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From small steps to mighty strides – the value of small medical charities

The year 2020 started with a bang. To the complete surprise of governments around the world, the covid pandemic appeared. Within a year, vaccines had been developed and passed through the regulatory processes. This was astonishing as typically this takes 10-15 years.

Although governments had been largely taken by surprise and were under-prepared, scientists had long been predicting that something precisely like this would happen. They had been doing background work on vaccine development techniques for many years, and so hit the ground running. Generally, however, this doesn’t happen, and it can take ten to twenty years for medical innovations to reach patients.

This can be a problem for the many small charities that support early-stage development of medical techniques. How can they assess the value of the work they are supporting?

Charities offering better care can point to individuals who have benefitted from their support, but those that focus on the development of treatments, or prevention strategies, need to wait for many years, and often their early support can fade into the background.

The Neurosciences Foundation is a small Scottish charity supporting early-stage medical research in Scotland.  The focus is on disorders of the brain and spine. How can it demonstrate value? After all, they don’t get the euphoria of reaching the summit.​

Perhaps one way is to look at what happened next, after the initial funding. As well as taking a long time for new medical processes to get into clinical practice, it takes a lot of money. Methods need to be refined, and clinical trials, typically involving thousands of patients, need to be funded. Looking at the income procured after the initial support of typically around £10,000 can at least give an indication of value. Here are some examples:

Stroke. The Neurosciences Foundation provided funding for a study to explore a new technique to assess the viability of brain tissue around the area of the stroke, and to improve the delivery of oxygen to these regions. The programme is now at an advanced stage and an additional £3.7 million has been secured from the Wellcome Trust and other agencies.

Multiple sclerosis. One of the Neurosciences Foundation students worked to develop a material to enable images to be taken of inflammation in the brain. An additional £3.6 million has been obtained from UK funding councils for this work and the researchers are now looking at inflammation in heart disease. Inflammation is widespread!

Head injury. Initial funding was provided for projects to link European Centres with neurological intensive care units – both adult and children’s units. This was before Brexit, and the researchers were successful in getting follow-on grants of £3.1 million from the European Union. The programmes have helped to determine best practice across Europe.

Currently the Foundation is supporting work on glioblastoma (an aggressive brain cancer), migraine and stroke prevention – find out more on our How We Help page.

Learning about past successes is reassuring. It helps the Trustees as they plod out the miles on sponsored walks. This small charity is making mighty strides.

If you would like to support our latest fund-raising campaign you can donate on our Just Giving page Small Steps, Mighty Strides.