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Case study: Your Path in Research: SAFA Research Team using research to find less aggressive treatment for acne in adult women

Headed by Professor Alison Layton, Consultant Dermatologist and Associate Medical Director for Research and Development for the Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust, the SAFA research team are investigating if Spironolactone could be a suitable option to treat acne in adult women in place of long term antibiotics.

In Your Path in Research – a series that uncovers the research community across the National Institute of Health Research – we spoke with the SAFA research team about their experience in research, their motivation for getting into research and their advice on career progression in research. The following answers reflect the opinions of Dr Eva Lau, Ruth Goodfellow and Prof Alison Layton. 


Tell us about your current role?

Professor Alison Layton is a Consultant Dermatologist and Associate Medical Director for research and development at the Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust, regional co-special lead for dermatology for the Yorkshire and Humber Clinical Research Network (CRN), sits on the prioritisation panel for the UK Dermatology Clinical Trials Network, is a co-clinical lead for the SAFA study and an honorary chair at Hull-York medical school. 

Dr Eva Lau is a Clinical Research Fellow in Dermatology and Sub-Investigator for the SAFA study. On days that are spent on the SAFA study, daily tasks include meeting patients to discuss their suitability to the study, monitoring their progress on the study drug and evaluating the suitability of Spironolactone for treating acne.

Ruth Goodfellow is a Dermatology Research Nurse. Daily tasks include screening patients to check their suitability to the study, administering procedures, liaising with pharmacies to ensure availability of trial drugs, preparing the relevant paper-work and maintaining the clinical study databases. 


What made you decide to run the SAFA study?

Firstly, acne is such a very common condition. It is the eighth most prevalent health condition in the world. Yet acne is often overlooked, despite it having a devastating impact on self-esteem, mental health, causing long-term scarring and often inflicting a considerable financial burden on sufferers.

There is a misconception that acne is a fleeting condition that only impacts people in their adolescent years. Acne frequently persists into adulthood; 95% of people aged 11 to 30 are affected by acne to some extent and the prevalence of acne in adult females appears to be increasing.

Moreover, the drugs currently used to treat moderate inflammatory acne are not ideal. 1 in 3 people who see their doctor for acne will be prescribed antibiotics. Since there are growing concerns globally about bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics, there is a need to find new effective alternative treatments. So, it is important to be part of studies, which meet an unmet need.

By carrying out the SAFA trial to establish if spironolactone is effective, we hope we can establish whether an alternative oral treatment, which could reduce antibiotic usage in adult women with acne, could be of benefit in the future.

What inspired you to have a career in research?

We see research as the foundation for delivering evidence based practice and improving outcomes for our patients. By developing and delivering research we feel we are contributing to the continuous improvement of health and social care. Dermatology is a very innovative discipline and new treatments and technologies are being developed all the time. By participating in research, we are more aware of novel approaches and different therapeutic pipelines and can prescribe more effective or tailored medical care to the patient.

Research studies also give patients and the public a voice. Research provides patients with a platform where they can express what works for them and what does not. Many participants value the opportunity to contribute to the development of novel therapies. We enjoy the time afforded to research patients and value their insights about their management which ultimately improves their care.


Do you recommend getting involved in research? 

Yes, absolutely!

Participating in research really enhances the skills and knowledge of healthcare professionals. For example, the principles of good clinical practice and detailed approach required to deliver studies is something that we have brought into our non-research everyday clinical care and practice.

We recognise that NHS trusts undertaking research provide higher standards of care and outcomes. Research staff gain highly valuable skills that can translate to everyday care and research active trusts attract and retain staff.

It is also incredibly rewarding. Dr. Lau and Ruth worked on the Covid-19 RECOVERY research and found it incredibly fulfilling to contribute to a national study that was so influential in the treatment of Covid-19.

Do you have any advice for those looking to get involved in research?

It is definitely worth getting involved, there are many different ways and opportunities to do this. We believe that gaining research experience enhances your job satisfaction and professional competencies.

It is worth engaging with your R&I department to see how you can get involved in the research going on in your trust and if you identify an idea or an unmet need the team will help to support you in finding ways to develop this into a research study and connect you to those with the experience to take this forward. If keen to be involved in the delivery of high quality and funded research studies, familiarize yourself with the NIHR portfolio research in your area by engaging with the NIHR CRNs to be able to find out about new studies.


Interested in a path in research?

There are many ways you can get involved:

  • Find out what research is happening in your organisation (i) via an NIHR Infrastructure event or initiative ii) through contacting your local R and D Forums).
  • Find out about research in your specialty and stay informed (i) visit the BPOR website to highlight research that is happening now ii) sign up to the Evidence newsletter/read the NIHR Evidence site and find out about relevant findings for your work/specialty through NIHR Alerts.
  • Sign up to the ‘What is health research’ MOOC.
  • Find out about the benefits of research and how you can get involved by visiting the Your Path in Research landing page on the NIHR website.