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Putting research at the centre of clinical practice at Newcastle’s stroke research centre

It has been a successful year for Dr Anand Dixit and his Newcastle-based team, who run the largest stroke research centre in the North East. In spite of the challenges of the pandemic, the team managed to recruit an outstanding number of participants to stroke studies, as well as successfully reopen studies which had been paused during COVID-19. We caught up with Dr Dixit, who told us how the team’s culture of putting research at the centre of clinical practice led to their success.

“We have been a designated Hyperacute Stroke Research Centre since 2010”, Dr Dixit said. “This means that we are part of a UK-wide research infrastructure that supports stroke studies requiring advanced neuro-imaging and specialist interventional skills. The idea is to deliver complex interventions within the first few hours of stroke onset to really make a difference to the patient.”

When the last academic who led on stroke research at Newcastle left, the team began to rethink the way they delivered research. Rather than having academics and clinicians working separately, the team decided to pursue a new approach in which research was embraced as an integral part of every clinician’s work.

“This was the start of a cultural shift in the team”, Dr Dixit explained. “Research staff were given training so that they had the necessary clinical skills, and additional specialist nurses were employed who had dedicated research time put aside in their day.

“Our aim is for every single patient to be offered the chance to participate in research. Time is critical when it comes to hyperacute stroke research, so it is important to have research staff on hand all the time. We achieved this by making sure that both research and clinical staff are in a position to carry out research 24/7. As a result we can act quickly and immediately approach any patient who is admitted about taking part in research. Strokes are an unforgiving condition and research gives patients the best chance at recovery.”

Cara Hubbuck, Lead Specialist Nurse for Stroke at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, added: “Everybody on the specialist nursing team plays a dual role, as we deal with patients’ clinical needs as well as screening them for research trials. The system works really well, as we are often patients’ first line of contact and can identify them for trials even when the research staff aren’t there. We are all passionate about research as we see first hand what it can do for patients. I am very proud to be part of this team.”

The team’s culture of embedding research into clinical practice has been a success, as the team consistently achieves excellent results by recruiting large numbers of patients to research studies. This year, the team has also performed well by reopening those studies which had been paused due to the pandemic.

“Everyone has done a fantastic job”, said Dr Anand Dixit. “It has been a difficult year, but our Research and Development team has been proactive and the brilliant collaboration between our research and specialist nurses meant that studies could restart with vigour.”

The team’s achievements this year also earned them recognition from the NIHR Hyperacute Stroke Research Centre oversight group, who applauded Dr Dixit’s leadership, the team’s enthusiasm, the support of the Research and Development department, and the teamwork and determination of all involved.

Professor Caroline Wroe, Clinical Director at NIHR Clinical Research Network North East and North Cumbria said: “I am very pleased that Anand and his team are being recognised for their work. Putting research at the centre of clinical practice offers all patients the opportunity to take part in research, it is a fantastic approach, and it is great to see it working so well for the stroke research team at Newcastle. Well done and congratulations to the team for making a difference.”

Hyperacute Stroke Research Centres such as Newcastle are accredited sites which are supported by the NIHR CRN Stroke Specialty. Designated sites are provided with an increased support infrastructure to deliver complex interventions within the first nine hours of stroke onset. These accredited centres have been shown to have a significant impact on research performance and patient outcomes.