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3rd May 2024

Founder of internationally renowned research centre hands over the reins

The founding father of an internationally renowned research centre at Morriston Hospital has retired after more than 20 years at the helm.

Back in 2003, Professor Adrian Evans established a programme that would lead to the creation of the Welsh Centre for Emergency Medicine Research (WCEMR).

Above: Professor Adrian Evans and his successor as centre director, Dr Suresh Pillai

Over the years he and his colleagues have published more than 100 academic papers and developed collaborations with international centres in Denmark, New Zealand, Australia and the United States.

The programme has also attracted around £6 million in funding from various sources including several prestigious granting bodies.

“I’m very proud of the work that has been done here,” said Professor Evans. “It’s been a team effort, supported by the health board.

“Retiring was a very tough decision. But I’m 71 now. I’ve been here a long time, and you can’t go on forever. You need younger people with new ideas to take it on.

“You know when it’s time to go, and for me the time was right.”

The centre’s work focuses on the development of new biomarkers to improve the diagnosis and treatment of blood clotting diseases.

It works closely with pharmaceutical and industrial collaborators to evaluate new and existing drugs and therapies, with the emphasis on delivering effective and more personalised treatments.

Professor Evans was the first professorial appointment in emergency medicine in Wales. He was brought in with a remit to develop Swansea and Wales as a leading academic centre in emergency medicine research.

Then-Health Minister Vaughan Gething opened the Welsh Centre for Emergency Medicine Research in 2019

“There were two aspects of it. First of all was to develop that academic unit for Wales, and then to develop it into an international centre,” Professor Evans explained.

“The other is what I call a Trojan horse. To develop a centre for biomedical research to support services such as cardiology, ITU, stroke, respiratory, acute deep vein thrombosis and cancer.

“The idea was to develop and support good academics who couldn’t do research because they didn’t have the time or resources.

“We got together, we supported them to develop their research, and all these units published papers in international journals.

“In the early days and during its strategic development we were very fortunate to have the involvement and support from clinicians.

“They included the late Dr Kim Harrison, Dr Phil Thomas and Dr Dafydd Thomas, who were all keen to develop academics at Morriston Hospital.

“In addition we had excellent administrative and management support from Sian Roberts at Swansea University.”

Professor Evans said another important part of the remit was to train clinicians who wanted to become academics in Wales.

“We have an active postgraduate programme, and we produce PhDs and MDs, who are now working in Wales and elsewhere in the UK,” he said.

“We have a great track record of developing academics of the future, especially academics in emergency medicine but also the other specialties. It has a good training programme for academics as well.”

In 2010, in collaboration with Swansea University, Professor Evans set up and became director of the Haemostasis Biomedical Research Unit and research programme within Morriston’s Emergency Department.

Nine years later it became the Welsh Centre for Emergency Medicine Research, officially opened by then-Health Minister Vaughan Gething.

This too is a collaboration with Swansea University, with strong support from the School of Medicine, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine and Swansea Bay University Health Board.

Professor Evans is leaving the unit in good hands. His successor as its director is Dr Suresh Pillai, a consultant in emergency and intensive care medicine, with whom he has had a longstanding working relationship.

“Suresh completed his PhD with me, and he trained with me for a good 10 years,” said Professor Evans. “He knows the ropes.

“He has a great platform to start with. The first phase is done. The next phase will be to move it on with more outcome studies, working with pharma companies for drug development to bring in money.

“But we couldn’t have done any of that before we set up our lab with the equipment and infrastructure. We started off with a post-doctorate chemical engineer and one piece of equipment in a small cupboard.

“Now in terms of translation emergency medicine we are probably the leader in the UK. There are very few centres like it, fully equipped and with direct access to patients.”

Dr Pillai first started working with Professor Evans 15 years ago, when he began his specialty training in emergency medicine at Morriston.

“That was when I first got involved in emergency medicine research,” he said. “After my appointment as a consultant in 2014, I have been working closely with Prof. That led to the successful formation and the development of WCEMR. It was a steep learning curve.”

He was principal investigator of three studies within the WCEMR recruiting 271 participants, and co-investigator of several studies which recruited more than 950 participants.

Outside the WCEMR, he was Swansea Bay’s principal investigator for REMAP-CAP, an international randomised controlled trial investigating different treatments for Covid-19 patients.

He has also held several leadership roles that he said would help him with his directorship of the WCEMR.

These include Vice President of Royal College of Emergency Medicine Wales from 2020-2023 and clinical lead in organ donation for Swansea Bay University Health Board from 2019-2021.

He has also recently been appointed senior lecturer in emergency medicine (enhanced research) at Swansea University.

Dr Pillai said he was excited at taking over from Professor Evans in the WCEMR but at the same time felt a sense of responsibility.

“I will be continuing the well-established translational research programme that includes further research on the biomarker and development of new biomarkers.

“In addition, I will be keen to get involved in trials, commercial and non-commercial, and to develop collaborations nationally and internationally.

“My focus is to obtain grants, generate high impact publications and to supervise higher degrees which is essential to obtain a Chair.

“Furthermore I am keen to develop research exposure to higher emergency medicine trainees in Wales.”