Category: Researcher Spotlight

PhD Researcher Spotlight: Joanne Mair

Author: Joanne Mair


Hello, my name is Jo and I am undertaking a part time PhD within the Usher Institute, my supervisors are Dr Nazir Lone, Dr Peter Hall and Professor Kev Dhaliwal.  I currently work for the Centre for Inflammation Research as a Clinical Project Manager within Professor Kev Dhaliwal’s team and have done so for the last 6 years. To date my further education consists of an undergraduate degree in Pharmacology, a MSc in Bioinformatics and a MSc in Public Health Research.

I have worked for the University of Edinburgh for the last 13 years in various roles within research.  These include working in a clinical research facility, a research and knowledge exchange office and in research governance.  I also have experience working within the NHS in clinical trials. Prior to that I worked in various ad hoc roles and travelled/worked in South America, New Zealand and South Africa (some photos below!). I have been a member of the NHS Research Ethics Service for nearly ten years, being a member of SESREC 2, then the chair and I now sit on Scotland A.

The group I work within focus their research on respiratory disease and the ways in which diagnosis of respiratory disease can be improved.  Whilst working within this group I have been able to get fully immersed in translational research.  Day to day working can involve anything from writing protocols and regulatory applications to being in the laboratory building medical devices, being in the clinics and wards assisting the clinical staff with study participants, negotiating commercial contracts for third party outsourcing, dealing with finances and creating structures and processes for forging our way through unknown territory and getting novel compounds and devices into man.

One area the group is researching is looking at fast, bedside, point of care diagnosis of pneumonia and identifying the gram status of the infection in ventilated patients.  The group have developed a novel diagnostic technique consisting of an imaging system, compounds that allow diagnosis of lung infection and a delivery device to deliver the compounds into the distal lung. Work is currently underway to pilot the novel technique leading to a second stage clinical study within Edinburgh and three other UK sites.

PhD Motivation

Whilst working within my current research group within the media of novel developments to improve health, I became more aware of the difficulties in pushing research through to a stage where we can get it into the NHS.  Gathering evidence of the impact a novel diagnostic tool could have on the NHS and the lives of patients is a time consuming and arduous process.  Whilst most people appreciate the necessity of ensuring a diagnostic test is safe and does what it intends to do, perhaps measuring the potential impact on the patients and the NHS could be done in more than one way?  Increasing evidence and developments support this way of thinking.  The availability of observational data is increasing all the time and the skill set to put it to use expanding. As such I finally felt I had a focus I could put towards a PhD!  With amazing help and input from Dr Nazir Lone, great support from Professor Kev Dhaliwal (and team, especially Dr Anne Moore) and invaluable time with Dr Peter Hall I developed the outline of a workable PhD, applied for and obtained a staff scholarship.

PhD Plan

Within my PhD I will be looking at the use of the observational data from ICU patients and how this can be used to model the potential impact of a novel diagnostic on patient outcomes and NHS (costs). I would ultimately like to compare this to the data being gathered as part of the clinical study to see how the observational data can add value to or replace some aspects of the clinical study.  Initially, I am focusing on developing the care pathway map within ICU for patients with suspected pneumonia, gathering the necessary data (through extraction from NHS systems into a safe haven plus utilising other data sources/sets), assessing where the novel device could be most useful and comparison with the reference standard as developed through the clinical study. With regards to the health economic modelling I am working towards the construction, parameterisation and analysis of a health economic decision model based on the care pathway developed.  The model will initially calculate expected costs and outcomes for the current care pathway. The new diagnostic test will then be incorporated into the model at key decision points, as indicated by the current evidence and recommendations from the specialist advisory group (for the clinical study). Divergence in the clinical pathway consequent on test results will be modelled based on the diagnostic properties and decision impact of the test.

I have entered into discussions about PhDs in the past and could never quite commit myself but I really feel this one ties in with my work and the group’s ethos whilst being interesting and worthwhile. I’m enjoying it so far, between this, work and living the fairly quiet life in East Lothian (Drem), if you can call having three young daughters (pictured with me below) a quiet life – it all keeps me rather busy!


Researcher Spotlight: Aileen Neilson


Aileen joined Edinburgh University’s Usher Institute and Edinburgh Clinical Trials Unit (ECTU) as a Senior Health Economist in 2018.  Aileen’s current role includes leading and developing health economics research in The University of Edinburgh and NHS Lothian, contributing to the development of new methods and techniques in health economics through methodology research embedded within applied studies e.g. Randomised Control Trials and other study design. She has experience in conducting and managing health outcomes research and economic evaluation studies in the UK NHS setting and other European countries.

