100,000 whole genomes sequenced in the NHS

The 100,000 Genomes Project has sequenced 100,000 whole genomes, helping to improve diagnosis and treatment for patients with rare diseases and cancer.
The Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock has announced that the 100,000 Genomes Project has reached its goal of sequencing 100,000 whole genomes from NHS patients.
The 100,000 Genomes Project uses whole genome sequencing technology to improve diagnoses and treatments for patients with rare inherited diseases and cancer. It is led by Genomics England and NHS England.
Since the project was launched in 2012 it has delivered life-changing results for patients who have had their genomes sequenced, with 1 in 4 patients with a rare disease receiving a diagnosis for the first time.
Thirteen NHS Genomic Medicine Centres (GMCs) were created to support the project, along with a state-of-the-art sequencing centre and an automated analytics platform to return genome analyses to the NHS.
The UK is the first nation in the world to apply whole genome sequencing at scale in direct healthcare. Genomics can enable doctors to identify those at risk of disease, help prevent it and provide personalised treatments to give patients the best chance of recovery.
To build on the project’s success, in October the Secretary of State set out an ambition to sequence 5 million genomes in the UK over the next 5 years. The health secretary also announced the launch of the NHS Genomic Medicine Service. This will see all seriously ill children and adults with certain rare diseases or cancers offered whole genome sequencing as part of their care from 2019.
Read the full article here

Birmingham to lead ground-breaking research into patient experience of cell therapies

4 December 2018: Birmingham health researchers, with industry partners including health technology companies Dignio and Datatrial, have been awarded £1.1 million by UK Research & Innovation (UKRI)’s Innovate UK, to investigate patients’ experience of cell and gene therapies. The funding has been provided as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund’s Medicines Manufacturing programme.

Cell and gene therapies offer ground-breaking opportunities for the treatment of disease and injury. As therapies of this kind are so new, the impact upon patients receiving them has not yet been studied – until now.

The PROmics study will be led by Melanie Calvert, Professor of Outcomes Methodology and Director of the Centre for Patient Reported Outcomes Research (CPROR), and will use state-of-the-art technology to assess the effect of novel cell therapies on both patient symptoms and quality of life.

Due to begin in December, the project is a joint venture between the Midlands & Wales Advanced Therapy Treatment Centre (MW-ATTC), CPROR and Dignio, a Norwegian remote health monitoring company, which is responsible for developing the technology. The company carries out its UK operations from the University of Birmingham Enterprise business incubator, and specifically located its UK operations at the heart of the Birmingham Health Partners ecosystem, which accelerates patient access to innovative medicines and technologies. Datatrial, based in Newcastle, will facilitate integration of ePRO data with clinical outcome and manufacturing data. Other key partners include the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult and the two other centres in the Innovate UK-funded Advanced Therapy Treatment Centre network; iMATCH (Innovate Manchester Advanced Therapies Centre Hub) and Northern Alliance.

Professor Melanie Calvert explained: “The project will develop an electronic capture system to assess quality of life and symptoms, both at the point of receiving therapy and on a longer-term basis following discharge from hospital. Patients involved in the study will input into the design and build of this system, to ensure it is user-friendly and meets their needs.

“The data generated by patients will then be used to assess the effectiveness of treatments, support patient care and provide a crucial evidence base for regulators and policy makers. Ultimately, the PROmics study will help establish the safe and efficient delivery of new Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products (ATMP) to patients and also maintain the UK’s leading role globally for developing new therapies.”

The therapies being studied are known as Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products (ATMPs) and are based on engineered genes, tissues or cells. Medical researchers have made substantial advances in recent years, and have identified their huge potential for future medicine, but this new category of treatments will require stringent monitoring to ensure their safety and effectiveness in patients.

Dr Ian Campbell, Interim Executive Chair, Innovate UK for UKRI, said: “The projects announced today will bring real benefits to patients and boost the knowledge economy as part of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy. This is vital for the UK as a global leader in the development of advanced therapies and medicine manufacturing.” Innovate UK has funded not only the PROmics study but the development of the MW-ATTC itself.

The MW-ATTC is jointly led by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Birmingham Biomedical Research Centre and NHS Wales. Professor Philip Newsome, director of the MW-ATTC, commented: “This exciting project will have a major impact on the safe and efficient delivery of cell therapies across the UK and is a good example of our close working relationships with innovative SMEs.”

The project will draw on expertise from many stakeholders in the ATTC network; London's network of Advanced Therapy Centres (ATCs); ATMP developers and producers such as Chiesi and Autolus; patients, clinicians and UK regulators and payers.


