The main characteristic of the disease is the growth of retinal blood vessels in the middle of the eye, and in severe cases retinal detachment can occur. The retina contains the light-detecting cells that enable us to see, and if it is affected in this way, blindness can result. In fact, in the UK alone, ROP is responsible for six per cent of childhood blindness.
Led by Professor David Edwards with Dr Mark Sullivan and Professor Mary Rutherford, a large team of researchers has spent several years studying the effect of bacteria on the unborn baby to better understand the link between infection, early delivery and brain damage.
The study at the Department of Paediatrics at Imperial College School of Medicine, London, had the backing of a large group of parents who agreed to let their premature babies be a part of the research.
So far, most effort has been spent on helping children of primary school age with DCD. We have learned much about this condition in the last decade, and it has been realised that there is an urgent need for better ways of assessing children of secondary school age too. For many children with DCD, handwriting is an extremely difficult skill to master.
However, the body scans used to produce images of bones can be difficult to interpret if metal implants, screws and plates have been inserted during surgery. The metal objects obscure the healing area of the bone and can produce spurious signals — known as artefacts — that seriously distort the image.
Sometimes called dyspraxia, DCD affects around 5-10 per cent of children in the UK. Sufferers struggle with daily tasks such as getting dressed, using a knife and fork, writing neatly or finding their way around new places. It can interfere with their progress at school and undermine their self confidence.
A team of eye specialists at Addenbrooke’s NHS Trust in Cambridge is being funded by Action Medical Research to examine the genetic influences that can lead to detachment of the retina.
They have enlisted the help of hundreds of people in the first large-scale study of its kind and hope that in 18 months they will have some clear data on how genes influence the condition and, most importantly, on how those at risk can be identified and treated early on.
Sickle cell disease is a serious blood condition that affects over 10,000 people in the UK and millions worldwide. It causes the red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body to change shape and means that they cannot fit through very small blood vessels, leading to blockages and damage to tissue.
A team led by Dr Raheela Khan and based at the University of Nottingham and Derby City General Hospital, hope that a grant of £96,000 from Action Medical Research will help them to come up with some answers.
The team are looking at the effect of lipids — compounds made from fats — on muscle contractions. They want to see if a change in the production of these lipids can trigger the muscle spasms that start contractions and cause a baby to be born.
Paralysed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident just before Christmas 2003, Martin will never walk again, though with the help of the staff at the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, he’s determined to regain as much independence as possible.
At the time of his accident, Martin was working as an engineer in an aircraft factory and had lived for eight years with his girlfriend, Jo, in a country cottage in a village near Leighton Buzzard.
Imagine if the very treatment that was designed to make you well gave you a disease as severe as the illness it treated? Bone marrow transplantation transforms the lives of hundreds of desperately ill people each year. But unfortunately it will also trigger a debilitating and potentially fatal reaction called ‘graft-versus-host disease’ (GvHD) in up to 60 per cent of patients.
There’s never been a good time to sustain a spinal injury, with all the life-changing consequences entailed. But your chances of rehabilitation and of leading a normal, independent life are better now than they’ve ever been, thanks in part to forward thinking grants awarded by Action Medical Research in the 1960s.
One man who was closely involved in the revolution of care for spinal injury patients is Dr John Silver. In 1955 he was sent to work at Dr Ludwig Guttmann’s pioneering National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.