Advances & prospects
This section highlights some of the advances, and prospects for advances, most often in collaboration with numerous partners, which contribute to the health of the nation and beyond.
- Wound diagnosis and treatment
- Wales Gene Park
- Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics
- Inflammatory Disease
Wound diagnosis and treatment
The improved diagnosis and treatment of wounds - to skin, muscular or nervous tissue - drives the work of the Cardiff Institute of Tissue Engineering and Repair.
The Institute, a major inter-disciplinary initiative promotes research, teaching and clinical practice in the field of tissue engineering and repair.
Its work addresses wide-ranging problems associated with tissue regeneration - such as vision loss, osteoarthritis, sports injuries, chronic wounds and kidney disease.
While there are several tissue repair research centres in the UK, the Institute is by far the biggest and is unique in that it brings basic research scientists together with practising clinicians.
Researchers and clinicians in child health, dentistry, nephrology, pathology, physiotherapy, rheumatology and surgery are working with researchers from biosciences, engineering, optometry and vision sciences, pharmacy and social sciences. This brings together as many as 60 academics/clinicians, 60 postdoctoral researchers and 80 PhD students and, collectively, they are presently working on tissue-related projects valued at £17million.
The Institute represents a critical mass that has the potential to influence and support changes and improvements in healthcare delivery and the quality of life for people. The Institute's links with small and medium sized enterprises, industry and the creation of spinout companies also ensures that technological developments best meet patient needs, as well as increase job opportunities and benefit the Welsh economy.
Teaching provision to meet the acute demand from industry for multi-skilled graduates is also a priority. The Institute is focused towards creating young graduate scientists with multidisciplinary skills and an understanding of the clinical challenges posed by tissue engineering.
Wales Gene Park
The Wales Gene Park is an exciting and ambitious venture that brings together genetics, life sciences and clinical expertise from across Wales. Currently, the Wales Gene Park is a virtual entity whose major stakeholders are the University, NHS Wales, Techniquest and the Welsh Development Agency.
During its first phase the Wales Gene Park will maximise opportunities for healthcare, education and commercial exploitation by strengthening local infrastructure, linking existing expertise based in the University, and provide high speed Internet links and educational networks that will encompass research activities at the Universities of Swansea, Aberystwyth and Bangor.
The creation of a physical Gene Park in phase two will create a new centre for research of national and international importance that will offer state-of-the-art facilities for research, education and commercial exploitation.
The Wales Gene Park has four key areas of activity: basic biomedical research, the provision to the NHS of novel diagnostic and clinical services, knowledge dissemination and education concerning genetics (including training of healthcare professionals and research and debate on social, legal and ethical issues) and the successful commercialisation of novel innovations arising from such activities.
The Wales Gene Park is funded by the Welsh Assembly Government and the Department of Trade and Industry. Generous support has also been received from the Knowledge Exploitation Fund.
The Department of Health has funded 5 similar Genetics Knowledge Parks in England as part of its Genetics and Health Strategy to put Britain at the leading edge of advances in genetic technology, and, in close collaboration with the UK pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, transform treatments and services for consumers.
Nanomedicines - ultra tiny drugs that can help tackle life-threatening and debilitating diseases - are increasingly being used in clinical practice thanks to pioneering research in the University's Welsh School of Pharmacy.
Over the last decade, Professor Ruth Duncan, head of the School’s Centre for Polymer Therapeutics, has applied the principles of nanotechnology - engineering at a molecular level - to the design of a new class of therapeutics.
Her team has led the design and clinical development of polymer-based therapeutics and were responsible for the transfer of this first polymer-based cancer treatment into clinical trials.
Water-soluble polymers, which are chemicals constructed of long chains of molecules, are used to carry the active drug into the body. The polymer temporarily makes the drug inactive so it can enter the body without doing any harm to sites other than where the cancer exists. When this ‘conjugate’ reaches the site of the cancer it is engulfed by cancer cells and this process breaks down the polymer releasing the anti-cancer drug.
Polymer therapeutics have already become a recognised treatment for a variety of diseases including cancer, hepatitis, muscular sclerosis and growth hormone deficiency.
