Case Studies

Here we highlight three examples of high-quality research leading to major impacts for human society:

  • The improvement of pre-natal testing of pregnant women to help avoid Downs syndrome births
  • The development of screening to help decrease anti-vermin resistance and reduce loss of crops and spread of disease
  • The reduction in the use of potentially toxic chemicals in cosmetics, thus safeguarding human health

Prof. Phil Knight

Pregnant women and public health service providers have benefitted since 2003 from the development of an ultra-sensitive immunoassay for inhibin-A - a hormone that is produced by the placenta during pregnancy and that is elevated in Down's syndrome pregnancies. knight-impact-pregnant-woman
The assay, developed by Professor Groome at Oxford Brookes University and Professor Knight at the University of Reading in 1994, was the first test capable of quantifying low levels of inhibin-A in the peripheral blood of humans. Addition of this test to existing antenatal screening tests, improved the Down's syndrome detection rate from 59% to 70% and from 67% to 77% when ultrasound was used to estimate the gestational age of the foetus. Addition of inhibin-A as the fourth marker measured in the maternal blood serum became known as the quadruple or quad test and was adopted into UK clinical guidelines in 2003. It remains the recommended screening test for women who present themselves in the 2nd trimester. Since 2008 hundreds of thousands of UK women and their healthcare providers have benefitted from the additional information provided by this more accurate screening method, including whether more invasive diagnostic tests are wanted. The quadruple test has been widely adopted in the clinical guidelines in other countries including the US, Canada, and Australia.

Dr Colin Prescott

prescott-impact-rat2Local authorities, the UK government and the European Commission have benefitted from the widespread application of new molecular methodologies, developed in 2005 and applied by the University of Reading's Vertebrate Pests Unit (VPU) to identify and quantify anticoagulant rodenticide resistance in rodent populations. Rodents are a major global pest that consumes our food, causes contamination with urine and faeces, damages structures through gnawing, transmits diseases, and impacts on species of conservation concern. Due to historical success and recent regulatory restrictions, anticoagulant rodenticides are the most common control method for these pests. However, physiological resistance to anticoagulants is now widespread and the VPU has been involved in mapping this resistance prescott-impact-vpuLogoand identifying the genetic basis for the resistance. Their research has led to new methodologies to identify anticoagulant resistance that have been adopted by the global plant science industry and to new guidance in treating resistant populations that has been adopted by the European biocides industry.

Dr Philippa Darbre

Governments, industry and the public have benefitted from research on the potential role of parabens, which are used widely as preservatives in personal care products, in the development of breast cancer. darbre-impact-breast-cancer-woman
The research, conducted at the University of Reading since the 1990s, has established the oestrogenic activity of parabens in human cells, confirmed and quantified the presence of parabens in human breast tissue and established that parabens can stimulate the proliferation of human breast cancer cells at concentrations measured in the breast tissue. The findings of this research have received widespread media coverage, which has raised public awareness of the issue. As a result, producers and retailers of natural and organic cosmetic products have benefitted through the adoption of these research findings into marketing information available to their customers. Scientific Committees have used the research findings to inform their opinions on the risk of parabens that have been submitted to the European Commission. As well, non-government organisations have benefitted from having scientific evidence to support their public awareness initiatives and campaigns to invoke change in policy.

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