Society and communities
Sharing knowledge is key to fully understanding the impact of Covid
Introducing a blog series on the University of Nottingham’s ongoing research contribution to the Covid-19 effort.
The pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives: how we interact with each other, how we see our families and friends and how we work and travel. Undoubtedly our perspectives have changed too; we will always be a Covid-19 generation. The impact research has on our daily lives has never been more apparent, so this is an interesting time to be prioritising public engagement. Our researchers have contributed to the Covid-19 effort across a truly impressive and broad range of disciplines and this latest blog series puts some of this work in the spotlight.
We will be highlighting a different area of Covid-related research each week, starting with Dr Chris Coleman’s research on finding out why the virus causes disease. We will consider lockdown has impacted wider social issues like forced marriage in the UK (Dr Helen McCabe), the exploitation of children for drug transport (Dr Ben Brewster), low-skilled workers from migrant communities (Dr Oana Burcu) or working-class women (Professor Tracey Warren).
"It is important that we share our research with our community of students, staff and the wider public in an accessible way that promotes shared understanding that can be responded to. We need to understand how we can use this information to work with communities and make a better future."
The university has contributed to the Covid-19 effort in myriad ways, from patient-facing frontline activity and vaccine development to the impacts on the wider community and vulnerable groups. I’m going to focus my attention on two stories that summarise for me our current and future impact on people’s lives. Back at the start of the pandemic many operations were put on hold for the safety of both patients and the surgical team. One such operation is cochlear implant surgery, which restores hearing in deaf children. This most benefits such children if the operation is carried out at the earliest possible stage of their development. Vital time was passing for these children, but carrying on would have put everyone at risk. The surgical team, led by Douglas Hartley, a Professor of Otology and Consultant ENT surgeon, developed a scientifically proven, novel way to safely restart the surgery by developing new, innovative PPE, helped by the anatomy team at the university. The impact of being able to restart the surgery after just a few weeks, while still only beginning to understand the virus, was really important for these children and their families. You can read the full story here.
Covid-19 has devastated care homes, in terms of infections and deaths, and in the long-term effects of separation of older people from their families. Professors Adam Gordon and Philip Bath are leading the PROTECT-CH study via the Nottingham Clinical Trials Unit. The PROTECT-CH study will trial drugs which might be able to either prevent or reduce the severity of Covid-19 outbreaks in care homes. This is important because care home residents will be particularly vulnerable as new variants emerge and we need to have additional preventative therapies available ahead of next winter. Professor Gordon adds: “Public engagement with this work is essential. Care homes have become an emotive topic during the Covid-19 pandemic and it is important that everything we do in the PROTECT study is informed by what care home residents and their families want.” Read more here.
At the same time Covid has shone a spotlight on the value of experts to help to explain and interpret data. Our researchers, including Professor Jonathan Ball, are often in the media helping to translate complex ideas in a way the public can understand. And one of our own alumni, Professor Jonathan Van Tam, is coming to speak with our student body in April. Book your place.
To live in the ‘new normal’ our research will need to be holistic, and informed by the wider community. Public engagement with research to promote shared understanding of Covid and social consensus on how to go about recovery locally, nationally and globally has never been more important and this will be the focus of my new role as Academic Lead for Public Engagement.
Susan Anderson is the Academic Lead for Public Engagement at the Institute for Policy and Engagement and a Professor of Anatomy in the School of Life Sciences.