University of Birmingham deploys advanced AI computing power for research

Researchers at the University of Birmingham are set to benefit from the largest IBM® POWER9™ Artificial Intelligence (AI) computer cluster in the UK.
The University will integrate a total of 11 IBM POWER9 systems into its existing high-performance computing (HPC) infrastructure, called the Birmingham Environment for Academic Research (BEAR).
The system will deliver unprecedented performance for the ever-increasing AI workloads generated by the University’s researchers, delivering ground-breaking computational vision analysis and helping to solve life sciences challenges, such as improving cancer diagnosis.
“It’s very important to us as a research-led institution that we are at the forefront of data research which means we are always looking at ways to make AI quicker and more accessible for our researchers,” said Simon Thompson, Research Computing Infrastructure Architect at the University of Birmingham. “With the sheer amount of data, the common questions from researchers are how can we analyse it fast enough and how can we make the process even quicker? With our early deployment of the two IBM POWER9 servers we have seen what is possible. By scaling up, we can keep-pace with the escalating demand and offer the computational capacity and capability to attract leading researchers to the University.”
This significant enhancement to BEAR will mean an even more powerful and versatile computing environment to serve researchers. For example, fellows from The Alan Turing Institute looking at early diagnosis of and new therapies for heart disease and cancer, will use AI to run faster diagnostics in the future. In contrast, researchers in the physical sciences are similarly using machine learning and data science approaches to quantify the 4D (3D plus time) microstructures of advanced materials collected at national large synchrotron facilities such as the Diamond Light Source.
Read the full article here.

Abingdon Health launches App that transforms a Smartphone into a rapid analytical tool

13 November 2018: BioHub Birmingham® tenant Abingdon Health has launched an intuitive software application called AppDx. AppDx enables a Smartphone to ‘read’ lateral flow test lines, using the inbuilt camera, which translates the image into numerical data.
The App will allow rapid analytical testing from any location, meeting the increasing demand to receive real-time data from any location.
Abingdon Health is a rapid diagnostics company that specialises in lateral flow technologies, which detect the presence or absence of a target molecule without the need for specialised or costly equipment.
The company does early stage R&D at the BioHub Birmingham®, where it developed the intuitive software, which is suitable for both Apple and Android phones removing the need for separate development for different mobile technologies.
Chris Yates, CEO of Abingdon Health, commented: “We have developed AppDx to be entirely customisable by the end user, dependent on their assay requirements. The flexibility of using smartphone technology allows the transfer of real-time data and testing in any location.”
Abingdon Health is one of 10 tenants at the BioHub, which Is constructing an additional 5,000sq ft of self-contained laboratory and office suites to meet an increasing demand for biomedical incubator space.


New research will study smallest vessels of the heart

New research by the University of Birmingham and funded by the British Heart Foundation will study the damage caused to the smallest vessels of the heart following a heart attack.
Researchers at the University have developed a state-of-the-art imaging technique, which was funded by a previous BHF grant. This particular microscopy technique allows them to look in detail at microvessels in the beating heart.
Microvessels are so small that they cannot be seen when using standard scans for heart conditions, such as an angiogram or echocardiogram.
The BHF has now awarded £153,000 of PhD studentship funding to the University to study these tiny vessels, which play a crucial role in regulating blood supply to the heart. During a heart attack, microvessels become dysfunctional and contribute to organ damage.
The new funding will also allow researchers, using the University’s novel imaging technique, to assess the impact that a protein called IL-36 has on the heart’s microvessels following a heart attack.
Previous work by researchers at the University of Birmingham has shown that this protein could play a leading role in damaging microvessels, particularly in older hearts. This is because a receptor that this protein uses, which generates its damaging effects, is found at higher levels in older hearts than in younger ones.
Using mice, the research will characterise and compare the damage that a heart attack has on the small blood vessels within young and old hearts. The study will also test human heart tissue samples from
heart patients to determine whether IL-36 and its receptor are present.
The three-year research project is set to get underway at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences later this year and will be led by Dr Neena Kalia, Senior Lecturer in Microcirculation Research and Director of Intravital Research at the University of Birmingham.
Read the full article here

