The University of Edinburgh: Dr John Simpson

In 2003 John Simpson was a young clinical scientist, and Consultant in Respiratory Medicine, doing outstanding work in the Centre for Inflammation Research at the University of Edinburgh. He had an interest in acute lung injury in the Intensive Care Unit and wished to pursue a highly innovative approach towards using cell therapy for the important clinical problem of ventilator-associated pneumonia. His need for funding support to continue his research coincided with the 2003 competition for The Sir Jules Thorn Award for Biomedical Research, and his principals in Edinburgh recognised that the objectives of the Award provided an excellent match with those of John Simpson and his colleagues.

After a demanding competition among a number of medical schools, the University of Edinburgh was awarded a grant of nearly £1 million to enable John Simpson to establish a research group, and undertake his novel research proposal.

The research
Ventilator-associated pneumonia, commonly caused by superbugs is one of a number of acute lung injuries which have an enormous impact on healthcare. They are commonly fatal and no effective drug therapy is available. Simpson's group was interested in developing ways of manipulating the body's own defence mechanisms by which germs are normally removed. The aim of the Simpson proposal was to develop a gene therapy solution to the problem based on monocytes, which are white blood cells that circulate in the bloodstream but can migrate to areas of infection to assist clearance of germs.

The outcome
The studies produced a number of significant findings. In particular, in assessing the usefulness of their research approach the group considered it important to examine the biological effects of removing monocytes from the circulation. Their pre-clinical studies found that monocyte depletion produced striking effects by reducing the accumulation of the inflammatory cells, which is characteristic of acute lung injury. The next stage of their work will be a clinical trial based on their findings, which they hope will lead to a ground breaking therapy for this important clinical problem.

How the outcome met the Trust's aims
The research funded by the Award was directly in line with the Trust's aims in that it allowed a talented young scientist to form his own research group and to take his original ideas to the point where translation of his results into clinical benefit to patients is the important next step.