She holds a BSc in Science with Management Studies (Napier University, Edinburgh) and an MSc in Operational Research (Strathclyde University, Glasgow). Prior to joining ECTU Aileen worked as a Research Fellow with the Health Economics Research Unit, Aberdeen University (HERU) for 5 years. She has worked in various clinical areas including oncology (prevention/screening/detection/treatment), orthopaedics and trauma surgery, intensive care, stroke, rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases and chronic pain. She has 25 years of prior research experience, in academia (e.g. Universities of Nottingham, Dundee, St Andrews, York, Aberdeen), the NHS (Lothian – Primary and Community Care Division) and in health care consultancy roles (e.g. HealthEcon AG, Basel, Switzerland, and the Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services, Oslo, Norway incorporated in the Norwegian Institute of Public Health as of 1 January 2016).

Research Interests

Aileen’s research interests are broad, spanning both developing and applying trial- and model-based economic evaluation methods of different interventions/technologies. She is particularly interested in economic evaluations of public health interventions, and research that focuses on the (improved) use of routine administrative data for cost and outcomes measurement in undertaking heath economics analyses/ economic evaluation studies.

Current Projects




Aileen is currently the course organiser for the “Introduction to health economics and resource allocation” elective course on the Masters in Public Healtj (on-campus) which ran for the first time in 2018/19 and is currently running for 2019/20. Aileen also teaches alongside our Research Fellow, Elizabeth Lemmon, on the new undergraduate module on Health Economics which is being offered for the first time in the School of Economics. She also supervises masters’ dissertation projects. Aileen has also taught health economics courses on various masters and undergraduate programs at other academic institutions (online and on-campus).

Aileen has also been a regular presenter on a training course providing an introduction to the identification, appraisal and application of economic evaluation for policy-making in public health (run by HERU in Aberdeen and funded by the Health Economics Network for Scotland).

Aileen is also the Edinburgh representative for the new Scottish Health Economics group.

Researcher Spotlight: Alistair Bullen


Alistair is an early career researcher who is currently the Research Assistant attached to the INFO-BC (Supporting shared decision making in secondary breast cancer) project.

He graduated from the University of York’s MSc in Health Economics in 2018 having previously completed a degree in Economics from the University of East Anglia. Alistair intends to continue to further his development towards becoming a seasoned researcher in the field of Health Economics.

Current Work

The INFO-BC project is currently the only project which Alistair is attached to. INFO-BC utilises discrete choice experiments in order to elicit patient preferences for second line treatment for secondary breast cancer. Alistair’s work involves executing systematic reviews, conducting qualitative field work and analysis, binary choice models, and utility theory.

Research Interests

Alistair is currently exploring how his current research may be able to evolve further into a topic for a PHD. He intends to progress further in either the area of cancer or the field of choice experiments, or both.


Alistair has previously taught on the Health Economics module for the MSc in Clinical Trials.

Researcher Spotlight: Katharina Diernberger


Katharina is currently working as a Research Fellow for Health Economics at the Clinical Trials Unit Edinburgh and part time as a Doctoral Fellow at the Edinburgh Cancer Centre.

She is a Masters Graduate in European Health Economics and Management (EU-HEM) which included studying at the Management Center Innsbruck, University of Bologna and the University of Oslo.

She has working experience as a fully trained nurse in the Austrian health and social sector and did her BSc in Nursing.

Research Interests

Katharina’s research interests are wide spread and include Dementia and Cardio-Oncological studies as well as methodological questions such as expert elicitation for economic evaluation of diagnostic tests. Currently her main focus is in the area of end of life care. She is working with English and Scottish routine data and is involved in several Clinical Trials.


Katharina developed and taught the Health Economics module for the MSc in Clinical Trials. Currently the module is refined and subsequently offered again in the coming academic years. She managed to involve colleagues from Edinburgh as well as health economists from Leeds and is seeking further collaboration with experts in related fields.

She is in her last few month of training for her Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice which she enjoyed and recommends for all (early career) researchers who strive to get involved in teaching.

Further, Katharina has supervised students from various masters programs and is having some ongoing and lined up commitments for supervision.

Current work

Currently, Katharina is doing a part time PhD on a University of Edinburgh staff scholarship. Several of the projects that Katharina is involved in feed directly into the development of her PhD.

Ongoing projects:

Cardiac Care, Allocative Efficiency in End of Life Care, ENeRgy Trial, Mabel Trial, EPAT Trial, TVT Trial