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New institute offers hope to patients with immune diseases

immune defences

A unique partnership of scientists investigating the human immune system – working alongside doctors, nurses and patients ­– will enable new treatments to be developed more quickly for global health problems, including COVID-19, type 1 diabetes and cancer.

Scientists have this month moved into the Pears Building which is a collaboration between the Royal Free Charity, University College London (UCL) and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust (RFL).

The building in the grounds of the Royal Free Hospital is home to the new UCL Institute of Immunity and Transplantation (IIT) and unites the scientific excellence of a world-renowned university and the expertise of clinicians at the RFL. It increases the likelihood that patients with immune-related conditions will soon be able to access cutting edge therapies unavailable anywhere else.

The research conducted in the IIT will be basic science research - some of which may be funded through NIHR grants. The aspiration is that this will lead on to NIHR portfolio adopted clinical research to be conducted in the Clinical Research Facility. There are clinical academics affiliated with the IIT who are also actively recruiting into NIHR portfolio research within the main hospital.

The £60m institute will not only bring the theory and implementation of research much closer together but will also allow the public easy access to the latest discoveries in immunology research.

The building will accommodate up to 200 researchers who have been moving in over the past month. Patients taking part in research will be offered accommodation on the top floors of the building, many with stunning views across Hampstead Heath.

Professor Hans Stauss, director of UCL Institute of Immunity and Transplantation, said: “The IIT is dedicated to the patient-focused research of the human immune system.

“The facilities in the new building will help us develop treatments to ‘turn up’ the immune system to respond to a threat from, say, a coronavirus, or to recognise cancer cells as a danger. We also explore ‘turning down’ the immune system in order to stop the rejection of transplanted organs and to treat autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

“The final cluster of our research is around different inherited conditions, such as primary immunodeficiencies, in which faulty genes affect how the body’s immune system works.”

Professor Stauss said that the co-location of scientists and clinicians within the Pears Building meant that information discovered in the laboratory could be used to work with doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to refine and improve further research.

“The clinical trial facilities will help to accelerate the translation of scientific discoveries into new therapies for patients and I fully expect patients to be able to access cutting edge therapies not available elsewhere,” he added.

Caroline Clarke, Royal Free London group chief executive, highlighted the benefits to patients of the IIT’s new home. “Our expansion of the institute will give many more of our patients the opportunity to take part in groundbreaking research.

“As well as providing more space for scientists to develop better treatments for cancer, diabetes, HIV and tuberculosis, and to support transplantation, the new centre will play its part in crucial research into COVID-19, helping the international effort to tackle this devastating virus. This important work will not only contribute to the health and wellbeing of our local community but will also be a world-leading centre for understanding the human immune system.”