The University of Birmingham has announced plans to establish a £5m MRC Regional Phenome Centre (RPC), which will help to improve the health of patients through novel research and technology.

The centre will complement and work closely with the MRC-NIHR National Phenome Centre in London. It will help scientists to better detect the onset of several diseases and to develop more effective treatments, focusing primarily on patients with immune-mediated inflammatory diseases and blood cancers. Significant improvements in patient health, as well as cost savings to the UK’s National Health Service, are anticipated through early detection and tailoring of treatment.

Metabolomics will form the core of the MRC RPC, a scientific discipline that can look in detail at the biochemical changes occurring in humans during a disease. The complex interaction of a patient’s genome and their environment can be defined as their phenome. The phenome can be studied by measuring thousands of metabolites simultaneously in blood or urine. By applying these technologies, scientists will be able to discover how diseases develop, predict and monitor how patients will respond to drug treatments, and provide insights towards novel therapeutics.

The centre will be led by internationally-recognised metabolomics experts Professor Mark Viant, Professor Ulrich Guenther and Dr Warwick Dunn. Building on existing metabolomics technologies in the Schools of Biosciences and Cancer Sciences at the University of Birmingham, the MRC award will fund ten additional mass spectrometers and NMR spectrometers to greatly enhance the number of samples that can be investigated.

The metabolomics research at Birmingham and the new centre benefit from an existing Technology Alliance Partnership between the University of Birmingham and Thermo Fisher Scientific for advancing life sciences mass spectrometry, and a technology collaboration between the University and Beckman Coulter for advancing automation solutions in the omics sciences. Collaborations with Bruker and Waters will further enhance the capacity and capabilities of the centre.

Professor Viant said, “We are tremendously excited about building a metabolomics facility of the scale needed to significantly improve our ability to understand mechanisms of human disease and improve treatments. The centre will provide the UK with a significant advantage that we will exploit to generate new diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers of both common and rare diseases.”

National Phenome Centre Director, Professor Jeremy Nicholson of Imperial College London, added, “We are pleased to be associated with the new MRC Regional Phenome Centre at Birmingham and this will form part of a wider network of national and regional centres that will harmonise with the NPC and the linked Imperial BRC Clinical Phenome Centre. The multiple benefits of network driven commonalities of approach, methodology, data mining and database generation are easy for all to see."

The MRC RPC will form a cornerstone of the new Institute for Translational Medicine, which will open in June 2015 and is governed through the Birmingham Health Partners, a strategic alliance between the University of Birmingham, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

Professor David Adams, Dean of Medicine at the University of Birmingham and Director of Birmingham Health Partners commented, “These are exciting new technologies that we anticipate with bring significant patient benefits, both locally and nationally.”


Notes to editors

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About the National Phenome Centre

The MRC-NIHR National Phenome Center is a partnership between Imperial College London and Kings College London with Waters Corporation and Bruker Biospin. Opened in July 2013 under the Directorship of Professor Jeremy Nicholson of Imperial College, the NPC provides the world's first national capability and capacity for large scale metabolic phenotyping for molecular epidemiology biomarker studies and stratified medicine programs using a multiple high field NMR and mass spectrometer cluster. For further information visit