newcastle-healthcareThe recent calls by NHS chief Simon Stevens for a more recombinative approach to innovation highlights the importance of a collaborative approach to healthcare.  Strong connections between universities and the health service will be crucial to achieve the kind of innovations patients require.

Our recent partnership with Newcastle Hospitals and Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trusts, which is working under the title of ‘Newcastle Academic Health Partners‘.

The partnership will aim to deliver world-class healthcare through a range of collaborative scientific research, education and patient care, and mobilise the capabilities of each partner to drive economic growth in the region.

Advancing science

The partnership will focus specifically on advancing science in common age related chronic diseases, including dementia and musculoskeletal disease.  There will also be a focus on improving our understanding and treatment of cancer, brain diseases and those affecting children.

This clinical research will then be translated into practice by developing prevention and treatment strategies, and improved diagnostics as well as improvements in health education.

Sir Leonard Fenwick, Chief Executive for the Newcastle Hospitals explained: “Newcastle has a long-standing, international reputation for delivering trail-blazing health services. This wouldn’t be possible without the leading edge research carried out in partnership with Newcastle University, and we very much see this formal partnership, alongside new partners Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, as a springboard to cultivate even more pioneering research to benefit the people of the North East and beyond.”

Professor Chris Day, Pro Vice Chancellor in the Faculty of Medical Sciences at Newcastle University said: “This partnership is at the forefront of a revolution in practice which is developing and translating scientific advances made at Newcastle University into direct benefits for patients being treated in our partner NHS Trusts. This strategy has already led to major advances in healthcare within the region, as well as nationally and internationally”.

Long term plan

The partnership has a long term, five year plan that also includes ensuring the next generation of researchers are trained and recruited by providing a leadership role in healthcare education.  It’s hoped that the partnership will help to attract the brightest researchers and practitioners to the region.

There have already been initial fruits from the partnership in the form of a recent paper into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).  An abnormality in proteins raises the possibility of new drugs and treatments for the disease.

Professor Newton said: “At the moment we don’t know what causes CFS and, as a result, there are no biological-based treatments that can be given to patients.

“There are a great number suffering significant problems with CFS and our work is heading towards looking for medications that we can use to improve patients’ symptoms and hopefully find a cure.”

With approximately 600,000 people suffering from the condition in the UK alone, it’s a challenge that is certainly worth tackling.

Professor Newton said: “Our study focused on whether there were any biochemical changes so that we can start to understand what happens in the muscle with fatigue and, therefore, explore if there are drugs we can use to reverse this.

“What we have been able to identify is that production of AMPK is impaired in patients with CFS compared to those without. This is an important finding because there are drugs that are currently already available that we know will modify this abnormality.

“The next step is to carry out experiments to see whether or not we can reverse changes in AMPK with drugs that might ultimately form the basis of clinical trials.

“In a condition where we have no clinical trials of treatments ongoing in the UK at the moment then this is an exciting step towards that holy grail of trialling medicinal products.”

The tight collaboration between universities and hospital trusts is something that is a real strength of the North East, and the collective academic and clinical strengths of the group help to ensure the highest quality care is delivered to patients in the region.