University of Cambridge opens world-leading Heart and Lung Research Institute

Heart and Lung Research Institute
Credit: Royal Papworth Hospital

The Heart and Lung Research Institute (HLRI) is set to be officially opened today, bringing together the brightest minds in cardiovascular and respiratory science in Europe to tackle some of the most dangerous diseases threatening humanity.

The HLRI has been developed in a collaborative venture between the University of Cambridge and Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and will be home to the largest concentration of cardiovascular and respiratory scientists and clinicians in Europe and places the UK at the pinnacle of medical research.

This scientific alliance will enable the HLRI to achieve breakthroughs in the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of diseases that cause the most significant health burden worldwide.

Professor Nick Morrell from the University of Cambridge, Director of the HLRI, said: “This is an extremely exciting day for us, the result of many years of planning and much hard work, and promises to transform outcomes for patients with cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses.

“The HLRI brings together two powerhouses of world-leading discovery, innovation, and clinical care. This constellation of clinical and academic excellence, in close proximity to major pharmaceutical industry partners, is unusual – there isn’t anything like it in the UK.”

The health burden of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases

Around 25% of deaths in the UK are caused by cardiovascular disease, with one in five deaths being due to respiratory disease. Although the awareness of their risk factors has increased in recent years, such as smoking and poor diet, the conditions are becoming increasingly common.

On a global scale, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that cardiovascular disease causes nearly 18 million deaths annually, mainly as a result of heart attacks and stroke, with respiratory diseases not far behind. The combination of both conditions costs healthcare systems around the world a total of more than £840 billion each year.

How the HLRI will pioneer disease research

The Heart and Lung Research Institute is located next to the Royal Papworth Hospital on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus and received a sizable £30m in funding from the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund, the University of Cambridge and the Wolfson Foundation.

The British Heart Foundation has donated £10m, and the Royal Papworth Hospital Charity has contributed £5m. Additional support has been provided by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust for a Cystic Fibrosis Trust Innovation Hub within the institute.

Professor Morell and the 380 researchers and clinicians within the HLRI have set the ambitious target of creating at least ten new drugs or diagnostic approaches in heart and lung diseases within five years. The state-of-the-art infrastructure at the Heart and Lung Research Institute will facilitate this goal and includes:

  • British Heart Foundation (BHF) Cambridge Centre for Cardiovascular Research Excellence –laboratories studying genomics, population sciences, cellular mechanisms of disease and translational science that will allow scientists to understand better and treat some of the major killers, including coronary heart disease, coronary artery disease, pulmonary hypertension and stroke.
  • The Cystic Fibrosis Trust Innovation Hub, headed by Professor Andres Floto, which will look at a number of inflammatory lung diseases, including cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • The Wolfson Lung Injury Unit, headed by Professor Charlotte Summers, which aims to understand the mechanisms underlying acute lung injury – including damage as a result of pneumonia and COVID-19, among other causes –to develop new therapies.
  • A Clinical Research Facility is due to open later this year and is headed by Dr Mark Toshner. This new facility will allow up to ten patients at a time to take part in studies. Dr Toshner aims to transform how these studies take place, working with patients to co-design research.
  • Collaboration space for academia, healthcare, charity and industry to work together, and education facilities including seminar rooms and a lecture theatre.

Professor John Wallwork, Chairman of Royal Papworth Hospital, said: “This will be a huge step forward and demonstrates the very best of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus – a cross-site collaboration with the best researchers in the world to help to save lives.

“HLRI will mean new treatments will be created, tested and delivered all on one site to tackle the biggest causes of premature death in the world. It will also allow us to provide further education and training to clinicians tackling heart and lung disease worldwide.

“Bringing together the best researchers, scientists and clinicians in the world will help save lives and allow us to make even quicker progress in bringing tomorrow’s treatments to today’s patients.”

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, concluded: “The HLRI will provide incredible opportunities for world-leading experts to work together more closely than ever to drive research into heart and circulatory diseases. We are proud to support the institute to achieve its ambitious goals and become a new leader in the fight against the world’s biggest killers.”

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