Extraordinary People: Dr Tsz-Yan Milly Lo

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Edinburgh Innovations (EI) connects academic expertise with real-world challenges to drive innovation and impact through collaboration. Their Extraordinary People campaign celebrates the University’s innovators – ordinary people who have done extraordinary things with their academic careers and made their ideas work for a better world.

This month, the EI team spoke to Dr Tsz-Yan Milly Lo, Consultant Paediatric Intensivist at the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People, and an Honorary Reader at the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute and Child Life and Health.

Dr Tsz-Yan Milly Lo says their most memorable setback was failing their membership exam for the Royal College of Physicians.

“It was the very first time that I actually failed a clinical exam, it was a complete shock to the system,” they say.  

“It gave me a really good kick on the bottom and motivation to actually be a better doctor, and to make sure I actually get the exam next time round.” 

After successfully passing the membership exam, Milly became a junior registrar in the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Edinburgh’s Sick Kids Hospital, and it was there that Milly became interested in paediatric brain injury research. 

The topic caught Milly’s attention when three children of different ages, each of whom had sustained brain trauma in unrelated incidents, were admitted to the Edinburgh Sick Kids’ PICU on the same day. On following their mentor Dr Simpson’s suggestion to look into recent research, Milly was shocked to discover from the literature the lack of knowledge on how brain trauma children of different ages should be treated. This formed the basis of Milly’s clinical PhD research fellowship in 2000 under Professor Minns’ supervision at the University of Edinburgh.

Milly realised that the monitors beside a child’s bed in the PICU were producing an abundance of routinely collected data that was mostly going to waste, rather than being used to improve treatments. This strengthened Milly’s determination to close the data loop and use big data research to improve PICU treatments for childhood brain trauma.

“Paediatric intensive care clinical research has always trailed behind the adult equivalent, so it seemed crazy to me that we had this vast amount of routinely collected clinical data that we were chucking down the drain, instead of making better use of it to close the data loop and improve patient care,” they say. 

At the time, ‘Big Data’ research was not a mainstream concept, but Milly knew this was the right approach for their paediatric brain injury work. Professor Minns introduced Milly to a research active health care scientist, Dr Ian Piper, who leads BrainIT, a multicentre adult brain trauma research initiative. BrainIT was leading data collection and analysis standards in adult brain trauma research. The initiative also promoted the importance of sharing data for hypothesis testing and developing new treatment and analysis strategies, but it is limited to adult brain trauma. Milly was inspired by Dr Piper’s open, collaborative approach, and with the support of Professor Minns they contributed their PhD data to the BrainIT databank as the paediatric pilot over three years. 

After completing the PhD degree, clinical specialist training, and a post-doctoral research fellowship, Milly returned to Edinburgh to take up a consultant post in 2010. In 2013, they became the first paediatric intensivist to secure protected research time through the prestigious NHS Research Scotland (NRS) Career Research Fellowship to build their research group alongside a demanding clinical career.

Milly officially launched KidsBrainIT in 2015 in Barcelona during the annual BrainIT meeting, which attracted European clinical and research partners. The research is now inspiring fellow medics across Europe, UK and beyond. 

Read about KidsBrainIT

What does the future hold? Milly is now developing an innovative data-driven seizure detection tool via an MRC-funded clinical-academic-industry partnership, called Window in the Brain. They will also continue to work on KidsBrainIT, IMPACT-ACE and more.

Read about Window in the Brain

Each month, EI will be sharing a new story. Inspired by Milly’s story? Read about Milly’s campaign here

You can find out more about Extraordinary People on the EI website. 

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