Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Our experts on a quest to tackle the world's diseases

Northern Ireland should be proud of the world-class medical research being carried out on our doorstep, says Patrick Johnston

Every day, I am privileged to share my working environment at Queen's with some of the most gifted and dedicated medical researchers in the world.

These are men and women who are leaders in their chosen field, who devote their own lives to improving the lives of others.

We have a proud heritage of pioneering research at Queen's. You will often read about what we're doing - new services, new treatments or a discovery in the battle against cancer.

At our Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, we're developing tailored therapies to accelerate treatment; at the Centre for Infection and Immunity, we're investigating responses to infection and tissue injury.

At the Centre for Public Health we study the well-being of the whole population as well as the individual; and at our Centre for Vision and Vascular Sciences we are devising new treatments for some of the world's most threatening eye diseases.

Tonight, we will introduce four of our top researchers to an audience composed of members of the public, teachers, school pupils, public representatives and others - all people with a keen interest in learning about medical advancement.

This is a unique opportunity to hear some of the world's foremost medical researchers talk about their work and their objectives. And it is an opportunity for our academics to not only enlighten, but to listen and perhaps learn from what some of you have experienced.

Last year, we were proud to receive the Diamond Jubilee Queen's Anniversary Prize for our work in cancer care. That award is a tribute to people like Professor Joe O'Sullivan, a specialist in prostate cancer.

There are 600 cases newly-diagnosed in Northern Ireland each year. Professor O'Sullivan leads the radiation oncology and prostate cancer clinical research groups at the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre and is principal investigator in more than 10 clinical trials.

Professor Danny McAuley is an expert on acute lung injury. In the UK and Ireland, there are up to 15,000 cases each year and 4,000-5,000 deaths. His goal: to find new treatments for failing lungs.

Professor Ian Young, from our Centre for Public Health, is devoted to the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

He will talk about cholesterol - how it's more than just a matter of a bad diet. In Northern Ireland each year, more than 8,000 people die from chest disease, heart disease and stroke.

Professor Usha Chakravarthy is recognised internationally for her work on diseases of the eyesight - in particular age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Each year, there are about 500 new cases of AMD in Northern Ireland. It costs roughly £15,000-a-year to treat one eye. Last year, Usha's research revealed that using cheaper, but no less effective drugs could save £84m a year.

We seek constantly to enhance the facilities we provide at Queen's, both for our researchers and our students. We have recently opened the Northern Ireland Biobank and the first integrated Molecular Pathology Laboratory in the UK and Ireland, allowing better diagnosis, so that specialists are better-placed to decide on the best treatment for their patients.

Last year, we secured £32m to establish a world-leading Centre for Experimental Medicine, which will help transform health care in Northern Ireland and beyond and where we will develop a global programme into understanding the genetics of complex chronic diseases.

These are important advances. The work of all four of the distinguished professionals on stage this evening - and their many talented colleagues - deserves to be conducted in surroundings that are worthy of them. They began their career as students and now they are on a never-ending medical research quest. I count myself privileged to be on that journey with them and in the company of such outstanding individuals.

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