Research plays an important role at any university, and this is particularly true at St George’s. Since being ranked the best university in the world for research influence by The Times Higher 2015-16 World University Rankings, the quality and importance of our research has gone from strength to strength.
Whether it be analysing the effect of living in the Olympic Park on the lifestyle habits of local residents, or discerning how best to combat a sudden rise in STIs among 16-24 year olds in London, the research undertaken here has the sole aim of making a tangible difference to healthcare in the real world.
A particularly exciting and pertinent piece of research conducted at St George’s, which may have far reaching implications, was an analysis of cardiovascular health across the social classes in the UK. The study compared the heart health of individuals in manual professions (who were typically from working class backgrounds) and non-manual professions (who were typically from higher socio-economic backgrounds) in childhood, early adulthood, middle age and their early sixties. It found that those who grew up in a working class environment were more likely to be overweight as they aged (leading to heart issues in middle age) than those from higher classes. These findings could prove vital to informing future government policy on public health.
St George's has an internationally renowned reputation for research and innovation. We have partnerships with numerous institutions across the globe, as well as many slightly closer to home, including:
- St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust
- South West London and St George's Academic Health and Social Care Network
The percentage of research submissions at St George's rated as internationally excellent or world leading is now at 70 per cent and rising. As such, our institution is a powerhouse of medical research.
Here are two examples of some of the groundbreaking research work that's happening here:
The effects of second hand smoke on children
One of the most interesting St George's-led investigations in the 1990s was on the effect of second hand smoke on children. It found that there was a link between parental smoking and poor respiratory health in their children in infancy and childhood. Researchers conducted reviews of the epidemiological evidence linking the two phenomena - parental smoking and adverse respiratory health effects in infancy and childhood.
These reviews were published as a series of nine peer-reviewed papers in Thorax, one of the world's leading respiratory journals, and showed strong statistical evidence that second hand smoke can have a negative effect on children's health. Significant adverse effects from paternal smoking suggested a causal role for postnatal exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, independent of any prenatal effects of maternal smoking in pregnancy.
These findings played a significant role in influencing public health policy in both the UK and the United States, including the introduction of smoke-free workplaces and public health campaigns encouraging parents not to smoke around their children. The research was reported to the Department of Health’s Standing Committee on Tobacco and Health (SCOTH) and contributed to the growing prominence of the adverse health effects of second hand smoke in public health policy in the 21st century, including the introduction of smoke free workplaces, including pubs and restaurants.
The research also gave rise to major national public health campaigns. It influenced the US Environmental Protection Agency’s smoke-free homes and cars campaign and legislation passed since 2008 to ban smoking in vehicles when children are present in several US states.
Reducing salt intake to decrease risk of heart attack and stroke
A similarly influential piece of St George’s research - initially published in 2002 - demonstrated how a reduction in salt intake can decrease the risk of a heart attack and stroke.
In a meta-analysis of 28 trials, it was shown that a modest reduction in salt intake results in a significant and clinically meaningful reduction in blood pressure. Reducing salt intake from 12 to nine grams per day leads to a fall in blood pressure in both normotensive and hypertensive people that would be doubled with a reduction to six grams per day and tripled with a reduction to three grams per day.
It was concluded that reducing salt intake from 12 to three grams per day could reduce the number of strokes by approximately 33 per cent and ischaemic heart disease (IHD) by 25 per cent. In the UK this would mean preventing about 20,500 stroke deaths and 31,400 IHD deaths a year. It was also demonstrated that a lower salt diet in childhood reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease in later life. The research also discovered a clear link between the level salt in children's diets and the consumption of sugary drinks, suggesting that a lower salt intake in children's diets could also have an impact on reducing childhood obesity.
This work has influenced UK government and World Health Organisation recommendations for salt intake and significantly reduced the number of deaths from stroke and cardiovascular disease in the UK. This led to a national publicity campaign that prompted a reduction in salt intake in the UK from 9.5 grams per day in 2003 to 8.6 grams per day 2008. This was calculated to have reduced deaths from cardiovascular disease by 6,000, saving the UK economy £15 billion. The UK food industry has reacted to this research and subsequent recommendations by changing their packaging to clearly show how much salt is in each product, making it easier for people to manage their salt intake.