December 2020 Briefing

Please click on image to the right.

There are some further articles below, which you may find of interest.

Plymouth’s Hidden Gem -How medical research works and how you can get involved.  It occurred to us that unless you have a particular interest, or experience, readers may not know too much about how Medical Research is organised in Plymouth and how they can get involved in supporting some of these worthy and important projects.  Here, in the first of a number of short articles that will follow is an explanation.

Focus on Parkinson’s Disease and Associate Professor Dr Camille Carroll who is a Consultant Neurologist in Derriford and an international expert on this distressing condition.  Dr Carroll is thrilled to announce that they have just been awarded a substantial major grant from Parkinson’s UK for a study investigating COVID-19 in Parkinson’s.

Meet the Trustees of PMF.  The Peninsula Medical Foundation (PMF) relies on the dedicated work of its Trustees and Volunteers.  Their guidance, expertise and support is generally hidden away from public gaze, but their contributions are vital and mostly unsung.  We thought our readers would like to know a little more about the band of local personalities comprising of our Board of Trustees.  We welcome two new members to the board: Professor Terence Lewis MBE, and Mr Peter Vosper.

Briefing V5 2

Plymouth’s Hidden Gem -How medical research works and how you can get involved.   Mr Denis Wilkins, Chair of Trustees

During pre-COVID-19 times, the Peninsula Medical Foundation (PMF) also arranged tours of the Medical School laboratories.  These visits included demonstrations and conversations with the research students. It is our expectation that when COVID-19 is under control and gatherings once more permitted, the School will be able to open its doors to PMF and welcome individuals and modest groups to these much sought after showcase events.  Meantime, here is a brief overview of the organisation which goes into effective medical research.

The first point to make is that during the last century Medical Research has evolved into an intensive and highly competitive business.   The sums involved in setting up, maintaining and developing research projects mean that they have to be well organised and focussed.  Yet, some of the most innovative and game changing approaches stem from (often young) minds that think Outside the Box.  Who would have thought even a decade ago, for example, that a wrist watch would connect you to world communication networks and monitor your blood oxygen levels while exercising?  What we do know is that through a combination of creativity and systematic dogged work in teams, advances will be made; and that no research = no gain.  Just consider the mind-boggling developments in the understanding of our immune mechanism made during the current pandemic.  The sheer effort involved across the Globe in producing billions of doses of a novel vaccine comprising molecules which lie close to the wellsprings of life.  It is truly astonishing.

So how does it all fit together?  The answer lies in the collaboration between those delivering clinical care (eg.hospitals), universities (eg medical scientists), commercial producers (eg.‘Big Pharma’) and funders (Government, Charitable Giving).

Consider a plant analogy.  The basic ingredient is a seed.  Without it, nothing starts.  In research terms that seed is an idea.  A concept.  It comes from a researcher or a group of researchers.  The nourishment, which that ‘seed’ needs from the outset and throughout its life to maturity, is funding and careful tending by its gardeners – the research supervisors, clinicians and funding bodies such as the MRC and Government.

When is a seed at its most vulnerable?  Most would agree that it is at the time of germination.  It is here where ‘small’ charities such as the PMF and wealthy individuals can make such a critical difference by providing relatively modest amounts of funding.

In Plymouth, it was no accident that the Medical School and Hospital are adjacent on the same site.  Some of the leading consultants working in the NHS – for example Professor Oliver Hanemann – are also superb scientists in their own right.  They hold joint appointments between the University and the NHS.  Being able to work between their clinics and laboratories on the same site is an ideal arrangement and gives Plymouth a considerable ‘edge’.  Furthermore, this ‘ideal’ attracts the best medics and the best scientists to Plymouth, with all the intellectual and economic gains that come with them.
But research is a tough business.  Only the best fledgling scientists – be they young doctors or science graduates – are selected to work on the first rung of a research career and study for a PhD.  If successful, funding from grant awarding bodies such as large charities or government may follow.  The competition for a limited, and at the moment shrinking, pot of money is intense.  It is here at this basic level where a relatively modest amount of funding towards salary or equipment can make the difference between success or failure; between a fledgling scientist going on to create a career filled with brilliant discoveries such as we are seeing in COVID-19, or for lack of funding, give up and leave.

