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The Nation's Lifesavers: The exceptional 100 keeping us healthy

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People responsible for using virtual reality to help stroke patients recover, curing blindness, using AI to tackle heart disease and designing a device to help dogs communicate when cancer is presentare among those named as the Nation’s Lifesavers.

The Nation’s Lifesavers are the top 100 individuals or groups based in universities across the country whose work is saving lives and making a life-changing difference to our health and wellbeing.

The Lifesaver list includes Prof Christina Victor, Professor of Gerontology and Public Health at Brunel University London, whose work has made a significant contribution to the public understanding of ageing and loneliness, recognised by policymakers, practitioners and campaigners.

The top 100 have been named for the first time today as part of Universities UK’s MadeAtUni campaign, which brings to life the impact of universities on families, communities and wider society.  

The Nation’s Lifesavers are battling diseases, tackling inequality, helping new parents and children enjoy the best start in life and supporting older people. In Mental Health Awareness Week, their stories show a huge contribution to improving our mental health and wellbeing.

The selection reveals the amazing use of technology, such as drones to fight malaria, a smart glove for communicating sign language and robots helping older people.   

Stories of the Nation’s Lifesavers highlight how the value of universities stretches far beyond the educational opportunities and economic impact they provide. Whether you attended university or not, the likelihood is that everyone has directly or indirectly benefited from medical advances or health and wellbeing developments pioneered at university.

Professor Dame Janet Beer, President of Universities UK, said: “When people think of lifesavers they understandably tend to focus on the dedication and skill of our doctors, nurses, carers, and paramedics – many of whom are trained at universities.

“Every day, up and down the country, universities are also working on innovations to transform and save lives. Research taking place in universities is finding solutions to so many of the health and wellbeing issues we care about and the causes that matter.

“By proudly working in partnership with charities, the NHS and healthcare organisations, universities are responsible for some of our biggest health breakthroughs and in revolutionising the delivery of care.

“This campaign is a chance to bring to life the wonderful and often unexpected work going on every day in our universities and to celebrate some of the people working to make a life-changing difference to us all.”

Campaign ambassador Dame Katherine Grainger, Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, Chair of UK Sport and Britain’s most decorated female Olympic athlete, commented: “MadeAtUni Lifesavers celebrates the researchers and their teams in universities across the country who are providing innovations, breakthroughs, cures and treatments to improve the health and wellbeing of adults and children, locally, nationally and internationally.

“I know from my own direct experience at Oxford Brookes that our universities are treasuries in which to share knowledge, test established notions and evidence about health, and ultimately create fresh approaches which can help us all to thrive.”

Research, carried out by Britain Thinks, shows the public are proud of UK universities but have little understanding of the benefits they bring, with most not being aware that UK academics are behind many of the discoveries that save lives and keep up healthy.

Brunel’s Lifesaver

“We need to take loneliness seriously in all age groups. We know most loneliness is temporary, but we need to find ways to prevent it from becoming chronic.”

This was the rallying cry from Prof Christina Victor when the results of the BBC Loneliness Experiment came out in late 2018. The survey – developed by Professor Victor, together with Claudia Hammond from BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind and academics from the Universities of Exeter and Manchester – generated 55,000 responses from people aged 16 to 99, representing the biggest-ever study into one of the major challenges society faces.

The study found that those aged 16 to 24 feel lonely more often and more deeply than any other age group, running counter to the stereotype of the lonely older person. But for Professor Victor, who researches health and wellbeing in later life, it’s just one of several findings about loneliness that demonstrate the complexity of the issue, and hints at changes to public health initiatives.

Originally a geographer who researched how access to health and social care changes across the country, she developed an interest in public health and the experiences of old age and later life. Her work has made a significant contribution to the public understanding of ageing, recognised by policymakers, practitioners and campaigners.

“Professor Victor’s work is helping to show that mass ‘change’ campaigns may be more effective in combating loneliness than the services currently offered,” said Daniel Pattison, the Campaign to End Loneliness’s Head of Communications.

Find out more about the Nation’s Lifesavers and the MadeAtUni campaign at MadeAtUni.org.uk.

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