World-leading researchers have issued a £300,000 fundraising plea as they look to develop pioneering treatments for childhood brain diseases in the North.
Dr Rob Forsyth, a paediatric neurologist based at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, is a member of a six-person team leading research that is rolled out across the country.
Now the specialist is embarking on a huge drive to raise cash that could help unlock the science behind childhood brain diseases including meningitis, epilepsy and mitochondrial diseases.
It is thought that cures and treatments developed on Tyneside to boost survival rates of sufferers could also help improve the lives of thousands of youngsters suffering from brain diseases.
Some of the illnesses encountered by Dr Forsyth and his team are so rare they have not yet been medically identified.
Last night Dr Forsyth, a trustee on the Child Brain Research organisation, said: “Our focus is very much at the earliest stages of a ‘bright new idea’.
“We sometimes call ourselves an ‘incubator’ for new ideas, or hunches. The big funders play a major role but getting funding from them is highly competitive and you need to show them more than a bright idea.
“They like to see some proof of principle, some encouraging pilot data, and that can leave people with a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem which we aim to help solve. We’ve supported a number of projects at their very early stages that have now gone on to bigger things.”
Thousands of youngsters pass through the doors of the RVI’s neurology and specialist brain injuries unit each year. Dr Forsyth, also a senior lecturer at Newcastle University, estimates that there are hundreds of children across the North East suffering from brain diseases.
He said that around five children in the North East will suffer stroke-induced disabilities, while two suffer disability after brain tumours each year. He also believes 10 children are admitted to intensive care each year after suffering traumatic brain injuries in car accidents and falls.
Now Child Brain Research is looking to capitalise on a breakthrough in genetics that could help develop drugs and treatment to treat a range of childhood brain diseases.
Dr Forsyth said: “We are trying to support research in all children’s injuries. At the moment if someone has a stroke or a head injury, rehabilitation is the mainstay but there’s a lot about rehabilitation that we don’t really understand.
“The next 20 years are going to be huge in childhood neurology. Our knowledge of genetics is changing and we can look at what causes brain diseases in children and often when you know how they occur you can really get an understanding of them.
“Already there are examples of ‘incurable’ brain diseases where sufferers have had to cope with the consequences, but now there looks to be some promising treatments on the horizon. That’s going to take off.”
The six-person team specialises in a wide range of childhood brain injuries. Currently they are working on limiting the effects of cerebral palsy as well as treatment for life-threatening status epilepticus.
Dr Forsyth said: “It’s a huge field and money raised could help train the professors of tomorrow. We could take a couple of promising young doctors and train them to be researchers on their own.”
Child Brain Research is a unique charity, being established and run by children’s neurology doctors at work in the UK’s leading hospitals.
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A JustGiving link is on the website at http://www.childbrainresearch.org.uk/