MORE than 300 Sheffield students are taking part in pioneering medical trials that could help to save future generations from the deadly brain disease meningitis.
The ground-breaking study at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital has been financed by the parents of sports star Ryan Bresnahan, who lost his battle with the disease last year at the age of 16.
They vowed the death of their son would not be in vain and set up an appeal to support the research of Meningitis UK.
Student volunteers in Sheffield are giving their time to protect others against a disease which particularly affects young people aged 16 to 24.
Professor of Infectious Diseases and Honorary Consultant Physician at Sheffield University, Robert Read, who is leading the study, said: “We are trying to discover a new way of preventing meningitis by administering friendly bacteria through nasal drops to prevent people catching the unfriendly bacteria.
“This could be an important piece in the jigsaw in the fight against meningitis. As a clinician, every time you see another case of meningitis you wish it had been your last.
“Meningitis is often devastating and hits our young, fit people who are otherwise completely well and sometimes leaves them with lasting disabilities.”
Ryan died within an hour of complaining of an upset stomach at home in Bristol in March 2010. It was one of the fastest cases of meningitis ever recorded, shattering the lives of the young sport star’s family and leaving his friends at college stunned.
After 18 months and tireless fundraising, John and Michelle Bresnahan have raised more than £130,000. They were due to see the project yesterday.
Mr Bresnahan said: “After Ryan died we felt a burning need to do something proactive. All we could think was why isn’t there a vaccine to stop this terrible disease?
“Now a year and a half later, we have the opportunity to gain a real understanding of the work first hand and to meet Professor Read and his colleagues, but also to see our tireless fundraising efforts turned into pioneering research. We know Ryan would be extremely proud of everyone’s achievements.”
Mrs Bresnahan added: “We are so grateful to the generous students of Sheffield for giving their time to this study which could play an important part in saving the lives of future students like Ryan who are full of promise and deserve the right to live a full and healthy life.”
Ryan’s parents will unveil a plaque at the hospital’s Clinical Research Facility to commemorate the start of the project being made possible in their son’s name.
Kate Rowland, head of development at Meningitis UK, said: “Meningitis and associated diseases strike with incredible speed and are notoriously difficult to diagnose which is why we feel strongly that putting a stop to the disease through prevention is the only way to save lives.
“This ground-breaking study could make a huge difference to the protection of this vulnerable age group from meningitis and the devastation it causes in the future.”