Researchers are now addressing how synthetic polymers can be used as a means of safer gene therapy, improved means of diagnosis, and as carriers for vaccine delivery. To help share the latest developments in this rapidly growing field, the Welsh School of Pharmacy recently hosted an international symposium, Polymer Therapeutics: From Laboratory to Clinical Practice. The event attracted academics and industrialists from more than 20 countries.
Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics
CESAGen, the Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics, undertakes research into issues such as economics and innovation, ethics and regulation, and risk and responsibility in relation to genomics - the study of DNA, which is the genetic blueprint for all living species.
CESAGen is an example of a highly successful collaboration involving the University and the hands-on science education centre, Techniquest, and is itself a collaborative venture between Cardiff and Lancaster Universities.
The Centre has close links with the Wales Gene Park and shares several key individuals. Like the Gene Park, CESAGen reflects the combined strengths of research in Cardiff, and in Wales more widely. These provide a critical mass of research in medical sciences and biosciences, and also in the close and productive interdisciplinary relationships between bioscientists, clinicians and social scientists.
Professor Paul Atkinson, of the School of Social Sciences, heads the Cardiff-based centre as Associate Director of CESAGen. "Issues such as genetic testing, genetic screening and the diagnosis of genetic diseases are seldom far from the headlines," he said. "There is enormous investment in these new biotechnologies, and it is vital that we understand the social and economic impact of this investment."
Advancing the Treatment of Chronic Inflammation
Research by University scientists from the Institute for Nephrology and the Cardiff School of Biosciences has developed a new protein, which could end the suffering of thousands. The research will particularly benefit the health of the elderly in Wales, where the percentage of elderly (aged 65 plus) is the highest in the UK, and beyond.
The research funded mainly by the Wellcome Trust, is designed to tackle the problem of chronic inflammation — which can lead to serious disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and bacterial peritonitis , prevalent amongst the elderly.
A two-year development programme is investigating the therapeutic potential of this new protein in the management of acute infection, to enable pharmaceutical and biotech companies to create a product for clinical use. The programme is made possible by a groundbreaking investment of £350,000 by the Universities’ seed fund, the Cardiff Partnership Fund, and Catalyst Biomedica Limited.
Dr Simon Jones, based in Cardiff School of Biosciences and Dr Nicholas Topley, in the Institute for Nephrology have been jointly investigating the biology of inflammation for several years.
"Inflammation occurs naturally and is crucial to clear infection and repair tissue after damage," explained Dr Jones. "But if the process goes wrong, it can lead to disorders such as colitis, rheumatoid arthritis and bacterial peritonitis and we hope to advance the treatment of these diseases."
Our optometrists and biochemists are conducting the world’s most wide-ranging study into one of the body’s most complex and mysterious components — the cornea of the eye.
At the front of the eyeball, the cornea is the transparent ‘window’ through which we see the coloured iris and the black pupil. Curiously, the cornea is the only part of the body’s connective tissue that is transparent. The key to its transparency is thought to lie in the nature of collagen fibres, which run in a variety of parallel directions and are separated by molecules. This is also thought to help maintain the outward, curved shape of the cornea, which is essential for focusing incoming light on the retina of the eye.
Visual loss related to an abnormality in the cornea of the eye is a huge problem world-wide, highlighted by the fact that, in the USA, corneal diseases and injuries are identified as the primary cause of visits to eyecare clinicians. Surprisingly, however, there is little research in the world aimed at increasing scientists’ basic understanding of structure of the cornea.
The University’s multi-disciplinary expertise, supported by a million pound investment by the Medical Research Council, is working to provide a detailed map of the structure of the cornea, which will inform surgeons and scientists of the reasons for cornea transparency and its loss following injury or disease.
By increasing our understanding of corneal problems we can alleviate the burden of corneal disease on the National Health Service. Our research will ultimately help to allocate the correct resources and procedures for a range of corneal conditions, from treatment for corneal astigmatism, to recovery of good vision after a corneal graft, and even laser surgery to treat myopia or cataracts.