University launches major initiative to study complex diseases

Posted on Wednesday 19th May 2010

The University of Birmingham is launching a major new initiative that will exploit state of the art technologies and high performance computing to unravel mechanisms of complex diseases, discover new diagnostic markers, and ultimately improve patient treatment and care.

The new £1 million investment into the “Systems Science for Health” initiative will weld together the University’s existing excellence in three vibrant research areas. Researchers in genomics, proteomics and metabolomics as well as biomathematicians and computer scientists will work alongside clinicians to improve our understanding and treatment of blood cancers and inflammatory diseases such as rheumatic disorders.

The funding will be used to support ten new appointments across the University. This will provide the critical density of research expertise to address key unanswered questions in the biomedical sciences.

Dr Mark Viant, from the College of Life and Environmental Sciences explains: “Traditional methods of studying diseases like cancer measure very few of the myriad of molecular changes that occur in a patient. Approaches such as transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics measure thousands of molecular changes and so provide a much more complete picture of what is occurring inside the patient.

This is an investment in developing an exciting area of work that has also recently seen investment from Advantage West Midlands through the Birmingham Science City programme.”

These so called omics technologies allow rapid analyses of thousands of biomolecules to discover new diagnostic markers for disease or to measure the therapeutic responses of drugs on the body’s tissues. Consequently the amount of data generated is vast, and high performance computers with mathematical modelling are required for the data analysis.

He continues: “Measurements of molecular profiles from patient samples will not only diagnose disease but also measure how far the disease has progressed and even how it is responding to drugs.”

Professor Steve Decent, Head of School of Mathematics adds: “We will be recruiting experts in biomathematics and computing to handle the huge amounts of data being generated. Gene expression and metabolism are highly complex processes. By modelling gene activity and metabolite levels together – a systems approach - we can begin to understand their function in good health and disease.

We will also use machine learning methods, training computers to interpret the complex molecular patterns of healthy and diseased patients This represents a powerful diagnostic tool for the clinician.”

Dr Mark Drayson, Honorary Clinical Immunologist from the College of Medical and Dental Sciences, commented: “This collaboration between the three Colleges represents a very exciting opportunity to exploit Birmingham’s first class research and clinical science.”

Website: www.ssfh.bham.ac.uk

Further details: Dr Mark Viant, Chair of the Systems Science for Health Steering Group

Media enquiries

Ben Hill, University of Birmingham Press Officer +44 (0)121 414 5134 or +44 (0)7789 921163

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Notes to editors

Systems Science for Health

Systems Science for Health brings together academics from the University’s Colleges of Life and Environmental Sciences, Medical and Dental Sciences, and Engineering and Physical Sciences. The basic research scientists will work with clinical scientists to develop to discover new diagnostic markers for disease or to measure the therapeutic responses of drugs on the body’s tissues.

This major new initiative creates a unique opportunity to uncover disease markers, mechanisms, and targets for treatment by bringing the latest advances in omics technologies and mathematical modelling to bear on diseases with complex and person specific causes.

The University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham is a vibrant, global community and an internationally-renowned institution. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than four thousand international students from nearly 150 different countries.

The University is home to nearly 30,000 students. With more than 7,500 postgraduate students from across the world, Birmingham is one of the most popular universities for postgraduate study in the UK.

Birmingham Science City

Birmingham Science City is a region-wide partnership of public sector, businesses and the research base, which is facilitating the use of science and technology to improve the quality of life and prosperity of the West Midlands. Funded by Advantage West Midlands, Birmingham Science City’s aim is to create strategies to exploit centres of world-class scientific research, by developing relevant activities for sustainable economic and social benefit.

www.birminghamsciencecity.co.uk