Adrian Martineau is Professor of Respiratory Infection and Immunity at the Institute of Population Health Sciences in the School of Medicine and Dentistry. He is leading on the investigation of risk factors for developing coronavirus as part of COVIDENCE UK, a national study collecting data from volunteers around the UK to answer scientific questions surrounding Covid-19.
Professor Adrian Martineau
In the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, the major research focus was on developing treatments for patients who were hospitalised with severe Covid-19. Originally the focus was on finding a vaccine and treatment, we also need to do studies at a population level to identify modifiable risk factors for disease, and to correct those where we can. One example relates to the higher risk of Covid-19 experienced by people of black and Asian minority ethnic origin. Can this all be explained by socio-economic factors and differing prevalence of underlying conditions like heart disease and diabetes? Or could there be another factor, such as vitamin D deficiency, which might be contributing?
To find this out, a very large population-based survey of risk factors for Covid-19 needed to be set up. And so COVIDENCE UK () was born. The study has been developed in collaboration with colleagues at King’s College London, Edinburgh University, Swansea University, Queen’s University Belfast and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – so it is a truly national endeavour. The study involves an online questionnaire which takes around 20 minutes and asks very detailed questions about potential risk factors for disease, including diet, use of nutritional supplements, housing and lifestyle. Briefer monthly follow-up questionnaires will ask about any episodes of symptoms or illness requiring hospitalisation. We need a minimum of 12,000 people to take part in order to be properly powered; so far 6,700 have signed up.
Please do sign up and take part in the COVIDENCE UK study and encourage others to do so as well. Any UK resident 16 and over is eligible to participate, whether or not you have already had suspected or proven Covid-19. You will help us identify potential risk factors and help develop strategies to reduce the risk of coronavirus disease. Even when we do eventually get a vaccine, it is unlikely to be completely protective so it’s important to think outside the box and look at a range of measures to protect our health during the pandemic.
I’m a Londoner born and bred, but I did my medical training in Newcastle, Glasgow and Liverpool. After qualifying, I worked as a junior doctor in South Africa for two years where I became interested in tuberculosis (TB). In 2002 I saw a job opportunity to combine seeing patients in the TB clinic in Newham with a research project based at Queen Mary, and I snapped it up. Since then I’ve worked my way up from PhD student to professor over a period of 12 years. I am happy here and am lucky enough to have an inspiring and supportive boss in Professor Chris Griffiths, who leads the Institute of Population Health Sciences.
I still work in the TB clinic (now based at Mile End), but a lot of my research work is now being done abroad, in countries such as South Africa, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Mongolia where TB is a pressing public health problem. In recent years, my work has expanded to look at viral respiratory infections as well as TB (which is caused by a bacterium), so working on coronavirus represents a natural extension of that.
I count myself lucky to have a very varied schedule – some weeks I will be travelling, making a field trip to one of our study sites or attending a conference; some weeks I will be based in Whitechapel, meeting with my post docs and PhD students to review progress on lab projects, and seeing patients in the TB clinic.
Variety! As a biomedical researcher writing grants, you are effectively writing your own job description – what’s not to like?
COVIDENCE UK exemplifies the sort of work envisaged in the Strategy: it’s an inclusive study, dedicated to the public good and open to people from all backgrounds, which will generate new knowledge that will have national and international impact.
The Nucleus Café on Whitechapel campus. There is nothing to beat one of their double espressos when you hit a mental road block.
It’s a friendly, diverse place, fizzing with energy!
I once had ambitions to make a living as a bassoonist. In retrospect, opting for medicine was a good call – being a clinical academic is super-interesting, there are opportunities to turn your hand to so many different things.
I got hooked on running when I lived in South Africa – started off with a 5k, ended up doing the Comrades Marathon, a 89km run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. More than 20,000 people participate each year. Now that I’m London-based I’m more often to be found beating the streets of Kilburn.
Keir Starmer. He’s the PM-in-waiting, a really impressive individual – it would be interesting to get the inside track on his plans for our country.