University of Leicester receives £7m donation for new biomarker facility

21 August 2012

The University of Leicester has received a donation from the John and Lucille van Geest Foundation to build a new Biomarker Facility adjacent to the University’s Cardiovascular Research Centre at Glenfield Hospital.

This will help pave the way for a new era of ‘personalised medicine’ enabling the University to create a facility that is unique in the UK and that can compete globally.

In addition, a multi-million pound heart research Fund will be created allowing researchers from the University of Leicester to compete for funding for the most exciting and cutting-edge studies that will advance the fight against cardiovascular disease for years to come.

The funding will not only provide for state-of-the art specialised equipment and highly trained staff to carry out world-class research in cardiovascular disease, but will enable future generations to benefit from the knowledge hub that is created at the centre.

It 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.

Announcing the ground breaking donation 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.”

The representative also remarked on the changing circumstances of the van Geest Foundation: “At this seminal moment in the life of the Foundation following our decision to wind it up, our strategic approach is to focus the distribution of its remaining funds on a few medical research areas; working with selected leading institutions and investigators who are highly regarded in their field, such as the cardiovascular sciences team at the University of Leicester. This focus enables us to build on our previous philanthropic support of medical research, increase the speed of development and achieve major impact in the coming years whilst establishing a lasting legacy. “

Welcoming the donation, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester Professor Sir Robert Burgess said: “We are delighted that the trustees of the John and Lucille van Geest Foundation have chosen to support the University with this transformational gift which will benefit society through new advances in research knowledge.

“We are rightly proud of our world changing heart research team and the Foundation’s unprecedented donation will enable the University of Leicester to deliver a step change in cardiovascular research capacity that will help to improve the health and life expectation of patients and the public in Leicestershire, the UK and ultimately internationally.”

The new Biomarker Facility will be located adjacent to the University’s Cardiovascular Research Centre at Glenfield Hospital. In it, 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 of treatments given to patients.

Key purchases will be three mass spectrometers, 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 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.

Dr. Don Jones, Lecturer in Biomarkers and Mass Spectrometry, added: “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.

“Using the mass spectrometers, 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.”



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