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Making history in health care

Hospital corridor

This year an integrated approach by Manchester Academic Health Sciences Centre (MAHSC) combined the talents of The University of Manchester and partner NHS Trusts to secure National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) status, resulting in £28.5 million of research funding.

For Professor Ian Greer, who leads both our Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health and MAHSC, this integrated ‘One Manchester’ approach aligns with Greater Manchester health devolution.

Ours is the first, and currently only, region to benefit from devolution of the health care budget – the transfer of powers and responsibilities from national government to a geographical region. This delivers power into the hands of local decision-makers to better meet the needs of the people who live and work in their region. In practical terms it meant taking control of combined health and social care budgets worth more than £6 billion.

This partnership working will deliver better health care to our population, not only through more integrated care, but also by innovating care through biomedical research, ensuring we deliver cutting edge treatment.

“Each of the seven research themes we’ll be investigating as part of the BRC is led by a University of Manchester researcher – each of whom is also closely linked to an NHS Trust,” Professor Greer explains.

“The success of MAHSC has been fundamental in generating close co-operation across the city to make this BRC award possible.”

The University also adopted partnership working to improve our operations with the launch of the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health in August 2016, to better integrate the outstanding research in the Faculty of Life Sciences and the Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences. Professor Greer asserts: “Our new, simpler, and more integrated structure better enables a translational approach to biology, medicine and health – from pure discovery science through to clinical application and patient care.”

The NIHR Biomedical Research Centre partnership is hosted by Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, alongside the Christie NHS Foundation Trust, Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust and University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust.

All of these are brought together under MAHSC, which has more than 36,000 members working across the University and the NHS and has access to 3 million patients and vast quantities of biomedical and health data.

Delivering tangible benefits

The BRC has an overall theme of ‘precision medicine’ and is led by the University’s Professor Ian Bruce. Precision medicine is all about delivering the right treatment to the right patient at the right time in the right dose, to maximise efficacy, safety and disease outcome.

It already has created significant impact in areas such as cancer, where treatment can now be tailored specifically to the patient’s needs. “The new diagnostic tests and therapies we develop will enable doctors to offer a more tailored approach and to better personalise treatments to the individual,” he explains. Precision medicine is not just about treating disease better when it arises but also about preventing it by identifying people at risk so that we can intervene before the disease occurs. Professor Bruce adds: “We are also working on better ways to prevent disease developing in the first place.”

The generous philanthropy of University donors made possible several key projects that support the BRC – for example, the flagship Stoller Biomarker Discovery Centre, and a mobile audiology van that works in the local community, supporting our research to improve hearing tests for young children.

The way that the University goes about health research is also changing to face future demand, as Professor Greer explains: “Our ability to deliver tangible benefits from these research themes has undoubtedly been enhanced by the integration of discovery, translational and clinical science in the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health.

“It is a step change in realising our ambition to develop a truly translational approach that makes a real impact, benefiting people’s lives.”

NIHR Biomedical Research Centre

Hearing health

Challenge: Hearing loss will soon be the seventh largest global disease burden, representing a major public health issue with substantial economic and societal costs.

Solution: The rapid adoption of discoveries into routine clinical practice to improve health and well-being, reduce inequalities and provide value for money, deliver effective and efficient hearing health across the lifespan – from preventing potentially devastating inherited deafness through to age-related deafness.

Advanced radiotherapy

Challenge: Around 40% of those patients cured of cancer have received radiotherapy as part of their treatment.

Solution: Improve the delivery of radiation and develop markers to predict the benefit of different types of radiation and drug-radiation combinations, as well as the risk of long-term side effects. Manchester has a unique capability in radiotherapy in the UK’s first high energy Proton Beam Therapy Centre, an NHS partners’ joint service based at The Christie.

Respiratory diseases

Challenge: Respiratory diseases are the third most common cause of death and the second most common cause of hospital admissions in the UK.

Solution: Better understanding of the underlying causes of respiratory conditions; test new drug compounds aimed at novel targets to modify the disease processes involved and improve symptom control in patients; a focus on earlier diagnosis and more targeted treatment, to maximise the likelihood of a good treatment response while minimising the risks of harm from therapies such as antimicrobial resistance.

Cutaneous inflammation and repair

Challenge: Skin conditions and poor wound healing have a considerable impact on many people’s quality of life.

Solution: Identify markers and tools, which can be used to personalise treatment plans and identify opportunities to address unmet clinical need for patients suffering from complex wounds, psoriasis, hair loss and light-sensitive conditions.

Cancer prevention and early detection

Challenge: Around 50% of people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Cancer prevention and early detection strategies are not currently fully leveraged despite having an important role to play in the fight against cancer.

Solution: Improve the targeting of these strategies by developing the early markers needed to diagnose cancer sooner and rapidly identify whether a treatment is having the desired response.

Musculoskeletal diseases

Challenge: Musculoskeletal disorders, such as arthritis and connective tissue diseases, account for more than 20% of all GP consultations and are the second most common cause of disability worldwide.

Solution: A focus on strategies to prevent arthritis developing in the first place; developing new treatment approaches to arthritis in adults and children; new tests to improve our ability to personalise treatments.

Cancer precision medicine

The BRC will help the NHS to deliver a more personalised and proactive approach to caring for patients with cancer. Through the precise characterisation of tumours, we will develop the diagnostic tests needed to match an individual’s cancer with the drug most likely to have the desired therapeutic effect.

Also focus on helping clinicians to anticipate and appropriately manage drug-resistant relapse, a common problem faced by patients with cancer.

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