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An exciting new chapter in NHS medical research in Oxford began at the start of April, with the £113.7m renewal of the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC).

Lab image Joshua Chai

The BRC is a partnership between Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Oxford to fund medical research that can transform NHS care.

The BRC was established in 2007 with a competitively awarded grant of £57m from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research.

A further grant of £95.5m was awarded from 2012 to 2017 and in September 2016 it was announced the BRC would receive a further increase, £113.7m for 2017 to 2022.

This renewal will expand the number of research themes from 14 to 20 in areas such as cancer, genetics, diabetes, vaccines and stroke, and new areas such as obesity and respiratory. Principal Investigators form the Radcliffe Department of Medicine lead five of the research themes, helping to drive innovation with the ultimate goal of improving patients’ lives.

Professor Barbara Casadei leads the Cardiovascular Theme. Setting out her priorities, she said: “Emergency diagnosis and classification of patients for immediate specialist treatment are central to the management of patients presenting with acute stroke or myocardial infarction. We will use state-of-the-art local and national resources to refine the management of patients with acute cardiovascular syndromes and test new drugs based on improved mechanistic understanding of chronic and inherited cardiovascular diseases in individual patients.”

Prof Anna Gloyn heads up the Diabetes & Metabolism Theme. Discussing the next five years, she said: “By 2025 there will be five million people with type 2 diabetes in the UK alone. We will capitalise on our world-leading expertise to improve our understanding of how to restore and preserve pancreatic islet cells, which produce insulin needed to control blood sugar levels, and evaluate approaches to manage and treat patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a major cause of liver failure in the UK.”

Professor Stefan Neubauer leads the Imaging Theme: “We will develop a variety of innovations, for example MRI techniques for high resolution assessment of metabolism and pH, the measure of how acidic or alkaline a substance is; ultrasound monitoring of foetal development and harnessing big imaging data from population studies. These techniques are expected to benefit patients and society, by improving diagnosis, treatment monitoring, increasing efficiency and saving healthcare costs.”

Prof Doug Higgs leads the Haematology and Stem Cells Theme alongside Prof Paresh Vyas. Prof Vyas said: “Blood diseases can be common, such as anaemia, and also rare but potentially devastating, such as blood cancers like acute leukaemia. There has been much progress in understanding the fundamental basis of many of these conditions. Our aims are to further deepen this knowledge base and, critically, harness it to improve treatments for NHS patients by engaging with patients and their families and through our national and international partnerships.”

Prof Hugh Watkins is Theme Lead for Genomic Medicine: “We have exciting opportunities to use new advances in genomics to transform the way we care for families with genetic diseases – many of which currently go undiagnosed and untreated. We will draw on Oxford’s unique scientific and clinical resources to tackle important challenges in interpreting the vast amounts of information we can gain from the human genome, to ensure the greatest benefit for our patients.”

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