Belfast Telegraph

£32m research centre to lead crusade against blindness and diabetes

By Lindsay Fergus

Queen's University Belfast is to cement its reputation as a world leader in medical research with a new £32m centre which will work on cures for blindness and the reduction of diabetes.

Work is already under way on the purpose-built Centre for Experimental Medicine. It will specialise in scientific research into prevention and treatment of eye disease, diabetes and developing a global programme into understanding the genetics of complex chronic diseases.

Cutting-edge research carried out at the centre will include preventing degenerative eye disease in the elderly, stimulating the pancreas to produce more insulin and using genetics to identify people at high risk of diabetes.

Queen’s says the centre has the potential to transform healthcare in Northern Ireland and beyond.

The four-storey complex is due to open at the Queen’s site at Belfast City Hospital in 2016.

Capital for the project has been secured mainly from Treasury funding and £15m from the grant-making private foundation Atlantic Philanthropies — the largest gift Queen’s has ever received.

Queen’s vice-chancellor professor Sir Peter Gregson (right) said it is well advanced in creating “an internationally recognised Institute of Health Sciences that will become a global leader in medical research and education”.

He added: “This will be further enhanced through the creation of the Centre for Experimental Medicine that will transform healthcare in Northern Ireland and beyond.

“Queen’s is celebrating this announcement, but so too should the citizens of Northern Ireland as they will be the real winners from improved diagnosis and treatments of debilitating diseases.”

Queen’s dean of medicine, dentistry and biomedical sciences,

Professor Patrick Johnston, added: “The Centre for Experimental Medicine will allow the expansion of the vision sciences programme and the establishment of two new programmes in diabetes and genomics. It will also stimulate additional investment, lead to further global collaborations and create more opportunities for new health and biotech companies.

“This announcement will take us further along this journey and help provide a synergy between clinicians and scientists ensuring that laboratory discoveries translate into advances in patient diagnosis and treatment.” So far Queen’s has invested more than £90m in the Institute of Health Sciences with £85m more planned over the next five years.

The university is also planning to double the number of scientists

and clinician scientists from 500 to 1,000 over the next five years.

A total of £10.5m has been secured from the Treasury in London while the remaining £21.7m comes from a range of investors, including the Atlantic Philanthropies.

Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry believes the move will be a major boost to the Northern Ireland economy — including the construction sector.

“Life and health sciences is an important economic sector for Northern Ireland and has been identified by Matrix, the science-industry panel, as one of the priority skill areas in Northern Ireland with the greatest potential for growth,” he said.

“Today’s announcement underlines the vital role played by our universities in conducting world-leading research and innovation which delivers real economic benefits to Northern Ireland.

“I am confident that the success of the Queen’s Institute of Health Sciences project will make a significant contribution to the Northern Ireland economy, ultimately leading to the commercialisation of research discoveries and medical breakthroughs leading to more effective treatment of diseases.”

Story so far

Queen’s has an Institute of Health Sciences made up of a number of dedicated research centres focused on cancer, infectious disease, vision and microvascular diseases, public health and population genetics and a state-of-the-art clinical research facility. Five new bio-tech companies, employing more than 200 people, have already been set-up by investigators within the Institute of Health Sciences.

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