9 Jul 2019

Meet the Researcher: Professor Alan Radford

Hannah Williams is a Year 10 Work experience student spending a week learning about the research and communication activity of IGH. Here, she interviews IGH’s Professor Alan Radford to find out about his work and why it’s important.

Alan Radford is Professor of Veterinary Health Informatics at the University Of Liverpool. His job entails teaching vet students about viruses of relevance to animals and public health, and researching the use of big data to improve the health of animals and their owners.

As part of his work he leads SAVSNET (Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network), a project which uses electronic health data and which monitors the many diseases or infecting organisms tested for at veterinary diagnostic laboratories across the UK. The latter data can be analysed alongside real-time data recorded at the end of consultations from participating veterinary surgeons to monitor, for example, what antibiotics are being prescribed and whether antibiotic resistance is present in bacteria causing infections in animals. Moreover, SAVSNET helps to make information accessible for all, which will increase awareness and knowledge of diseases in the small animal population in the UK.

So how does research on big data helps us understand health in animals? Animals are a big part of our lives, recent statistics show 49% of adults in the UK own a pet. We also eat animals, as well as keeping them as companions, therefore their welfare is very important to us.

How does this benefit society? Not only do we want our animals to be happy and healthy but the health of animals can impact our health too. For example, if your dog has an illness there is a chance it may be passed onto you. To ensure this doesn’t happen, big data is a new way to better understand diseases that could be passed to humans and reduce these diseases.

What impact will this research have? The data collected shows all types of ill health in animals, therefore by looking at disease, SAVSNET can identify new ways to reduce the risk of diseases. An example of their work is chocolate poisoning in dogs. We all know that chocolate is poisonous to dogs, however do you know what time of the year chocolate poisoning most often occurs? Through using big data, they found Christmas was in fact the most common time of the year for chocolate poisoning in dogs to occur. Using this information, owners can be reminded to be careful where they leave chocolate lying around at Christmas and it enables vets to be aware they may have more cases of chocolate poisoning in dogs during the Christmas period.

What changes do you hope to see? SAVSNET will help to understand individual diseases, how common they are in vet practice, which animals are most likely to be affected, what are the best treatments and best ways to avoid disease in the small animal population of the UK.

Currently, Professor Alan Radford is working on a variety of diseases, as well as antibiotic use, tumours, rabbit dental disease and fleas infestations. When asked what made him want to become a researcher he said he never planned to; he wanted to be a vet, however after he got his veterinary degree, he discovered he wanted to create new knowledge and understand animals at a population level where he could have broad impact on improving animal health.

Finally, some of his favourite things about his job include working with people, being stretched to think of new ways of doing things, with every day different and that he is starting to see the research he is doing have an impact.   

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