RCPCH and Newlife Clinical Research Fellow announced

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and Newlife the Charity for Disabled Children are pleased to announce their first joint clinical research fellowship award in childhood disability has been awarded to Dr Asma Soltani at the University of Cambridge. Dr Soltani will research Rett syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects brain development and causes severe disability.

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. Dr Soltani will be awarded £263,000 over three years to support her research project and career development.

The award is jointly funded by Newlife, who are contributing 50% of the total 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 has been investing in medical research for more than 10 years, funding over 300 projects with a total value of £16 million.

“Finding time to carry out research as a doctor can be daunting, compounded by clinical training structures and funding scarcity,” said Dr Soltani, from the University of Cambridge's Physiology, Development and Neuroscience Department. “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 is a childhood disease caused by a mutation impacting neurons and currently has no cure. Children appear to develop typically for 6-18 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.

Professor Nick Bishop, the RCPCH’s Vice President for Science and Research, said: “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."

Mrs Sheila Brown OBE, co-founder and CEO of Newlife the Charity for Disabled Children, said: “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.”