Scientists win slice of £230m for hi-tech health research

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Researchers across the region have won a share of £230 million to develop a range of revolutionary technologies aimed at identifying the causes of diseases.

The state-of-the-art techniques will be used to find out how differences between people affect how they respond to diseases and to treatment.

Among the grants in a programme led by the Medical Research Council is £7.6m for a new imaging approach developed by experts at Leeds and York universities which has the potential to increase the signal in a MRI image by up to 100,000 times.

This will give experts new insights into the workings of the body and make the development of new drugs more effective. The investment, including funding from the British Heart Foundation and Arthritis Research UK, could benefit patients with heart disease, cancer and joint disease.

An imaging centre with a new MRI scanner, patient facilities and a laboratory will be built at Leeds General Infirmary, with the first patients recruited for trials in 2016. Scientists at York University will also use part of the funding for a new MRI scanner to replace their existing one.

Prof Sven Plein, leader of the research team from Leeds University, said: “This is a great example of bench-to-bedside research that we hope will have a profoundly positive impact on the lives of patients.”

Another grant of £1.1m will help work in Leeds to explore how cells in the body operate and evolve due to disease. It will improve diagnosis of genetic diseases and study how early-stage cancer cells evolve and develop into aggressive forms of the disease.

Further cash worth £7.5m, including an award from the British Heart Foundation, will go towards the development of world-leading lung imaging at Sheffield University.

This provides very detailed images of patients’ lungs without relying on X-rays, which give small doses of radiation.

The project creates images of lungs affected by conditions including smoking, cystic fibrosis, emphysema, pulmonary hypertension and asthma.