A world-leading health expert returned to the region where his family’s roots are firmly embedded in the well-being of the community, to share his expertise with researchers at the University of Sunderland… and pick up an honorary award.

Professor Ian Fraser, an authority in the field of Reproductive Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, based at the University of New South Wales, Australia, received an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of Sunderland. He has also been appointed a Visiting Professor to the Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing, linking up with the University’s established research areas in bariatric surgery and women’s health.

The appointment reinforces Professor Fraser’s personal connection to the area he grew up in, thanks to his parents lasting legacy when they moved to the region in 1956. His father, Dr Stewart Fraser, was Senior Consultant in Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the former Harton General Hospital in South Shields for many years. His mother, Dr Ellis Fraser, was a GP in South Shields and Sunderland, with expertise in the illnesses of disadvantaged children and victims of sexual assault. The Ellis Fraser Rape and Sexual Assault Centre was established in her name upon her retirement in 1991 and is now incorporated into the REACH Ellis Fraser Suite in the Children’s Centre in Durham Road, Sunderland. The couple retired to Whitburn.

Professor Fraser explained: “To receive an Honorary Doctorate in Science from the University in the city where you did some important growing up is an honour which you would never contemplate! In reality it is an award to a whole team of colleagues, trainees and challenging scientific competitors who stimulate you to think differently and look deeper!

“I have worked in a number of different Universities – Edinburgh, Oxford, Sydney, New South Wales and now Sunderland – and none is more exciting at this point in time than Sunderland with its famous pharmacy and nursing schools and the novel directions occasioned by the start of a new medical school – a rare situation indeed!”

He added: “This area is very much one of my ‘homes’, I visit at least once a year and take the time to visit old haunts. I do enjoy driving past the ‘old Harton Hospital’ where my father worked. I learned a great deal from him, he was an outstanding ‘bedside doctor’ with a keen interest in the personal disease issues of all his patients. There is presently a major modern move towards ‘personalised medicine’ – my father was doing this more than 60 years ago!”

The first visit to the University provided Professor Fraser an opportunity to share his expertise, and discuss collaborative research with Sunderland academic Dr Yitka Graham, whose core interests are bariatric surgery, sexual and reproductive health and health services research. Also attending were Professor Tony Alabaster (Academic Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing) and Professor of Public Health Jonathan Ling. The collaboration also included City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust Consultant Bariatric Surgeon, Professor Peter Small and Bariatric Pharmacist Lindes Callejas-Diaz, and Dr Diana Mansour, Consultant in Community Gynaecology and Reproductive Healthcare at Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals.

Professor Fraser said: “Yitka and I have had substantial careers in aspects of women’s health and she has an ongoing passion for improving the sexual and reproductive health of women, currently through combining it with her established research in bariatric surgery. I have been fortunate enough to have pursued a broad clinical and research career with particular interests in understanding, and treating, the very common disturbances of menstruation, menstrual pain, menopause and endometriosis. I would hope that linking all these interests will allow some novel approaches to ongoing research into women’s health, obesity and bariatric surgery.”

Asked why he has chosen to collaborate alongside the University and City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, Professor Fraser explained: “Obesity can have a detrimental effect on sexual and reproductive health. There is evidence to suggest that bariatric surgery has potential to play a significant role in improving the sexual and reproductive health of women with obesity and this is an area ripe for research.

“There is currently only a small body of research into the effects of bariatric surgery and women’s health. Yitka, along with her bariatric surgical colleagues, Peter Small, Kamal Mahawar and Lindes Callejas-Diaz, with colleagues in sexual and reproductive health, including Diana Mansour, Ian Aird and Henk-Jan Out have already established themselves in the field of what the group has coined ‘Bariatric Gynaecology’, publishing about contraception and infertility.”

Dr Yitka Graham, who published the findings of her three-year PhD study exploring patients’ experiences after weight-loss surgery at the UK’s largest NHS bariatric surgical unit, commented: “As nearly two thirds of women undergoing bariatric surgery in the UK are in their reproductive years, we need to know more about the impact of bariatric surgery on sexual and reproductive health. Our collaboration draws upon a wide range of expertise which we will bring together to develop research with potential to make a real difference to the lives of our patients.”
Consultant Bariatric Surgeon, Mr Peter Small, also a Visiting Professor at Sunderland, added: “It is a real privilege to be able to work with Professor Fraser. His extensive knowledge and research activities in reproduction and infertility will greatly benefit our bariatric gynaecology team in Sunderland.”

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