Health matters

HERE in the North East health experts are leading the way in pioneering medical research and treatments.

Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Care Centre

HERE in the North East health experts are leading the way in pioneering medical research and treatments.

Miracles are being made possible thanks to development into stem cells and work is being carried out with the aim of finding a cure for cancer.

Revolutionary medical techniques are also bringing hope of cures for genetic disorders and debilitating diseases.

A key priority for the region is research into new cancer therapies, as health professionals continue their quest to find the cures for tomorrow, and to offer patients the very latest advances in cancer prevention, detection and treatment.

The Northern Centre for Cancer Care (NCCC) was opened at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital last year and is one of the largest cancer centres in the country.

It is the only centre in the UK with Prim atom units, which enable highly accurate delivery of radiotherapy – allowing medical staff to treat previously inoperable tumours.

It also offers other specialist services for some lung cancers and is a leading centre for the treatment of thyroid, paediatric and rare skin cancers.

NCCC has 16 experienced multi-disciplinary teams with doctors, surgeons, radiologists, pathologists, radiographers, clinical nurse specialists, nursing staff, admin and clerical staff.

An integral part of the centre is the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre – a purpose-built facility within the building which provides the ideal environment for the groundbreaking research carried out by world-leading specialists.

Launched by the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and supported by the generosity of people from all walks of life, as many as 600 cancer patients from the North East and Cumbria have received treatment at the premises and promising work is already being done into understanding the disease.

It gives patients access to clinical trials of new drugs. These include early trials as well as those which are further on in development and being compared to standard treatments for effectiveness.

The Northern Institute for Cancer Research (NICR) is also the focus of research excellence in cancer studies, based at Newcastle University.

NICR is a multi-disciplinary research institute with more than 200 clinical and laboratory staff.

In the most recent research assessment exercise, 75% of the research was classed as internationally excellent and a further 15% as world-leading.

Molecular genetic approaches developed by the NICR will allow disease stratification, dose optimisation and treatment individualisation. The improvement of treatment outcomes for patients with cancer lies at the heart of its endeavour.

But cancer is not the only pioneering research being done at Newcastle University.

Its Centre for Brain Ageing and Vitality is developing programmes to address the relationship between the healthy ageing brain and the healthy ageing body.

The centre is developing research around factors involved in lifelong health and vitality. Its key objectives are to explore the mechanisms involved in brain ageing and the mechanisms specifically relating to musculoskeletal and brain ageing, with particular emphasis on the effects of diet and exercise.

Scientists at the North East England Stem Cell Institute (NESCI) – the first in the world to clone a human embryo – have the only centre in the country where people are working across areas of research, involving embryonic, adult and umbilical cord blood stem cells.

NESCI is a collaboration between Durham and Newcastle universities, the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and other partners, including the Centre for Life in Newcastle. One of their primary aims is the development of new stem cell treatments and providing research tools for drug discovery.

Much of the work involves potential cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and diabetes using stem cells from early embryos which can be used to grow new cells to replace those destroyed or damaged by the diseases.

Whatever the research or treatments, patients are always at the heart of everything North East medical specialists do.

Surgeons and anaesthetists at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which runs hospitals in Northumberland and North Tyneside, are at the forefront of a revolutionary hip and knee replacement technique which has more than halved recovery times for patients.

Wansbeck, Hexham and North Tyneside general hospitals offer this fast-track hip and knee replacement service which has seen some patients walk out of hospital just 24 hours after their operation when it would otherwise take six to 10 days. Approximately 2,000 patients have benefited so far.

Advances in medical research and treatments in the North East are certainly leading the way for others and something the region is, and should be proud of.

Changing lives

REVOLUTIONARY surgery pioneered in the North East restored a man’s sight – 15 years after he was the victim of an ammonia attack.

Russell Turnbull was blinded in one eye after he tried to calm down two men who had begun fighting behind him on a bus.

As he tried to intervene, one of the men sprayed ammonia in his face, leaving him with devastating and permanent injuries to his right eye.

Now he is one of eight patients with impaired vision who have been treated successfully with their own stem cells in a technique developed by scientists and eye surgeons at the North East England Stem Cell Institute (NESCI).

Mr Turnbull, who lives in Medomsley, Consett, County Durham, was hit in his right eye, causing massive damage to the cornea stem cells, leaving him with severely impaired vision, a condition known as Limbal Stem Cell Deficiency (LSCD).

But after 12 years of living in constant pain, with poor vision and undergoing various treatments Mr Turnbull, who works as a storeman, became part of a trial into a new treatment

The team at NESCI took a tiny amount of stem cells from Mr Turnbull’s good eye and grew them in a lab.

They were then implanted in the damaged eye, where they then began to function as normal, restoring sight. The technique avoids the need for drugs to suppress immunity and means there is no chance of the implanted cells being rejected.

Mr Turnbull said his life had been transformed.


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