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Belfast research hub opens doors to clinical trials

By Adrian Rutherford

A £4m clinical research hub opening in Belfast will enable more patients than ever before to take part in clinical trials in Northern Ireland.

The facility will concentrate on four main research themes – cancer, nutrition and metabolism, vision science, and respiratory research.

Officially titled the Wellcome Trust-Wolfson Foundation Northern Ireland Clinical Research Facility (NICRF), it will also benefit those with rare conditions who, until now, have had to travel to England to participate in trials.

It is a joint venture between Queen's University Belfast, the Belfast Health Trust, the University of Ulster and the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care research and development division.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, Professor Danny McAuley from Queen's University's centre for infection and immunity, who is acting director of NICRF, said its opening was a significant moment for Northern Ireland.

"Over the past five years, Queen's has brought together clinical and scientific research teams in new, dedicated, high-quality research centres," he said.

"They work on nutrition, on vision science, cancer and on respiratory diseases, which is my own field.

"The Northern Ireland Clinical Research Facility will give this work a new edge but, most importantly, it will make a difference to all those men and women who are the focus of our research – the patients.

"Having this facility on the doorstep means that we're seeing more patients enrolling into clinical trials.

"They want to be part of the future. They want to learn more about their diseases.

"As a result, they're becoming partners in the process of understanding and they're helping to define how we go about treating them."

Dr McAuley said the facility would provide new opportunities for doctors, nurses and other health professionals to take part in training programmes which will enhance their skills.

Based at Belfast City Hospital, the NICRF has the infrastructure to support clinical trials from conception to completion.

With dedicated staff and state-of-the-art equipment, it now allows researchers to access a specialised area for clinical research, including equipment not available in the NHS.

It contains 10 clinical rooms, a blood processing facility and a diet kitchen for nutrition studies.

Researchers hope hundreds of patients will be offered the chance to take part in clinical trials each year, and that this will be a major increase in numbers previously enrolled into such research studies in Northern Ireland.

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" We're seeing more patients enrolling into clinical trials. They want to learn more about their diseases."

NICRF acting director Professor Danny McAuley

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