University of Leeds wins $18 million funding to improve the quality of our old age

June 25, 2009

A new £11m Centre of Excellence in Medical Engineering at the University of Leeds will be dedicated to giving people a healthier, fitter, more active old age.

The Wellcome Trust and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) have today (Thursday) announced joint funding for the centre, based in the Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (iMBE) at the University of Leeds.

The centre will address a specific need. While medical advances, a better diet and changes in our lifestyle mean we are living longer, our bones, joints and cardiovascular systems continue to degenerate as we age.

The Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering is an acknowledged leader in this field - tens of thousands of people across the world have already been given life-changing knee and hip replacement surgery thanks to its research. The Wellcome EPSRC Leeds Medical Engineering Centre (WELMEC) will build on iMBE's track record of success, and bring together colleagues from across the University and the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, to create even better, more effective therapies.

Their centre will combine two distinct strands of work - the country's largest bioengineering unit and a world-leading research centre for artificial joint replacements - both dedicated to creating new therapies to improve our quality of life as we get older.

The work is led by John Fisher, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, who said: "We are looking how to help the skeleton, muscles and cardiovascular system support our bodies as we get older, through improved prosthetic implants and technologies to help our tissues regenerate. We are also looking to understand the process of degeneration so we can accurately diagnose its early stages and deliver appropriate and timely interventions.

"Our work is all driven by the concept of 50 more years after 50 - making our second 50 years as healthy, comfortable and active as our first."

Professor Stephen Smye, Director of Research and Development at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (and a co-applicant on the grant) said: "This is one of the most important grant awards made to the University and Leeds Teaching Hospitals partnership in recent years and provides an outstanding opportunity for researchers and clinicians to develop new therapies which will benefit patients."

The new funding is part of a £41m research programme announced today by Wellcome and the EPSRC to develop integrated teams of clinicians, biomedical scientists and world-class engineers with the capacity to invent high-tech solutions to medical challenges, potentially improving thousands of patients' lives. The other projects are:The Leeds funding is an acknowledgement of the University's world-leading position in medical and biological engineering.

Though joint replacements have been carried out since the 1960s, younger, more active patients demand more reliable, longer-lasting prostheses less prone to wear. The impact of the Leeds research is felt on a daily basis - both by the surgeons implanting these new products, and the patients who are being given more active, more comfortable lives. 100,000 patients have been given knee replacements and 10,000 have received ceramic and metal hips, all developed as a result of iMBE research.

A more recent strand to the Institute's activity has seen scientists working at the interface between nature and engineering to develop products which regenerate inside the body, replacing damaged tissue. iMBE directors Professors John Fisher and Eileen Ingham have designed donor scaffold products which provide a matrix into which the recipient's own cells can migrate when implanted. These are providing a long-term solution for the replacement of tissues such as heart valves and blood vessels. Four years of studies in Brazil have seen these products used successfully in patients.
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Further information

For more information, or requests to interview Professor Fisher, please contact Simon Jenkins, senior press officer, University of Leeds, on 0113 3435764 (w) or 07791 333229 (m).

Notes to editors

1. The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed the University of Leeds to be the UK's eighth biggest research powerhouse. The University is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015. www.leeds.ac.uk

2. The Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (iMBE) brings together colleagues from the faculties of medicine and health, biological sciences and engineering, Their purpose is to deliver pioneering multidisciplinary research and education in the fields of medical devices and regenerative medicine, underpinned by innovation and translation of novel therapies, focusing on the treatment of orthopaedic and cardiovascular diseases and disabilities, to advance patient healthcare and quality of life. Funded by a range of public and private grants, iMBE is developing replacement tissue products and the next generation of joint replacements which will offer "fifty more years after fifty" - and enable each of us to enjoy our longer lives in the best possible health. www.imbe.leeds.ac.uk/

3. The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending around £600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing. www.wellcome.ac.uk

4. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. www.epsrc.ac.uk

5. The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is one on the largest trusts in the UK, with a budget of around £820m. It employs around 14,000 staff on six sites, including two of the country's largest teaching hospitals - Leeds General Infirmary and St James's University Hospital.

University of Leeds

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