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Three St George’s researchers win Academy of Medical Sciences Springboard Awards

Published: 23 March 2020

The doors to St George's campus.

Three research staff at St George’s University of London have been awarded Springboard Awards by the Academy of Medical Sciences, the UK’s National Academy with a mission to advance biomedical and health research and its translation into benefits for society.

At St George’s, Dr Sally Hargreaves, Lecturer in Global Health; Dr Laura Southgate, Lecturer in Cell Sciences; and Dr Sile Molloy, Lecturer in Epidemiology, were selected for the Awards.

Now in their fifth year, the Awards provide biomedical scientists both financial backing and a personalised package of career support with the aim of enabling early-career researchers to launch an independent research programme at a crucial stage for their subsequent career.

A focus on migrant health – Dr Sally Hargreaves

Dr Hargreaves’ award will fund a pilot study to explore the development and testing of an innovative multi-disease screening tool to strengthen delivery systems to migrants in UK primary care, in collaboration with a consortium of GPs, infection specialists, and Public Health England.

Migration to the UK has risen substantially, with data showing that migrants face a disproportionate burden of infections such as tuberculosis, HIV, and hepatitis B and C (now making up over 70% of new cases in the UK). This tool will support primary care in improving the delivery of required screening for latent and active tuberculosis, HIV, hepatitis B and C, and parasitic diseases with the aim of improving health outcomes in migrants.

“I am absolutely delighted to have won this prestigious award,” said Dr Hargreaves.

“An award like this, at this stage in my academic career, offers me a golden opportunity to start building my own team, to become more independent and to do further training.”

Exploring pulmonary arterial hypertension – Dr Laura Southgate

The work of Dr Laura Southgate examines the cellular role of an enzyme, ATP13A3, which has recently been identified as a novel cause of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH).

The condition is a rare genetic disorder caused by the gradual blockage of blood vessels in the lung.

Without treatment, people with PAH typically die from heart failure 3-5 years after diagnosis. Treatments for PAH are currently limited and the gold-standard is, at present, a heart-lung transplant.

This project will investigate the mode of action of the ATP13A3 enzyme in cells, which is poorly understood. Dr Southgate will also examine whether ATP13A3 interacts with other proteins that have been implicated in PAH.

It is hoped that this work will lead to better understanding of the mechanisms by which genetic variations in ATP13A3 can cause the condition.

“I am thrilled to have been awarded this research grant, which provides an exciting opportunity to explore novel cellular pathways in PAH, offering new hope for people suffering with this disorder,” she said.

“These studies will further improve our understanding of the causes of PAH, providing a foundation for future work to identify new personalised treatments targeting these specific genetic variants.”

Beating cryptococcal meningitis - Dr Síle Molloy

Dr Síle Molloy has been funded to conduct a clinical trial in Tanzania studying a combined treatment for well, HIV-positive individuals who are infected with a fungus known as cryptococcus.

This fungus can lead to the development of cryptococcal meningitis, which is the commonest form of meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa and accounts for 15-20% of all HIV-related deaths, around 180,000 globally/year.

Treatment with the drug fluconazole alone hasn’t been shown to be sufficiently effective in preventing meningitis and death, so Dr Molloy is testing whether adding another drug called flucytosine might help. It’s hoped that demonstrating the effectiveness of a combined treatment could have an important global impact on the reduction of late-stage HIV mortality, as has been seen in previous trials for inpatients with cryptococcal meningitis carried out by Dr Molloy and her team.

Dr Molloy said: “I am very grateful to be granted this award as it gives me the support I need to become an established independent researcher and will allow me to pursue my goal of advancing research which will help reduce late-stage HIV mortality in resource limited settings.”

Deputy Principal (Research and Enterprise), Professor Jon Friedland, along with Professor Sanjeev Krishna, champion the Springboard programme within St George’s and have helped to identify and support applicants for the funding scheme.

“This is fantastic news not only for the researchers themselves, but also more broadly as part of our efforts to both increase the number of lecturers at St George’s and, while here, provide them with the support to flourish,” said Professor Friedland. 

“Of those who applied for the award, St George’s, as an institution, had a 100% success rate. Such a rate of success is testament to the support we have already put in place the enable to staff to secure these prestigious Awards.”

Professor Krishna added, “I hope that winning these Awards will have a profoundly positive impact for the future trajectory of these early-career researchers who will benefit in many ways from Academy support – the evidence also suggests that being an Award winner can double grant income for research, compared to those who are not selected.”

The Springboard Awards provide funding of up to £100,000 over two years and access to the Academy of Medical Sciences’ well-regarded mentoring and career development programme, and form part of the Academy’s broader aim to contribute to improving health through research.

The Awards are supported by the Wellcome Trust; British Heart Foundation; the UK Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (as part of the Global Challenges Research Fund and the Talent fund); and Diabetes UK.

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