What the Money will achieve
The University of Leicester has announced a record £7 million donation – the biggest in the University’s history since its inception in 1921.
The donation from the John & Lucille van Geest Foundation will enable the University to build a new Biomarker Facility adjacent to the University’s Cardiovascular Research Centre at Glenfield Hospital.
Here is an overview of how the money will be used.
- What will the John & Lucille van Geest donation buy?
The John & Lucille van Geest donation will help further establish a new analytical Biomarker Facility adjacent to the CRC to discover new biomarkers that can be used for the diagnosis and prognosis of disease as well as the monitoring of therapies given to patients. In particular 3 new analytical instruments, namely mass spectrometers, will be purchased that are able to measure the levels of different molecules (proteins, lipids and metabolites) in blood. The donation will also fund specialist investigators to carry out the important research including a dedicated specialist for the analysis of data which comes from the research.
- In what way will the gift transform research?
In Leicester we are very fortunate to have a world class genetics approach to understanding the fundamentals of cardiovascular disease. This gift will enable us to understand what happens beyond the genome and hopefully combine these technologies to yield novel tools for clinical use which ultimately benefits patients.
- What is the new Biomarker Facility and where will it be located?
The Biomarker Facility is a series of laboratories and rooms that are dedicated to different parts of the biomarker discovery process. One laboratory will be created that is dedicated to sample preparation. It will contain a number of instruments to quickly and reliably prepare clinical samples. Once prepared, samples will either be stored or taken to the Mass Spectrometry laboratory.
The Mass Spectrometry laboratory will house a suite of analytical instruments which will be used for analysing prepared clinical samples. The data from this analysis will be sent via high-speed network cables to a Data Laboratory for processing and data analysis, management and storage. Within close proximity, a number of rooms for academic staff, post doctoral researchers and students will be sited.
- How will the new facility relate to the CRC?
The Biomarker Facility will be co-located with the new CRC at Glenfield. The CRC will house the new state of the art analytical platforms. It will help bring together all the necessary expertise of cardiovascular consultants, surgeons, scientists and data analysts to maximise the benefit to patients. More specifically we can bring together strands of evidence about a patient’s disease namely, genes, proteins, lipids and any relevant clinical data to enhance the understanding of disease. This kind of facility is unique in the UK for cardiovascular science and will compete globally.
- What specific academic research will be undertaken and how does it integrate with other academic and clinical research in the CRC and the BRU?
The requirement for biomarkers is especially important in heart failure and in coronary artery disease, where there are difficulties in making the diagnosis in some situations. Furthermore, the laboratory is also investigating the use of novel biomarkers for prognosis of heart failure and heart attacks, so that patients with a likely poor outcome could be selected and targeted for more intensive interventions. The laboratory is also a major contributor to an FP7 European initiative to detect patients who respond poorly to heart failure therapies (Biostat programme), so that such patients could receive further monitoring. As mentioned previously, the CRC offers an excellent opportunity to collaborate and furthermore strengthen each strand of research undertaken at Leicester on cardiovascular research.
- How will research benefit patients in Leicester and worldwide?
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a major health problem in the UK with close to 200,000 deaths annually attributed to it. In the East Midlands, this problem is proportionally greater (about 25% higher than the national average) due to a greater than average pensionable-age population and a greater number of certain ethnic groups who are particularly susceptible to CVD. Consequently, CVD is the foremost prevalent disease in areas such as the East Midlands for both men and women. Leicester is one of the leading Cardiovascular research centres in the world. Discoveries here can be quickly translated into the clinic via facilities such as the National Institute of Health Research Leicester Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit.
The main ethos of our research is to personalise medicine for patient benefit. Discoveries in medicine often work well for groups of people, so that they may work in the group as a whole, but within that group there will be those who derive massive benefit, and others who do not benefit at all. It would be more meaningful to be able to target treatments towards those who would benefit most, and proper characterisation of patients will enable this. Characterisation may involve obtaining detailed clinical data, blood and urine tests and genetic tests.
We will concentrate initially on research into heart failure and on coronary artery disease. A particular form of heart failure where muscle contraction is preserved and yet patients are very symptomatic will be investigated, since there are not many treatments available for this even though it can account for half of the cases of heart failure. We hope to develop novel ways to diagnose and predict outcomes in these patients, and in so doing, may discover new pathways that may suggest new treatments for further development. In patients with arterial disease, we hope to be able to detect patients who have unstable lipid deposits in their arteries and develop non-invasive ways of diagnosing these deposits, thereby detecting patients who may benefit earlier from available treatments.
Leicester is also unique in having a multi-ethnic population mix. This allows comparisons of disease mechanisms across different ethnic groups, making the research not just valid and applicable to one section of humankind, but possibly to larger world population groups. Generalisability of findings would be a key feature of the work.
- What specific equipment will we be able to buy and what does it do?
Key purchases will be three mass spectrometers. These are powerful and specialist instruments which are able to measure a range of molecules such as therapeutic drugs, proteins, metabolites, lipids and DNA. Not only can they be used to detect these molecules but moreover can measure them to very low levels. Increasingly these machines are used for applications such as measurement of banned substances in athletes and standard clinical assays in hospitals, because the measurements can be very specific for these molecules. We are exploiting this ability to measure proteins, lipids and other molecules that we think may be involved in cardiovascular disease. We are also buying powerful computers which are able to deal with the large amounts of data generated in each patient, to find those particular features which are associated with disease.
- Why is investment in studentships particularly important?
To any active research group, bright, hard-working students are absolutely key to carrying out the work and investigating new ways of finding novel discoveries. We are very pleased to have received this transformational donation which will help us to recruit two post doctoral Research Associate and two PhD studentships. These key posts will allow us to push forward the research in a way not previously possible. Studentships allow us to train young scientists who can then develop research independently in future, and improve the standing of UK research in the world by contributing to the published literature and creating an impact using findings pertinent to human health and disease. Some of these students will become the academics of the future, and will maintain the UK’s standing as a centre of research excellence.