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Research Day 2021 – Prizes announced and Thomas Young Lecture

Published: 17 December 2021

Research Day 2021_crop

St George’s, University of London celebrated its flagship event showcasing the university’s scientific achievements, with the annual Research Day taking place last week.

Kicking off with a poster presentation session in the morning, the afternoon then saw the university’s community coming together both in-person and online to hear who had won this year’s coveted prizes for excellence in research, alongside the renowned Thomas Young Prize Lecture, delivered by Dame Anne Johnson.

The prizes this year were given to students and staff across the university, with the awards going to ground-breaking research in a range of fields, from Covid-19 to health inequalities.

Students receiving prizes for posters included: Anagha Alex (Undergraduate prize), Emelia Zullo (Masters prize), Sally Hayward (Postgraduate prize) and Susanna Cooper (Chrissie Fenske prize for best overall poster). Postgraduate student Clare Benson won the Image of the Year prize for her image of a molecule important in Adams-Oliver syndrome

Following the announcement of the student prizes, the awards were announced for staff at the university, with each winner being invited to give a short lecture about their work over the previous year.

Outstanding research publication for the academic year 2020/21 – Professor Paul Heath

The first staff prize announced went to Professor Paul Heath, Director of the Vaccine Institute at St George’s, for his paper “Safety and Efficacy of NVX-CoV2373 Covid-19 Vaccine,” published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This game-changing paper announced the results of UK phase III trial of the Novavax Covid-19 vaccine, demonstrating excellent safety and effectiveness, providing another potential tool in the arsenal against the pandemic.

Excellence in public/civic engagement research – Dr Mohammad Razai

Dr Mohammad Razai from the Population Health Research Institute was awarded a prize for his work to tackle ethnic and societal health disparities and inequalities. The recent John Maddox Early Career Researcher Prize winner was recognised for his work covering topics ranging from tackling vaccine hesitancy among ethnic minority groups to revealing systemic racism as a fundamental cause and driver of adverse health outcomes. His must-read research papers, editorials and guidance have received widespread coverage and recognition, influencing international debates on the issues at hand.

Outstanding research achievement by University Senior Lecturer – Dr Sally Hargreaves

Dr Sally Hargreaves from the Migrant Health Research Group at St George’s received her prize in recognition of the group’s work in addressing the healthcare barriers facing migrant populations, including access to vaccinations and treatment during the pandemic. The group have published multiple research papers uncovering the health disparities facing migrants globally, including writing the ECDC report, “Reducing COVID 19 transmission and strengthening vaccine uptake among migrant populations in the EU/EEA.

Outstanding research achievement by University Lecturer – Dr Elisabetta Groppelli

Dr Elisabetta Groppelli from the Institute for Infection and Immunity was awarded for her significant work to enable live virus research on Covid-19 at St George’s. Setting up the appropriate facilities and approvals at the University to carry out research using real virus was a hugely complex endeavour, requiring sign off from the Health and Safety Executive before work could begin. It is hoped the research will have an immediate impact on work by clinical colleagues as well as a long-lasting impact through projects laying the foundations for identifying new antiviral strategies.

Outstanding Postdoctoral Research Scientist Award – Dr Silvia Martin Almedina

Dr Silvia Martin Almedina from the Molecular and Clinical Sciences Research Institute won a prize for her work investigating the molecular mechanisms of primary lymphoedema. Her innovative research looking into causative genes for the condition that causes swelling in body tissues has identified several mechanisms that could be targeted for treatments in future.

Thomas Young Prize Lecture 2021 – Dame Anne Johnson

As always, the showcase event closed with the Thomas Young Prize Lecture, this year given by Dame Anne Johnson, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology and President of the Academy of Medical Sciences.

Her talk on People, Policy and Pandemics, focused on her decades of work in the field, gaining an understanding of the behavioural and biological drivers of infection transmission.

“My plan is to focus on the people and the worlds in which pandemics emerge,” she said, beginning her talk explaining her role in HIV research in the 1980s, through to tackling the 2009 swine flu outbreak and now the current Covid-19 pandemic.

She explained the importance of campaigns targeted at influencing human behaviour and evidence-based research and surveys, which were pioneered to reduce the spread of HIV in the 1980s.

“Worldwide, HIV continues to be a major problem,” she added, “with many countries, for example in sub-Saharan Africa, having difficulty in accessing affordable drugs and testing.” She highlighted the importance of the rollout of treatments and tests on a global scale.

Moving on to discuss the emergence of swine flu, arising from interactions between humans and animals, Dame Anne drew parallels between the 2009 pandemic and the current Covid-19 crisis. She explained the reasons why Covid-19 was able to spread so quickly in human populations, including its easy transmission via breath droplets, through to its relatively long infectious period and asymptomatic transmission.

She concluded with recommendations developed with AMS colleagues to reduce spread of the virus, including maximising Covid-19 vaccination, increasing the ability of people with Covid-19 to self-isolate through financial and other support, and providing clear guidance about the precautions people can take to protect themselves.

Closing the day, she finished with wider remarks about pandemics and the future.

“You can’t beat pandemics if you don’t think about the wider picture of spreading in populations,” she said.

“We have to deliver better global health security. There always have been and always will be pandemics, but their nature depends on the ecological niche in which they amplify, and it will depend on our global efforts to respond, cooperate and build capability for technological solutions.

“How will we look back in 40 years on this pandemic? I won’t be here to find out, but I hope we will have progressed on reducing inequalities globally, and will have improved cities, homes and healthcare with a culture of improved respiratory hygiene.

“Perhaps that will be the topic of the Thomas Young Lecture in 2061,” she finished.

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