Translating research into impact is a key focus for Norwich Medical School. Through engagement with the NHS and the Department of Health, and international bodies such as the World Health Organisation, the Medical School has a strong influence on a wide range of health policies, all of which are geared to have a beneficial influence on the lives of millions of people.
A particular strength is the school's focus on food research. Our academics are investigating, for example, how food and diet can affect chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. This research has led to engagement with national and international policy makers, as well as with industrial partners, including major food producers.
We also work in clinical research where our work has influenced clinical practice in the UK through changes to national policy and guidelines. These have, in turn, brought huge benefits both to patients and to the national economy.
Globally, our researchers have helped develop health policy and practices across a number of developing and developed countries that are bringing tangible benefits to the management and treatment of widespread diseases such as HIV/AIDs and tuberculosis.
Our location on the Norwich Research Park means we can also work closely with Research Park partners to generate commercial opportunities for innovations developed by UEA academics.
Here are some of the ways in which UEA researchers are making an impact:
We're helping to manage micronutrients
Over the past 30 years our researchers have amassed a wealth of research and expertise on how micronutrients, such as iron, zinc and potassium work in our bodies and how much of them we need to stay healthy.
Our work is helping bodies such as the World Health Organisation and the European Union to better understand the varying needs for micronutrients within different populations.
A European network, the European Recommendations Aligned (EURRECA) Network of Excellence, led by UEA is mapping out ways in which recommended daily intakes of micronutrients can be harmonised across the EU.
Research by UEA academics is also having an impact on world food security. Through the EURRECA network, we have helped inform a biofortification programme, HarvestPlus, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The programme is developing staple foods fortified with micronutrients for growing in developing countries.
Our research has put soy back on the menu
The health benefits and risks of eating soy-based foods has been hotly debated in recent years, with claims that isoflavones – the bioactive compounds found in soy foods – could be responsible for a range of diseases including osteoporosis and breast cancer.
Research carried out at UEA has gone a long way to increasing our understanding of isoflavones and proving that, in fact, they are unlikely to have any negative health effects.
EFSA (the EU agency that provides independent scientific advice and communication on existing and emerging risks associated with the food chain), has used UEA research to inform a number of its recommendations on soy foods.
UEA research proves that blood pressure drugs will improve outcomes for stroke patients
Our studies into the management of high blood pressure in stroke patients has underpinned guidelines for patient care both in the UK and in the US.
Researchers at UEA carried out two major clinical trials to investigate whether patients should take drugs to lower their blood pressure following a stroke. Until these trials there was no evidence to support the use of these drugs and concerns that their use could extend the stroke.
The trials showed that the drugs were effective in managing blood pressure in stroke patients and their use did not put patients at increased risk. In fact, the studies showed that lowering blood pressure halved the number of patients who died three months after a stroke.
Improved testing for Vitamin D improves patient care and cuts costs
A technique to measure accurately levels of vitamin D in patients has led to better patient care, as well as significant cost savings for the NHS.
Vitamin D is important because it helps us absorb calcium and grow healthy bones. However, there are several different types of vitamin D. The form contained in vitamin supplements, for example, is not recognised by most testing methods. This means it is common for levels to be underestimated.
Our researchers developed a technique using Tandem Mass Spectrometry allowing samples to be measured much more accurately, as well as more cheaply than current methods. Guidelines written by the National Osteoporosis Society recommends the use of testing methods such as the one developed at UEA and our technique is increasingly being used by laboratories accredited to test samples for vitamin D levels.
The uptake of the Tandem MS technique by the NHS in the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital has already led to significant savings and these will increase as adoption of the technique becomes more widespread.
Primary care education programmes designed at UEA will improve outcomes for HIV/AIDS patients
Our academics have been working in partnership with South African researchers to improve the diagnosis and care of patients with HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
South Africa has the largest number of HIV infections of any country and in recent years the government has sought to expand provision for testing and treatment of patients. The PALSA PLUS scheme, developed and tested by UEA researchers, has been adopted by the South African National Department of Health. It provides in-service training for nurse practitioners in care and treatment of patients suffering from HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.
In partnership with the Knowledge Translation Unit at the University of Cape Town Medical School, this training has already been cascaded to 18,000 primary care professionals in 1900 medical facilities.
Our research has also had wider international impact, with local adaptations of the package being implemented in Malawi and The Gambia. PALSA PLUS guidelines and training materials are also being used in Brazil, Mexico and Portugal.
Our research has clarified guidelines on water quality
Contaminated drinking water is one of the most important causes of diarrhoeal disease worldwide. Its spread is a major problem in both developed and developing countries, costing the UK alone around £1.5 billion each year.
Our researchers have been investigating how water supply systems contribute to the spread of disease and found that small-scale systems are much more likely to spread microbial disease than larger systems. The findings have influenced World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines on the benefits of testing adequately water supplies.
A further cause of diarrhoeal and other gastrointestinal diseases is contaminated coastal waters where people swim. Researchers at UEA have been addressing this too and have helped draw up improved guidelines on classifying ‘recreational water' that have been adopted by WHO and underpin current UK law on bathing water quality.