes that cause childhood blindness,” she explains. “In one family, for example, I have identified a gene that had not previously been associated with blindness. Work is continuing to find out how these genetic changes affect the eye.” Dr Islam’s work has already led to new diagnostic tests, with one being offered across the UK. “In my experience, families greatly value having a genetic diagnosis. It means we can explain why their child has eyesight problems and how their vision might change in the future. We can also offer families genetic counselling, if they want to find out what their chances are of having another baby affected by eyesight problems.”

Dr Islam is currently completing her training as a clinical geneticist at London’s Northwick Park Hospital. She remains determined to improve diagnostic testing and exploit the findings of her research to direct the development of new treatments. The fellowship was supported by a legacy from Gordon Walkinshaw.

Strokes are often regarded as a problem facing older people, but hundreds of children like Alfie (pictured left) have a stroke each year in the UK. The result can be devastating, leaving two thirds of children who survive with long-term problems, such as movement or learning difficulties, and up to a third go on to have another stroke. In 2009 Action Medical Research awarded Dr Despina Eleftheriou a grant of £191,375 to fund her three-year study into strokes in children. Dr Despina Eleftheriou was first inspired to improve the lives of young stroke victims while caring for children at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital. Her project focused on improving understanding of what causes strokes during childhood, with the ultimate aim of developing better treatments. Forty six babies and children who have suffered a stroke took part in the study, alongside healthy children.

“We aimed to investigate whether inflammation and/or injury of the blood vessels in the brain could play a part in causing strokes in children,” she explains.

This groundbreaking study enabled Dr Eleftheriou to develop a blood test to help predict which children who have had a stroke are likely to have further problems in the future. She has also set up a novel technique to try to understand why strokes occur in childhood. “These findings help us understand why children get strokes and we can therefore be better equipped to try to help them” says Dr Eleftheriou. “Action Medical Research gave me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of children who have suffered a stroke.”

Help us spread the word