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Doctoral Fellowship Awards

High quality research improves professional practice and benefits HSC service users, and it is vital to inform the development of services. Health and Social Care (HSC) needs a core of active, skilled researchers who can advance our knowledge about illness, how the human body and mind work, how we can better prevent and treat disease, and how we can improve health and wellbeing.

The HSC R&D Fellowships support excellent, early career professionals to understand how to undertake research in health or social care environments.

Four new research Fellowships, which will lead to a PhD, have been awarded in 2019.

These four successful research fellows, all working within well-established health and social care research centres in Northern Ireland, have presented high quality research proposals, the results of which will be used to improve future health and social services in Northern Ireland. The fellows also have the opportunity to undertake an intensive and bespoke training programme to develop their expertise as HSC researchers.


Understanding risk factors, treatment choices and survival rates for the rising number of young-onset colorectal cancer patients

Dr Ashleigh Hamilton, a Medical Oncology Specialist Registrar, will examine the epidemiology of young-onset colorectal cancer using a number of existing data sources including the NI Cancer Registry, the Child Health System, and the UK Biobank. Dr Hamilton will consider a number of aspects of this disease and patient group, including; perinatal risk factors, environmental factors, genetic variants and biomarkers, molecular characteristics, survival outcomes, and treatment experience. This area is highly topical, with a recent study from the USA showing the increase in incidence of colorectal cancer in adults younger than 50 years of age since 1970 [1]. Dr Hamilton’s research aims to identify novel risk factors and molecular features associated with this condition, in order to help inform future preventative strategies. Furthermore increasing the knowledge of determinants of survival and treatment choices will help to improve clinical management and outcomes for this patient group.


A data mining approach to understanding heart failure: Retrospective and real time analysis of Northern Ireland heart failure databases to enhance patient outcomes

Dr Alicja Jasinka Piadlo, a Cardiology Specialist Registrar, plans to use a data mining approach to analyse and understand insights for improving the care of patients with heart failure. There are currently approximately 900,000 people living with heart failure in the UK, and heart failure causes or complicates approximately 5% of all emergency adult hospital admissions. There is currently no centralised register of patients with heart failure in Northern Ireland; however rich datasets do exist in a number of Trusts. Dr Piadlo will use a Cross-Industry Standard Process for Data Mining to develop predictive models to forecast future care of heart failure patients, with these models acting as potential clinical decision support tools in the future. It is hoped that this research will inform the development of a new regional dashboard and a Heart Failure register in Northern Ireland.  


Investigating lymphoid-like structures in the pathogenesis of Multiple Sclerosis

Dr Rachael Kee, a Clinical Fellow in Multiple Sclerosis, plans to investigate a group of immune cells called ‘lympoid-like-structures’ and their role in Multiple Sclerosis (MS). MS is a chronic and debilitating disease that strikes young adults in the prime of their lives and usually causes permanent disability. Northern Ireland has one of the highest prevalence rates of MS in the world, and the cause of MS remains unknown. Dr Kee will be using human tissue specimens from the ‘Dame Ingrid Allen Tissue Collection’, a unique tissue collection which holds samples that represent the natural disease processes of MS. It is hoped that this research will help better understand the reasons for progression of MS and provide targets for drug treatments in the future.    


Clinical, genetic and molecular correlations in aggressive pituitary adenomas

Dr Ben Loughrey, a Specialist Registrar in Endocrinology and Diabetes, plans to study patients with pituitary tumours to identify the risk factors associated with development of aggressive tumours. Pituitary adenomas are relatively common and many go undetected. However these tumours can cause severe morbidity due to hormone secretion and the impact of growth. The study will look at surplus samples of pituitary tumour tissue removed during surgery to investigate whether the body’s immune system stimulates these tumours to grow. It is hoped that this research will help future drug development for earlier treatment to prevent tumour growth. 


[1] John Virostko, Anna Capasso, Thomas E. Yankeelov, Boone Goodgame. Recent trends in the age at diagnosis of colorectal cancer in the US National Cancer Data Base, 2004‐2015. Cancer, 2019