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£5m Cambridge hub will research inflammatory bowel disease using genomics




Enterobacteriaceae, gram-negative rod-shaped bacteria, are part of the intestinal microbiome and are causative agents of different disorders
Enterobacteriaceae, gram-negative rod-shaped bacteria, are part of the intestinal microbiome and are causative agents of different disorders

Patients living with Crohn’s and colitis will be the first to benefit from a £5million grant for a new research hub in Cambridge.

The grant has been awarded by Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) to establish a data research hub for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) following a successful bid led by Eastern AHSN and Cambridge University Health Partners (CUHP).

The Cambridge-based hub will be one of seven hubs set up across the UK to speed up research for new medicines and treatments, support quicker diagnoses and potentially save lives. The six other hubs focus ondifferent conditions including cancer, eye health and respiratory conditions.

Speaking to the Cambridge Independent, Mark Avery, director of health informatics at CUHP and Eastern AHSN, said: “This is such an exciting opportunity to be at the forefront of health data research.

“Working with the NIHR BioResource and patients we will transform our understanding of inflammatory bowel disease, drive improvements in diagnosis and treatment and deliver a data framework that could be used in future for other diseases.”

With the hub funding due to be handed over by HDR UK in December, possible venues have been discussed.

“The physical location, if we have it, is likely to be within the NIHR Cambridge BioResource at Cambridge University Hospitals, but the partnership is spread out to six other hubs, with Cambridge Bioresource the lead organisation," says Mr Avery.

NIHR (National Institute for Health Research) Cambridge Bioresource has a very active patient population, so the model for IBD could be spread to other rare diseases, including pulmonary hypertension, bleeding and blood disorders, and primary immune deficiency disorders.

Prof John Bradley, centre, director of G.I. Know at NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre, with Mark Avery, left, and Dr Miles Parker, right
Prof John Bradley, centre, director of G.I. Know at NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre, with Mark Avery, left, and Dr Miles Parker, right

But first up are IBD sufferers: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are estimated to affect one in every 130 people in the UK (more than 500,000) and cost UK health budgets around £1.5billion each annually.

While advances in clinical imaging, pathology and particularly genomics have produced remarkable progress in understanding Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, the power of these technologies cannot be fully realised until their outputs are combined in a secure research resource and made accessible to the whole research community. This project makes that possible.

“It’s a huge development for IBD sufferers,” says Mark. “For those concerned, there’s no cure, it’s a lifelong situation and the impact is very difficult for those affected. It can be pretty debilitating – 70 per cent of people with IBD need abdominal surgery at some point. With biologics, the immune response means that 10 per cent of treatments don’t work.

“So where now it can take two or three years finding the right treatment, with this hub we’ll be able to find the right treatment much earlier by finding the appropriate genome or parts of a genome, which reduces the need for surgery and colostomy bags and so on, so people can live with it rather than it dominating their lives. This is relatively new genomic data, so it’s of great academic interest as well.”

Mark Avery, director of health informatics at CUHP and Eastern AHSN
Mark Avery, director of health informatics at CUHP and Eastern AHSN

Rosanna, a Crohn’s disease patient, said of her situation: “Patients with inflammatory bowel disease need to find the most effective treatment as quickly as possible to limit disease progression – but currently this process can take three or more years of trial and error. This initiative makes the tantalising prospect of personalised medicine real for patients, who for the first time will have the confidence that they have been prescribed the most effective treatment for them from the start.”

Mark concludes: “We believe that citizens, academia, health services and industry will achieve more working together than they will in isolation.

“This project exemplifies that, and we are grateful to all our partners on this hub including the NIHR BioResource, Crohn’s and Colitis UK, the IBD Registry, Wellcome Sanger, AIMES, Privitar and Microsoft.”



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