Simon Newell Award

Honouring Research Excellence: The Dr Simon Newell Early Career Investigator Award

The 2020 recipient of the Dr Simon Newell Early Career Investigator Award has been announced as Dr Francesco Saverio Tedesco, a researcher and clinician dedicated to improving the lives of children with neuromuscular conditions.

Since 1999, Sparks charity has funded the Dr Simon Newell award along with the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) to recognise excellence in child health research. GOSH Charity has co-supported the award since 2017. This annual honour is open to outstanding clinician researchers early in their academic career and is named in memory of Dr Simon Newell – a renowned and widely respected neonatologist and paediatrician who had a passion for encouraging the next generation of paediatric clinicians and researchers.

This year’s winner, Dr Francesco Saverio Tedesco is an Associate Professor in Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine and a Clinical Lecturer in Paediatrics at University College London (UCL). He has recently been seconded to the Francis Crick Institute to set up a collaborative network of neuromuscular disease research, which will focus on disease modelling and experimental therapies for some of the most severe and disabling neuromuscular conditions in children. “Working at UCL and at the Crick is extremely exciting and gives us access to one of the world’s finest and largest research communities in my field”. Dr Tedesco is also near to completing his general paediatric clinical training and is due to start his specialist paediatric neurology training at GOSH later in the year. “’I’m looking forward to using my experience and energy in the clinic to help children with neurological and neuromuscular conditions”.

Dr Tedesco and his team want to understand how muscles grow and regenerate after an injury, and more specifically in muscle conditions such as muscular dystrophies. Children with these conditions experience progressive muscle wastage, which often results in the need for a wheelchair, and can develop into cardiac and respiratory failure too. Their quality of life is severely impacted, yet there remains a huge unmet need for effective treatments in this field.

Dr Tedesco has two key aims for his current research. The first is to gain a better understanding of the cause of neuromuscular conditions, “the better we understand the conditions, the better we are able to treat them” says Dr Tedesco. And with this in mind, the team have developed the first ever human artificial muscle model of muscular dystrophy in a laboratory. They have essentially made an entire human 3-dimensional muscle from human stem cells of individuals with muscle diseases. The model behaves very much like a human muscle with many of the features of muscular dystrophy and can therefore be used to test potential treatments for this condition. It is hoped that the model will help to identify whether a treatment will work before going into clinical trials, reducing the need for testing uncertain and potentially toxic treatments in patients. This is a huge achievement for the team, which will have a great impact on their research moving forward. The second of Dr Tedesco’s aims is to use the model to test new treatments, including both medicines and gene therapies. The team have already seen some exciting results, which they hope to validate and test the safety of in the coming years.

Whilst Dr Tedesco’s work is currently at the pre-clinical stages – there is ample opportunity to translate some of the findings into the clinic in the coming years. It is hoped that the artificial muscle could be used to validate the response of patients to medicines in clinical trials in the next 5 years, and that potentially new curative genetic therapies will be brought to trial within the next 10 years. It’s a very exciting time for the team and we wish them all the success in their mission to transform the lives of patients with neuromuscular conditions.

In receiving the award, Dr Tedesco said: “It is a great honour to receive such a prestigious award. Like Dr Newell, my ultimate aim is to improve outcomes for unwell children through research, and it is so rewarding to see my research programme appreciated by the paediatric community. I am immensely grateful to RCPCH, Sparks and GOSH Charity for their trust and recognition.”

Kiki Syrad, Director of Grants & Impact for GOSH Charity and Sparks Charity, also commented on the award: “This is a really exciting line of research which could have a huge impact for children with neuromuscular conditions. It is great to be able to recognise Dr Tedesco’s commitment to this cause through this award, and I look forward to hearing about the progress and impact of his research in the future.”

Professor Nick Bishop, Vice President for Science and Research at the RCPCH said: “Dr Francesco Tedesco exemplifies the qualities of a modern paediatrician – thoughtful, innovative and focussed on the best outcome for the child and their family. Many children are affected by neuromuscular disorders; the approaches he and his team are developing hold out the promise of safe and effective treatments for them in the near future. I, and I’m sure the children and their families who will benefit from this work, congratulate Francesco on his achievement, and hope for more to come.”

Dr Simon Newell was connected to Sparks throughout his career, first as a researcher, then as a member of the Medical Advisory Committee, and later as a Trustee. This award has been named in his memory, as recognition of his tremendous contribution to child health research and is worth £2000.

Photo Credit: Dave Guttridge | The Francis Crick Institute