Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship for Keele researcher

Posted on 19 March 2014

Dr Sharon Owen, who works in Keele University's Research Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine and the Centre for Spinal Studies at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Oswestry, has been awarded one of three prestigious Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowships in the West Midlands.

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust - established in 1965 in memory of Sir Winston Churchill - carries forward his legacy by funding British citizens from all walks of life to travel overseas, to bring back knowledge and best practice for the benefit of others in their UK professions and communities.

Dr Owen, a post-doctoral research graduate, will travel to New Zealand to research degeneration of the human spine, and the use of imaging technology of the vertebral endplate.

She said: "Although the bony vertebrae and the cartilaginous intervertebral discs of the spine have been well described, the actual interface is poorly understood, but will have significant impact on its function and well-being. The New Zealand research team, headed by Professor Neil Broom, have award winning expertise (ISSLS & ESJ/Grammer Awards) in imaging this interface in animals. Here at the Robert Jones & Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital, we have a unique collection of human lumbar spines on which we wish to utilise their technology.

"So far, we have imaged these human spines using clinically available techniques (MRI and CT scanning) which have enabled us to characterise and grade any gross degenerative changes within the bone and intervertebral disc tissues. A cohort of these spines (ranging from normal to very degenerate) have been prepared and sent to New Zealand to use their specialised microscopic techniques to assess how the vertebral bodies and intervertebral discs integrate. In addition, the biomechanical implications of this integration will be evaluated.

"The Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to immerse myself in the work that the New Zealand research team carry out. Not only will I be able to carry out the microscopic techniques that they use for myself, but I will also be learning from one of the leading researchers in this field. It is my intention to bring their imaging techniques back to the UK and apply it to other musculoskeletal tissues especially in those following cell therapy or biological repair treatment."

The aim of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowships is to widen an individual’s experience through overseas travel in such a way that he or she grows in confidence, knowledge, authority and ambition. No previous experience is required but their Fellowship must bring benefits to others in the UK through sharing the key learnings from overseas. In all, 137 Fellows have been selected this year from all over the UK and are awarded on pure merit, representing a wide variety of backgrounds, qualifications and interest. These opportunities are available to adults of any age, gender, religion or ethnicity, and will add real value to their skills and to their CV, as well as furthering their leadership and role model abilities.


In total 137 Fellowships have been awarded in the UK in 2014, with grant awards totalling £876,540. The Fellows will be travelling to 52 countries between them, across six continents, where they will carry out a wide range of projects. The average length of each Fellowship is 5 and a half weeks, with the Trust paying £6400 per Fellow. This year’s applicants include a children’s social worker, a wheelwright, a probation officer and a youth theatre director.

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust was established shortly after Sir Winston’s death in 1965. Since then it has awarded over 4450 Travelling Fellowships. Visit for more details.