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05 November 2020

King's researchers receive 2020 Emerging Leaders Prize awards

Dr Philip Holland and Dr Franziska Denk both received the awards from the Medical Research Foundation

Holland Denk 780x440
Award winners Dr Holland & Dr Denk

Two IoPPN researchers working in the field of pain research were recipients of the Medical Research Foundations 2020’s Emerging Leaders Prize awards.


Philip Holland 400

Dr Philip Holland, Senior Lecturer within the department of Basic and Clinical Neuroscience received a £10,000 runner up award for his work on migraines.

Migraine is one of the most common, disabling conditions in the world, affecting over one billion people. Patients experience repeated bouts of head pain that worsen due to everyday activities, including exposure to light and movement.

Research by Dr Holland aims to understand why the brain of a migraine patient abnormally processes pain signals during an attack and how we can develop new treatments to reduce the impact of migraine on everyday life.

I’m absolutely delighted to receive this award for my research, but also on behalf of everyone who suffers from migraine, which is an often under-appreciated condition. Using this prize fund will enable me to expedite the development of state-of-the-art approaches to image neural networks that are altered in people with migraine… This award will be transformative for my research, but it will also increase my visibility and that of migraine, supporting my long-term aim of using innovative technology to explore mechanism-based research that will underpin future clinical translation

Dr Philip Holland
Franziska-Denk 400

Dr Franziska Denk, Lecturer within Wolfson Centre for Age Related Diseases, also received a £10,000 runner-up prize for her research on the molecular mechanisms of chronic pain.

One in five people will suffer from chronic pain at some point in their lives. The nervous system of a pain patient malfunctions at many levels: the sensory neurons, the spinal cord and the brain.

Dr Denk is particularly interested in the sensory neurons, which are the first to report on what happens in our environment. In chronic pain, they are known to be hypersensitive, a state thought to be caused by their exposure to substances released from non-neuronal cell types.

Much of my work to date has focused on characterising the molecular profile of these non-neuronal cell types in a pain state. I have shared my findings widely on public databases, making it possible for other scientists to use this information to help them predict how peripheral cells influence each other to cause chronic pain… With the Foundation’s prize funding, this work can now be taken a step further, actually studying this miscommunication ‘in real time’, using cell culture models that combine human immune cells with stem-cell derived human nerves. This will be a crucial step towards developing better analgesics (i.e. pain-relieving treatments) for the many individuals who have to live with pain every day

Dr Franziska Denk

The 2020 Emerging Leader Prize awarded £200,000 between four outstanding scientists who are all working in the field of pain research. In addition to Dr Holland and Dr Denk, the first-place prize was awarded to Dr Lorenzo Fabrizi, University College London, whose research aims to understand how the neonatal brain processes pain, and the longer-term impact of pain. Second place went to Dr Annina Schmid from University of Oxford for her work in examining why some patients with nerve injuries recover whereas others develop persistent pain.

Investing in new pain research is critical for improving our understanding of the conditions that blight many millions of people’s lives, and to help develop new treatments aimed at alleviating pain. Understanding how people respond differently to pain is crucial for lowering pain’s psychological, social and economic burden, and we’re excited to be supporting the next generation of research leaders to tackle these important issues.

Dr Angela Hind, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Foundation

The Medical Research Foundation is an independent charitable foundation, formed by the Medical Research Council (MRC). 

In this story

Franziska Denk

Reader in Neuroscience

Philip R Holland

Reader in Neuroscience