New technology transfer network set to accelerate innovation in the Midlands

The Midlands Innovation group of universities has launched the largest collaboration between university technology transfer offices in the UK, to attract investment and management talent to the region.
The Midlands Innovation Commercialisation of Research Accelerator (MICRA) will share best practice and share resources across technology transfer offices in Midlands universities. The partnership will support the development of spin-out companies, helpingthem to obtain finance and expertise, and accelerating the rate at which innovations are able to be commercialised.
The announcement was made at an event held at The University of Birmingham to over 120 invited guests.
The event – which had speakers including Alice Hu-Wagner, Managing Director for Strategy, Policy and Business Development and Markets at the British Business Bank and Alice Frost, Director of Knowledge Exchange at Research England – outlined the opportunities the Midlands region presents to industry and investors and the value of collaborations and innovation between industry and universities. Funded by Research England through the Connecting Capability Fund, the event heard about the challenges faced by universities in driving the uptake of their Intellectual Property (IP).
Professor Sir David Eastwood, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Birmingham, who welcomed guests to the event, said: “The benefits of MICRA to the region will be significant. Strengthening the innovation ecosystem to encourage closer links between the technology transfer offices and high-quality incubation spaces most suitable to individual business needs, will stimulate the growth of innovation-led businesses in the Midlands.”
Helen Turner, Director of Midlands Innovation, said: “Midlands Innovation provides a collaborative structure which enables technology transfer offices to strengthen their capacity and share best practice. By working together MICRA aims to attract large ‘patient capital’ investors who are willing to back new ideas. People with vision and management talent who understand the potential for success in our region.”
Dr James Wilkie, CEO of University of Birmingham Enterprise commented: “The UK has eighteen of the 100 most innovative Universities in Europe – and four of these are in the Midlands Innovation partnership. We also have an enviable translational landscape that is attracting increasing attention from overseas, and a rich history of collaboration with companies of all sizes.”
Professor Stuart Croft, Vice-Chancellor and President at the University of Warwick, who invited guests to explore the opportunities offered at the event, said: “The MICRA project shows clearly what can be achieved when universities work together. Drawing on the collective partner strengths is fundamental to what the Midlands Innovation partnership was set up to do.”
Commenting on the MICRA launch event, Alice Frost, Director of Knowledge Exchange at Research England, said: “Research England’s Connecting Capability Fund is investing in eighteen projects to demonstrate the world class commercialisation practiced in our universities. This includes MICRA being launched today – an ambitious project bringing together the largest formal technology transfer collaboration in the country, with benefits for research, the Midlands area and for delivering the Government’s Industrial Strategy and 2.4% target.”
Within easy reach of London, the Midlands is essential to national economic success. The region is responsible for over a fifth of the UK’s total manufacturing capability. The services sector in the Midlands accounts for over four million jobs and is worth around £158 billion a year.
Midlands Innovation unites the power of university research with the unique strengths of Midlands industry to drive pioneering research, innovation, skills development and economic growth. Collectively partners are incubating more than 600 businesses and supporting over 1600 jobs.
MI partners include the universities of Aston, Birmingham, Cranfield, Keele, Leicester, Loughborough, Nottingham and Warwick. Academics in these universities generate more new inventions and patents per unit of research income than any other UK universities group.
To find out more about MICRA and how you can get involved, visit: www.midlandsinnovation.org.uk

BioHub Birmingham develops new incubator space to meet increasing demand for biomedical facilities

19 September 2018: The BioHub Birmingham® is constructing 5,000sq ft of self-contained laboratory and office suites to meet an increasing demand for biomedical incubator space.
The BioHub opened in 2015 and its shared facilities on the ground floor are now operating at capacity.
It is managed by University of Birmingham Enterprise and is located at the Birmingham Research Park, which provides incubation services and facilities, as well as commercial office space for biomedical and hi-tech companies.
The Birmingham Research Park is on the University campus – and the University has invested significantly to create a formidable landscape for medical innovation. In last year alone, the University has opened: the Healthcare Technologies Institute, where experts in chemical engineering, biomedical science, computer science, applied mathematics, chemistry and physics work collaboratively on translational projects; the Centre for Custom Medical Devices, which works in collaboration with Renishaw and uses additive manufacturing (3D printing) to speed development in the medical devices supply chain; and the Medical Devices Testing and Evaluation Centre which helps remove the regulatory blockages encountered by small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
The University ranks 4th in the UK for the production of Intellectual Property (patents) and much of its medical innovation comes from interdisciplinary research, where scientists who apply engineering or chemistry know-how to solve problems in medicine.
This collaborative landscape has attracted increasing attention from international business, and the University currently has over 200 industrial partners, spanning all business sectors, who use its facilities and research expertise.
The BioHub is one part of this landscape, and its current tenants include diagnostics, precision medicine, and biotechnology companies, who share laboratory and office space.
The new development will create laboratory / office suites with sizes starting at 600sqft/55m2. The enquiry list for the new suites is now open, for further details or a tour of the facilities contact Angie Reynolds, Birmingham Research Park Manager, a.reynolds.1@bham.ac.uk.