This is the area that we in the PMF are asked by the local Research establishment to concentrate.  We will do our best to provide funding for a range of projects where our supporters can make a difference.  For example, it costs £2,760 to fund a day’s research by Plymouth scientists into brain cancer.  There are many essential pieces of equipment desperately needed, which range from relatively small amounts to several hundred thousand pounds.  We would desperately like to build, perhaps through a legacy or number of substantial donations, an endowment investment fund (The Research Excellence Fund) of sufficient size that interest accrued would supply regular top up grants, etc.
But regardless of means or intentions and even if out interest alone, please consider joining us through a modest regular subscription and becoming part of the support team through our Membership Scheme, which will be launched in early 2021.

Please also be aware that if using Amazon, especially this Christmas, if you download the Smile App and use this to enter the Amazon site, PMF and the Medical School will receive a modest contribution (0.5%).

Focus on Parkinson’s Disease – Associate Professor, Dr. Camille Carroll, who is a Consultant Neurologist in Derriford Hospital and an international expert on this distressing condition.  She writes for PMF Briefing:

“One of the major research focuses in Plymouth, is into diseases that affect the brain and nervous system.  Many of you will know a family member or a friend who has been diagnosed with this condition. It cannot be cured and like many chronic neurological conditions such as stroke or MS, it is a life sentence to a long decline and considerable suffering.  Centuries ago, it was known as the ‘Shaking Palsy’ and was first recognised as a particular disease by an English Physician, James Parkinson in 1817.   Parkinsons – as it is known – is associated with a deficiency of a chemical Dopamine in brain cells, but why and how is only partly understood.  It affects about 84 people in 100,000.  Sixty years ago, it was discovered that life for the afflicted, particularly in the early stages, can be made more bearable by Dopamine which reduces the tremors and stiffness which are so painful and disabling.

The focus of my team and collaborators’ is to find practical ways to improve the lives of patients’ suffering from this remorseless condition.  For example, last year we commenced a project where a wrist-worn device known as a Personal Kinetigraph (PKG™) helps patients and a specialist team monitor their condition while at home – saving the hassle of unnecessary appointments and hospital admissions.  Another focus is to test the effectiveness of new drugs and I am delighted to say that in this connection we have just been awarded a major grant for an international study from Parkinson’s UK into the effects of COVID-19 on this long suffering group of patients”

For more information about Camille, click here.

Professor Terence Lewis MB

The Board of Trustees recently welcomed Professor Terence Lewis MBE to its number.  Terence was a prominent cardiac surgeon who inaugurated and directed the prestigious Cardiac Surgery Unit at Derriford.  Patients and family attending Derriford will note that the cardiac wing at Derriford bears his name in recognition of the great contribution he made to cardiac surgery here in the SW.  Prior to this he was a consultant at Barts and The London Hospital during which time he operated on many patients from Plymouth and the South West.  He was a great proponent of the new medical school in Plymouth and we are honoured to have him join us. To read more of his background and work for Plymouth Marine Laboratory click here.

Chair of PMF Denis Wilkins, meets up with Peter Vospe

Our first ‘conversation’ was with Peter Vosper, a well-known business leader and philanthropist in the City of Plymouth and South West Region.

Where were you born? In the old Freedom Fields, I think, because in 1943 although my mum was running a hotel in Looe (Tremalec) it was nearest maternity ward so sadly I can never be Cornish!

