Surgeon’s pioneering infection research is honoured with “highest accolade"

A Swansea surgeon who has been awarded one of his profession’s highest accolades for his research has praised the innovation and collaboration currently taking place in South West Wales.

Ernest Azzopardi, who divides his time between ABMU’s Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery andSwansea University’s Medical School, is pioneering research into burn and surgical infection.

Dr Azzopardi has received the coveted Hunterian Medal from the Royal College of Surgeons in England. The award is given to a body of work which will lead to substantial clinical change in the way patients are treated.

And Dr Azzopardi says the region’s unique approach to combining health and science through the ARCH Programme is helping to not only foster a real spirit of innovation in the NHS but will also lead to breakthroughs in the way patients are treated.

Dr Ernest AzzopardiDr Azzopardi (pictured - centre) said: “ARCH (A Regional Collaboration for Health) is a unique project. I am honoured to be part of such a transformative approach to solving healthcare challenges. By working so closely with the University, the two ARCH health boards are uniquely placed to make major breakthroughs in how we improve the care given to our patients. Infection is a major challenge for the NHS. I do believe that through this collaboration between health and science - it is a challenge we will win.”

Dr Azzopardi, who delivered the Hunterian Oration at the winter meeting of the British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS), added: “Swansea is leading international research which can, and will, change lives. I am delighted to have received the Hunterian Medal – it is an international award which is open to all clinicians, not just surgeons, so I was very proud to receive it. I am fortunate in receiving so much support from both Swansea University Medical School and its research arm, the Institute of Life Science (ILS) and within the Welsh Centre for Burns and Plastic Surgery at Morriston. I am also inspired by the dedication of colleagues at the Burns Centre, which receives major burns from all over the UK.”

Dr Azzopardi’s cross-theme research, which focuses on precision medicine, microbiology, nanobiotechnology and clinical surgery, has been recognised by several other awards.

He is the only Hunterian Award recipient to have also been awarded the BAPRAS President’s Medal and, for earlier works, the James Syme Medal from the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh and the T Jackson Prize from the UK British Burns Association.

Precision medicine is an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person. While some advances in precision medicine have been made, the ARCH partners of Swansea University, ABMU and Hywel Dda health boards are working hard to ensure it is part of the healthcare of the future.

Dr Azzopardi added: “I am honoured to be part of the ARCH collaboration which has helped make my research work possible. ARCH is a complex project but by bringing research excellence into the NHS arena we will be able to deliver healthcare which is faster, better and cheaper.”

ABMU Executive Medical Director and ARCH board member Hamish Laing has praised Dr Azzopardi’s pioneering research and explains what precision medicine will mean to patients. He said: “In the past there has been an intuitive approach towards diagnosis and treatment. Precision medicine brings together research, new tools and techniques to allow for a faster and more accurate diagnosis and treatment plan, personalised for the patient. The main aim of this approach is to provide the right drug at the right dose to the right patient at the right time.

“Infection is a major concern in surgery and especially following severe burns. I am delighted that Dr Azzopardi is leading the way in infection research and its translation into real patient benefit. This award is thoroughly deserved. His research work really could be a global breakthrough for infection control.”

Dr Azzopardi’s research has been supported by the Welsh Government’s Welsh Clinical Academic Track (WCAT) initiative, which integrates clinical training with academic progression and he is the first WCAT fellow in plastic surgery.

He began his post-doctoral research at Swansea University in 2013 within the reconstructive surgery and regenerative medicine group led by Professor Iain Whitaker and was later appointed honorary senior clinical lecturer.

Professor Whitaker said the Hunterian award was a great achievement, in addition to previous recognition of Dr Azzopardi’s work. He said: “The multidisciplinary nature of the research is a good example of the ARCH aims. Dr Azzopardi’s research showcases how the Medical School is working closely with our two health boards in areas of shared strength and expertise to really benefit our patients.”

Professor Keith Lloyd, Dean of the Medical School and ARCH board member added: “The Medical School is one of the UK’s top performers for its research quality and research environment  so we are delighted to see Dr Azzopardi set such a high standard with his work. We congratulate Ernest and look forward to seeing his continued work benefit patients across the entire ARCH region of South West Wales and beyond.”