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St George’s presents annual prizes for outstanding research

Published: 15 December 2020

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Five St George’s academics have been recognised for their contribution to healthcare research at the University’s annual Research Day.  

Selected by a committee, including each of the University’s Research Institute Directors and Deputy Principal for Research and Enterprise Professor Jon Friedland, the prizes were awarded as part of Research Day, which takes place every year as a flagship celebration of research across the institution. For the first time, this year the day was presented entirely online, enabling people to tune in from their own desks during the pandemic.

In recognition of their achievement, each winner was invited to speak about their work.

Outstanding research publication – Dr Michael Perkin

The award for outstanding research publication was given to Dr Michel Perkin from the Population Health Research Institute for his paper: “Efficacy of the Enquiring About Tolerance (EAT) study among infants at high risk of developing food allergy,” published at the end of 2019 in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology.

The study found that introducing egg, peanut and other foods early to young children at high risk of developing food allergy may prevent them from developing food allergies. The story was picked up by national media at the time, with Dr Perkin featuring in an interview on ITV to discuss the findings.

You can read more about the study in our news article.

Excellence in public and civic engagement in research – Dr Elisabetta Groppelli

Dr Elisabetta Groppelli from the Institute for Infection & Immunity was awarded the prize in public and civic engagement for her work throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

Dr Groppelli only joined St George’s in January of this year, but has quickly established herself as a prime spokesperson since the beginning of the outbreak, featuring in more than 300 interviews for TV, radio, newspapers and beyond. As a virologist, Dr Groppelli is also working in the lab to understand the biology of the virus.

Having first caught the public eye after explaining the first stages of the outbreak in Italy before it took hold around the world, Dr Groppelli explains, “No public health measure works unless the public is on board and I was given the chance to help the public make sense of the virus.”

You can catch up on one of Elisabetta’s first interviews on national television, surrounded by eminent researchers from the UK’s top institutions, via our news article.

Outstanding postdoctoral research scientist award – Dr David Clark

The award for excellence in postdoctoral research went to Dr David Clark from the Institute for Infection & Immunity. He received the prize for his work, re-tasking to focus on rapid test development for SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic.

He switched to work on tests to both detect presence of the virus and to detect human antibodies that are produced in response to Covid-19 to help fight the infection.

“The quicker you can detect a virus, the faster you can assist patients and limit the spread,” says Dr Clark. There was a lack of tests at the start of the pandemic (as this was a novel virus), and through partnerships with biotechnology companies, the team were able to make significant progress, developing better rapid tests and understanding more about the immune response to infection in patients.

You can read about the results of one study written by David and the rest of the team, which uncovered details of the immune response to Covid-19, here.

Prize for Outstanding Research Achievement by a University Lecturer – Dr Daniel Meijles

Dr Daniel Meijles from the Molecular and Clinical Sciences Research Institute, picked up the prize for achievement in research as a university lecturer.

He received the award for his work in cardiac remodelling in hypertension, defining a molecule called apoptosis signal regulating kinase 1 (ASK-1) as a potential therapeutic target.

“Hypertensive heart disease is an expensive unmet clinical need,” Dr Meijles says, “with high blood pressure costing the NHS over £2.1 billion every year.”

His research has found that the drug selonsertib, which is an ASK-1 inhibitor, reduces the fibrotic response (damage) brought about by hypertension, identifying ASK-1 as a possible target for future treatments.

You can read Dr Meijles’ latest research, published in Hypertension, here.

Prize for Outstanding Research Achievement by a University Senior Lecturer prize – Dr Julia Bielicki

Dr Julia Bielicki from the Institute for Infection & Immunity won the senior lecturer prize for her work in optimising the management of bacterial infection in newborns and children.

Her work on large-scale trials has helped to define the optimal duration and dosages of antibiotics for children. In particular, the CAP-IT trial into childhood pneumonia has explored the use of lower doses and shorter regimens of antibiotics for patients. They found that less intensive regimens were non-inferior to typically used higher dosages and longer durations.

Speaking about the trial and collaborating teams, Dr Bielicki says, “It’s crucial to act in networks. Without working with recruitment sites and research colleagues, CAP-IT would not have been possible.”

You can find out more about the CAP-IT trial on the study website.

Following the presentations, the winners were congratulated by St George’s Principal, Professor Jenny Higham and Deputy Principal for Research and Enterprise, Professor Jon Friedland.

Speaking on the research presented, Professor Friedland said: “The winners of this year’s awards have all shown themselves to be outstanding research scientists who shone in a very competitive field. The awards reflect the considerable impact that University science continues to have on improving health through focused research.

“It was particularly impressive to see the way our community has adapted this year in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, with much of our key work being relevant to tackling the pandemic.”

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