Neil Thomas

Colleges, School and Institutes

Research interests

Professor Thomas is the Regional Director, NIHR Research Design Service West Midlands and Professor of Epidemiology and Research Methods in the Institute of Applied Health Research of the College of Medical and Dental Sciences, The University of Birmingham. He is the Institute’s Director of Research Knowledge and Transfer.

Professor Thomas has an international portfolio of research in Europe and Asia investigating in the fields of cardiovascular disease epidemiology, prevention and control with a particular focus on air pollution and lifestyle exposures. He has received major funding for work in Hong Kong, China and Iran. Major ongoing studies include the Elderly Health Centres Study (air pollution, lifestyle, mortality outcomes), Hong Kong; the 30,000 plus Guangzhou Biobank Cohort Study (lifestyle, chronic disease outcomes), China; and one of the largest CVD endpoint studies assessing the effectiveness of a PolyPill in Iran (CVD, mortality outcomes).

He has published over 250 in indexed, peer-reviewed journals and has an H-index of 54 (Google Scholar). These are predominantly in the area of cardiometabolic disease epidemiology. He is involved in over £17 million in funding (over £6M as PI). He is on the editorial advisory board of 7 international journals and a reviewer for a number of national and international funding agencies, including as Panel Chair.

Professor Thomas has an active teaching role in under- and postgraduate studies. He is currently the Co-Director, Master of Health Research Methods (HRM) Programme and coordinator of the HRM and Public Health programmes dissertation module.

RESEARCH THEMES

Ageing, Cardiovascular disease, Diabetes, Epidemiology, Lifestyle, Public Health

RESEARCH ACTIVITY

Professor Thomas' research is at the cutting edge of understanding cardiometabolic conditions that place a significant burden on healthcare services and society as a whole. This understanding is coupled with intervention studies that inform disease prevention and patient care.

There are two main components to his research: Firstly, epidemiological studies which are designed to investigate environmental (air pollution, temperature), lifestyle (diet, physical activity, sleep) and genetic factors contributing to cardiometabolic disease (Type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension and dyslipidaemia) and associated morbidity and mortality, and; secondly in the treatment and prevention of these conditions, using pharmacological agents and lifestyle/behavioural modifications. His contribution to the first component has resulted in greater appreciation of the pathogenesis of these diseases and has helped in development of more effective therapeutic interventions, which can be used intensively in those identified to be at greatest risk.  In this manner, the application of this scientific research has been directly used to alleviate morbidity and mortality in patients with these conditions and thus provide direct benefit.  Work related to the second component has led to a series of interventional studies targeting physical activity and diet and specific pharmacological agents in general populations and in specific patient groups to improve health indicators and reduce morbidity and mortality.

His work has been recognised as influential in healthcare as demonstrated by the publication in distinguished general medical journals such as the Lancet and BMJ, as well as top specialist journals, including Eur Heart J, Atherosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, Stroke, and Diabetes Care.

Significant specific studies include:

Guangzhou Biobank Cohort study (http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/35/4/844.long) and CVD subcohort (Co-PI, http://www.nature.com/jhh/journal/v24/n2/full/jhh200952a.html)

30,000 subjects recruited over 3 phases to study the pathogenesis of chronic diseases. The first 6 year follow-up has now been completed with 18,000 revisiting the hospital and 2,400 deaths documented. Vital status has been determined in over 99%.

Elderly Health Centres Study

A prospective cohort of over 66,000 individuals, accounting for 9% of the 65 or older population from 18 Elderly Health Centres were established to deliver health examinations and primary care services for older adults in Hong Kong. Over 10,000 deaths have been documented (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27197138).

Hong Kong Cardiovascular Risk Factor Study

A prospective cohort of 3,000 Chinese subjects for which 12 year follow-up data is now available (http://eje-online.org/cgi/content/full/155/4/623)

The Ludwigshafen Risk and Cardiovascular Health (LURIC) study

A prospective cohort of 3,316 Caucasian patients from Ludwigshafen in southwest Germany referred for coronary angioplasty and is designed to evaluate determinants of cardiovascular health. To date approximately one third of the patients have died (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11258203).

Isfahan Cohort Study

A population-based, longitudinal ongoing study of 6504 adults aged equal or greater than 35 years at baseline, living in urban and rural areas from three counties in central Iran (Isfahan, Arak and Najafabad, http://www.nature.com/jhh/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/jhh201099a.html)

PolyIran study

A randomised controlled trial of 7,000 subjects to investigate the impact of a Polypill on primary and secondary cardiovascular events in Golestan, Iran (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1742-1241.2010.02412.x/abstract

 

Biography

Professor Thomas completed his PhD in the genetic epidemiology of hypertension at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in the Department of Medicine and Therapeutics. He then took up an academic post in 2002 in the Department of Public Health and Epidemiology (later the School of Public Health) at the University of Hong Kong to help coordinate the initiation of the Guangzhou Biobank Cohort Study.

In the summer of 2007, he took up the post of Reader in Epidemiology, Public Health and Biostatistics at the University of Birmingham and subsequently in 2017 was made Professor of Epidemiology and Research Methods in the Institute of Applied Health Research.

 

Willingness to take PhD students

Yes

PhD projects

Dr Thomas is currently supervising 7 PhD students having successfully completed the supervision of 14, and is interested in supervising further doctoral research on the Determinants and consequences of cardiometabolic disease (https://www.findaphd.com/search/projectdetails.aspx?PJID=87184). Specific details can be aligned with the interests of the student

Recent dissertations include:
-Dietary associations with cardiovascular risk factors: the Guangzhou Biobank Cohort Study
-Role of adiposity on quality of life and mental health measures
-Ethnicity and socioeconomic status and peripheral arterial disease
-Resting heart rate in cardiovascular ageing: from risk marker to risk factor.