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Case study: South London research must include people with comorbidities

South London research must include people with comorbidities.

A Londoner has spoken about why researchers need to consider people's lived experience of multiple health conditions when designing research studies.

Andrew Freeman, 55, who lives in the borough of Merton, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, which causes the sugar level in a person's blood to become too high when he was 30 years old. In 2017, he was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), a long-term condition where the person's kidneys do not work effectively.

The 55-year-old had a pancreas and kidney transplant, which cured his diabetes and CKD. Andrew became a Research Champion for the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network South London in 2022. Research Champions volunteer their time to help spread the word about health and care research to patients, carers and members of the public. He said:

"Early prevention can help save lives. Prevention is so much cheaper for the NHS than cure. Chronic Kidney Disease is a silent killer, which is why I'm passionate about CKD education. Nothing is more powerful than a person's lived experience. Researchers must consider this when designing CKD research studies because most CKD patients already live with multiple conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and others.

"My background is in commercial research, so I want to use my professional experience to support patients, join up care and educate people through the NIHR Research Champion role. We need to improve our understanding of who is at the highest risk of developing comorbidities, when they are likely to develop multiple health conditions and their daily experience of living with them.

"I was diagnosed at 30 with diabetes despite no previous family history or noticeable signs regarding my health. I sought support during the pandemic due to my health and ended up with depression because of how hard it was to access vital support. In my opinion, it is important to offer support, listen to patients' concerns, champion their needs and offer advice in navigating a complex array of systems when people are often at their most vulnerable."

Someone is said to have comorbidities when living simultaneously with more than one disease, illness or condition.

The father-of-one is working with Discover Now – Imperial College Health Partners. The project aims to revolutionise how health data is used responsibly for research into treating and preventing disease.

Andrew is also working with the London Kidney Network, a collaboration of renal health providers, commissioners and patients focused on improving quality, reducing unwarranted variation and delivering better outcomes for all kidney patients in the capital.

In December 2022, the NIHR and the Department of Health and Social Care launched a five-year Multiple Long-Term Conditions (MLTC) project. The multi-million-pound endeavour aims to bring together the NIHR's translational, applied, and policy research infrastructure, enabling researchers from various specialties to answer MLTC-related research queries. You can find out more on the NIHR's news page.

By volunteering to take part in studies, you can play a vital role in shaping UK health and social care. Sign up for Be Part of Research to learn about the latest opportunities in south London and beyond.