University of Leicester announces record £7 million donation
Published by University of Leicester Press Office for University of Leicester in Education and also in Communities
L-R: Janica Auluck (PhD student, supported by van Geest Foundation), Professor Nilesh Samani, Professor Leong Ng, Dr Don Jones and Steve O'Connor.
The University of Leicester has announced a record £7 million donation – the biggest in the University’s history since its inception in 1921.
The donation from the John and Lucille van Geest Foundation will enable the University to build a new Biomarker Facility adjacent to the University’s Cardiovascular Research Centre at Glenfield Hospital. This will help pave the way for a new era of ‘personalised medicine’ enabling the University to create a facility that is unique in the UK and that can compete globally.
In addition, a multi-million pound heart research Fund will be created allowing researchers from the University of Leicester to compete for funding for the most exciting and cutting-edge studies that will advance the fight against cardiovascular disease for years to come.
The funding will not only provide for state-of-the art specialised equipment and highly trained staff to carry out world-class research in cardiovascular disease, but will enable future generations to benefit from the knowledge hub that is created at the centre.
It will enable the University of Leicester researchers to bring together strands of evidence about a patient’s disease namely, genes, proteins, lipids and any relevant clinical data to enhance the understanding of disease. This kind of facility is unique in the UK for cardiovascular science.
Announcing the ground breaking donation a representative of the trustees of the John and Lucille van Geest Foundation commented that:
“All three trustees are delighted to support the immediate plans for the new £2.5m Biomarker Facility proposed by the team at the University of Leicester and also to make a difference more widely for cardiovascular research in the long term. The establishment of ‘the van Geest Foundation Heart and Cardiovascular Diseases Research Fund’ with a gift and pledge of £4.5m will ensure that vital funding for priority research projects will be available to University investigators for many years into the future.”
The representative also remarked on the changing circumstances of the van Geest Foundation:
“At this seminal moment in the life of the Foundation following our decision to wind it up, our strategic approach is to focus the distribution of its remaining funds on a few medical research areas; working with selected leading institutions and investigators who are highly regarded in their field, such as the cardiovascular sciences team at the University of Leicester. This focus enables us to build on our previous philanthropic support of medical research, increase the speed of development and achieve major impact in the coming years whilst establishing a lasting legacy. “
Welcoming the donation, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester Professor Sir Robert Burgess said: “We are delighted that the trustees of the John and Lucille van Geest Foundation have chosen to support the University with this transformational gift which will benefit society through new advances in research knowledge.
“We are rightly proud of our world changing heart research team and the Foundation’s unprecedented donation will enable the University of Leicester to deliver a step change in cardiovascular research capacity that will help to improve the health and life expectation of patients and the public in Leicestershire, the UK and ultimately internationally.”
Director of Development at the University of Leicester, Steve O’Connor, who led the fundraising discussions with the John and Lucille van Geest Foundation said:
“This very special gift reflects the power of philanthropy to transform academic research capacity; speed up the continual search for more breakthroughs that will benefit patients locally and across the UK and further endorses the University’s position as a leading centre of excellence for heart research.
“We are proud to be working together with the John and Lucille van Geest Foundation and all our benefactors whose generosity and commitment will help to ensure that the University continues to grow and flourish at the forefront of cardiovascular research.
“According to the British Heart Foundation, spending on research into heart disease equates to just 9% of the UK’s overall spending on medical research, one of the lowest spends on research into any disease and three times smaller than research into cancer. So this generous philanthropic funding is hugely important for the University not only for the impetus it provides for new research projects but because of its potential to deliver transformative health care benefits to people locally.”
Commenting on the donation, Professor Nilesh Samani, British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiology and Head of the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Leicester, said: “In Leicester we are very fortunate to have a world class genetics approach to understanding the fundamentals of cardiovascular disease. This gift will enable us to understand what happens beyond the genome and hopefully combine these technologies to yield novel tools for clinical use which ultimately benefits patients.”
Professor Leong Ng, Professor of Medicine and Therapeutics at the University of Leicester, added: “The main ethos of our research at the University of Leicester is to personalise medicine for patient benefit.
