Leicester research unit gives hope to heart patients
The pioneering multi-million pound translational research unit funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) part of Department of Health, which was recently formally opened at Leicester’s Glenfield Hospital will support researchers making new discoveries in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease to translate their findings into patient treatment more quickly.
More than 100 doctors and scientists are involved in research at the new Leicester Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit (BRU), a partnership between the University of Leicester and University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust.
Key research will include the genetics and inheritance of heart disease, genetics of cardiovascular disease, studies of blood pressure and vascular diseases and the development of novel treatments for heart disease, stroke, cardiac rhythm diseases the cardiovascular complications of diabetes.
The BRU combines the very best researchers and support staff with cutting edge equipment, techniques and bioinformatics to meet the complex challenges posed by translational cardiovascular research .
Awarded £4.7million in 2009 for three years, it was one of only sixteen BRUs nationwide funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), and has been fully operational since March 2010.
David Wynford-Thomas, Dean of the Medical School at the University of Leicester, said: “Leicester is already internationally renowned for its research into the underlying causes of heart and blood vessel disease and the development of new treatments. The centre will allow our discoveries in the laboratories to move into the clinical research stage quicker and ultimately patients will benefit sooner.”
The Leicester BRU also houses the first database of its kind in the UK, the Biomedical Research Informatics Centre for Cardiovascular Science (BRICCS), which is involved with a number of international projects.
This database is linked to blood samples from volunteer patients who have allowed researchers to make use of their medical records, while preserving their confidentiality.
The advantages of BRICCS will lead to faster research and therefore faster results; better information on genetics and heart disease; new, more accurate tests to detect the condition and enhanced clinical decision-making at the patients’ bedside.
Since May 2010 BRICCS has been recruiting patients attending Leicester hospitals with a variety of heart conditions.
Patients who take part, will be playing their part in improving care for others with coronary artery and cardiovascular disease. They receive normal care and treatment for their condition, but are also asked to provide a small sample of blood and to answer questions on their medical and family history.
Mike Price, 77, from Anstey, signed up during a spell in hospital. He said: "I had a heart attack some years ago and all of my problems stemmed from there. I lost nine tenths of my heart muscle and can get quite out of breath. It recently got worse so I went into Glenfield for a procedure to correct an irregular heart rhythm.
"I was asked to take part in this project and I immediately said yes. To me, anything which helps other people and maybe prevents them suffering like I have can only be a good thing."
Leicester is internationally renowned for its cardiovascular research. The Director of the BRU, Professor Nilesh Samani, British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiology and Head of the University’s Department of Cardiovascular Sciences, is one of the foremost researchers in cardiovascular genetics in the world.
He commented: “The centre cements Glenfield’s reputation as a leading international heart hospital. High quality research and better patient care go hand in hand. Heart disease takes life prematurely. We will bring together the best minds and technologies from all our local Universities and industry so that we can achieve a better understanding of the disease and how we tackle it to reduce the burden.
"Conditions of the heart and circulation are very common but their causes are not fully understood. Individuals also vary in their risk of disease, their progress after diagnosis, their response to treatment and side effects from treatment. Some of this variation may be related to a person's genetic make-up. In other situations we may be able to identify changes in the blood or urine that can predict a person's response or progress.
"We are creating a major store of blood, urine and other samples from people who have heart or vascular conditions to investigate these questions. By analysing the samples from patients, comparing the findings with those from healthy subjects and relating the findings to the patient's history, response to treatment and progress, we will get a much better understanding of disease mechanisms.
“Ultimately, findings from this research could help in the future to improve the prediction, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of these important diseases."
Speaking of the advantages the BRU will bring, the Manager, Mr Tim Skelton, added: “This is a really exciting time for cardiovascular research. For the first time we are able to provide researchers with cutting edge equipment and facilities to enable the benefits of their work to be moved into treating patients more quickly.
“Researchers are now able to ask more complex and difficult questions and be sure that the BRU can support them, the NIHR grant award to the BRU has created a step change in the pace that we work at and the scope of what we are able to do.
“New research students are also coming to work in the BRU and are able to support and develop a new generation of excellent research for the future.”
Researchers at the Leicester Cardiovascular BRU come from a range of disciplines across the University and the Hospital, including scientists, physiologists, nurses, database programmers, clinical research assistants and administrators.
The unit includes a fully equipped world-class research outpatients facility and a Research Day ward, where volunteer patients can be examined. The Outpatient Department incorporates an echocardiography room, an exercise testing room, three clinical investigation rooms and a laboratory.
Professor Samani was responsible for making the successful bid for the unit, along with his colleagues, Professor Bryan Williams, Professor Dave Rowbotham, Professor Tony Gershlick, Professor Leong Ng, Professor Alison Goodall, Professor Paul Burton and Dr Andre Ng.
Notes to Editors: Further details are available from Mr Tim Skelton, Manager, Leicester Cardiovascular Biomedical Research Unit, via Miss Audrey Cooper, tel 0116 250 2429, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Or see the website: www.le.ac.uk/bru.