Schooling?  The family moved to run another hotel in Newton Ferrers (Beacon Hill) after the war and I went on to Kelly for secondary education.  There I had a remarkable group of teachers who realised the only way to keep me out of trouble was to keep me occupied.  In the winter I played rugby, fives and football (banned but we still played!).  In the spring, hockey, fives, cross country running and 7-a-side rugby.  In the summer athletics, cricket or tennis. I boxed for a while but got fed up with bashing and being bashed by my friends. Kelly was the first public school to affiliate with the Royal Marines and I was the most senior boy to volunteer so was put in charge. I couldn’t keep quiet, so the English teacher forced me to join the Dramatic society and the Literary and Debating society. I had difficulty making time for study!

The point of all this is to illustrate why I love live theatre, pretty much all sport, and understand that health is the most important thing if you want to feel good and be active for ever.

What about career choice? My mother was clear that if I wished to go into any business I first needed to qualify as a lawyer or accountant. Thus, in 1961 I started as an articled clerk with Whitmarsh,  Edgcumbe, and Preedy at 70, Mutley Plain. Stanley Edgcumbe was a great character who did heroic things in the Fleet Air Arm during the war.  He was a fair but tough boss.

How did you get into the auto business?  My father started selling bicycles before the war – my mother told me she lent him the money to buy his first car for resale. When my father joined up, grandfather, who was in the radio business handled some sales during the war but in January 1946 Vospers started up in Willow Plot (off Russell Street) with a one car showroom. We became a limited company in 1951 and moved to new premises on the corner of Princess Square, with a large showroom and my grandfather sold his beautiful house in Newton Ferrers (Casa del Rio) to put in the necessary capital. He worked with his son until the early 1960s.  I joined the firm in 1966 as Accountant at the end of my articles – a cashier had stolen some money so I was considered useful!  I held this post for three years and became General Manager in 1970 when we were appointed Main Ford Dealers for Plymouth. My training under my father was superb and working with him for seven years brought us very close. Sadly, he suffered a stroke in 1974 and later that year succumbed to a heart attack aged 54 years.  Thus, at the tender age of thirty-one, I found myself Managing Director of Vospers.  My mother became Chairman.   We worked hard; we took opportunities as we found them and supported by a great team the business thrived.

Successes? Over the years the firm has won many awards of which the one I am most proud is the Ford Chairman’s Award, decided on the votes of its customers and awarded to the top 3% of British dealers; we have won this now over twenty times!

Aside from Family, what makes you tick? Well, obviously I am very proud of Vospers.  I like people.  I am a Plymothian and a passionate supporter of Devon and Cornwall its way of life, the sea and countryside, its sport, its food and many really good people some of whom I am privileged to call friends. As a Plymothian and long-term supporter, Plymouth Albion is my rugby team, but Exeter Chiefs are the stars and Cornish Pirates have the best day out!  I like being busy, particularly with projects which are important and where I can help make a difference.  Take for example the Theatre Royal – our firm was a founder sponsor in 1982 and it was a great honour to be asked to join the Board in 1991. I remained until 2017 and loved being a very small part of its success but mostly I am proud of what it has done for people in Plymouth and the region, from all walks of life.

Vosper’s Annual Golf day is a something of a Devon and Cornwall fixture?  Is that your main hobby? I wish I could say that I am an avid golfer but the only time I play is in the Vosper’s Golf Day! It started as a way of entertaining our customers but so many of them were generous people who liked a good day out with lots of fun, they were very happy to contribute and support local charities.  In the 25 years since we started, they have donated over £120,000 – in fact we have a waiting list!

Why did you say ‘Yes’ when approached to join the PMF Board?  I am one of many local business folk who lend what support we can to our community.  I knew something of the local health services, having served on the then Health Authority Board and as a Trustee for the Neurosurgery Cavitron Fund.  The Peninsula Medical School has already made a massive contribution to saving or improving lives so I hope I can help raise some necessary funds for the future.

PMF Newsletter April 2020

Please click on the image to download the PMF Newsletter April 2020.