Fri 3 Mar 23
One year after the Institute of Public Health and Wellbeing was founded a team of top researchers are in place to help tackle inequalities and advance research in everything from healthy hearts to dementia.
Director, Professor Mariachiara Di Cesare reflected on the Institute’s achievements: “We’ve had a really exciting and busy first year with lots of significant developments including our first international partnership, our first contribution to a major global study on nutrition, and opportunities to contribute to the foundation of major initiatives such as the GEMMS Project, a partnership with LEPRA and the University’s new Centre for Coastal Communities.
“It’s also been incredibly exciting to build our team and welcome researchers from around the world who will help us achieve our ambitions to tackle health and wellbeing inequalities."
As well as Professor Di Cesare and Dr Stawski, the IPHW research team now includes Dr Honor Bixby whose recent work includes examining inequalities in health generated by the uneven distribution of social, economic and environmental factors within cities; Clare Hammerton, who will be researching dementia; Dr Chodziwadziwa Kabudula who is working with the World Heart Federation; and Dr Tasos Papastylianou, an expert in clinical and public health applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
They will shortly be joined by Dr Smruti Bulsari, another expert in dementia care, and a Research Fellow funded through the Institute’s partnership with Provide.
New partnerships and forging strong relationships with local healthcare providers have been a key feature of the IPHW's first year. Most recently the Institute has been commissioned to evaluate healthcare interventions such as social prescribing and blood pressure checks by the NHS Mid and South Essex Integrated Care Board. Around forty projects will be evaluated across all four alliance areas within mid and south Essex. The qualitative and quantitative evaluations will provide valuable insight about the effectiveness of interventions designed to tackle health inequalities.
Professor Di Cesare added: “We’ve come a long way in our first year and the second will be just as busy. Not only are we looking forward to moving into our new building on the Knowledge Gateway and finalising our strategy, but we’ll also welcome a new Director of the Centre for Coastal Communities, Research Fellows aligned to our partnerships with the School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Science and Dublin City University, PhD students and researchers who will work with our health and care hubs.”
Dr Honor Bixby, is a Research Fellow in epidemiology and population health. She explores health inequalities globally and locally by studying data that maps trends and patterns.
Honor, whose PhD thesis looked at trends in body mass index in urban and rural populations, is particularly interested in the role cities play in shaping population health. Most recently she has explored how social, economic and environmental factors impact child mortality in Accra, Ghana, and cardiovascular disease in Beijing, China.
She said: “I am excited to continue my academic career at the IPHW with the training opportunities and support offered through the fellowship.
“The IPHW is the newest of the University’s three Institutes which jointly house expertise in health, social and economic research, as well as data science. My research draws from across these disciplines, which are in turn united under the objective to reduce inequalities within our society. The Institute and the wider University therefore provide an ideal environment to take my research forward.”
Smruti Bulsari will join the Institute as a Research Fellow funded by the National Institute of Health and Care Research and the Alzheimer’s Society. She will be working with researchers across the east of England and nationally on dementia care.
Smruti, who has worked mainly in India, is an expert in using data to understand health issues as they relate to economics and social science. She has been involved in developing policy interventions and policy evaluations in a range of health issues including menstrual hygiene practices, region-specific diseases like malaria and dengue, and tuberculosis.
She explained what inspires her work: “It is very satisfying to see the improvement in lives of people, when it is a result of the policy intervention prescribed on the basis of one’s own research, accepted and implemented by the government.”
She feels her interdisciplinary background in economics, social science and data science in relation to health makes her a perfect fit for the IPHW and is particularly excited about the opportunity to change lives affected by dementia.
“One in three persons are expected to experience dementia in their lifetime. Improving the quality of life of people with dementia and their family members, while focusing on reduction in economic burden would be a major policy contribution,” she said.
"It is very satisfying to see the improvement in lives of people when it is a result of the policy intervention prescribed on the basis of one's own research."
Clare Hammerton is working with Smruti on dementia care, also funded by the National Institute of Health and Care Research and the Alzheimer’s Society.
Her work involves looking at how innovative approaches to dementia care could address challenges associated with increasing demand and restricted budgets.
Clare, who has worked in international development and health and social care for 25 years, explained why studying dementia is so important: “Dementia has a growing impact on all of us, as individuals, families, communities, and public, private and voluntary sectors services, including budgets, staff and capacity, and organisational and national strategies.”
She is particularly interested in engaging those from minority backgrounds or non-dominant identities and empowering all those involved in dementia care to develop holistic and sustainable services and delivery.
Clare, who has worked across Asia, eastern Europe and Africa as well as in the UK, explained why she wanted to join the IPHW: “As a new institute, I wanted to be involved from an early stage.”
“I want to contribute to the development of the reputation of the IPHW as a world-class resource delivering knowledge and expertise on public health,” she added.
"I want to contribute to the development of the reputation of the IPHW as a world-class resource delivering knowledge and expertise on public health."
Dr Chodziwadziwa (Cho) Kabudula, a data scientist and analyst, joined the team as a Research Fellow for the Institute’s partnership with the World Heart Federation (WHF).
He is working with the WHF to continue the development of its World Heart Observatory, a hub that collates high-quality data from different sources to provide the most reliable information related to cardiovascular diseases, risk factors, and interventions.
His research focuses on how demographic, statistical, computational and informatics techniques can be used to study morbidity and mortality, how health services are used, and the influence of social factors.
Dr Tasos Papastylianou is biomedical engineer and computer scientist. He has joined the team to work on health informatics.
A former doctor with NHS experience, Tasos is using his medical expertise to study how machine learning and artificial intelligence can be applied to clinical medicine and public health.
Prior to joining the team, Tasos, who is an expert in biosignal and health-related data analysis, was a Senior Research Officer analysing wearable signals and smartphone data for the management of depression, and investigating the use of brain computer interfaces for optimal collaboration between humans and machines.
He’s excited about being part of the IPHW’s founding team: “I was delighted to be offered the first Research Fellowship at the Institute of Public Health and Wellbeing. The fellowship scheme provides excellent mentorship and opportunities for both research and teaching.
“The Institute itself is ideally positioned to help leverage funding and collaboration opportunities within the health research space, and help me reach out and expand my network of amazing collaborators both within and outside the University, in order to undertake relevant, useful, and excellent research”.
"The Institute itself is ideally positioned to help leverage funding and collaboration opportunities within the health research space."