The turn in fortunes in the economy has led to the development of cautious optimism that the worst recession in years has come to an end. Few projects, in healthcare anyway, symbolise this change in mood as much as the recent launch of the Sports Surgery Clinic Research Foundation earlier this month.
Hailed as the most ambitious medical research project ever seen in this country, the Foundation aims to make Ireland a global leader in sports medicine research. The vision for the Foundation was developed by the founder of the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry, Mr Ray Moran, who was frustrated at the failure of existing sports medicine research to fund or coordinate research on a global scale.
And the Foundation has already attracted international expertise, with specialists in epidemiology, biomechanics, genetics, osteoarthritis, concussion and cellular medicine making up the inaugural board.
The board will be chaired by Professor Paul McCrory of the Florey Institute for Neuroscience and Melbourne, Australia, a neurologist and sports physician with over 400 published papers to his name.
The new Director of the Foundation, Dr Andy Franklyn-Miller is also a medic of international standing and reputation.
Dr Franklyn-Miller, who originally hails from the UK, completed his medical training at Imperial College, London in 1998 before joining the Royal Navy and serving with the Royal Marines.
He commenced surgical training but transferred to sports medicine and trained in the UK and Australia as the Royal Navy’s Consultant in Sport And Exercise Medicine. His final post before leaving the Military was as Head of Research and Director of the Centre for Human Performance, Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation at The Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre Headley Court.
Dr Franklyn-Miller has conducted research in Ireland through the Sports Surgery Clinic in recent years, and despite being based in Melbourne, Australia, decided that being Director of the Foundation was too good an opportunity to pass up.
|“This absolutely aims to have Ireland number one in the world when it comes to sports medicine. It is a very ambitious programme and there is nothing like this in the world,”
“I live in Australia and travel here in order to run this programme. This really is putting Ireland on the map in terms of now and into the future. If you look at some of the names on the scientific advisory board, they are global leaders in sports injury research. They all have their own track record, but they have all chosen to join us to be part of something really special.”
Sports medicine and injury research have traditionally unable to attract traditional grant funding via university or medical research council grants because these injuries don’t affect long-term morbidity, according to Dr Franklyn-Miller.
Yet he points out that although sports injuries don’t affect long-term morbidity, they do affect patients’ ability to go to school, go to work, as well as participate in sport, and, therefore, research in the area can benefit, not just professional athletes, but society at large.
“The idea was to bring together an advisory board who had a multitude of experience both in terms of large scale epidemiology research, but also with specific skills in understanding the biomechanics of injury and injury prevention, but also from cellular and potential genetic mechanism underlying this, bring it together, with the aim of trying to create a single outstanding centre where we bring those three components together, and then seek philanthropic funding in order to drive some of those programmes where otherwise they wouldn’t achieve grant success, but also on a global level, not just a European level.”
Many university studies struggle to find 30 to 40 patients, whereas the Clinic has seen 150,000 patients since its opening, so the opportunities for large scale research is significant.
Seed funding of €500,000 through the Sports Surgery Clinic for research into athletic groin pain has already shown the potential for the project. This research focused on the development of development of 3D Biomechanical testing for patients with groin injury in amateur and professional sport from as far away as Australia and the Middle East.
“We have just finished a 400 patient trial looking at the rehabilitation success and found that, on average, we have been able to bring the rehabilitation programme from 12 weeks down to six weeks, and even faster in a residential capacity,” Dr Franklyn-Miller said.
“So we just prepared them for publication in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. We have focused on answering a question that otherwise wouldn’t have achieved funding under the programme and also have commercial success under that programme in terms of raising revenue that supports ongoing research.”
A Champions League UEFA study carried out recently found that, over the last three years, there were 700 athletic groin pain injuries in those champions league clubs during the period.
The players, who were out for an average of 12 weeks, earned on average €100,000 every week, making the advantages for clubs seeking a better return for their investment immediately apparent.
“The potential to affect that return to playtime at an elite level has the ability to potentially fund research for those who aren’t being paid to play or need to get back to school and back to work,” he said.
Plans for an expansion of the groin injury programme are already underway. Also, a major concussion research programme is in the works, which will also avail of global expertise.
|“While the focus now has been making the diagnosis of concussion there has been little work done in terms of what we do in managing return to school, return to work and return to play,” according to Dr Franklyn- Miller.
“We are never going to remove concussion from contact sport, but if we can be the first to create a return to work, school and play programme, not only can we contribute globally, we can also affect the health of everybody and not just at a commercial level.”
Ultimately, it is hoped this research will lead to the establishment of a comprehensive concussion management centre
Research projects into hip and muscle injuries are also on the agenda in the near future.
The Foundation aims to create 20 scientific research and administration jobs in the first year, growing to over 100 by 2020.
One of its most ambitious plans is the creation of construction of a training, research and testing centre, costing €15 million, over the next 18 months. The centre will be located beside the Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry. Biology, genetics and biomechanics will underpin all studies at the centre.
Patients attending for injury screening will have blood collected for future biomarker discovery programmes and state-of-the-art technology assessments in cognitive function, movement analysis
and power and strength production can be performed, Dr Franklyn-Miller explained.
|“The real focus can be summarised in three words: Ambition, Drive and Expertise.
The Sports Surgery Clinic has the expertise.
There are large numbers of patients being seen by a large number of experts, all on one site, which is almost unique around the world. And then the ambition for Mr Ray Moran
to provide answers has really given drive behind this charitable foundation.
Therefore, these global experts are excited by the potential here to really make a difference that we will see in our lifetime, rather than in three generations time.”