Two UCLH consultants awarded NIHR professorships 

27/06/2016 00:00 
Of four prestigious NIHR research professorships in 2016, two have gone to UCLH consultants who are also UCL researchers; Professor Rachel Batterham (obesity) and Dr Alexander Leff (neurology).

These awards enable outstanding early career academics to spend a fixed five-year period dedicated to translational research at Professorial level promoting effective translation of research ('bench to bedside’ and 'campus to clinic'), strengthening research leadership at the highest academic levels and developing research capacity in areas critical to accelerating the transfer of research ideas into improved health.

The interesting aspect of these professorships is that they require the post holders to retain a continuing link with service delivery.

Professor Batterham established and leads the University College Hospital Bariatric Centre for Weight Management and Metabolic Surgery and is Head of the Centre for Obesity Research within the Department of Medicine at University College London.

Her programme of research aims to improve the health of people with obesity by ensuring that bariatric surgery is delivered in the best way possible to improve the health of obese patients and by studying people having bariatric surgery to gain new knowledge into how body weight is regulated.

Prof Batterham said: “One quarter of UK adults are obese having an unhealthy amount of body fat. People with obesity die at a younger age and are more likely to have type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and certain types of cancer. The causes of obesity are complex but we know that genetic make-up plays a role. Losing weight by dieting and exercise improves health, but staying at a lower weight is difficult because the body’s weight-control systems try to return weight back to the higher level.

“Bariatric (obesity) surgery is the most effective treatment for people with severe obesity. This surgery causes long-term weight loss, reduces the future risk of dying in the future and makes people with obesity healthier by improving and preventing many of the illnesses linked to obesity.  However, access to bariatric surgery is very limited and unfortunately around 1 in 5 people do not respond well to bariatric surgery in terms of improved health.”

Dr Leff is a consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery as well as Professor in Cognitive Neurology at UCL from October. He helped establish the UCL Centre for Neurorehabilitation in 2013 and has set up specialist clinics for patients with cognitive and/or visual impairments, including the only hemianopia clinic in the country.

His research addresses the fact that there is currently no easy way for patients with cognitive disorders to access neuro-interventions which are traditionally provided during face-to-face therapy sessions.

Dr Leff said: “I will produce three computer-based therapies (digital neuro-interventions) that patients with specific impairments of thinking and memory skills can use to boost re-learning:

  • for patients with visuospatial neglect;
  • for patients with dementia and problems naming the people they know;
  • a naming intervention for aphasic patients who have word-finding difficulties.

“Acquired brain injury (stroke, traumatic brain injury and tumours) and degenerative brain diseases (dementia) account for the vast majority of the cognitive impairments suffered by adults worldwide.

“There is a wealth of evidence showing that damaged brains can learn if engaged in the correct form of deliberate practice. Neuro-interventions (practice-based treatments that target specific brain functions) can improve outcomes in adult patients with cognitive impairment, but there is currently no easy way for patients to access these treatments. I hope to address this translational failure in my research.”

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