CHILDREN’S charity Action Medical Research is celebrating 70 years of saving and changing lives through funding research in 2022.
The charity was founded 70 years ago in 1952 by Duncan Guthrie when the UK faced a deadly disease, polio. He made it his mission to raise funds to fight this disease, which at the time affected the lives of many thousands of children including his own daughter Janet. With help from the charity, the first vaccines in the UK were developed, which have kept millions of children safe ever since.
Over the decades the charity has supported some of the most significant medical breakthroughs in recent history – breakthroughs that have helped save thousands of children’s lives and changed many more.
During the 1970s and 1980s Action supported a number of projects which helped develop the use of ultrasound scanning in pregnancy to enable diagnosis of problems before birth. This technique is now routinely used during pregnancy across the world and is estimated to have almost halved the death rate for babies at the time of birth.
Continuing its legacy in funding groundbreaking virology research, the charity has invested over £1.7 million in a range of meningitis research projects exploring infection in pregnant women and their babies, children’s immune response, vaccine development, diagnosis and the long-term impact of meningitis on children. The charity also supported the lead researcher whose team developed the Hib vaccine to prevent meningitis caused by Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib), the most common cause of bacterial meningitis at the time. Thanks to the introduction of the Hib vaccine in 1992, incidence in children under five fell by 98 per cent.
Between 2013 – 2017, Action funded research led to a nationwide public health campaign advising women to go to sleep on their side rather than on their back, in the third trimester of pregnancy, to decrease the risk of stillbirth. As a charity dedicated to saving and changing vulnerable babies’ lives, Action is proud, and rightly so, to have funded this research which has led to practical advice for pregnant women being made widely available.
As well as funding research that has led to life-changing breakthroughs over the years, Action is now funding research to help understand how COVID-19 and long-COVID affect children. This vital research could lead to new ways to prevent and treat severe illness in children as a result of COVID-19 – and shed light on why children are more protected from this virus than adults. This could provide vital information to help now and to fight future pandemics. Action also supports research that aims to inform how to protect pregnant women and their babies from any potential risks from COVID-19, both now and in the future.
Despite Action’s dedication to driving research to defeat diseases that affect young lives, child health research is still underfunded in the UK and there is relatively little government or pharmaceutical funding for medical research into conditions that affect children. Action is one of the few charities in the UK focused specifically on this area. Much progress has been achieved in the last 70 years in medicine, however, there are still hundreds of thousands of children in the UK who are affected by diseases and disabilities. They and other families like them urgently need hope – the hope that only medical research can provide.
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, former Action Research Training Fellow and now Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group say:
“The importance of medical research in the first two decades of life has never been more obvious than with the current understanding of the origins of disease in childhood, and work from obesity and diabetes to cardiovascular disease and mental health must be considered. Direct improvement of the health of children can still be obtained by the ongoing focus on prevention of infection with vaccines with Group B Streptococcus, RSV and CMV being some of the key candidates for the decade ahead.”
Action has a vital job to do in helping fill this gap to protect children. The prospects for finding new cures, vaccinations and treatments are excellent thanks to recent advances in science and medicine – a lack of funding for medical research is the biggest obstacle to achieving breakthroughs for children. With the help of its fantastic supporters, Action is determined to change this and continue to make a difference in children’s lives.
Learn more about Action Medical Research here: https://action.org.uk/about-us/our-history.