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Funding research, developing careers by Dr Rupert Major

23 November 2018

Dr Rupert Major is one of our funded researchers. Based at the University of Leicester, Kidney Research UK funded his three-year training fellowship to undertake and complete his PhD. Rupert summarises his project in the following way: kidney disease leads to higher risk of heart attacks and stroke, we hope to use GP records to predict the future risk of these events.

And so three years have passed by so very, very quickly! It doesn’t seem long since I was writing my initial application to Kidney Research UK for funding. I can vividly recall driving to Peterborough to drop off my application in person. I still remember how nervous I was before my interview, and I will never forget the patients with advanced kidney disease I was treating in clinic when I learned that I had received funding for my project. It definitely doesn’t seem like three full years have passed since I finished my last string of weekend night shifts before starting my first full day as a Kidney Research UK ‘Fellow’.

Dr Rupert Major
Dr Rupert Major

The time has been without doubt one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable parts of my professional and personal life. All this would not have been possible without the efforts of all the people who help to fund the charity, so whether you have dropped a few spare pence in a collection pot, run, walked or cycled somewhere, baked, or participated in any of the many events that people give up their time to raise money for the charity, thank you!

My project has been focused on trying to see how accurately we can predict the future risk of heart attacks and strokes in people with kidney disease. We know the risk is raised overall, but we do not know how well we can predict risk within this group. The results have yet to be published or formally reviewed by other researchers, known as ‘peer review’. However, they suggest that current risk prediction tools might estimate too high a risk of a heart attack or stroke in people with kidney disease. I will share more details as soon as I can. To formally complete my PhD degree, I will submit my written thesis to the university and take an oral exam in early 2019.

My research is based on using large databases of information on people with kidney disease and advanced statistics to draw conclusions. My interests have developed across the course of the last three years and now I am very much focusing on the prediction of future events including when and how it is best to use risk prediction tools.

The other element of the project I did not expect to develop so much was around communicating information to healthcare colleagues about kidney disease. This has led to me visiting 80 GP practices across the East Midlands in the last three years to provide support to help improve the care of people with kidney disease at GP surgeries and in other primary care settings. This has also involved giving educational talks to more than 600 healthcare professionals in total.

I have been amazed by the diverse types of research funded by Kidney Research UK. When most people think about research, they imagine scientists mixing chemicals in a laboratory. In reality, my colleagues who have been funded alongside me have done all sorts of exciting projects. Some are studying how people feel about different aspects of kidney and transplant care, some are performing brain scans whilst people undergo dialysis to assess its effects, and others are looking into the impact of drinking more water on certain types of kidney disease. All these are useful questions in themselves, but the different scientific approaches allow each study to make a more meaningful contribution to the experiences of people with kidney disease. We can now start to consider not just how kidney disease affects the body, but also how it affects peoples’ wider lives, so we can better tailor treatments for the needs of specific individuals. I also enjoyed the new perspectives from research performed by other healthcare professionals.

In the past, Kidney Research UK and other medical charities funded either laboratory scientists and/or doctors. We now see much wider funding of individuals with backgrounds in nursing, physiotherapy, psychology and other healthcare professionals. This can only be a positive as it provides a wider range of perspectives on how to cure kidney disease and provide better quality of life for people living with the condition. In this respect, I think Kidney Research UK’s holistic approach to research is very forward thinking and I believe the benefits of this approach will soon be seen.

So, where to next? I have returned to my clinical training and am currently working in general medicine, meaning that I am seeing a great variety of patients with and without kidney disease. My first impression is that since I started my research three years ago, and temporally stopped my full time clinical work, the profile of kidney disease has risen. This is undoubtedly due to the hard work of many national organisations for kidney disease, including Kidney Research UK. I am already looking forward to the next three years and beyond!

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