National Institute for Health and Care Research Health Protection Research Units. where research meets real life

Image of female scientist using equipment

During British Science Week, we explore this year’s theme of ‘connections’, showcasing some of the key partnerships that underpin UKHSA’s work. In this blog we look at our collaboration with academia through the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Health Protection Research Units (HPRUs).

NIHR HPRUs are partnerships between UKHSA and universities, which are funded to support UKHSA to deliver its health functions. HPRUs create environments for world-class health protection research in key priority areas for the UKHSA, with multidisciplinary expert teams.

There are currently 15 HPRUs covering 13 subject areas across 9 leading universities and other partners, and their collective mission is to undertake research and build the evidence base to address the most pressing public health priorities.

These partnerships are integral to UKHSA’s aim to protect the nation’s health through science that has real impact.

The knowledge and expertise of these scientific collaborations provide important evidence and knowledge that can help inform public health policy and practice, from understanding the health impacts of climate change to infection prevention and outbreak management. They also aim to train future researchers, engage patients and the public in their work, and mobilize knowledge for impact.

Knowledge in practice

Each HPRU focuses on a specific public health challenge that has been identified as a public health priority and is designated to conduct research to inform public health decisions, policy and practice.

An example of this work is the pioneering air pollution research carried out at the Environmental Impact and Health Development HPRU, led by the Center for Environmental Health and Sustainability at the University of Leicester, in partnership with UKHSA and the Health and Safety Executive.

This HPRU, funded by the NIHR following a competitive process in 2020, works to understand how the world around us can affect our health and how we can use these insights to create healthier spaces to live and work. for:

Director of the Center Prof. Led by Anna Hansel and UKHSA co-director Dr Karen Exley, Leicester’s HPRU has identified 5 key research areas as part of its plan to tackle the harmful effects of environmental exposure. These.

  • Indoor air. consider exposure to chemicals such as volatile organic compounds, molds and gases such as carbon monoxide in environments such as homes and hospitals.
  • Bioaerosols, which are tiny particles that float in the air and can be inhaled, including viruses, bacteria, molds, and pollen.
  • Metals in dust and soil, some of which can be harmful to our health.
  • Drinking water and how to keep it clean and safe.
  • Noise pollution that can be more than just a nuisance and in some cases can affect physical health. Noise from busy roads and air traffic is already linked to poor health.

In the video below: Dr Pippa Douglas, co-author of Public and Community Engagement, Involvement and Participation, explains how the teams conduct research in all these areas.

The HPRU team regularly participates in an intergovernmental project board and reports its findings to UKHSA, NIHR and the Department of Health and Social Care, where it is used to inform public health practice and policy.

For example, their research on air pollution has contributed to the fourth edition of the Climate Change Health Impact Report, which is due to be published in the summer of 2023. Last published in 2012, the HECC report provides a detailed analysis of the risks to our health. to the effects of climate change. They were further fueled by a big report on noise and disease burden that was coming soon.

The team also carries out important work with people with severe asthma and studies exposure to chemicals in the home.

Within the HPRU, one PhD student is specifically looking at levels of fungi in outdoor air and how they affect visits to the GP or emergency department for asthma. Another researcher is looking at the growing use of home 3D printers and their impact on indoor air, with the goal of developing guidelines for the safe use of these devices.

A two-way process

Although the team has a wealth of expert involvement, its work is ultimately dedicated to serving the public and as such, it regularly engages the public and consults with other scientific experts through PIPET (Public Engagement Group on Environment and Technology). .

HPRU also works closely with local schools on lesson plans and presents its work at science fairs to provide practical advice and share findings with a non-expert audience. As well as informing the public of their findings, this type of engagement allows the team to gain valuable feedback on the usefulness of what they are doing and the issues the public would like to see addressed.

To find out more about our HPRUs and the ground-breaking work they undertake, visit

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