Dr Rachel Freathy (left) and Dr Sarah Flanagan

Fellowship awards for two outstanding scientists

Two rising research stars at the University of Exeter Medical School have been awarded prestigious Sir Henry Dale Fellowships.

Dr Sarah Flanagan and Dr Rachel Freathy have both received the award, in a scheme run by the Wellcome Trust and the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science.  The Sir Henry Dale Fellowships were created for outstanding post-doctoral scientists wishing to build their own UK-based, independent research career addressing an important biomedical question.

Both Dr Freathy and Dr Flanagan work in the area of human genomics, and are based at the Research, Innovation, Learning and Development (RILD) building, a partnership with the Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust.

Dr Freathy will use genetics to understand what factors during pregnancy may influence a baby’s growth in the womb. She said: My research aims to understand why some babies grow very large in utero while others are born very small. This is important because people born very small or very large not only have higher risks of birth and early-life complications, but also higher risks of chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes in later life. I am using information on genetic variations in large studies of mothers and their babies to separate true causal effects of the maternal environment from mere correlations. This will lead to a better understanding of how we can target care in pregnancy to encourage healthy foetal growth.

“I was absolutely delighted to be awarded the Fellowship. I now have the resources and support to establish my own research group. This should hopefully lead to real improvements in our understanding of foetal growth and its links with adult disease.”

Dr Flanagan’s work will focus on understanding the genetic basis of congenital hyperinsulinism, a severe, potentially devastating disorder in which people produce too much insulin despite low blood sugar levels. Using state-of-the-art technology, she will search for previously unknown disease genes in the 60 per cent of patients who have the disease but are currently without a genetic diagnosis. Understanding the underlying mechanisms of this disease will provide vital new insights into the body’s production of insulin, which could also have implications for diabetes research.

Dr Flanagan said: “I am absolutely thrilled to have been selected to receive a Sir Henry Dale Fellowship. The funding provided by the Wellcome Trust and Royal Society will not only allow me to address important scientific questions, but also provides me with a fantastic opportunity to develop myself as an independent researcher.”

Date: 26 March 2015

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