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STAG Research CentreNews

Reducing hypertension in low- and middle-income countries

Published: 4 June 2020
Francesco Shankar

A Southampton Astronomer has been awarded Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF) money to boost his work with Nigerian doctors to manage high blood pressure among the population of low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Associate Professor in Physics and Astronomy, Dr Francesco Shankar, is developing a smart algorithm for optimising hypertension management strategies. He is exploiting a common technique used in extra-galactic astronomy to assist clinical decision making in blood pressure treatments.

Francesco is already exploring this field of research as a Fellow of the prestigious Alan Turing Institute, the UK's national institute for data science and artificial intelligence, and this new funding will allow him to expand this work into the new project comparing different strategies for the management of hypertension in LMICs.

He said: "Hypertension is a major cause of morbidity and mortality globally. Despite growing awareness of the condition, the global prevalence is increasing with the most rapid rise recorded in LMICs. Therefore, there is an urgent need for novel approaches to improve blood pressure control and to reduce the detrimental economic and societal impact of preventable cardiovascular events.

"Our solution is to identify ways in which hypertension management can be simplified, which we aim to achieve by integrating patient data into our existing model of hypertension management. This data will enable us to predict which novel approaches are most likely to be beneficial to sub-Saharan populations."

The £57,000 money has been awarded from the GCRF – a £1.5b fund announced by the UK Government to address complex global development challenges and support collaborative research that will improve the economic prosperity, welfare and quality of life of people in LMICs.

Francesco said: “We have already been collaborating with the Department of Clinical Pharmacology at St Thomas’ Hospital, in London, to develop a cutting-edge Bayesian Hierarchical Monte Carlo (BHM) model that can probe the complexities of blood pressure management within large populations.

"This approach has yielded novel findings about how blood pressure measurement techniques and drug selection can influence blood pressure control within a population, and consequently the incidence of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks or strokes.

"This GCRF funding will enable us to develop that further, in collaboration with Nigerian doctors, by employing a research software engineer to provide valuable insight and experience into generating a new branch of our model specifically tuned to tackling the Nigerian populations and general patients from LMICs.

"The software engineer will also be able to promote our results in the UK and globally through online training and workshops, while ensuring that the software is developed sustainably, is testable, reproducible, well-documented and interoperable."



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