It is hoped it will also improve its ability to access other funding programmes to promote further translational research.
The project was launched following a successful application for European Regional Development Funding (ERDF) from Advantage West Midlands in January 2010.
The approved total cost of the project is £404,000 with an ERDF grant of £202,000. UHB's matched funding comes from the value of staff time involved with the project, together with some £72,000 from its own Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham Charity.
The five areas for development were selected to allow the Trust to build on its existing contacts and enhance opportunities created by the new QEHB facilities.
The Service Evaluation theme broadens the ongoing work of the Birmingham Clinical Research Academy, which is hosted by the Trust, following its CLAHRC (Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care) award.
In June 2010, Prof Richard Lilford, BCRA and CLAHRC Director, chaired a three-day workshop titled Evaluation Framework for Complex Health Interventions.
The sessions focused on establishing a framework for a bid under the European Commission’s FP 7 initiative and a resulting report sought to synthesise the ideas generated to create an initial prospectus.
There have been significant collaborations between the Haematology Department at UHB and European partners, with an exchange visit to Claudia Haferlach’s Lab in Munich being one example.
Consultant Haematologist Prof Charles Craddock, who is leading this particular collaboration, said: “It proved a valuable opportunity to see how integrated haemato-oncology diagnostic services were being provided and reported in a non-UK setting. This has and will help develop plans for establishing a Birmingham Haemato-Oncology Diagnostic Service (BHODS).”
There has also been a visit to Weurzberg which focused on in vitro culture experiments with reagents (the starting material used in chemical testing).
ERDF funding for the trans-national project has been instrumental in the development of collaborations between the Liver Unit at UHB, the University of Birmingham and several other European partners, as well as informing the creation of clinical trials based in Birmingham.
There has been an initial workshop to discuss the role of cell therapy and liver disease which was attended by many national and international partners.
The workshop focused on the appropriate preparation of cells, the appropriate cell delivery and appropriate monitoring of function. This has been critical in the design of a large clinical trial which was started in Birmingham, looking at stem cells in the treatment of patients with liver cirrhosis. It has also informed further studies based in Birmingham which are looking to track the migration of infused dendritic cells in patients with liver disease.
A second Liver and Cell Therapy workshop took place in May 2011 which aimed to build on achievements to date and drive forward the interaction between the relevant groups.
Dr Phil Newsome, UHB Honorary Consultant Hepatologist, who chaired both workshops, said: “The studies already underway are a prelude to subsequent multi-centre randomised phase three trials, bringing together experts from partners to pursue non-structural EU funding.
“This can only serve to strengthen and develop Birmingham’s position as a European centre of excellence in liver disease and cell therapy.”
UHB’s consultant for Diabetes, Dr Parth Narendran, together with UHB colleagues and partners from Oxford University, visited European research partner Novo Nordisk at their research department in Copenhagen.
Dr Narendran explained: “Discussions with Novo scientists resulted in a two-month placement for a member of my team to visit Copenhagen to learn a specialist technique of manipulating protein expression by cells.
“This is a scientific technique in which Novo are experts and has allowed this expertise to come back to Birmingham. It will allow us here in Birmingham to examine how insulin resistance and diabetes are related, and potentially can be manipulated to prevent disease.”
A further collaboration was established with that of Dr Roberto Malone, based at the Diabetes and Autoimmunity Lab at INSERM, Paris, which enabled UHB to send one of its post doctoral fellows to INSERM for a period to learn a new laboratory technique, focusing on exchange techniques for cellular assays aimed at detecting and characterising autoreactive T lymphocytes involved in the pathogenesis of type 1 diabetes.
“The learning of such a technique and bringing it back to Birmingham allowed the development of new approaches to studying and managing diabetes,” added Dr Narendran.
A recent additional theme of the project was the potential use of European Development Research Funding to establish a European Electronic Prescribing Interest Forum. Building on a critical mass of local clinicians and researchers, the aims are to undertake some targeted visits to European centres in addition to hosting a series of workshops to promote collaborative work and produce some consensus guidance in this area.
This theme is led by Jamie Coleman, Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in Clinical Pharmacology, who commented: “The overall objective is to develop new knowledge that can be translated into practice that will improve patient safety, both locally and more widely across collaborating European centres.
“We have a nucleus of expertise in this area within UHB already and it can only benefit others for us to act as a ‘local champion’, collaborating internationally to produce transferable knowledge.”
The networks project, which will continue until December 2012, is already making a difference within the above specialties and will continue to build upon the existing collaborations as well as seeking out further opportunities in order to enhance Birmingham's comparative advantage in Translational Research "taking cutting edge research from the laboratory bench to the patient’s bedside".