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Answering the big questions

14 June 2010

Professor Alan Clarke, Lead applicant for the Cancer Stem Cell Research InstituteProfessor Alan Clarke, Lead applicant for the Cancer Stem Cell Research Institut

How do we increase survival rates for all types of cancer?

How do we build and redesign cities and regions so they enjoy a sustainable future?

How do we improve our poor understanding of mental disorders and the limited treatments available?

The University is launching three major new Research Institutes, offering radical new approaches to these questions. Each Institute combines academic talents from a number of disciplines, building on the Cardiff’s existing strengths and creating a critical mass of expertise to tackle issues of global importance.

The three new Institutes, each offering a distinctive approach, are:

Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute. The Institute aims to become the leading UK centre for understanding the role of cancer stem cells in the formation and growth of tumours. The long-term ambition is investigate whether new therapies targeted on these cells offer better survival rates than current treatments aimed at all the cells in the tumour.

Sustainable Places Research Institute. The Institute will focus on sustainable solutions for individual cities and their surrounding regions, tailored to particular circumstances around the world. It will create comprehensive solutions by combining experts in buildings, energy systems, communities, the natural environment, infrastructure, health and policy-making – who often work in isolation elsewhere.

Professor Michael Owen, Director of the Neuroscience and Mental Health Research InstituteProfessor Michael Owen, Director of the Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute

Neurosciences and Mental Health Research Institute. Cardiff has already made breakthroughs in establishing the genetic origins of such diseases as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and Alzheimer’s Disease. The Institute will put these breakthroughs to work, understanding how exactly they change human behaviour and seeking new therapies to counter them.

If not dealt with, each issue represents a growing social and financial threat.

  • Cancer accounts for more than 7 million deaths worldwide every year, and survival rates after treatment remain obstinately low. In the UK alone, there are around 300,000 incidences annually, accounting for 5 per cent of the NHS budget.
  • With the world population predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050, cities and their regions will have to re-assess their consumption patterns. In the UK, increasing conventional food and energy bills will drive demand for sustainable alternatives.
  • Poor mental health is affecting some 16.7 million people in the UK today and is estimated to cost the nation’s economy almost £80 billion per year. This figure is set to rise as the population ages.

Cardiff University is ideally placed to create the clusters of research excellence required to tackle these problems. The University is recognised internationally for its achievements in the genetics of mental disease and is home to the Medical Research Council’s first Centre in this field. One breakthrough on Alzheimer’s Disease was listed in Time magazine’s top ten academic achievements of 2009.

The University’s range of strengths on sustainability span architecture, planning, medicine, law, business, biosciences, psychological, earth and social sciences. The Economic and Social Research Council-funded Research Centre for Business Relationships Accountability Sustainability and Society has introduced the business world to new ideas about sustainability and social responsibility.

Professor Terry Marsden, Director of the Sustainable Places Research InstituteProfessor Terry Marsden, Director of the Sustainable Places Research Institute

Cardiff also has strengths in fundamental biomedical sciences, the development of new drugs and clinical trials which will support the work on cancer stem cells. The University’s President, Professor Sir Martin Evans, won the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine for discoveries in the related field of embryonic stem cells.

The Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff University, Dr David Grant, said: "Changes in society and in the environment make it increasingly urgent that academics combine their expertise to study the biggest global challenges. That is why we are backing these three revolutionary new approaches. All three Institutes will combine researchers from different academic disciplines in new ways of working, and we are confident all three will come up with ideas which can transform lives and communities."

The University is investing a total of almost £10M in the three new Institutes. The commitment dovetails with the University’s creation of the multi-million pound new Maindy Park campus development, which received outline planning permission from Cardiff Council last week. This will see several high-tech new interdisciplinary research buildings developed over the next two decades. The first, the £30M Gateway Building, which will be a new home for the cancer stem cell and mental health institutes, is due for completion by 2012.

For further information on all three new Institutes, see their new websites at