Oxford University’s Stroke Prevention Research Unit, based at the John Radcliffe Hospital, has been awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education, the highest national recognition that UK higher education institutions can achieve.
The Stroke Prevention Research Unit was founded in 2000 by Professor Peter Rothwell and has revolutionised stroke care at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and around the globe.
In 2013, the Unit evolved into the Centre for Prevention of Stroke and Dementia and now comprises more than 30 staff and runs several unique studies in Oxfordshire.
It is supported by Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.
The Prize, announced last night (Thursday, November 21) at St James’s Palace, London, recognises the Unit’s outstanding work in preventive medicine.
Professor Peter Rothwell, a consultant neurologist and founding director of the Unit, said: “We are thrilled that the research has been recognised by such a prestigious award, which reflects the hard work of the many staff on the unit as well as the support we have received from the University, funders, collaborating GPs and, crucially, from our patients. It is particularly encouraging to have this endorsement for our philosophy that substantial improvements in patient care can still be gained simply by better understanding of known risk factors and more effective use of existing treatments.”
Prof Rothwell is also leads the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre Dementia and Cerebrovascular Disease theme.
Research carried out by the unit showed the risk of major stroke in the first few hours and days after a mini-stroke – or transient ischaemic attacks (TIA) – was much higher than previously thought.
The unit developed simple scores to identify high-risk individuals and showed that urgent use of existing treatments reduced the risk of major stroke by 80%. This highly effective strategy, including emergency clinics for mini-stroke – was implemented at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust.
It was subsequently adopted nationally and internationally, and is estimated to prevent 10,000 strokes per year in the UK alone, saving £200 million in annual NHS costs.
For longer-term prevention, the Unit has also worked on high blood pressure (BP), the most important treatable cause of stroke and vascular dementia, and on the effects of aspirin on non-vascular diseases.
The Unit’s groundbreaking work on aspirin showed that, in addition to its well-known effects in preventing vascular events, it also reduces the long-term risk of several common cancers. They also showed that aspirin had shorter-term benefits by reducing the spread of cancer around the body via the blood stream (known as metastasis), demonstrating for the first time in man that a drug can directly interfere with this process.
Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, said: “We are delighted that the world-leading work of the Stroke Prevention Research Unit has been recognised in this way. With a rapidly ageing global population, the need to address age-related illnesses is a clear priority not just in this country but worldwide.
“Since its inception, the Unit has made a great contribution to the field of preventive medicine, revolutionising clinical practice across the globe. In recent years they have built on their outstanding body of stroke prevention work, improving blood pressure management and providing new insights into cancer prevention and treatment.”