“Discoveries in medicine often work well for groups of people, so that they may work in the group as a whole, but within that group there will be those who derive massive benefit, and others who do not benefit at all. It would be more meaningful to be able to target treatments towards those who would benefit most, and proper characterisation of patients will enable this.”
The £7 million donation to the University from the John and Lucille van Geest Foundation is:
- · £2.5m to create a new analytical Biomarker Facility
- · £4.5m to establish the van Geest Foundation Heart and Cardiovascular Diseases Research Fund
The new Biomarker Facility will be located adjacent to the University’s Cardiovascular Research Centre at Glenfield Hospital. In it, dedicated University of Leicester scientists aim is to discover new biomarkers- unique chemical traces that can be used for the diagnosis and prognosis of disease, as well as monitoring of treatments given to patients.
Key purchases will be three mass spectrometers. These are powerful and specialist instruments which are able to measure a range of molecules and measure them to very low levels. Increasingly these machines are used for applications such as measurement of banned substances in athletes and standard clinical assays in hospitals, because the measurements can be very specific for these molecules. The University team is exploiting this capability to measure proteins, lipids and other molecules that they think may be involved in cardiovascular disease.
The University will invest in powerful computers which are able to deal with the large amounts of data generated for each patient, to find those particular features which are associated with disease.
Dr. Don Jones, Lecturer in Biomarkers and Mass Spectrometry, added: “We will concentrate initially on research into heart failure and on coronary artery disease. A particular form of heart failure where muscle contraction is preserved and yet patients are very symptomatic will be investigated, since there are not many treatments available for this even though it can account for half of the cases of heart failure.
“Using the mass spectrometers, we hope to develop novel ways to diagnose and predict outcomes in these patients, and in so doing, may discover new pathways that may suggest new treatments for further development.
“In patients with arterial disease, we hope to be able to detect patients who have unstable lipid deposits in their arteries and develop non-invasive ways of diagnosing these deposits, thereby detecting patients who may benefit earlier from available treatments.”
The University of Leicester team is particularly excited about the global potential of their research. Professor Ng said: “Leicester is also unique in having a multi-ethnic population mix. This allows comparisons of disease mechanisms across different ethnic groups, making the research not just valid and applicable to one section of humankind, but possibly to larger world population groups. Applying our findings globally would be a key feature of the work.”
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a major health problem in the UK with close to 200,000 deaths annually attributed to it. In the East Midlands, this problem is proportionally greater - about 25% higher than the national average. This is due to a greater than average pensionable-age population and a greater number of certain ethnic groups who are sometimes 50% more likely to suffer from CVD. Consequently, CVD is the foremost prevalent disease in areas such as the East Midlands for both men and women.
Mr Bhikhu Hindocha, Volunteer member of the Cardiovascular Research Centre Appeal Group, said:
“As someone who is proud to have been involved with the Cardiovascular Research Centre Appeal as a volunteer and ‘Silver Heart’ donor, I am delighted to learn of the fantastic donation from the John and Lucille van Geest Foundation. It is a cause close to my heart and important to the health and well being of people in Leicestershire and Rutland; especially to the thousands of people and families affected by cardiovascular disease.
“The response from the community has been wonderful. From significant donations made by individuals, businesses and organisations to the coins dropped in collection buckets by hundreds of people who have chosen to support the Appeal. I have been particularly touched by gifts from families who have lost loved ones to heart disease as well as by the hours spent by all our volunteers to raise funds.
“With generous support such as that provided by the John and Lucille van Geest Foundation, we will advance heart research in Leicestershire and Rutland to the benefit of not only their citizens but for people throughout the UK and eventually worldwide.”
- THE LEICESTER BHF CARDIOVASCULAR RESEARCH CENTRE: FOR NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENTS AND CURRENT RESEARCH CLICK HERE
- For more information on the John and Lucille van Geest Foundation click here
- The role of philanthropy in HE –click here to read the views of Director of Development Steve O’Connor
- For more information on the University of Leicester Cardiovascular Research Centre, click here
- Legacy of Giving at Leicester: Click here
- How will the van Geest Foundation money be used: More information here