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Health Protection Research Group



You are invited to join a new special interest group to advise on a research project to investigate the risks to health of exposure to certain kinds of chemical and radiation. The project is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and an essential feature of all NIHR projects is Patient and Public Involvement. This group offers you the opportunity to get involved and help guide the research.

We want to hear your thoughts on our work!

The Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Newcastle University is one of 13 centres funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and Public Health England (PHE) to investigate the effects of exposure to chemicals or radiation on health. Our project has 4 themes;

  • Medical Radiation Research - Safe use of medical x-rays
  • Dermal Research - The effectiveness of the skin as a barrier to radiation and chemical exposures
  • Liver Research - Examination of soils for toxic chemicals and potential effects in the liver
  • Neurology Research - Understanding if people are at risk from using pesticides in their homes and garden

Managed by the HPRU Public & Patient Involvement Steering Group, this group page will provide an opportunity for Voice North members to get involved in health protection research and contribute to discussions - sharing views and opinions on important health related questions. We will also be sharing meeting documents, resources and articles of interest.

Join in the discussion below!

Funded by the the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), we are one of 13 health protection units set up in April 2014.

The Health Protection Research Unit in Chemical and Radiation Threats and Hazards is a partnership between:

  • Public Health England
  • Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Newcastle University

Through our everyday lives we come into contact with a wide variety of hazards, both natural and man-made, for example:

  • chemicals in the environment such as organochlorine pesticides
  • naturally occurring chemicals including plant derived flavours
  • synthetic drugs
  • radiation from medical sources
  • radiation from the sun in the form of UV light

Exposure to any of these may cause harm to individuals.


The Health Protection Research Unit at Newcastle University aims to;

  • reduce exposure
  • detect any exposure
  • understand what happens when people are exposed
  • treat the consequences of exposure

To achieve these aims, we have brought together a multidisciplinary team. This includes:

  • clinicians who specialise in radiation and emergency medicine
  • epidemiologists
  • scientists with knowledge of radiation effects and chemical toxicity

This team will be able to understand the potential hazards that surround us and provide a strategy on how to manage those situations where possible hazards might occur..


I’m Pamela Denham, a founder member of Voice North and my role in the project is to chair the Patient and Public Involvement Steering Committee.

The committee has representatives from each of the 4 themes covered by the project - one researcher and one lay representative who is embedded in that theme - plus the project Director and representatives from Public Health England.  Several of the lay reps are members of Voice North.

The committee’s role is to set objectives for involvement and a strategy to achieve them.  These are;

  • Helping to shape the research - are the right issues being addressed in the right way
  • Understanding patient and public concerns and advising on how to communicate given the sensitive nature of the topics - it is particularly important to understand public ‘risk perception’ and how to convey findings without causing undue alarm.
  • Explaining the work and consulting patients and public and potential implementer of the results - who and what about?
  • How to communicate eg. with seldom heard groups - who are they, why are they seldom heard and how to reach them.
  • Designing events to get views at an early stage and later on to disseminate research and obtain feedback on work - major event in years 3/4
  • Outcomes - publicising results; flag up potential barriers to implementation (cultural, organisational)
  • Evaluate performance

There are still some places for lay representatives, so please contact me or one of the team if you are interested in taking part.

The PPI Steering Group is responsible for a number of activities, including:

  • agreeing the strategy for patient and public involvement
  • agreeing patient and public plans for each theme
  • organising training and away days for members
  • commenting on proposals and reports 
  • organising major consultations and events 
  • evaluating its performance

The PPI Steering Group is made up of the following members:

  • the project director
  • project coordinator
  • Public Health England
  • lay PPI reps with a good range of contacts, interests and skills
  • theme leaders/senior researchers in each theme
  • the University engagement coordinator

The major purpose of HPRU is to focus on situations where exposure to chemicals or to radiation may cause major health problems to patients and public.

We conduct research under the following four themes:

Safe use of Medical X-rays

Radiation in the form of X-rays are frequently used in healthcare to diagnose disorders or to help with certain treatments. Whilst using X-rays in this way is beneficial, we know that too much radiation can be damaging, and therefore the use of X-rays has to be carefully monitored to avoid over exposure. As new treatments and techniques for diagnosis using X-rays are developed, the risks of these uses need to be investigated and guidelines developed to ensure they are safe. As part of these studies we will develop ways of testing blood samples to see if they show evidence of damage caused by X-rays when patients undergo treatment. We will also follow thousands of patients and look at their health with the aim of seeing if using X-rays has any long term effects on health.

Find out more about the health effects of medical radiation exposure research theme.

The Effectiveness of the Skin as a Barrier to Radiation and Chemical Exposures

Sunlight can help us in several ways, most noticeably by helping to produce Vitamin D in the skin, but we also know that it can damage the skin. We want to know whether changes in the skin caused by ultra-violet (UV) rays in sunlight and the use of newer sunscreens could increase a person's sensitivity to chemicals, causing allergic reactions and skin damage, especially to older skin. This will allow us to see if using new types of sunscreen are safe and also permit us to give advice on what chemicals can be safely put in to sun screens, and how much sunlight is safe.

Find out more about the skin and barrier function in radiation and chemical exposures research theme.

Examination of soils for toxic chemicals and potential effects in the liver

We have known for a very long time that we find certain types of illness in certain places, and for many conditions we have been able to identify a cause. Why some people develop the chronic liver disease primary biliary cirrhosis, which clusters in certain places and affects up to 20,000 people in the UK, is not known. We do know that it does affect certain people, and that there are more cases in regions with high levels of old industrial activity and past pollution which may suggest a chemical in the environment.

This study will aim to see what chemicals might cause primary biliary cirrhosis and, if exposure to chemicals is found to be a cause, us the same methods to investigate whether chemicals might cause other chronic diseases.

Find out more about the chemical exposures and the development of primary biliary cirrhosis research theme.

Understanding if people are at risk from using pesticides in their homes and garden

How chemicals and also radiation affect us is known by certain testing methods and this allows us to control how people might be exposed. This work is not perfect, and we are constantly trying to improve these methods and make them more realistic. As part of the studies we will develop and test human stem cells which can be used to investigate a wide range of chemicals, particularly those that might affect the nervous system.

Many people use pesticides in their homes and gardens. Regulations and guidelines are in place to limit exposure to levels that don't damage our health. However, the extent of pesticide in UK homes or if guidelines are followed is unclear and this may increase the risk of exposure to levels which could possibly damage health.

The aim of the study is to understand the extent and use of pesticides by the public.

Find out more about the chemical exposure and neurological and psychiatric disorders research theme.

Discussion Topics

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