Leading consultants from the North East putting rare diseases expertise on world stage

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This Rare Disease Day (28 February), the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), is shining a spotlight on the region’s healthcare pioneers chosen to lead three major European rare disease networks.

Professor Kate Bushby

At the forefront of innovation, three world-leading consultants from the North East – Professor Andrew Cant, Professor Kate Bushby and Professor David Jones – are leading the way on an international stage, in expertise in rare diseases.

The European Reference Networks specialize in rarely seen conditions affecting the immune system, the liver and neuromuscular functions – all areas which Newcastle is internationally renowned for, with expertise and knowledge spanning more than 50 years of pioneering clinical care and research.

Overall there are 24 networks covering the full range of somewhere in the region of 8,000 rare diseases. In 2017, Newcastle was designated to lead on three networks on behalf of Europe’s rare diseases community. This is more than any other hospital or clinical center in Europe and demonstrates Newcastle’s prominent global reputation.

Professor Andrew Cant is a Consultant Pediatric Immunologist on the Children’s Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, based out of the RVI’s Great North Children’s Hospital and an honorary Clinical Professor of Pediatric Immunology at Newcastle University. He leads the immunology European Reference Network and see patients from across the world who are referred to Newcastle thanks to its world-renowned status.

Professor Cant, who works on the world-renowned ‘Bubble’ Unit, said:

The work the team in Newcastle is doing is hugely important and being selected to lead the immunology network reaffirms our global reputation in being invited to share expertise and best practice on an international stage.

My motivation is working towards a time where all babies and children born with a rare immune deficiency are diagnosed as small babies, have treatment that is 100 per cent successful, 100 hundred per cent of the time and ultimately go on to live normal, healthy lives. That’s why it’s so important that we keep moving forward and sharing knowledge, skills and expertise, to create a greater understanding of rare diseases among the medical community.

Professor Kate Bushby is an honorary Consultant Geneticist for the Northern Genetics Service, Centre for Life, and Professor of Neuromuscular Genetics at Newcastle University’s John Walton Muscular Dystrophy Research Centre. She leads the European neuromuscular network.

Professor Bushby, said:

Patients with rare diseases often tend to be at a disadvantage compared to people with common conditions due to difficulties finding out what is wrong with them, finding doctors who understand their condition and having access to the best treatments.

Expertise tends to be concentrated in specific specialist centers, often reflecting many years of experience and a combination of clinical and research excellence. For Newcastle to be the lead on three major networks makes us truly unique and reflects our longstanding interest in rare diseases and specialist care.

Professor David Jones is an honorary Consultant Hepatologist at the Freeman Hospital and Professor of Liver Immunology at Newcastle University’s Institute of Cellular Medicine and leads the liver network.

Professor Jones added:

I think the reason Newcastle has been so successful in the European Reference Networks is because of the very strong working relationship between clinicians, scientists and, above all, patients. Caring comes first and I don’t think it is a coincidence that the areas in which we run networks are ones where we have run world-class clinical services, with a very strong patient focus for many decades.

Between 6,000 and 8,000 rare diseases affect the daily lives of around 30 million people in Europe – many of whom are children.

In an innovative attempt to improve equity of care for patients with rare diseases, the European Reference Networks have been initiated by the European Commission to bring together experts from across Europe to develop care guidelines, share clinical expertise and enhance clinical research opportunities in 24 different rare disease groupings.

In practice, this means telemedicine consultations, shared access to specialist diagnostic tests, training and education programmes for doctors, nurses and clinical scientists, and, where necessary, movement of patients to centers of excellence for highly specialised treatments. Research is also boosted through large, cross country clinical studies.

Professor Julia Newton, Medical Director at the AHSN North East and North Cumbria, said:

It is fantastic for healthcare that we have individuals and teams advancing knowledge, expertise and understanding of rare diseases right here in the North East.

Our aim is to continually improve treatment techniques and therapies for patients and it’s great that we’re able to work with Europe-wide partners to translate research into better care.

Consultants like Professor Cant, Professor Bushby and Professor Jones are really flying the flag for Newcastle and raising awareness of the life-changing work taking place on our doorstep. Although rare, cumulatively, many people around the world are suffering from or experiencing the effects of a rare condition and it’s vital we expand our knowledge further and continue to make a difference to so many lives.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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