Lunch and Learn on Laboratory and Scientific Apprenticeships

Midlands based CSR Scientific Training is hosting a lunch and learn session at the Birmingham Research Park on Laboratory and Scientific Apprenticeships on Thursday 27th September.
The event is suitable for anyone who is responsible for the management of laboratory staff, involved in their recruitment or their learning and development, and who might consider employing an apprentice in a laboratory technician role.
CSR Scientific Training is the largest scientific apprenticeship provider in the UK ,and is now in its 8th year of delivering scientific apprenticeship training to new and existing staff in the biotechnology sector.
Employing an apprentice can be very rewarding for lab-based organisations. Employment costs are low, it’s a great development opportunity and there are significant grants available from government to help "grow your own".
The lunch and learn will run from 1.00pm-3.00pm and will cover:
- The different levels of apprenticeships available
- The qualifications the apprentice will work towards
- How CSR can help you employ and attract an apprentice
- How to embed an apprentice programme in your organisation
- The funding available to support training
- How we deliver the training
Lunch and refreshments will be provided.
The event is free of charge but admission will only be available for people who have booked on Eventbrite

Vacuum packing for 100k specimens now available at Heartlands

Vacuum packing has gone live at Heartlands Hospital, part of University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB), the lead organisation for the West Midlands Genomic Medicine Centre (WMGMC).
The TissueSAFE vacuum packing solution is available from Menarini Diagnostics, who have also provided training and support for UHB staff.
There are several benefits to vacuum packing, including the fact that samples are preserved better due to the airtight bags. This also means the samples can be easily transported from operating theatres to pathology, and a greater number of samples are likely to pass quality control.
The process of vacuum packing also removes the need to use formalin to preserve samples, therefore reducing the risk of formalin spillages. Several hospitals in Wales have gone entirely ‘formalin free’ and there is a long-term aim to rollout vacuum sealing across all Trusts nationally.
Vacuum packing will continue as genomic testing moves into routine NHS care, when the pioneering 100,000 Genomes Project morphs into a national Genomic Medicine Service.
Vacuum packing could potentially be used for all sample collection in the future, providing benefits to all patients.
Dominic Hassett, Clinical Educator for Theatres at Heartlands, said: “We are very pleased to introduce vacuum packing for our 100,000 genome project specimens and look forward to the possibility of reducing the use of formalin in theatres even further in the future…" Read the full article here

E-cigarette vapour disables key immune cells in the lung and boosts inflammation

Research led by the University of Birmingham has found that vapourised e-liquid fluid has a similar effect on the lungs and body that is seen in regular cigarette smokers and patients with chronic lung disease.
The research, published in Thorax and funded by the British Lung Foundation, shows that e-liquid that has been vapourised through the use of an electronic ‘e-cigarette’ boosts the production of inflammatory chemicals and disables key protective cells in the lungs that keep the air spaces clear of potentially harmful particles.
They found that vapour impairs the activity of cells, called alveolar macrophages, which are key to the immune response within the airways. Alveolar macrophages engulf and remove dust, bacteria, and allergens that have evaded the other mechanical defences of the respiratory tract.
The findings have prompted the researchers to suggest that, while further studies are needed to better understand the health effects of vaping on people, e-cigarettes may be more harmful than we think.
Professor David Thickett, of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, said: “Cigarette smoking is associated with the cause of almost every lung disease – lung cancer, asthma, COPD and fibrosis.
“It has been suggested electronic cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes, and this narrative is increasingly supported by tobacco companies that have established research institutes devoted to generating supportive data.
“E-cigarette users have been given advice based on relatively little information. We hope that by disseminating this data as widely as possible the public can at least make an informed choice; the public must be aware that these devices are not harmless.
“We hope this information will be taken on board by advisory bodies when considering their public advice strategy. We also hope this highlights the need for dedicated funding and research to determine the long term effects of e-cigarette usage.”
Dr Aaron Scott, also of the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, said: “Several previous studies have examined the effects of unvaped e-cigarette liquid however, it is well established that the vapourising process changes the chemical composition of the liquid.
“The use of vaped liquid in our study makes this a better reflection of the exposure of the user, allowing us to examine whether e-cigarettes have a negative impact on the viability and function of cells called alveolar macrophages, which are key to the immune response within the airways.
“Our work clearly shows that vapourised e-cigarette fluid is toxic to living cells; increases the production of inflammatory chemicals; and inhibits the function of cells that are key to the immune stystem.
“Importantly, we found that exposure of these cells to e-cigarette vapour induced many of the same cellular and functional changes in function seen in cigarette smokers and patients with COPD.
"While further research is needed to fully understand the effects of e-cigarette exposure in humans in vivo, we suggest continued caution against the widely held opinion that e-cigarettes are safe.”
To find out the impact of vaping e-liquid, the researchers devised a mechanical procedure to mimic vaping and produce ‘condensate’ from the vapour.
They extracted alveolar macrophages from lung tissue samples provided by eight non-smokers who had never had asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
A third of the cells were exposed to plain e-cigarette fluid, a third to different strengths of the artificially vaped condensate with and without nicotine, and a third to nothing for 24 hours.
The results showed that the condensate was significantly more harmful to the cells than e-cigarette fluid and that these effects worsened as the 'dose' increased. Read the full article here
Source: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2018/08/e-cigarette-vapour-disables-key-immune-cells-in-the-lung.aspx