Meet the ACU team

Meet the people behind our Academic Cardiovascular Research Unit.

Rebecca Maier

Head of the ACU

Email [email protected]

Rebecca Maier is head of the Academic Cardiovascular Unit. She was previously a member of the senior leadership team in the UKCRC Registered Clinical Trials Unit at Newcastle University, and prior to that was co-director of the Clinical Trials Unit at Durham University.

Rebecca has a track record in the design and delivery of multi-centre, peer-reviewed nationally funded, internationally important, randomised controlled trials. Rebecca regularly collaborates with clinicians, statisticians, and health economists, and her work has enabled growth in the number of clinical trials led by clinical investigators from across the North East.

She is co-applicant on a number of multi-centre national, peer-reviewed clinical trials, including UK Mini Mitral, PROACT and PrEPS. Rebecca is also a member of National Cardiac Surgery Clinical Trial Initiative heart valve intervention and minimally invasive techniques clinical study group.

She is passionate about well designed and robust research that answers questions that are important to patient and clinical communities, and enables medical practice to be evidence based. Over the last decade, the critical importance of patient and public involvement in research has become embedded in every aspect of the research process.

Her work in designing clinical trials has been enhanced by working closely with patient and clinical groups to build and shape proposals that are informed by, and retain, a focus on patients.

As a member of the national NIHR CRN ‘Improving Inclusion of Under-Served Groups in Clinical Research’ Steering Group (INCLUDE), Rebecca contributed to national guidance in this area. This work provides a framework that expands PPI work and guides researchers to ensure inclusivity when designing and conducting trials and research; this is a key area of strategic focus for ACU.

Professor Enoch Akowuah

ACU director

Email [email protected]

Prof Enoch Akowuah is a consultant cardiac surgeon at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and an honorary senior clinical lecturer at Newcastle University.

He trained in Sheffield, Bristol and Melbourne, Australia. His research focuses on improving outcomes after cardiac surgery with a particular emphasis on minimising the impact of surgery.

This involves minimally invasive techniques and prehabilitation to improve fitness prior to surgery. 

Nationally, Prof Akowuah’s reputation as a research leader is evidenced by his recent role on the steering committee for the James Lind Alliance. The committee determined the top ten national priorities for research in cardiac surgery.

He leads the clinical study group for minimally invasive cardiac surgery in the British Heart Foundation clinical research collaborative. Prof Akowuah is also a member of a number of their other priority groups.

He is either a lead or a co-applicant on several planned national and international randomised controlled trials which have emerged from this process.

Dr David Austin

ACU director

Email [email protected]

Dr David Austin is as a consultant cardiologist with a specialist interest in percutaneous coronary intervention and is an honorary senior clinical lecturer at Newcastle University.

He trained in medicine as an undergraduate at the University of Aberdeen. He then completed early professional training and a research MD at the University of Glasgow.

Dr Austin completed cardiology specialist training at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle and The James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough. He then undertook an Interventional Cardiology Fellowship in Halifax, Canada in 2013 to 2014.

In addition to establishing grant-funded trials (PROACT, TACTIC, FRACTAL clinical trials) within cardiology at James Cook. Dr Austin is the clinical lead for the James Cook research delivery team.

He is also the cardiovascular specialty group lead for North-East and North Cumbria NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN).

These leadership roles involve the promotion and development of cardiovascular research in South Tees and the wider region. The roles also have involvement in the regional and national strategic conversations within NIHR.

As co-director, Dr Austin will lead the unit which aims to become a centre of excellence for cardiovascular research. Importantly the research will be designed and delivered in the Tees Valley, an area with high rates of heart disease.

The ACU aims to conduct vital, high-quality research to improve patient outcomes, not only in the Tees Valley, but nationally and beyond.

Mr Stuart Grant

Consultant cardiac surgeon

Email [email protected]

Stuart is a consultant cardiac surgeon at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and honorary senior clinical lecturer. He undertook clinical training in cardiothoracic surgery across the North West of England and completed a post-CCT fellowship in advanced aortic surgery and TAVI at Toronto General Hospital. Stuart completed his PhD at the University of Manchester in 2013 on clinical prediction models in cardiovascular surgery.

His research focus is on using big data and advanced analyses to improve cardiac surgery outcomes for patients. He has published widely on clinical risk prediction models, clinical outcome analyses, cardiopulmonary exercise testing and using large clinical registries.

He is a member of the EACTS Research Taskforce, clinical lead for the Greater Manchester Health Informatics Collaborative and previously sat on the UK National Adult Cardiac Surgery Research Board.

Dr Chris Wilkinson

Consultant cardiologist

Email [email protected]

Chris is a senior lecturer in cardiology at Hull York Medical School and honorary consultant cardiologist at The James Cook University Hospital specialising in heart failure and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging.

His MD was in cardiovascular epidemiology, and his masters degrees are in public health and health professions education.

Much of his research to date has been in improving the quality of population healthcare provision, and in particular outcomes for people with frailty and cardiovascular disease. He is a senior fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and a standing member of the Indicator Advisory Committee, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

Dr Lisa Chang

Principal research manager

Email [email protected]

Lisa has been involved in the development of medicines and healthcare for over 20 years, starting as a research scientist in the pharmaceutical industry. After completing her PhD in medicinal chemistry, Lisa moved into business support roles.

In the past ten years she has broadened her experiences in the operational support of clinical studies. Lisa has undertaken global study management responsibilities in the oncology setting in pharma and has supported UK academic trials as trial manager for South Tees cardiovascular research.

As principal research manager of the ACU, Lisa will be integral in the establishment of the ACU as a centre of excellence and a leader in delivering quality cardiovascular research in the UK.

Lisa’s role will provide project management support in enabling trials to be delivered to the highest standards within budget and timelines, and in adherence to UK clinical trial regulations.

Arran Morgan

Clinical trials practitioner

Email [email protected]

Arran has an extensive background in biomedical science, having studied in the field throughout university. He has held numerous roles in research from pathology delivery to clinical governance and monitoring.

Having previously held the position of research monitor and governance officer for the Tees Valley Research Alliance (TVRA). Arran was at the forefront in the development and roll out of the trust’s audit and risk assessment programme.

Arran has a plethora of experience with research databases. He was responsible for the development and roll out of patient facing documents and case report forms for TVRA sponsored studies on the REDCap system. As clinical trials practitioner for the ACU, Arran will bring expertise in clinical governance, legislation and, data management.

Helen Geoghegan

Research Coordinator

Email [email protected]

Helen worked as a physiotherapist before going into administrative roles for the last four years. She is excited to be working in the NHS again, drawing on skills in healthcare and admin to provide support to the ACU. Helen says ‘it is a privilege to be part of such a dynamic and forward thinking team whose work improves the lives of so many’.