Thirty years of research into HIV has revolutionised treatments and made a huge difference to patients’ lives.
Even in the 12 years that Infectious Diseases Consultant Andrew Ustianowski has been working with HIV patients, there have been huge changes. When he started out, patients had to take large numbers of drugs, treatments were poorly tolerated and death rates high. Now in 2017, people diagnosed with HIV can look forward to a normal life span with simple to take and effective treatments.
“I want to retire with medicine in a better place, with more effective and better treatments, with healthier and happier patients – and it is research that will get us there,” he said.
Dr Ustianowski also leads research into hepatitis B and C, serious liver conditions caused by viruses. In the last few years research his team has participated in has allowed the development of simple treatments that cure more than 95 per cent of those with hepatitis C – a few years ago the treatments were toxic and only worked in around 50 per cent of cases. Pennine Acute NHS Hospital Trust is currently involved in Phase I (first in man) and Phase II studies into new drugs for hepatitis B and he’s hopeful that in time new therapies being tested now could mean that hepatitis B is curable, not just controllable.
Altogether, since 2013-14, the Infectious Disease Research Unit at North Manchester has recruited more than 5,600 patients to a total of 140 studies into HIV, hepatitis and other infectious conditions, both academic studies and those supported by pharmaceutical companies.
As Principal Clinical Research Lead for North Manchester General Hospital, Dr Ustianowski is keen to encourage more staff – including nurses and allied health professionals as well as consultants – to get involved in research. He said: “Research is important to make things better for patients in the future but it’s rewarding for staff too – it’s fun and interesting and different from the day to day routine. If you’re active in research, you’re more knowledgeable about the latest advances in your field and so able to advise patients better. Significant number of our patients have benefited from drugs pre-licensing (at the research stage, before they are routinely available) and when they are licensed it’s helpful to clinicians to already have experience of using them.
“Research does mean juggling your workload and finding time to train up on the protocols and recruit patients but there is support – for instance we have generic research nurse teams and specialist governance and monitoring support.
“If you work in an area where there is an existing patient cohort or database you can use to help with recruitment, and you have a little bit of energy and curiosity, then you have the key ingredients to get started in research.”