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A shared will for progress

Legacies left to the BMA — often by doctors — allow the association to fund research into a variety of topics. Such gifts can help support vital studies into under-funded areas of medicine

willOne rather unusual contributor to the BMA’s medical research grants this year turned out to be a cat.

Josephine Lansdell was killed in a house fire and her will stipulated that her entire estate should go to her pet but, as the cat also died, the legacy went to the association.

The subsequent award is dedicated to assisting research in the field of heart disease.

It is one of around £500,000 of grants given by the BMA each year to fund research that might ultimately benefit patients, population health or healthcare.

They are made possible by money left as legacies to the BMA, often from doctors’ wills.

Bequests are invested safely to maximise funds so the legacy can continue to support medical research for years to come. As well as contributing to advances in medical research, the awards help support doctors’ career development.

Research areas this year include public health relating to cancer, rehabilitation in stroke care and repetitive head injury in sport.

Gifts can be left for general medical research or for a specific area of research.

Retired coal merchant Hugh Colin Roscoe, for example, left his estate to fund research into eliminating the common cold.

This year’s 10 grant winners will receive their awards at a ceremony on Tuesday, November 12. Four of the winners’ projects are detailed below.

Access to the grants is a benefit of BMA membership. Applications are invited from medical practitioners and research scientists, for either prospective research or projects that are already in progress.

There will be 10 grants on offer in 2014 and applications can be made from December this year. The application deadline is Friday, March 14 at 5pm.

For any queries email or call the BMA on (020) 7383 6755.


Eating the way to a healthy heart?

A study exploring the dietary basis of cardiovascular disease has received a funding boost from the Josephine Lansdell grant.

Cambridge Medical Research Council senior clinician scientist Sumantra Ray (pictured below) is the winner of the BMA grant for research into heart disease.

Sumantra RayHis research investigates the relationship between diet, nutrition and cardiovascular disease using a combination of trials and population study.

The £49,600 award will fund an epidemiological study using data from the National Survey of Health and Development British birth cohort 1946.

Analysis will be used to help inform more precise diet and health recommendations for heart attack and stroke prevention.

Dr Ray, who is based in Cambridge, has previously conducted research into secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, but realised a much larger segment of the population could be impacted by focusing on primary prevention.

He said: ‘Now I’m hoping to uncover what can prevent heart attacks and strokes from happening in the first place.

‘We’re dealing with healthy people so medication becomes less relevant and diet assumes a huge importance.’

The study would not have been able to take place without the BMA research grant.

‘It’s quite difficult to fund public health studies of this nature.’ he said.


State-of-the-art brain imaging

A rare syndrome that affects stroke sufferers will be studied using funding from the Helen H Lawson grant. 

Oxford clinical lecturer in neurology Elisabeth Rounis (pictured below) was awarded £48,154 to research limb apraxia, an inability to carry out everyday actions, which leads to poor recovery and difficult rehabilitation for patients.

Elisabeth RounisThe study will investigate the brain mechanisms that can lead to this disorder by looking at how the connections between brain areas activated by particular motor tasks are affected.

Dr Rounis said: ‘This award has been a fantastic opportunity because it will allow me to do a study using state-of-the-art brain imaging.

‘This part of the study, which is quite crucial for describing the condition, wouldn’t have been able to take place without the BMA grant.

‘This grant will provide the preliminary results required for me to perform independent research on this topic in the future.’

She hopes the research will impact rehabilitation techniques and therapies for stroke patients and possibly influence future clinical trials. 

‘This syndrome is poorly understood. Though it is thought to be a rare complication after stroke, understanding the mechanisms underlying limb apraxia is likely to be beneficial for understanding stroke recovery in general,’ she said.


Not playing the patient waiting game

A BMA grant set up to assist research into rheumatism and arthritis will fund a study investigating why some patients do not respond to medication.

London senior research associate Venkat Reddy (pictured below) was awarded the Doris Hillier grant of £49,491 to examine the drug Rituximab, which is prescribed to around 5 per cent of UK patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

Venkat ReddyWhen effective, the drug enables the disease to be well-controlled for prolonged periods of time, but around a third of patients do not experience this benefit.

Dr Reddy became interested in researching the reasons behind this when he noticed a group of patients attending his clinic did not react well to the drug.

He said: ‘I’m focusing on finding out if there is anything we can do to identify those who are unlikely to respond to this drug.

‘At the moment we can’t tell who will respond and it’s just trial and error. It can be a waiting game. These patients are poorly served and their care should be improved.’

He hopes the research can eventually be expanded and tested in a large number of patients and translated directly into clinics. 

Thanking the BMA for the award, he said: ‘The grant has made every difference. It’s a foundation and stepping stone.’


Welcome boost for mental health funding

Research into a mental illness that has a devastating impact on adolescents will take place due to a BMA research grant.

Oxford consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist Anthony James (pictured below) was awarded £50,000 from the Margaret Temple grant for his research into early onset schizophrenia.

Anthony JamesThe study will examine olfactory and skin fibroblast stem cells from patients with the disease and healthy controls.

Dr James said: ‘We’re very grateful to the BMA for the recognition of the grant and to the benefactors. It means we’re now able to start the research.

‘It’s a huge boost in terms of confidence that we’ll be able to go to other grant funding bodies with renewed vigour and interest and some support.’

He hopes the research will provide insight into the biological causes of adolescent-onset schizophrenia, which are currently not well understood.

The illness, which affects patients during a crucial time of emotional and social development, has considerable morbidity and mortality.

Dr James praised the BMA for its funding of mental health research, He said: ‘We have to get better at treating patients. Mental health funding is no way comparable to the burden it presents.

‘Current treatments have quite serious side effects such a weight gain and altered lipid profiles and are not always effective. We have improved treatments over the years and early intervention programmes have helped improve outcomes and reduce stigmatisation, but we’ve still got a long way to go.’