Legacy funds new research into the world’s biggest ‘silent killer’

The generosity of a late Aberdeenshire landowner is helping to fund cutting-edge research into a disease which affects at least one billion people worldwide*.

Mrs Nadia Moulton-Barrett+ who died in 2010 bequeathed a legacy to Tenovus Scotland Grampian, a charity which supports innovative medical research projects within the Universities and Teaching Hospitals in the north-east of Scotland.

Tenovus Scotland Grampian has used part of the legacy to establish a recurring research studentship known as the Tenovus Scotland Moulton-Barrett Scholarship, which is centred in the Kosterlitz Centre for the discovery and development of new drugs at the University of Aberdeen.

It has been awarded for the first time in 2012 to Karen Thompson, of Rosemount, Aberdeen - a First Class honours graduate in Neuroscience and Psychology.

The 22-year-old will use the funding to undertake a four-year PhD looking at new ways to target hypertension, or high blood pressure, a risk factor for strokes, heart attacks, aneurysms and chronic kidney disease

Globally, around 7 million people die every year because of high blood pressure, often called the ‘silent killer’, making it the biggest single risk factor for death worldwide**.

Karen’s work will investigate receptors in nerve endings which modulate messages to the brain about changes in blood pressure.

She said: “We know that blood vessels have nerve endings, known as baroreceptors, which are constantly monitoring changes in blood pressure and send messages about these changes to the brain.

“The activity of these receptors can be increased with electrical stimulators to help reduce blood pressure but this is expensive, involves surgery in high risk patients and can cause discomfort.

“For my PhD I will be part of a team who discovered a new drug target in these nerve endings, and so I will be testing the idea that a drug activating this receptor may be a better treatment.”

Karen said the Tenovus Scotland Moulton-Barrett Scholarship will facilitate her receiving enhanced mentoring from representatives of Tenovus Scotland Grampian, as well as through the Medical Research Council student support scheme.

The Scholarship has enabled her to continue with her studies in a city she has come to regard as home. “I’m originally from Edinburgh but I fell in love with Aberdeen while doing my undergraduate degree and I’m very grateful that the Scholarship is enabling me to investigate this important area of medical research here in the Granite City,” she added.

“The Kosterlitz Centre for Therapeutics is committed to helping translate biological innovation into new medicines, therapeutic strategies and health benefits and I’m lucky to be working in a centre of excellence with very committed supervisors.”

“It is exciting to think that the work I will be undertaking could potentially make a difference to so many people’s lives and that is great motivation to come into the labs each day.”

Tenovus Scotland Grampian has been involved in fund raising in the Grampian area for the past 40 years. Over that time, more than £800,000 has been raised and spent locally in encouraging basic and applied research in innovative pilot projects by scientists and doctors tackling diseases prevalent in the NE. 

Research funded over the years has included work on colon cancer, multiple sclerosis, age related macular degeneration and osteoporosis.

Funding has also been provided for specialised pieces of equipment contributing to the greater good of the research efforts at the University of Aberdeen, including the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, the Robert Gordon University, and NHS Grampian. 

Dr David Galloway, the Chair of Tenovus Scotland Grampian, said: “It is encouraging that for every £1.00 raised, 94p is directed to the research activity in the area.

“Over recent years, some 64% of research grants awarded have seen a multiplier factor which means that on average a grant of £10,000 has led to subsequent research with additional external funding approaching £140,000.

“This is a pattern which has been repeated over many years, and it is the generosity of people in the NE which has made possible projects such as the Scholarship that we are pleased to fund today.”  

Vicki Corbett, Fund Raising Manager, at the Development Trust, University of Aberdeen, said: “University of Aberdeen scholarships have a significant impact on the daily lives of students, benefitting their studies and their whole university experience in so many ways.  Our range of scholarships is designed to provide students with the opportunity to greatly enhance their studies and learning experiences.

“PhD research studentships such as the Tenovus Scotland Moulton- Barrett Scholarship are the lifeblood of innovation and exploration and provide individuals with the opportunity to undertake independent, original research. The PhD experience is very often the first stage of a successful and fulfilling career but also has the potential to benefit society as a whole by answering globally-important questions. This also helps the University to recruit the most promising students from around the world, enriching the intellectual and social community in Aberdeen.”