Gifts from the heart

Philanthropy at the University of Leicester has reached new heights – unparalleled in our 90-year-plus history – with a £7 million donation from The John and Lucille van Geest Foundation and a major gift from The David Wilson Foundation to establish a unique heart research facility that will pave the way for a new era of ‘personalised medicine.’

New advances in medical research can have life-changing results in the diagnosis and treatment of patients as exemplified in the work of the world-class cardiovascular research team at the University of Leicester.

Many of the procedures and treatments undergone by patients presenting at Glenfield Hospital originate from pacesetting research by University academics and clinicians who are quite literally at the cutting-edge of their field.

It is to advance this bold research vision that the University set about creating a purpose-built £12.6 million Cardiovascular Research Centre, constructing high quality laboratory and academic research space and providing the latest specialist equipment. This will help the University to speed up the translation of new research knowledge and discoveries into improved risk reduction, clinical practice and patient care.

The Cardiovascular Research Centre has been made possible by the generosity and support of individuals and Trusts, such as a tremendous gift of £500,000 from leading local donor The David Wilson Foundation, and national organisations who have recognised the international excellence of the University’s research teams, including notably The British Heart Foundation and The Wolfson Foundation.

Philanthropy is alive and well in Leicestershire and Rutland and the significant support for the Appeal from The Edith Murphy Foundation and from local community groups, businesses and charities has been particularly heartening. The Leicester Mercury has helped raise public awareness and people have responded magnificently by contributing to the £5m raised so far.

Now the University has also announced flagship funding for a new additional facility and a new heart research fund. The record £7 million donation is the biggest in the University’s history since its inception in 1921.

The donation from The John and Lucille van Geest Foundation will enable the University to build a new Biomarker Facility adjacent to the University’s Cardiovascular Research Centre and will help pave the way for a new era of ‘personalised medicine’.

The £7 million donation to the University from the John and Lucille van Geest Foundation comprises:

• £2.5m to create a new analytical Biomarker Facility

• £4.5m to establish The van Geest Foundation Heart and Cardiovascular Diseases Research Fund

In the new Biomarker Facility, dedicated University of Leicester scientists aim to discover new biomarkers – unique chemical traces that can be used for the diagnosis and prognosis of disease – as well as monitoring treatments given to patients.

The new facility will enable the University of Leicester researchers to 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.

Key purchases will be three mass spectrometers. These are powerful and specialist instruments which are able to measure a range of molecules and 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. The University team is exploiting this capability to measure proteins, lipids and other molecules that they think may be involved in cardiovascular disease. The University will also invest in powerful computers which are able to deal with the large amounts of data generated for each patient, to find those particular features which are associated with disease.

The multi-million pound heart research Fund will allow researchers from the University to compete for funding for the most exciting and cutting-edge studies
that will advance the fight against cardiovascular disease for years to come.

A representative of the trustees of The John and Lucille van Geest Foundation commented that:

“All three trustees are delighted to support the immediate plans for the new
£2.5m Biomarker Facility proposed by the team at the University of Leicester and also to make a difference more widely for cardiovascular research in the long term. The establishment of ‘The van Geest Foundation Heart and Cardiovascular Diseases Research Fund’ with a gift and pledge of £4.5m will ensure that vital funding for priority research projects will be available to University investigators for many years into the future.”

Director of Development at the University of Leicester, Steve O’Connor, who led the fundraising discussions with The John and Lucille van Geest Foundation said:

“This very special gift reflects the power of philanthropy to transform academic research capacity, speed up the continual search for more breakthroughs that will benefit patients locally and across the UK and further endorses the University’s position as a leading centre of excellence for heart research.

“We are proud to be working together with The John and Lucille van Geest Foundation and all our benefactors whose generosity and commitment will help to ensure that the University continues to grow and flourish at the forefront of cardiovascular research.”

This article originally appeared in LE1 Winter 2012

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