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Professor Peter Rothwell, founder of the Stroke Prevention Research Unit
Professor Peter Rothwell, founder of the Stroke Prevention Research Unit

The Stroke Prevention Research Unit, in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences and led by Professor Peter Rothwell, has been awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher Education, the highest form of national recognition that UK higher education institutions can achieve.

The Stroke Prevention Research Unit was founded in 2000 by Professor Rothwell to improve prevention of stroke and other chronic diseases in older people. It now comprises over 30 staff, is linked to a world-leading imaging facility, and runs several unique cohort studies in collaboration with 100 GPs in Oxfordshire. In 2013, the Unit evolved into the Centre for Prevention of Stroke and Dementia when it was awarded £4M by the Wolfson Foundation towards a new Centre to be built on top of the old cardiac building in JR2 during 2014/15. 

The team won the award for their ground breaking research which, over the last decade has revolutionised clinical practice in stroke prevention. Research done by the unit showed that the risk of major stroke in the first few hours and days after more minor warning events – so called transient ischaemic attacks – was much higher than previously supposed, but that urgent use of existing treatments reduced the risk of major stroke by 80%. Subsequent work showed that fluctuations in BP are also powerful risk factors for stroke and other vascular events and that widely used BP-lowering drugs differ in their effects on variability. The Unit's recent work on aspirin showed that, in addition to its well-known effects in preventing vascular events, it also reduces the long-term risk of several common cancers and also has shorter-term benefits by reducing the spread of cancer around the body via the blood stream (known as metastasis), demonstrating for the first time in man that a drug can directly interfere with this process.

Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor, said: ‘We are delighted that the world-leading work of the Stroke Prevention Research Unit has been recognised in this way. With a rapidly ageing global population, the need to address age-related illnesses is a clear priority not just in this country but worldwide’.

The Queen’s Anniversary Prize is awarded every 2-3 years for projects or groups that have made a major difference at a national or international level. Each university is able to submit a single nomination from across all subject areas and a national panel selects a shortlist and then a small number are awarded the Prize. Previous Oxford winners that came from the Medical Sciences Division have been Sir David Weatherall and colleagues for the WIMM and Sir Richard Peto and colleagues for the CTSU.