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Friday 05 January 2024

Southampton celebrates reaching 250,000 participants in health research

Over 250,000 people have now taken part in clinical trials and studies in Southampton.

The major milestone shows the scale of how research is changing lives and healthcare in the south.

The figure has been reached for National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) studies at University Hospital Southampton (UHS).

When counted together, the total would almost fill eight St Mary’s Stadiums.

The achievement has been featured in a special report by BBC South Today, including a visit to the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility.

Advancing healthcare

Research trials and studies are part of everyday work in the NHS.

This includes experimental medicine trials, which look at the causes of disease, how treatments work and whether they are safe, and studies to test the effectiveness of new treatments.

UHS is ranked in the top five trusts in England for participation in research studies over the last 20 years.

The trust is investing over £15m in research and innovation over five years to drive the next generation of hospital services and develop future research leaders. The number of research staff has doubled over the last decade.

Paul Grundy, Chief Medical Officer at UHS, said:

“Evidence shows that hospitals engaged in research achieve better outcomes for patients, providing early access to new and emerging therapies to drive direct benefits on the quality of care provided.

“I want to share my thanks to all the patients and volunteers from across the region who have contributed to research over the years at the hospital. You are advancing healthcare that will benefit future generations.”

Research partnership

Research has been an important pillar of UHS since it formed a partnership with the University of Southampton just over 50 years ago. Today this remains stronger than ever.

The NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility (CRF) was first established in 2001 as one of the UK’s five millennium facilities. It is where many participants at the hospital come to take part in early-phase research.

The NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) brings together experts from across UHS and the University to work together on five key research areas.

In 2022, the NIHR invested a further £35m in these ground-breaking research areas and facilities.

Our 250,000th participant

Keith Goodin, 60, is the 250,000th participant to take part in research at UHS.

When Keith first had chest pains, he thought it was indigestion or heart burn. Even when he went to see his doctor, they prescribed him indigestion tablets.

But, when he kept getting the pains, he knew something was wrong. He’d had them three or four times when a research nurse asked if he’d like to take part in research. He said yes.

Keith joined the TARGET-CTCA study, led by the University of Edinburgh. This uses a heart scan known as computed tomography coronary angiogram (CTCA) to look for unrecognised heart disease in patients who’ve come to hospital with chest pains, but had a heart attack ruled out.

Usually tests for patients with a suspected heart attack include a blood test to measure troponin – a protein released into the bloodstream when the heart muscle is damaged. If this is negative, patients may be sent home without further tests.

This study aims to see if patients with negative troponin should still be offered a CT scan of their heart to find out if they have heart disease. All patients with a negative troponin score will have checks at three months, one year and two years.

The hope is that it will prevent the need for future hospital visits due to symptoms of a heart attack. Overall, about 3,170 are taking part in the study, with 112 patients recruited here in Southampton.

“If this study proves CT scans for people with chest pain but negative troponin tests are cost effective and improve outcomes, we hope this will be incorporated into standard practice,” explains Sam Gough, a cardiology research nurse in the Coronary Research Group at UHS who is involved in the study.

Keith’s experience

As part of the study, Keith had a CT scan of his heart and blood taken. While he said the tablets he took for the CT scan made him feel sick, he was grateful to the staff who did it.

“They were excellent,” he says. “They explained all the way through.”

As a lorry driver for a furniture delivery company and an ex-soldier, Keith’s always lived an active lifestyle. He doesn’t drink alcohol, and says he’s never been the type to just sit and watch TV all day.

Until five years ago he was part of a five-a-side football team, and used to be a cross country runner. During his working day he carries heavy furniture, and in his spare time enjoys fishing and walking.

This meant it was a shock when he found out that he had coronary heart disease.

“No one ever thinks it’s going to happens to them,” he reflects. “It shocked me.”

He’s found it hard to come to terms with his diagnosis. Even so, he says it’s good that he now knows what the problem is, as he can do something about it.

“I’m glad they’ve found it, because I can change my lifestyle,” he says. ““I feel better now, because I know what I’ve got to do.”

Since then, he’s made a number of changes to his lifestyle. He’s greatly cut down on smoking, going from 15-20 cigarettes a day to vaping four to five times, and intends to cut back even further if he can. He’s also changed his diet, reducing the amount of fatty and sugary food he eats.

He says if he met someone else in a similar situation, he would ‘100 percent’ recommend taking part in research, without hesitation.

“If I hadn’t gone on the study, would I have got that scan?” he wonders. “I’m glad I did, because I knew there was something wrong with my body.”