A REIGATE researcher and former teacher has been presented with a national award for her work in a little-known branch of medicine.

Grace Filby was presented with the Churchill Fellows' Silver Medallion in a ceremony at The Guildhall in London.

She was presented with the honour by Sir Winston Churchill's daughter, Lady Soames, in recognition of her work as a Churchill Fellow in the field of bacteriophages.

The presentation followed Grace's travels to Canada, Georgia, Poland and America researching the health value of bacteriophages - a large group of microbes that fight specific bacteria naturally without the use of drugs.

Ms Filby, a mother of two and former science co-ordinator at Reigate Priory School, first became interested in the field in 1972 while studying biology and psychology at the University of Keele.

She said: "It was very inspiring to me that there are these viruses which are specific to bacteria. There are so many - ten to the power of 31. They are everywhere."

However, it was not until her retirement from teaching in 2000 that Grace was able to devote the time necessary to carry out independent research, in line with her key interest in hospital health and combating infections such as MRSA.

Grace, a member of Reigate Priory Museum Society, former trustee of Reigate CAB, non-profit publisher, artist and co-founder of the local Holistic Health Alliance, became one of only 4,000 people to have won a Churchill Fellowship since Sir Winston's death in 1965.

Her overseas research was funded by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust and she went where she could see phage therapy in practice. She said: "There is evidence that phage therapy can work in treating infections and may be much less expensive than antibiotics. At the moment, the nearest place that people can go for treatment is the new clinic in Wroclaw in Poland but a few leading doctors in the UK and the USA are trying it out too in small clinical trials."

Grace's research has also uncovered Reigate connections in the field of serious bacterial infections. These connections include a neighbour Grace has long known who she believes may have had her life saved as a five-year-old in 1929 by the use of phage treatment against gangrene following a burst appendix. Grace is now producing a video about her research, with the help of two Reigate students.