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2020’s Emerging Leaders Prize awards £200,000 to outstanding scientists from the University of Oxford, University College London and King’s College London, who are all working in the field of pain research.

© Nicholas Irving

Patients with nerve injuries often develop persistent nerve-related pain. A staggering 10 per cent of the general population experience such nerve-related symptoms, yet we do not understand why some patients recover whereas others continue to have symptoms for many years.

I am honoured to be the first allied health professional to receive this prestigious prize. It will not only allow me to answer an innovative and potentially game-changing research question, but it will also put physiotherapy pain research in the international spotlight.
- Annina Schmid

Annina Schmid, a Specialist Physiotherapist and an Associate Professor, won second place, with a prize of £80,000. Her research examines why some patients with nerve injuries recover whereas others develop persistent pain. To achieve this, she uses an exciting mix of methodologies, ranging from advanced neuroimaging to sensory profiling and analyses of human bio-samples. 

The prize funding will allow Dr Schmid to build on her recent discoveries in patients with whiplash injury. She will examine whether injury to small nerve fibres in the skin explains why up to 50 per cent of people develop persistent pain after whiplash injury, and will also explore whether there are differences in skin gene expression between patients who have and have not recovered.

Dr Schmid said: 'Funding from the Emerging Leaders Prize will allow me to investigate whether an injury to small nerve fibres explains why some patients develop persistent pain after whiplash injury. Importantly, I will examine whether low-cost bedside sensory tests that I have developed can identify such small fibre damage. This will enable early targeted intervention to prevent pain persistence.'

Read more on the Medical Research Foundation website