The award winner
In May 2020, the fellowship, a personal award of £263,000 over a three-year period, was awarded to Dr Asma Soltani (pictured) at the University of Cambridge to carry out UK research into Rett syndrome, a rare genetic disorder affecting brain development in children resulting in severe disability.
Finding time to carry out research as a doctor can be daunting, compounded by clinical training structures and funding scarcity. I was elated to discover that the RCPCH-Newlife Charity Postdoctoral Fellowship is specifically designed to overcome such restrictions. As a paediatrician and neuroscientist, my goal is to find new therapies to improve care and outcomes for patients with childhood disabilities. I am honoured to be the fellowship’s recipient and hope that I can achieve the level of medicine that will make an impacting difference on helping children with complex conditions that currently have no cure.
Rett syndrome research
Rett syndrome is a childhood disease caused by a mutation impacting neurons, and currently has no cure. Children appear to develop typically for six to 18 months followed by a decline that leaves them severely disabled and fully dependent. Researchers have discovered that the mutation causing Rett syndrome affects inhibitory neurons, which play an important role in many brain functions.
Dr Soltani intends to identify how the mutation affects the role of inhibitory cells in brain network development and function, by comparing brains with and without the mutation. She will study how the brains develop and when they start to differ, which should correspond to when people with Rett syndrome show symptoms. Then, she will try to restore normal brain function to stop the disease.
About the fellowship award
The fellowship aims to enable the identification and nurturing of a new generation of child health researchers at a senior level and create opportunities to strengthen the scientific evidence base that will lead to improvements in the diagnosis, treatment and management of child health.
This fellowship award is jointly funded by Newlife, who are contributing 50% of the funds, with the RCPCH providing match funding from the Child Health Research Fellowship Fund.
Newlife is the UK’s largest charity providing essential equipment to disabled and terminally ill children and have been investing in medical research for more than 10 years. The charity’s investment to date on research has concentrated on birth defects, funding over 300 projects to the value of £16 million. The new research partnership between Newlife and the RCPCH will focus on providing much-needed insight into the secondary conditions children endure as a result of the physical impacts of disability.
RCPCH is committed to building a research skilled workforce, and skilled child health research leaders, to drive forward research and improve patient outcomes. The Child Health Research Fellowship Fund was set up to support growth in this area and secure a new generation of child health research leaders in the UK and abroad, as well as strengthen excellence in child health research.
The RCPCH is committed to supporting research across all areas affecting children, especially in general and community paediatrics where improving the lives of children with disability and their families is a major focus. We are delighted that the College and Newlife have been able to jointly support the creation of this new Fellowship, we hope the first of many, and especially pleased that Dr Soltani's work will focus on an area that has the potential for application into many areas of neurodevelopment. We wish her every success in her Fellowship.
We are delighted to work with such a prestigious organisation on this ground-breaking project. We hope that other charities follow our lead and invest in other opportunities to further advance paediatric research.
As a former Trustee of Newlife and now an Ambassador to the charity and a Fellow of the RCPCH, it is wonderful to see the fruits of our endeavours to establish this joint Clinical Research Fellowship. The subject area of childhood disability is apposite to the key area of development of both organisations and this Fellowship is a first step towards enabling young paediatricians to pursue a clinical research career in the field of childhood disability. We are fortunate to have a talented person as its first recipient who will continue her training and research in one of the premier Universities in the land. I wish Dr. Soltani every success with her research project and future career.
For more information about this award, please contact the Research & Evidence team at firstname.lastname@example.org.